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

The instant she heard someone at the hansom’s other door, she looked around with quick relief. “Jonathan?”

But when the door was yanked open from outside, it was the prince, her mysterious lover, and not her husband, who confronted her.

When Mina recoiled instinctively, he pleaded: “No—I beg you. I had to see you. I am a madman without you—”

Mina could not speak.

He climbed halfway into the cab, arms reaching for her.

Softly she endeavored to struggle free. “Please—you have no right—my husband—”

“Mina”—and to the woman’s ears it seemed for a moment that he had softly added another name—”I have crossed oceans of time to find you. Can you conceive of what I feel for you? It has been a constant search, hopeless, never-ending. Until the miracle happened. ”

At that very moment, back in the depths of the Westenra family vault, Van Helsing was carefully laying out upon a marble slab his autopsy knives and certain other implements of the specialist. Notable among these last were a wooden stake, more than two feet long and carefully sharpened, the point hardened by charring in a fire, and a heavy hammer, of the type used generally to break up lumps of coal.

The woman in the coffin was unconscious now or comatose, eyes closed. With her pointed teeth, her bloodstained mouth, she seemed to all of the hunters present no more than a nightmare image of Lucy.

Even Arthur’s face grew hard as he looked. In a voice containing new strength he asked Van Helsing: “Is this really Lucy’s body, or only a demon in her shape?”

The old man grunted. “It is her body—and yet not. But wait awhile, and you shall see her as she was, and is.”

When he had arranged all of his implements to his satisfaction, the old man said: “Before we do anything, let me tell you this. When the undead become such, there comes with the change the curse of immortality. They cannot die in the ordinary way, but must go on age after age adding new victims. For all that die from the preying of the undead become themselves undead. And so the circle goes on, ever-widening, like ripples from a stone thrown in the water.

“The career of this so unhappy dear lady as a vampire is but just begun. Those children whose blood she sucks are not as yet so much the worse”—here all eyes turned to the unconscious child in Seward’s arms—”but if she lives on, undead, then more and more by her power over them they come to her.

“But if she die in truth, then the tiny wounds of the throats disappear, and they go back to their play, unknowing of what has been.”

The professor’s voice grew more emotional as he went on. “But most blessed of all, when this now undead be made to rest as true dead, then the soul of the poor lady whom we love shall again be free. She shall take her place with the other angels. So that it will be a blessed hand for her that shall strike the blow that sets her free—the hand that of all she would herself have chosen, had it been to her to choose.”

Van Helsing paused, looking at his assembled followers. “Tell me if there be such a one among us?”

All eyes turned to Holmwood.

Holmwood, now having seen for himself the predatory horror—though he was still far from understanding it—had been convinced.

He said to Van Helsing: “From the bottom of a broken heart I thank you. Tell me what I am to do.”

The directions were clinical and businesslike. “Take this stake in your left hand, place the point over the heart, and the hammer in the right. When we begin the prayer for the dead, strike, in God’s name!”

Holmwood again looked faint. But he accepted—stake in the left hand, hammer in the right—the tools that the professor handed him.

“A moment’s courage,” the old man assured him, “and it is done!”

Dracula still had his foot upon the step, and his body remained halfway into the cab. Meanwhile Mina had all but given up the hopeless struggle against her own feelings.

Her prince was saying to her: “I lost you once, I’ll not lose you again.”

She tried to think of Jonathan, but it was hopeless. Mina whispered: “I can’t fight my own feelings anymore…”

Arthur, having positioned the sharp point of the long wooden stake against the whiteness of Lucy’s exposed breast, raised the hammer. And struck hard.

—in London at that instant, Mina to her horror and amazement, saw her lover’s eyes go wide. Her prince staggered back from the cab, clutching his chest as if he himself had received a mortal wound. He uttered a hoarse scream: “They deny us!”

—in the crypt, Lucy’s eyes flew open with the impact of her true death, and she opened her mouth to scream.

—Mina in London could only watch in fright as a staggering madman retreated from her, losing himself in the crowd, even as he helplessly cried out her name—

—Van Helsing, a strong and determined surgeon, slashing with a huge razor-edged autopsy knife, severed Lucy’s head from her body before she could utter a sound.

Dracula had already disappeared into the London crowd.

Mina, more desperate and terrified than ever, was leaning from the window of the cab. “Jonathan!” she shrieked out. “Jonathan!”

Suddenly the door on the other side of the cab was once more jerked open from outside. This time it was Harker, disheveled, bruised, and hatless, who lunged in to take his wife in his arms.

The four men in the crypt, all of them physically exhausted and emotionally drained, were now gathered quietly around the still-open coffin.

Inside it, Lucy now lay in peace. Her head had been restored by the surgeon to its natural place. And Van Helsing with a saw from his bulging tool bag had sawn off the stake close to her breast, the sharp wooden point being left deliberately in the young woman’s heart.

The four men together gazed in shame and wonder at her face of unequaled sweetness and virginal purity. This, their most idealized memories told them all, was truly how they remembered Lucy’s countenance from the days of her breathing life.

After what seemed an endless silence, Van Helsing, spent and weary, had five more words to say to Holmwood.

“You may kiss her now.”

14

Two days had passed since the heavy coal hammer gripped in Arthur Holmwood’s strong right hand had driven the sharp stake through Lucy Westenra’s heart, and the surgeon’s knife had simultaneously severed the young woman’s head from her body.

Today Professor Van Helsing was holding a slightly different knife, though one of approximately the same size. His skilled surgeon’s hands were slicing and serving a roast of beef as he entertained two new acquaintances in a private dining room of the grill of the Berkeley Hotel, his residence while in London.

The newlywed Harkers, both Mina and Jonathan, were Van Helsing’s guests at this dinner. By now Van Helsing had had the opportunity to read both Harker’s journal record of his ill-fated journey to Eastern Europe, and Mina’s diary covering the same period of time. In fact both of these volumes now lay on the cloth-covered dining table; the professor had already asked their authors many questions about the contents of these books, and he had several more to ask.

At the moment Van Helsing, between forkfuls of the excellent dinner, was commenting on what he had learned from these records.

“An incredible story, of course, Mr. Harker.” A pause to chew and swallow. “But terrible as it is, I have no doubt that your journal is true—I will pledge my life on it. Come, eat! Eat. Another potato? Celebrate your discovery.”

Chewing, the professor turned his gaze, twinkling with the joys of food and of discovery, upon his other companion.

“And your dear Madam Mina, who insist I read her diary as well! Ah, she gives me hope there are good women still left to make life happy. Dear Mina, you have a brain that a man should have, were he much gifted, and a woman’s heart.”

Mina was toying with her food, her heart torn with a raging conflict about which she dared not speak. She did her best to smile at the intended compliment.

Van Helsing chuckled, then paused to lick half-consciously from his fingers a taste of red meat juice from the rare roast; only belatedly did he remember to use his napkin.

His bright eyes probed at Jonathan. “There is a question which I, as a doctor, must ask you.”

“Ask it, then.”

“In your infidelity with those three demonic women, did you for one instant taste of their blood?”

Harker, startled, dropped his eyes. But without hesitation he shook his head briefly and violently. “No.”

Van Helsing relaxed noticeably. “Then your blood is not infected with the disease that destroyed poor Lucy.”

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred
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