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

Matter-of-factly Van Helsing loosened the last screw and swung the lid of the outer coffin up, revealing the inner casing of airtight lead beneath.

The sight was almost too much for Holmwood.

Striking the screwdriver down through the thin lead sheeting, with a swift stab, Van Helsing created a hole big enough to admit the point of a small fretsaw. Some of his audience drew back—Seward, with his medical experience, was more than half expecting a rush of noxious gases from the decayed body—but nothing of the kind happened, and the professor never stopped for a moment.

He sawed a couple of feet along one side of the lead coffin, then across and down the other side. Taking hold of the loose flange thus created, he bent it back toward the foot of the coffin, stood back a step, and motioned for the others to look.

One by one, with Arthur Holmwood the last to do so, they drew near and peered in. The coffin was empty.

Holmwood, quite pale, backed away from it. “Where is she?” His voice cracked. “What have you done with her, Van Helsing?”

The old man’s words fell like the blows of a hammer. “She is vampire. Nosferatu, as they say in Eastern Europe. Undead. She lives beyond the grace of God, a wanderer in the outer darkness. They become almost immortal when infected by another nosferatu.”

Quincey threw down the tool he had been holding and gave voice to an incoherent groan. It was a sound compounded of outrage and derision, as if he would still refuse to credit what his own experience now compelled him to believe.

But Arthur grabbed Van Helsing. “This is insane! The transfusion of my blood has made Lucy my bride.” No one had ever told the intended bridegroom of the other three transfusions, and certainly no one was going to do so now. “I will protect her from this outrage!”

The professor thumped the palm of his hand on the empty inner coffin. The curved lead sheeting sounded hollowly. “As you see, she is not here. The undead must go on, age after age, feeding on the blood of the living.”

“Lies! You cannot prove this. Old man! Old lunatic! What have you done with her?”

In the next instant Holmwood had actually snatched a revolver from the belt of the surprised Quincey and impulsively leveled the weapon at Van Helsing.

For a long moment shocked silence reigned in the tomb. Quincey Morris was stunned, Holmwood half-mad with grief and bewilderment, the heavy revolver shaking in his hand. Seward, trying to decide how best to restrain Holmwood, was attempting also to retain his grip on his own professional calm. And Van Helsing himself seemed only to await, with stony resignation, whatever fate might send him in the next moment.

Then Van Helsing tilted his head, listening; he raised a hand, imperiously enjoining silence.

In the moments following, the sound of a soft feminine voice singing, crooning a kind of lullaby, came drifting to the men’s ears from somewhere not far outside the subterranean vault.

The younger men all stared at each other in wonder.

With commanding gestures Van Helsing continued to enforce silence. Quickly he herded his companions, with their lights, into a kind of recess between old sarcophagi, just out of sight of the stair. As soon as they were all there, he blew out the candles they had been carrying and shuttered the lantern.

In darkness the four men waited, listening, holding their collective breath. Only a faint glow of moonlight came down into the vault through the upper entrance to the crypt. Seward recalled that they had left the iron gate there open.

What he was expecting at that point he could not have said; but not what happened. Presently a white descending figure, cradling something small in both arms and crooning a soft lullaby, became visible in a faint ghostly way upon the stairs.

The figure paused once, giggling in a familiar way, then the lullaby resumed, the white shape once more descending.

Seward could feel his hair rising on his scalp, and Van Helsing’s grip tightened like iron on his arm. The voice of the apparition was recognizably that of Lucy—of a woman Seward himself had certified as medically dead, and had seen entombed—but it sounded drunken, almost incoherent, as it sang softly.

At a word from their leader the four men now stepped out from their place of concealment, and Van Helsing drew open the lantern’s slide, releasing a beam of concentrated light in the direction of the figure on the stairs.

The face and the red hair of the woman were undoubtedly Lucy’s; and in the harsh beam that now fell upon her face all four men could see how her lips were crimsoned with fresh blood, and how the stream had trickled over her chin and stained the purity of the white gown—its talkie now wantonly, carelessly torn at the breast—that was to have been her wedding dress.

With a careless motion, callous as a devil, Lucy flung to the ground the child that up to now she had been clutching strenuously to her breast. Snarling at the men confronting her, exposing inhumanly sharp teeth, she retreated, backing down the remainder of the stairs and maneuvering toward her coffin.

Seward at once darted forward and picked up the child, which cried lustily; dazedly his physician’s instincts registered that the babe did not seem to have been much harmed.

The face of Quincey Morris, as he confronted the apparition, was a study in silent horror. By instinct the Texan had drawn his bowie knife and held it ready.

Holmwood had been through too much—far too much—and his knees were buckling.

Now Lucy, actually standing beside her coffin, appeared to take notice, for the first time, of her fiancé’s presence in the vault. Immediately, as if by magic, the wantonness and evil faded from her appearance.

She seemed as beautiful and virginal as ever in life, when she advanced on him, saying: “Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come and we can rest together. Come to me, my husband, come—”

Seward, dazed with shock, was still capable of registering the fact that there was something diabolically sweet in the tones in which Lucy spoke, something of the tinkling of glass when struck.

Holmwood, moving as in a trance, had started toward her, opening his arms in response to her plea. “Lucy…”he choked.

Van Helsing, as once before, jumped between the couple, this time brandishing a crucifix.

Lucy recoiled,, hissing and grimacing, from the object he thrust at her. Never had Seward beheld such baffled malice. He thought that if ever a face meant death—if looks could kill—he saw it at that moment.

Van Helsing, steadily holding up the cross, without taking his eyes from the vampire, demanded of Holmwood: “Answer me now, my friend! Am I to proceed with my work?”

Arthur, groaning, had fallen to his knees, his face buried in his hands. “Do as you will, Van Helsing.” His voice was scarcely audible.

As if the crucifix were projecting some invisible, all-powerful force, the old man used it to urge the snarling woman back. Suddenly she leaped, and with a grotesque, unnatural movement in the air, withdrew inside her coffin, vomiting blood upon Van Helsing just before she disappeared.

Several minutes had now passed since Jonathan Harker had left his new wife waiting on the London street. Mina’s fear for her husband’s safety, at first acute, had subsided into serious but not desperate worry. She had spent the first minutes of his absence glancing through his journal—the written record of his trip through Transylvania—concentrating particularly upon the later entries, those covering the last days of the period Jonathan had spent as Dracula’s guest—or as his prisoner. She still found it impossible to tell which of the horrors related in these entries were to be understood as real, and which were only the products of her husband’s disordered fancy.

Mina’s efforts to consider the problem calmly were spoiled by a few words her husband had said to her tonight, just before rushing away from the cab. These words kept coming back to her. At each return they seemed more horrifying, more laden with an implication, a suggestion, that so far she was refusing to confront directly.

Jonathan had said: It is the man himself. The count. I saw him. He has grown young.

As time passed and Jonathan still did not return, Mina’s fears for him mounted steadily. Frequently she looked up from the pages of the horrible journal, on each occasion staring out the window of the hansom cab into the anonymous fog-shrouded throng of London. Every time she looked out for her husband she wondered if she ought to attempt to follow him; but of course if she were to leave the cab, Jonathan might return to it while she was gone…

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred