Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Fred Saberhagen & James V. Heart

But his blood chilled at the thought that perhaps the women had indeed given him just such a promise, or such a warning, last night while he lay in that helpless trance.

Harker shuddered violently at the compound memory of horror and pain and pleasure. But no, they were not women—Mina was a woman. Those three were devils of the pit!

Whenever he closed his eyes, he could see again the movement of that bag the count had thrown before them, and could hear again the half-stifled human cry that came from it. Whether in true memory, or only in imagination, he could see the naked babe drawn forth from it by the white, long-nailed hand…

But now, in daylight, he, the prisoner, still had time to make one other choice. He could summon up the courage of his growing despair and attempt an escape, by taking the only open path, the one he had once seen used by Dracula himself.

Harker could attempt to get away by climbing down the castle wall.

Thinking coldly and clearly now, the young man could accept that choice, though it was hideously dangerous, in fact almost suicidal. He preferred death at the bottom of the cliffs to whatever fate the count and the three horrible, fascinating women might have in store for him.

If he was ever going to attempt the castle wall, obviously the effort must be made by day. And evidently it would be hopeless to try to escape on the side of the castle where Dracula’s loyal servants the Gypsies could observe him.

Therefore he must go on the other side, the side above the dreadful cliff. And he must leave his rooms to do it now—now, at once—before fear—and the terrible attraction of what awaited him tonight—could combine to undo his resolve.

Plainly he would be able to carry with him nothing but what might fit in his pockets—his journal, some money, and very little else.

Leaving his rooms on impulse, not allowing himself a chance to hesitate, Harker once more mounted the high stair that led to the south side of the castle, to the windows that overlooked the steepest precipice, and the twisting, leaping river that foamed below, too far below for him to hear the water’s roar.

Misty rain blew in his face. He was standing at the same window where he had hidden and watched with horror as the count himself climbed down the wall.

Now Harker, gripping the wet stone of the sill so that the muscles trembled in his arms, allowed himself to look down, all the way down, once.

The terror of the sight was not as great as he had feared.

In fact the outer surface of the castle wall beneath him now was very nearly sheer, but not so absolutely featureless as to make his attempt completely suicidal. A very slight general inward slope from bottom to top, combined with the roughness of the stones, and the many seams and broken, crumbling edges, offered at least faint hope that the fingers and toes of an ordinary human might be able to find enough purchase for the climb. The first forty or fifty feet, he thought, would be the worst—below that the irregularities grew greater, and there would be real hope.

Gritting his teeth, the young man whispered: “If I should find him on my way, I must kill him. Good-bye, Mina, if I fail. Good-bye, all!”

Muttering a prayer, still not allowing himself time to hesitate, Harker went over the rain-wet sill and out, lowering himself on nerve and will and fingertips.

But these, his only real assets, quickly proved inadequate. Harker had descended only a few feet along his dreadful path before the grip of his fingers upon the ancient stonework abruptly failed.

A hoarse cry of despair burst from his throat.

Slipping and sliding down an almost vertical incline, bloodying his hands in a desperate effort to stop his fall, Harker came to an abrupt and unexpected halt, crashing into the muck and water that filled most of a stone basin or huge gargoylish cup built out from the castle’s Hank.

Spitting and choking on foul water, he brought his face above the surface. Dimly he realized that this tub-sized receptacle might once have been part of a system of cisterns for gathering rainwater.

Shuddering now with the realization of how close he had come to sudden death, Harker looked about him from this precarious place of momentary safety. To right and left there was no chance, only blank vertical stone for many yards. Below, the hopeless wall fell straight away to nothing more secure than a dizzying plunge of equally hopeless rock, ending only in the river at its unreal distance.

But now a faint new possibility had presented itself. From the stone basin in which Harker crouched, a low, dark tunnel of a drain, barely wide enough to accommodate a man’s body, led back—somewhere—into the castle wall. The drain was mostly clogged, with broken stones and mud, but he could dig the obstacles away. As he did so, the water that had saved his life went gurgling off.

There was no real alternative. Breathing another prayer, the young man crawled headfirst into the tunnel.

Through many tight spots and sharp turns this passage led him along a wearying, seemingly endless descent. Through gaps in crumbling, broken masonry, through darkness and foul smells, by means of many, many reversals and windings, he went down. Spider-webs brushed at his face. Rats and other things went scurrying away from him; the hardness and roughness of stone wore at his knees and elbows, through the wet fabric of coat and trousers.

Down, always down.

A time came when Harker felt he had descended for such a distance that he must now be at least close to the level of the courtyard. He thought that it might well be fatal to emerge among the jeering Szgany, who had given every evidence of being the faithful servants of his mortal enemy.

Go slowly now! Be quiet!

Very cautiously, now making a conscious effort to cause as little noise as possible, he crawled on.

At last providence, or fortune, or some benign power, seemed to smile on him. Harker managed to avoid encountering the Gypsies when he at last crawled out of the castle’s wall through a great fracture in its thickness. Instead of being in the familiar courtyard, he found himself in an extensive chamber, whose darkness was so much modified by indirect sunlight that the heart of the fugitive rose in hope, thinking that the blessed outdoors and the possibility of freedom must be very near.

Careful, though’ Standing erect again, nursing his bloodied knees and elbows, he could clearly hear the Szgany singing their work songs. But their voices sounded from sufficiently far away to present, as he thought, no immediate danger.

Stretching limbs cramped by the long, tortuous, crawling descent, peering cautiously about him, Harker soon understood that this dim chamber to which chance had brought him must be—rather, must once have been—a chapel. He thought the place looked very old, from the fifteenth century or even earlier.

Large sections of the walls were honeycombed with I what Harker quickly realized must be burial vaults, aboveground sepulchers; and in front of a tall window whose antique glass was still intact, a simple altar (he could read the word DRACULEA carved across the front) supported a great wooden cross.

The carven front of this tall symbol was all stained as by dried blood. For some reason, as Harker gazed at this forsaken cross, his eyes began to fill with tears, and he felt at his throat for the small silver crucifix that was no longer there.

Parts of the floor of this dim, cavernous room had long ago been broken up, so that the dark and almost lifeless earth beneath bulged through. Someone had recently been digging in this exposed earth—there were modern shovels, and a spade.

And all across this broken floor, arranged in rows, were more of the strange, coffinlike wooden boxes, evidently waiting to be loaded on the wagons. One box, with its lid in place like the others, but not yet nailed down as the others seemed to be, rested by itself at a little distance from them.

Now somewhere near at hand, no more than a few yards away, Harker could hear the Gypsies once more shouting to each other as they nailed and lifted and loaded. He heard the clatter of wagon wheels on cobblestones, the snap of whips.

As the fugitive looked about him, seeking the best chance of completing his escape, his eye was caught by a faint, strange gleam in the indirect daylight. Something yellow, just there where soil showed through the broken pavement. Moving in cautious silence to the spot, Harker bent to pick up first one gold coin of old and unfamiliar mintage, then another. Quickly, with the idea that it might be of use to him in his escape, he was able to gather a small handful of treasure that had been lying here mixed into the ground.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred