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

“You know this place, Jonathan, at least better than we others do. You have photographed it, and copied down the plan.”

Harker stood gripping his ax impatiently in both hands. “How bitterly I regret ever having had anything to do with it!”

“Ja. Which is the way to the chapel?”

Silently Harker took one of the clumsy electric torches and motioned for the others to follow him.

Despite his earlier study of the floor plan, the layout of the huge house was confusing and the party took a couple of wrong turns. But within a minute, Harker still leading the way, they found their progress halted by a low, arched, oaken door, ribbed with iron bands.

This door, like that at the front entrance, proved to be locked and barred, but again the impatient ax in Jonathan’s hands made an effective key.

Behind the oaken door an extensive chamber, vaulted with high Gothic arches, was revealed. Long disuse by any living lungs seemed to have made the air inside stagnant and foul. There was an earthy smell, as of some dry miasma, Harker thought. But no one paid any attention now to such details. Lights flashing about in the hands of the investigators revealed rows of bulky coffin boxes, and a quick tally revealed that there were twenty-nine.

The searchers frowned at one another. There was no need for anyone to state the fact aloud: Unless they should be able to uncover the count here, and destroy him, it would be necessary to seek elsewhere—tomorrow, and for as many days as necessary—for the balance of the fifty.

Harker, his hands resting on the lid of one of the coffins, said in an emotional voice: “I have seen these very boxes at the count’s castle. There he was… resting in one of them.”

The professor grunted. Then, prying energetically, leaning his considerable weight upon a steel bar, he ruthlessly ripped the nailed-down lid from another of the containers. A moment later Van Helsing stood staring at the moldy stuff inside.

After scooping up a handful and throwing it aside, Van Helsing announced: “This is the sacred earth of his homeland. He must rest in it. Destroy every box. Sterilize the earth inside. Leave him no refuge. Let the exorcism begin!”

Harker, once more wielding the big ax, took the lead. He chopped up coffins, splintering their lids, fanatically driving the thick blade into one after another, with cries and gasps of rage. His anger and energy only seemed to increase as the work went on.

Van Helsing had a flask of holy water hanging about his neck, and with it he sprinkled the exposed earth in box after box, chanting: “In manus tuas, Domine!”

Into thy hand, O Lord.

Meanwhile Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood, having pulled on sturdy gloves, were bending their backs and straining their muscles, opening the boxes as rapidly as Harker splintered them open, dumping out and exposing their moldy contents.

Harker paused for a moment to catch his breath and wipe away the sweat, which, despite the chill atmosphere, was running down his forehead. So far, to his growing disappointment, none of the coffins they had torn open contained the vampire’s body. Suppose the fiend should somehow manage to outwit his pursuers?

Never! Taking a fresh stand before another of the boxes, he raised his ax again.

“In manus tuas, Domine …” Van Helsing chanted on, alternately sprinkling holy water and crumbling bits of consecrated wafer into the growing piles of Transylvanian soil.

At the asylum, Renfield’s painful cries went on and on as if they were never going to cease. Mina, almost directly above him, plugged her ears with her fingers, praying silently that the poor sufferer below might find some kind of peace.

Then she relaxed with a little sob of gratitude; it appeared that this prayer, at least, had been answered.

But she did not know the reason for Renfield’s sudden silence. It had been caused by the abrupt appearance of Dracula, in human shape, just outside the window of his cell.

Renfield, on finding himself at last directly confronted by the one he had worshiped so long, for a moment seemed to be entirely struck dumb.

Then, clinging to the window bars, he whispered slavishly to the slender, dark-garbed figure just outside: “Master, Master… yes, Master… thy will be done.”

Renfield paused suddenly, moving his lips in silence. It seemed to him that the figure outside was somehow, wordlessly, conveying its wish to him; and as soon as Renfield understood this, he hastened to grant the wish, to speak the invitation that was necessary before the vampire was empowered to enter this dwelling place.

Quickly he murmured: “Come in, Lord and Master!”

The figure outside inclined its head once, in acknowledgment. It did not appear to move in the ordinary human way; rather it became insubstantial in appearance, and did not turn opaque again until it had drifted in between the bars.

Once inside Renfield’s cell, the prince regained solid human form. He stood in the middle of the small space staring coldly at his disciple, and at last spoke to him openly.

“Renfield—you have betrayed me.”

The other giggled nervously, insanely. “I tried to warn her, but she would not listen!”

Dracula only stared at him.

Though Renfield now seemed unable to look directly at his long-awaited master, the madman’s eyes glowed dangerously. “She must be spared; you cannot have her.”

Scornfully Dracula, without deigning to reply, turned his back and would have left the cell through the barred door.

In that moment Renfield, like the lunatic he was, hurled himself upon the vampire.

As soon as he had seen Mina settled into her temporary quarters and had made sure of her security and comfort as well as he was able, Seward went downstairs again. There he heard a report from an assistant and was gratified to learn that there were no problems among the inmates requiring his immediate attention.

Presently Seward equipped himself with heavy gloves and another lantern. After a final word to his chief assistant, he left the building by a rear door and hastened out across the grounds of the asylum, feet scuffing noisily through dead leaves. The young doctor intended to follow his comrades over the wall to Carfax, and there to share whatever dangers they might face, and whatever success they might achieve, in carrying out their work of destruction.

Seward, finding the first ruined door and then following the noise of coffin smashing and the glow of lights, experienced no difficulty in locating his four friends. He had just joined them inside the chapel when they all saw Quincey Morris step suddenly back from a corner of the paved floor he had been examining.

In another moment the men observed, swelling up in that corner, what Harker in his journal later described as “a whole mass of phosphorescence, which twinkled like stars.” The bright spots were small eyes, reflecting lantern beams.

All of the men instinctively drew back. The whole place was becoming alive with rats.

The professor, interrupting his labors, cried: “This is his doing! Arthur, your dogs! Call them!”

Holmwood immediately blew on a silver whistle he had been wearing on a string around his neck. His trio of terriers, which had been exercising their curiosity by exploring other rooms in the old house, came scampering at once into the abandoned chapel, whining and snarling with their eagerness to fight the rats.

Arthur blew his whistle again, unnecessarily. The terriers were all accustomed to this game, and they all three used the same killing technique, which was swift and efficient: grab the rat, large or small, by neck or back, and lift it off the ground. A quick strong bite, augmented by a savage shake to ensure that the spinal cord was severed, and the lifeless victim was cast aside, to be replaced in a moment by another. For whatever reason, rat-killing dogs were seldom themselves bitten by the enemy.

The floor of the old chapel, already thick with the dust of decades, if not of centuries, was quickly littered with dead rats. Still the scurrying rodents in their ever-increasing numbers seemed to swarm over the place, till the lamplight, shining on their moving dark bodies and glittering, baleful eyes, made the place look like a bank of earth set with fireflies.

The dogs had already shaken the life out of scores of the enemy, but ever-greater numbers of the rats came on. When Seward arrived, the human hunters had been preparing to set fire to a rude woodpile made from Dracula’s shattered coffin boxes. Now that plan had to be momentarily postponed while the humans defended themselves against what appeared to be a deliberately planned assault. It seemed to the men that sharp-toothed rodents were springing from every dark corner of the building, coming up out of the earth and out of the night itself, trying to swarm over the men.

The invaders cursed the flea-infested, disease-carrying creatures, plucked them with loathing from their coat sleeves and trouser legs, shot at them with Winchester and pistol, slew them right and left with swords, shovels, and axes.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred