Count Vlad

22.Apr.2020

Count Vlad

 

 

This exciting story will admire those readers, who like mythical stories about vampires. Mysterious creatures, which hypnotize their victims and drink blood. One autumn evening two friends Alfred and Elliot were sitting near the fire and having an interesting conversation about their thrilling adventures. Alfred is a journalist and he often has to deal with supernatural. His best friend Elliot helps him in his investigations. They have just come from an exciting but scaring travel in Norway, where they had a case with a ghost. An unexpected note interrupted their dinner. It seems that friends are going to face a new case: the note was from count Dracula. The next day Alfred and Elliot are meeting at the station and leaving for Romania.

 

 

Chapter one
 
A telegram from Count Dracula
 
It was early autumn in the year 1895. Alfred Sackville-Jones and Lord Ernest Deboy were sitting in front of an open fire in Alfred's apartment. On the table lay a heap of bones, all that remained of the meal they had just eaten. Licking a finger, Alfred got to his feet.
 
"Now after such a satisfying and filling meal, Ernest, my dear fellow, I suggest that we finish off with one of my very special wines."
 
Alfred pulled the cork from a dusty bottle and filled a glass with dark red wine. His eyes lit up as he passed the glass under his nose.
 
"Perfect. Absolutely perfect! Maison D' Armignac 1880. I've been saving it for a special occasion."
 
"Special occasion? What are we celebrating, old boy?"
 
"First of all, my birthday, which, of course, you completely forgot. And secondly, the end of another successful adventure."
 
Alfred passed the glass to Ernest, who raised it in the air with a smile.
 
"Sorry for forgetting your birthday, dear boy. I've got a hopeless memory. I'm not sure I even know my own birthday. What age am I, anyway? Twenty-eight or twenty-nine?"
 
"You're thirty-three. And a liar. You have a brilliant memory. You know by heart everything about every bat that has ever existed."
 
"Ah, now that's different."
 
Alfred, who worked for a newspaper called The Globe, and Lord Ernest had just returned from Norway, where they had solved an unusual case. A Count and his family had gone to live in an old castle that the Count's uncle had loft him in his will. However, after a week, a strange figure without a head and dressed like a Viking began appearing at midnight. The Viking roared as loudly as he could, and scared everybody. Naturally, everybody in the castle was very upset, which was why they asked Alfred and Lord Ernest for help.
 
As he drank his wine, Ernest looked out through the window into the streets of London, but all he could see was smoke and fog.
 
"You know, Alfred, old chap I have to admit that this is jolly good wine. You don't happen to have any more, do you, by any chance?"
 
Alfred poured more wine and Ernest made himself comfortable again.
 
"You know, I rather like this ghost-hunting business."
 
Ernest began to laugh as he lit his pipe.
 
"What a hopeless actor that Viking was!"
 
"Quite terrible! I've seen better acting done by Great Aunt Agatha's church drama group. He sounded more like a mouse than a monster!"
 
"What a devil! Imagine trying to frighten the family out of the castle so that he could claim it as his."
 
"Well, we solved that case, which makes three so far this year. I think we're becoming quite famous."
 
Alfred went to his desk and picked up the newspaper and looked admiringly at the headline: 'BRITONS FIND VIKING'S MISSING HEAD.'
 
Suddenly he looked very serious.
 
"Do you believe in ghosts, Ernest?"
 
"I'd like to, but I'm very much afraid they don't exist. A pity really."
 
"Well, I'm not so sure."
 
Just then the doorbell rang, which made both men jump a little.
 
"Who on earth can it be at this time of night?"
 
A minute or so later, Alfred's servant entered, holding a telegram.
 
Alfred tore it open. He disliked telegrams. His eyes moved quickly down the paper. A look of relief appeared on his face.
 
"You know, I think we're in business again, my dear Ernest. It's from... guess who?"
 
"Oh, come on! Don't keep me in suspense!"
 
"Count Dracula of Transylvania."
 
"Count Dracula... Dracula... the name rings a bell."
 
"I believe you have got a bad memory, after all. Those pointed teeth, I'll never forget them as long as I live. Enough to make your blood run cold."
 
"Teeth. Yes, of course, a handsome pair, all right. Perfect for sucking blood, eh? And those bloodshot eyes. What a funny looking man he was! And what a frightful accent! He sounded like an old frog. Well, come on!"
 
Alfred held the telegram under the lamp and started reading:
 
 
 
"Dracula village 10th November 1895
 
Will always remember my visit to England and particularly meeting you and your remarkable friend who knows so much about bats. I have bad news. I am dying and badly in need of your help. I wish to clear the Dracula name before I leave this world. Please come quickly.
 
Yours,
 
Count Vlad Dracula."
 
 
 
Alfred noticed the excitement on Lord Ernest's face.
 
"How about it then, old chap? Can you pack your bags by tomorrow and be at the station by... em...? Let me see..."
 
Alfred took the train timetable from the shelf and looked up the departure times from Charing Cross to Dover.
 
"7.32?"
 
"a.m. or p.m., old boy?"
 
"Why, a.m., of course!"
 
"Thought so. You know how I hate getting up early in the morning."
 
"I can always go without you."
 
Ernest jumped up out of his chair.
 
"No, you will not! I wouldn't miss this for the world!"
 
"All right then. Meet you at the station at 7.15. And don't be late."
 
Alfred took his friend to the front door and waited until a cab appeared out of the thick fog.
 
The next day, on the train to Dover, Alfred was reading an early morning newspaper. The headline on page three caught his eye.
 
"Ernest, look at this! 'VAMPIRE COUNT DEAD.'"
 
Ernest half-opened his eyes and looked sleepily at his friend.
 
"What's that?"
 
"'Count Dracula of Transylvania died this morning in his castle near Vilcea, Transylvania, after a short illness.' Oh, and look at this. It says, 'A report from a reliable source says that before his death the Count had asked two British experts to clear his name.' Good heavens, news travels fast."
 
"Well, now that he's dead, I suppose there's no point in going on."
 
The newspaper nearly fell out of Alfred's hands.
 
"What are you saying? I'm certainly not going back. Ernest, think of what you'll be missing. You might even get the chance to see the Transylvanian vampire bat, in person."
 
Ernest's eyes suddenly came alive.
 
"All right. You've persuaded me."
 
"Wonderful, wonderful!"
 
Alfred lay back happily in his seat and allowed the rhythm of the train to send him to sleep. Suddenly he woke up with a start.
 
"Ernest! Do you think we've got everything we need?"
 
"You mean, passports and so on?"
 
"Well, no. I was thinking more of... em... protection."
 
"Let me see. I've got my Derringer, my buffalo knife and some rope. That should do. And, of course, I was twice boxing champion at school."
 
"Well, yes, but I was wondering whether we should have brought a cross with us, and em... maybe some garlic."
 
"I had no idea you were religious, old boy. And, as for garlic, I didn't know you had French tastes."
 
Ernest burst into laughter, which made Alfred feel rather silly. So, he picked up his paper noisily and pretended to read.
 
Ernest just fell back to sleep, dreaming he was in a coffin and meeting the vampire bat.
 
 
 
Chapter two
 
A Visit to Count Vlad
 
The journey across Europe was long and tiring. Ernest slept most of the day, waking at night to study the night life through the carriage window or read his favourite writer, Edgar Allan Poe, while Alfred read endless books about famous people in Transylvanian history. By the time they reached Vienna he knew all there was to know about every Dracula back to the 16th century.
 
As the train made its way deeper into Dracula's country, Alfred was just finishing the fifth and last volume of Complete History of Transylvania.
 
"Fascinating! It was partly thanks to him that the Turks didn't conquer the rest of Europe. They say he was a fearless officer, loved by his men."
 
"Who on earth are you talking about, dear fellow? I wish you wouldn't always expect me to read your mind."
 
"The first Dracula. Prince Vlad Dracula. A great chap. He had one little weakness, though. He enjoyed torturing his prisoners by pushing sharp pieces of wood through their stomach or tearing their body apart."
 
"Charming fellow! It doesn't say anything about him drinking their blood too, does it?"
 
"It seems that only the present Count enjoys, or should I say, enjoyed, human blood. Hard to believe really. Seemed pretty harmless to me."
 
"It was those teeth of his. Not exactly what one would like one's dear old granny to have!"
 
"Ernest, for goodness' sake, how can humans suck blood?"
 
"Just like vampire bats do, dear boy. Through holes in their teeth."
 
"There's no such thing as a vampire human... is there?"
 
"That's what we're here to find out, dear boy, isn't it?"
 
"Sometimes you can be quite absurd. Now, let me ask this kind old gentleman when we are expected to arrive in Vilcea."
 
An old one-eyed man looked out of the window and pointed to the sky. He looked at him out of the corner of his good eye and asked him,
 
"Where are you going, stranger?"
 
"Castle Dracula. To help the Count with a spot of trouble. It's a bit hush- hush, you know."
 
At the name Dracula the old man turned away from Alfred in horror.
 
"Funny chap. He doesn't seem to like foreigners."
 
Four hours later, just as the moon was appearing above the top of the mountain, the train pulled into Vilcea station. Alfred and Ernest, along with one other passenger, got off and walked to the entrance to find Dracula's servant, who was supposed to meet them there.
 
"I hope he got our message. I don't fancy staying here the night."
 
Hardly had Alfred spoken than a crooked old man appeared from the shadows. His name was Gregory and he wore a black overcoat, black gloves and a black top hat. He spoke so quietly that Alfred had to bend over to hear him.
 
"Aleferd Shackwill Gons and Lourd Ernist, I suppose."
 
"Just call me Alfred. I think it would be easier. It was very good of..."
 
"Follow."
 
Alfred and Ernest followed the old man to where a black carriage and two black horses were waiting outside. As soon as they had got in, the driver set off on the last part of their journey to Dracula Castle.
 
Alfred was woken up by the sound of horses' hooves on wood. The carriage had stopped on the bridge over the water surrounding Dracula Castle. Then, they passed under the thick stone walls. By the dim light of the carriage, Ernest caught a glimpse of the enormous old door.
 
"Did you see that, Alfred? A bat."
 
"You've got bats on the brain, dear boy."
 
"No, really, carved on the door. I'm sure it was a vampire bat!"
 
When they entered the main building of the castle, the two servants were standing in deadly silence, ready to receive them. They too were in black, and their unsmiling faces looked like carved stone. Rodolfo, the Count's butler, was a giant of a man, and had a large head with deep hollow eyes. Mania, the cook, was about half his size and even older than Gregory, with a shrunken head covered in thin white hair.
 
As Mania took them up to their room, the sound of their feet echoed through the empty castle. She said nothing, just grunted and puffed as she slowly climbed the spiral stone steps. Finally alone, Alfred threw himself on the big four-poster bed and felt the soft velvet covers.
 
"I don't know about you, old boy, but I've been looking forward to this moment for weeks."
 
Ernest was wide awake and examining the room with his candle.
 
"The silence is quite scary, isn't it? This place must be full of ghosts."
 
"You can't scare me, old boy. I'm so tired, I'd even share my bed with a ghost."
 
Just as he said that he heard a tap which made him sit up with a start.
 
Old Gregory half-opened the door and held out a letter. "Mr Aleferd Shackwill, a letter from my master."
 
"That's funny. I thought the Count was dead."
 
"I expect he wrote it before he died."
 
Just as Gregory had left, Ernest let out a cry from the other end of the bedroom.
 
"You know, I think you've been given the Count's bedroom."
 
Ernest shone his candle on the portrait of the Count on the wall. The teeth were not visible, only the dark bloodshot eyes. Alfred looked at the pillow where the Count's head once lay.
 
"Do you mean to say that the Count died... here?"
 
"Most likely, old sport. You wouldn't like to change beds, would you?"
 
Alfred broke open the wax seal and began to read.
 
 
 
"Dear Alfred, I feel my life leaving me. We may not meet in this world. Whatever happens, come and see me when you arrive. I will be waiting with a warm heart. I have committed a crime, but not the crime of which I am un used. The time has come for my shame and that of others to be shown to the world. Don't leave a stone unturned and remember, "you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink". Beware of the vampire bat and the Lover.
 
I cannot go on. My mind and soul are preparing to leave for a better world. I leave the name of Dracula in your hands. I trust him, as an Englishman and a gentleman, you will tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
 
Your honourable servant, Count Dracula."
 
 
 
Alfred looked up at the Count's portrait, and for a moment In- thought he saw the mouth move.
 
"That portrait is almost alive. I'd swear I saw his face move just now."
 
"Funny you should say that, old boy. The canvas seems a bit wet."
 
Ernest rubbed the canvas with a finger.
 
"Looks awfully like blood."
 
"Blood! Can't be. Probably just paint. This damp climate!"
 
"Unlikely."
 
Ernest smelt the substance on his finger, but said nothing.
 
"Now, what do you think the Count meant when he said, 'Come and visit me when you arrive.' After all, he knew he was dying."
 
"He probably meant visit him in his grave."
 
"You mean dig up his coffin won't be too difficult. They only buried him a few days ago."
 
"Do you realize what you're saying?"
 
"Absolutely, dear boy. It might be more fun than sleeping in those coffins they call beds."
 
"Oh, all right. When shall we do it, then?"
 
"I know you're dying to get down to work, but I'm quite tired. How about tomorrow night? We can talk to the servants and find out more about the Count."
 
"Good idea."
 
Alfred yawned and started unbuttoning his shirt.
 
"By the way, did you mean it when you said you'd like to have the Count's bed?"
 
"Yes, dear boy, but I'd hate to spoil your fun."
 
"No, no, really, Ernest old chap, I insist."
 
"Are you absolutely sure?"
 
"Quite, dear boy, quite."
 
 
 
Chapter three
 
The Man in the black Cape
 
Ernest leant over Alfred who was snoring peacefully.
 
"Boo!"
 
"Ah!"
 
Alfred screamed and sent the covers flying. Then he saw Ernest.
 
"Oh, it's you."
 
Ernest, who was fully dressed, handed him his dressing gown.
 
"Who did you expect it to be, dear boy? Count Dracula?"
 
Alfred looked over at the portrait on the wall, which, in the daylight, seemed even more alive than ever, the manic eyes staring at him.
 
Ernest gave him his razor and a shaving brush.
 
"Hurry up, old chap. It's way past breakfast time, and we've got work to do. Now, I've done a little exploring. I got Rodolfo to show me where the Count is buried. I'm afraid his English is a little basic, but he's got the general idea. Oh, you've cut yourself, dear fellow. Blood is running down your neck!"
 
As he took a handkerchief from Ernest, Alfred noticed the Count's eyes. Did they really light up at the sound of the word "blood"?
 
"The family graveyard is outside the castle, up a narrow path by the river. Beautiful spot; wouldn't mind being buried there myself!"
 
They went down to the dining room and sat at an enormous wooden table loaded with eggs, steak, cheese, liver and fish, along with bread, butter, honey, jam and coffee. During the meal, Mania and Rodolfo hovered over them like enormous bats with trays of food. Towards the end, old Gregory staggered in, carrying logs for the fire. Alfred saw his opportunity.
 
"Gregory, my dear fellow, can we have a word?"
 
Gregory grunted and came up to the table.
 
"Can you tell us a little bit about the old chap? The Count, I mean. By the way, it's awfully dark in here. Don't you ever open the shutters?"
 
A look of horror appeared on the old man's wrinkled face.
 
"No, Sir Aleferd. Not since the mistress died."
 
"Oh, so he was married, was he? When did the good woman die?"
 
"Forty-five years ago, Sir Aleferd."
 
"Forty-five years ago! Did I understand correctly? My Romanian is a little rusty. Good heavens! Any children?"
 
Gregory looked down at the floor and then whispered a reply.
 
"I see. No children. And the Count never married again. He must have been madly in love."
 
"Yes, quite mad. She was a very beautiful Gentle eyes and long shining red hair. A tragedy! The Count was heartbroken."
 
"Are you sure you won't sit down, old boy? You look a little unsteady!"
 
Gregory appeared not to hear.
 
"When she died, the Count swore never to see the light of day again. After that, he only went out at night, on Warrior, his white horse. When there was a good moon and a clear sky, of course."
 
"Fascinating! Now how did these nasty rumours start about that vampire nonsense?"
 
Suddenly Gregory became very excited.
 
"The master is... was... a good man!''
 
"I'm sure he was, old boy. But all these dead people with funny teeth marks on their necks... who or what made them?"
 
Gregory waved his thin old arms in the air.
 
"Not the master! Not the master!"
 
"Calm down, old chap! You'll do yourself an injury! I believe you!"
 
Gregory got down on his knees and took Alfred's hand, which Alfred found rather embarrassing.
 
"Sir Aleferd Shagwill Gons, I would die for the master."
 
"Quite sure you would, old boy. Fine. Now we're going to need some spades. Any chance you could find us a couple?"
 
"Spades?"
 
"Yes, you see, Lord Ernest wants to go looking for truffles. Well, no, actually we have to see the Count. He told us to in his letter."
 
Gregory drew away from Alfred.
 
"It's the only way, really."
 
"All right, Sir Aleferd. But Rodolfo must not know."
 
Gregory looked round in the direction of the servants' rooms.
 
"Oh, of course, we won't say a thing. And, by the way, could you open the castle gates at about midnight tonight?"
 
"Yes, Sir Aleferd. Anything for the master."
 
That night, Alfred and Ernest met as planned near the castle gates. As promised, Gregory turned the wheel to let them out. A strong wind had got up which roared through the valley. They followed the path with difficulty, as the moon kept hiding behind large black rain clouds. Every so often they heard the screech of an owl or some other night creature. As they entered the graveyard, the rusty old iron gate squealed. The place was sheltered from the wind by massive cypress trees and was as silent as all the Dracula's that lay buried there. Ernest pointed to a white marble gravestone.
 
"That's the one."
 
As they approached the Count's grave, he looked up into the sky at the pale light from the moon, which threw a white veil over the crooked gravestones.
 
"It's a full moon. They say it was on such nights that the Count went looking for human blood. Well, here we are. Got your spade, Alfred? Don't look so down, old boy. The exercise'll do you good."
 
The soil on the grave was loose and it was not long before they had dug a large hole. Ernest was the first to touch wood.
 
"Ho, ho! I believe we're about to meet the Count again. Is it just the moonlight or are you looking rather pale, dear boy? I know it's well past your bedtime, but I wish you would be a little bit more enthusiastic about it all."
 
"Are you sure we ought to do this, Ernest? I know that I wouldn't like to be disturbed just as I had started my eternal rest."
 
"You're forgetting, dear boy. He's not at rest. Now help me take off the lid."
 
At that moment they heard a screech above their heads. Ernest let out a cry.
 
"The vampire bat! I'd recognise that sound anywhere."
 
Ernest lit a candle and held it over the Count's head. Now it was Alfred's turn to cry out.
 
"Oh, my God, his eyes are still open! Just like the portrait!"
 
"Stop staring and let's search him. I'm afraid we're going to have to turn him over. Just grab his left arm. That's funny. I'd swear he was warm."
 
They searched the coffin but all they found was the Count's silver cane.
 
"Well, look at that! The end of the cane is in the shape of Desmodus Rotondus."
 
"I beg your pardon. Who's he?"
 
"The vampire bat. Look at those pointed ears and the teeth. Just hold the candle a little closer."
 
"Ernest, this is not the time not the place"
 
"Beautiful piece of work. Nothing here though. Pity." They rolled the Count on to his back again. Ernest stopped dead.
 
"Look. His eyes are closed, and I think... yes, I'm certain. I believe he's smiling. I can see his teeth. And what's that? Blood."
 
"Blood?"
 
"Oops. Sorry. I must have cut myself on a nail opening the coffin."
 
"This whole business is beginning to disturb me." They put the coffin back, covering it with soil, and made their way back to the castle.
 
Just as they arrived, Alfred remembered something.
 
"Oh, dash it! I completely forgot to tell old Gregory to let us in again."
 
At that moment, they heard the grinding of the castle gate. When it was wide enough, a white horse charged out, ridden by a man in a black cape and hood. They watched in amazement as the figure disappeared into the night. Ernest grabbed Alfred's arm.
 
"You once asked me whether I believed in ghosts, old chap. Well, I have to say that I think I've changed my mind on the subject."
 
"A ghost! What an article this is going to be! The only trouble is The Globe won't believe a word of it."
 
They ran through the castle yard and up to their bedroom. As he was taking off his cloak, Alfred noticed the Count's portrait.
 
"Look, Ernest. The Count's face. It seems so much more peaceful than before, almost happy."
 
"Who's imagining things now? It looks like an ordinary portrait to me."
 
"That's exactly what I mean."
 
 
 
Chapter four
 
Dracula's Village
 
The next morning it was Mania who served the two men breakfast. Rodolfo was nowhere to be seen. Concerned, Alfred asked Mania where he was, but she was not one to waste energy on words.
 
"Rodolfo sick."
 
"Oh, dear, poor fellow. It's the climate, awfully damp. Almost as bad as England. Well, give him our regards, will you?"
 
By the time he had finished, Mania had already shuffled out of the room.
 
"A jolly nice chap Rodolfo. Takes life a bit too seriously, but..."
 
"Alfred, don't dead people usually look sort of grey and... well... lifeless?"
 
"Don't ask me. You're the expert on death, old boy. I like to avoid it myself. Makes me feel rather insecure."
 
"The Count had red cheeks, as if he were alive. How very strange!"
 
"He looked as dead as a doornail to me. Probably put rouge on him. Undertakers like to have their customers looking their best on the 'big day'."
 
"Yes, maybe. By the way, I had a funny dream last night. We were at the Dracula Cemetery digging up the Count."
 
"That was no dream, old boy. It really happened."
 
"No, no. Wait! We'd stopped for a rest and you were sitting on a gravestone eating a sandwich..."
 
"Eating a sandwich? I'd never eat a sandwich sitting on a gravestone!"
 
"I know you wouldn't. It was only a dream. Anyway, suddenly the coffin lid began to open... very slowly, and out came long white fingers with pointed nails followed by the head of the Count, his eyes shining in the moonlight. When he was half out, he looked up at us, and his mouth opened in a broad smile and I could see his teeth dripping with blood. Suddenly, he spoke in his funny Romanian accent, 'Welcome, my friends. I am happy....' But before he had time to finish the sentence, there was a horrendous screech and down flew a vampire bat, which landed on his shoulder. It was the screech that woke me up. Very unfortunate. I don't have many dreams and I really wanted to see how this one would end."
 
"I'm rather glad you didn't. You said 'scream'. About what time?"
 
"I couldn't go back to sleep, so I lit a candle to read a bit of Edgar and I happened to look at my watch. It was precisely 2.34. Why?"
 
"Well, at about that time I heard a scream too. A long blood-chilling scream that seemed to rise from the very heart of the castle. It sounded hollow, as if it was coming from the bottom of a well. Quite disturbing!"
 
"Yes, it was, rather. It hasn't affected your appetite though."
 
"Quite the opposite. I haven't had an appetite like this for years. I do recommend this fishy stuff. Very tasty with brown bread and butter."
 
"Alfred, old chap, this whole business is awfully good fun, isn't it? Screams in the night. Ghosts on white horses. What next?"
 
"I must say you have an odd idea of fun. As for ghosts on horses, I'm not convinced. Though the resemblance was quite astonishing, I must say."
 
"Well, I suggest we go into the village and try to get some information from the locals...just as soon as you've had your fill of that fishy looking stuff. Ugh!"
 
"You should try it, old boy. Absolutely delicious. Ah, here's Gregory. I say, Gregory, would you be a good chap and run us into the village today? Lord Ernest and I feel like seeing a bit of the local colour."
 
"Of course, Sir Aleferd."
 
"I suppose you've noticed, Ernest, that I've joined the aristocracy. Sir Alfred... it sounds rather good actually... Sir Alfred... em?"
 
The village was miles from anywhere, cut off from the rest of the world by tall, snow-topped mountains. It was pouring with rain and the main street was deserted, apart from the occasional wet bundle running from one doorway to another. They decided to go straight for the inn.
 
Ernest pushed open the door and entered a dimly lit room full of heavy wooden tables, where some of the locals were drinking and talking. An oil lamp hung from the wooden ceiling. When Gregory and the Englishmen entered, silence fell like a heavy cloud. Alfred raised his hand and smiled at the silent watchers.
 
"Good day to you all. Frightful weather, isn't it? Jolly fine inn! My compliments to the landlord. Ah, my dear sir. The barman, I suppose."
 
A large man with a red face and white apron was standing by a barrel.
 
"Yes?"
 
"I'd like to buy these fine fellows a drink. And if you have a moment, I'd be grateful if you could give us some information. I'm a journalist, and my friend here is a historian, and we're writing a history of the Dracula family."
 
At the sound of Dracula, heads turned towards the foreigners.
 
"You'd better ask some of them."
 
The barman indicated the drinkers at the tables.
 
"Now, who'd like to have a little chat about the Dracula family?"
 
No one answered. After a minute or so, a young man with fiery red hair rose unsteadily to his feet.
 
"You mean the 'vampire family'. I'll tell you about them. Come over here and sit down,"
 
Ernest and Alfred pulled up two stools and sat opposite the red-haired man, who seemed a bit drunk.
 
"Jolly nice of you, old chap."
 
"The Count likes human blood. Especially the blood of young women, just like his wife's, who died mysteriously years ago."
 
"What do you mean 'mysteriously'?"
 
"She was found dead with tooth marks on her neck. It is believed that they were done by her husband. He killed her then, just as he killed my sister last night."
 
"What did you say? Last night?"
 
"Yes, and she's still up there, with the marks on her neck for all the world to see. Count Dracula may be dead, but he can still kill. My sister, my beautiful sister, she's dead and I'm certain that he killed her."
 
The man began to sob into his drink.
 
"Steady on, old chap. Sorry to hear about your sister. But these are quite strong accusations. Have you any proof?"
 
Just then an old man, with a country face, spoke up from the next table.
 
"That man doesn't know what he's saying. He's from another village. The Count was no vampire. He was a good man. He loved the people of the village. I'll never forget the winter of '82'. It started to snow in September and didn't stop until April. The people were starving. What did the Count do? He opened up his stores to the people and kept all of us alive. He nearly starved to death himself. The Count is no vampire."
 
"Very interesting! So, how do you explain the deaths and the teeth marks."
 
The man stopped for a moment and thought.
 
"The vampire bat."
 
Ernest suddenly showed interest. He had learnt the word for vampire bat in Romanian.
 
'What's that about vampire bat?"
 
Alfred told him what the old man had said.
 
"I think we should go and see this young girl. I say, old fellow, you said your sister was killed by the Count. You wouldn't care to prove it, would you?"
 
The drunken young man got to his feet and dragged them to the staircase. They stumbled up, the man talking to himself all the time.
 
"We had to bring her here. She was very ill. Coughing blood. This was the nearest village with a doctor, Dr Magorsky, but..."
 
They reached the bedroom door. Inside, they could see the body of a young girl laid out on a bed with a sheet covering the lower part of her body. A woman of about forty was crying beside the bed. On the other side of the bed, an old man in a black suit was gathering up some surgical instruments.
 
The drunken man fell into the room.
 
"Look! Look at the work of the vampire Count!"
 
Alfred and Ernest saw a beautiful pale face. On her neck were two red dots about an inch apart. The old man turned angrily at the intruders.
 
"Who are you? Get out of here at once."
 
"They're friends of mine, Doctor. They didn't believe that..."
 
"Well, now you know what a devil the Count was... and still is; you can leave."
 
"Well, thank you, Doctor. I hope we shall have the pleasure again."
 
Alfred wished to get out as quickly as possible. Ernest, on the other hand, was quietly looking around the room. Alfred couldn't keep his eyes off the bloodless girl.
 
"I say, Ernest old chap. I think I need a drink."
 
At the table in the inn below, Ernest was thinking.
 
"I didn't like the Doctor at all. Nasty piece of work. Definitely not a gentleman. Did notice that scratch on his hand?"
 
"I don't know what you're saying, old boy. As soon as we've had this drink I suggest we get back to the castle."
 
 
 
Chapter five
 
The Search
 
Back in Dracula Castle, Alfred and Ernest were sitting in front of a blazing fire after yet another wonderful meal, this time of roast goose and apple pie with cream on top. Alfred raised his glass of wine in the air.
 
"I would like to drink a toast to the Count and his superb hospitality."
 
"And his excellent taste in wines. The old fellow certainly knew how to eat and drink well. As for Mania, she's an absolute treasure."
 
"You know, Ernest, I am a little bit worried. The evidence does not seem to be in the old chap's favour, does it? A figure looking like the Count rides out into the moonlit night and two hours later a girl dies with two teeth marks on her neck. It can hardly be a coincidence now, can it?"
 
"The question is whether we believe in ghosts or not. As you know, I'd love them to exist, but my logic tells me that they don't. Therefore, that person on the white horse could not have been the Count. So, who was it?"
 
"Well, it certainly wasn't Mania or Gregory. And the only other person in the castle is..."
 
"Good thinking, old boy. Perhaps that's why he didn't serve us at breakfast yesterday. He was catching up on his sleep. But why?"
 
"I can't help feeling that the answer must be in the Count's letter. I've got it here. Let's see.
 
 
 
"Don't leave a stone unturned...' stone... we have to look under stones... "You can lead a horse to water...'"
 
 
 
Suddenly, a scream, just like the one they had heard the previous night, was heard faintly echoing through the castle. Alfred shivered.
 
"Did you hear it?"
 
"I certainly did, old boy. And I think it came from outside."
 
They ran out into the castle yard, but there was nothing to be seen except the well. They stood wondering where the sound could have come from. Alfred pointed to the well.
 
"Do you see that enormous stone covering the well? How on earth do they get the water out?"
 
"Interesting question, old boy. And what's that thick piece of wood for?"
 
"Ernest, come here! Quick!"
 
Alfred was holding his ear to the stone.
 
"What is it?"
 
"I can hear something like an animal in pain, crying or... no, it's more of a moan. Can you hear it?"
 
"Sorry. Can't hear a thing. I think your mind's playing tricks on you, old boy. It's probably the rumbling of your stomach after that delicious goose. Let's get back inside. It's freezing out here."
 
Gregory was standing inside the door of the dining room with a worried look on his face.
 
"Sir what is the matter?"
 
"Probably my imagination. I thought I heard someone scream."
 
"Ah, that was Don Juan maybe. He has bad dreams."
 
"I beg your pardon. Don Juan?"
 
"I mean Rodolfo. Don Juan is his nickname. He was loved by many women, but he loved the master more."
 
"I see. By the way, Gregory, I've been meaning to ask you. Tell me about Dr Magorsky. Lord Ernest and I didn't take to him very much."
 
"He was the Count's doctor, but he is an evil man. He uses old medicine, the medicine of the witches. Herbs, leaves..."
 
"Nothing wrong with herbs. My Aunt Agatha swears by them."
 
"Frogs, snakes, bats and mice and other living creatures."
 
"Well, yes, I think Aunt Agatha would draw the line there."
 
"He bleeds all his patients. He says losing blood is good for you. But he does not care about health. He is a greedy man, who loves only money."
 
"Thank you very much, Gregory old fellow. Bleeds his patients..."
 
"Good night, Sir Aleferd. I am an old man and must sleep."
 
"Oh, of course, old boy. Sweet dreams!"
 
Alfred told Ernest what Gregory said. Ernest was intrigued.
 
"It becomes more interesting by the minute. I suggest we go for a walk before breakfast, when our minds are clear, and try and sort this out."
 
"Ernest, old boy, what has got into you? I thought you liked sleep. I wish you'd have pity on me. I'm exhausted."
 
"My dear fellow, we're on a case. We can't waste time sleeping."
 
The next morning, Alfred and Ernest got up early and went out into the yard for a walk. Through the thick mist they saw Rodolfo near the well carrying a tray of food. Alfred was surprised.
 
"That's funny. What's Rodolfo doing? I didn't ask for breakfast in bed."
 
Rodolfo had laid the tray on the well top and was holding an enormous piece of wood. Alfred called out. Rodolfo turned with a look of shock on his face.
 
"Bright and early, I see, Rodolfo. Or should I say, Don Juan? I wanted to ask you about this well top. How do you get the water out?"
 
"The well is not used. The Count put a stone over it many years ago."
 
"I see, what is that piece of wood for?"
 
Rodolfo seemed angry.
 
"This well is not used. The wood is rotten."
 
"Looks fine to me, but I won't argue with you, old fellow."
 
"Now I must leave."
 
"Of course. Oh, don't forget your tray. Em, those eggs and that bacon look good. Perhaps we should have breakfast now, Ernest."
 
Rodolfo took the tray and went quickly towards the kitchen.
 
"Come on, Alfred. Stop thinking of your stomach and let's go for that walk. I suggest we visit the Count."
 
"The Count?"
 
"Yes, I feel he may give us inspiration."
 
Dracula Cemetery was as quiet as an empty house. Even the birds seemed to have stopped singing. Because of the thick mist, they could hardly see more than a few feet in front of them. Suddenly Alfred couldn't see Ernest anywhere.
 
"Ernest! Where on earth have you gone?"
 
There was no answer, just the echo of his voice. He called again and this time got an answer.
 
"I'm over here, dear boy. At the Count's grave. And I've found something rather interesting."
 
"Just keep talking, will you? In that way, I might be able to find you."
 
Finally, Alfred found Ernest leaning over the Count's grave.
 
"Do you think it's rather strange that there is no sign of our footsteps? It's as if the soil was taken out and put back again."
 
"Don't forget; it rained last night."
 
"What I can't understand is why the Count told us in his letter to visit him when he had nothing to tell us."
 
"Hold on. I've just had an idea. You don't think that cane of his is hollow, do you? And that inside is a vital message?"
 
"My word, you're a genius, dear boy. Of course, it must be!"
 
"Oh, dear. Does that mean we have to do more grave- digging?"
 
"Afraid so, old chap. But you're getting quite good at it. By the way, have you been eating garlic?"
 
"Garlic? Well, yes... em... I... thought it better to be safe than sorry. I got dear Mania to let me have a few cloves for emergencies."
 
"The smell is enough to keep away the Devil himself. As for the vampire bat, he wouldn't dare fly within a mile of us. Come on. Let's go and have breakfast."
 
They made their way back by the river to the castle gate, which Gregory had left open for them. Alfred was still trying to work out the connection between stones, water and horses.
 
"You know, Ernest. I feel that the solution to our mystery lies very close to that well. There's a big stone there, with water under it, and opposite the stable where the Count's horse is kept. I'm sure the answer lies under that stone."
 
Ernest touched Alfred's arm and held a finger to his mouth.
 
"Sh! Look, Rodolfo just got out of the well. And he's pushing the stone back by himself. Good heavens, he must be as strong as an ox."
 
Through the mist they saw Rodolfo carrying a tray from the well to the kitchen. Alfred slapped the side of his head in annoyance.
 
"Dash it! I should have thought of it before. Don Juan was a great lover, wasn't he? What did the Count say in his letter? 'Beware of the Lover.' Do you think Rodolfo could be 'The Lover? We'd better keep a very close eye on him and find out what's hidden down that well. Why was he carrying a tray?"
 
"All this detective work has given me quite an appetite. What about you, Alfred?"
 
"Oh, yes. And I think we deserve it. I feel we're getting very close to an important discovery."
 
 
 
Chapter six
 
The Missing Link
 
That night Alfred and Ernest were too tired to go grave- digging. They decided, however, that they would keep a careful eye on Rodolfo. They felt that he, and in fact all three servants, were hiding something which might provide the key to the whole Dracula mystery. So, next morning they got up early, before the mist had risen, and slipped out into the castle yard to wait for Rodolfo to appear with his tray of food, as they believed he almost certainly would. About ten feet from the well, Gregory had parked the carriage with the Dracula coat of arms and the head of the vampire bat painted in gold on the side. They decided that this would be a good place to hide. Ernest looked at his watch.
 
"Do you think he's not coming? We've been here for nearly an hour."
 
"Perhaps he heard us come out and realised that we're after him."
 
"Well, let's give him another fifteen minutes."
 
They waited another fifteen minutes and were about to give up when they heard the kitchen door slam shut.
 
"I think it's him."
 
Sure enough, Rodolfo appeared carrying the same tray as on the previous day. But instead of stopping at the well, he walked straight to the carriage. Ernest and Alfred began to feel uneasy. However, when he reached the driver's seat, he stopped and laid the tray on it. Then, he returned to the well and, using the thick piece of wood as a lever, pushed back the stone. He came back for the tray and, to their surprise, climbed into the well and disappeared. Alfred whistled to himself,
 
"I think this is our opportunity. Let's follow him."
 
Alfred reached the well first. He could hear the sound of Rodolfo's boots on the stone steps as he went deeper into the well. At some point, they seemed to just fade away. Alfred looked in, but all he could see was a black hole.
 
"I say, I don't fancy getting in there. Looks like the way down to Hell!"
 
Ernest struck a match and held it over the hole. They could make out spiral steps built on the side of the well. There was nothing to hold on to, and the steps looked wet and slippery, so if either of them fell, he would almost certainly go hurtling down to a sure death. Ernest got into the mouth of the well.
 
"Be careful. The steps are all wet and slimy."
 
Step by step they climbed down into the darkness, feeling their way as best they could by leaning against the well wall. Suddenly, Alfred saw Ernest fall. For a moment he thought he had seen the last of his friend and he expected to hear the fatal splash. Instead, he heard Ernest's voice coming from the well. Then he realised what had happened. There was a large hole in the wall and Ernest had fallen into it and was now lying on the floor of what, by the looks of it, was a passageway, which led somewhere underground.
 
"Are you all right, old chap?"
 
"Well, just about. I thought I was on my way to meet the Count for a moment. Where the devil are we?"
 
"Your guess is as good as mine. The home of the vampire bat I should think. Hold on a tick. I can just make out a dim light at the end there."
 
Ernest got to his feet and felt his way along the passage to a door, which was slightly open. Inside, they could hear Rodolfo's voice and the grunts of some kind of animal. Ernest pushed the door slightly.
 
"There's only one way to find out. Let's go."
 
He opened the door just enough to see what was happening. Rodolfo had his back to them and was facing someone sitting on a chair. He appeared to have a spoon in one hand, feeding a baby. The room was warm and comfortable, with expensive Persian carpets on the floor. Rodolfo got up to put more wood on the fire, revealing the ugliest creature they had ever seen. One side of its face was twisted and shapeless, and its arms and whole body were all bent and moving out of control. Uneaten food and meaningless sounds were coming out of its mouth. Alfred could not help exclaiming.
 
 
 
 
 
- THE END -
 
 
 
 

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