Author's Note: After I read Dracula this summer, I was inspired to write "Countess," and as a sort of homage to that great classic, I decided that Igor was changed by Count Dracula himself (though I only reference that subtly in the actual story). I would not presume to mess with Bram Stoker's canon too much—but this little story is kind of a crossover-fanfiction-alternate universe sort of...thing. You don't have to read that book to understand this story; it'll probably still make sense either way.
A middle-aged man in a tweed suit sat alone at a restaurant table for two, the opposite place set in expectation of someone joining him. The restaurant was crowded and pleasantly noisy; the man kept craning his neck to search for his guest over the heads of the crowd. He was a short, broad-shouldered man with thick spectacles and bushy eyebrows that almost hid his eyes. Drumming his fingers against his teacup, he reached into his waistcoat pocket with his other hand and checked his pocket watch.
His visitor was not late; he was early.
Nevertheless, he felt anxious, unsettled. The typewritten letter he had received requesting this rendezvous had been nagging at the back of his mind for some time with uneasiness. He pulled it out of his pocket and reread it for the umpteenth time.
We have not been properly introduced, so you do not know me, but I know of you, and I know a few of your secrets that the world does not. I dare not put anything explicit in this letter for fear it may go astray; however, I will say that my knowledge concerns a certain mutual acquaintance of ours from Transylvania, and some events surrounding him that took place last year.
I should like to discuss a few important topics relevant to the subject mentioned above. I ask that you meet me on Tuesday the eleventh at 4:30 inside Sophie's Restaurant on the corner of Barrister and Cherry Streets.
Please come alone.
The message was not signed, nor was there any return address. But the ominous words alluding to those dreadful events of last year—did this person truly know everything? How could anyone know—and believe—what the six of them had endured, and the disaster that so nearly befell the world? Perhaps the stranger had somehow gotten hold of the journals—but an outsider reading them would dismiss them as fantastic imaginings and works of fiction. Or perhaps one of the others had told a friend of their tale, but this seemed highly unlikely as well.
The only feasible solution seemed to be that this stranger was an ally of their deceased foe. He pulled the iron crucifix out of his pocket just to be sure it was still there. If this was in fact a trap...he was prepared.
"Professor Van Helsing, I presume?" inquired a dainty voice, not unlike tinkling china.
Looking up in astonishment, he saw an exquisitely beautiful young lady standing by his table: complexion as pale and smooth as porcelain; piercing dark eyes framed by long dark lashes; full, voluptuous lips; tresses of glossy black curls falling onto her shoulders. For a moment, the professor was speechless.
"You are the author of the letter asking me to meet here?" he sputtered.
She smiled. "You were expecting a man, were you not?" she chuckled. "My name is Rosalind Romanov, Professor."
He noticed a slight accent in her voice—particularly that she replaced her Ws with V sounds. Apart from that, her English was impeccable, but still he suspected that she was native to Eastern Europe.
"How do you do, Miss Romanov," he said politely, pulling out her chair for her.
"Very well, thank you," she said with another radiant smile, "However, it is Mrs. Romanov." She held up her left hand, as if for proof, where an enormous ruby glistened.
He sat back down across from her and studied his guest. Though he was certain they had never met, her features seemed somewhat familiar—but he could not put a finger on the reason.
"I shall get straight to the point, Mr. Van Helsing," Mrs. Romanov said, her smile fading into a serious expression. "There are two particular topics I wish to speak with you about. My husband regrets that he cannot join us today, but he is quite occupied at the moment—however, he and I are of one accord in this matter."
"Madam, forgive me," Van Helsing interrupted, "but it has troubled me ever since you sent me the letter—how do you claim to know what occurred last year regarding our Transylvanian acquaintance? Are you certain we are speaking of the same man?"
Rosalind raised an eyebrow. "I have little time for euphemisms, sir. Let us speak plainly. I know that you and five friends—Jonathan Harker; his wife Mina; Dr. John Seward; Lord Godalming; and Quincey Morris—attempted to kill Count Dracula, the foulest and most powerful vampire in existence."
Van Helsing started, not simply at her knowledge, but at the cool, matter-of-fact tone she expressed it in.
"How—how did you--?"
"My husband and I have been tracking his movements for centuries, but we dared not rise up against him yet, for—alas—he is still more powerful than both of us together."
Suddenly, Van Helsing understood why she seemed familiar: the voluptuous beauty, the pallid skin, and even (he finally noticed now that he was searching for them) sharpened canine teeth like fangs. He had seen these characteristics before—in three beautiful, haunting women dressed in white, teasing and taunting him to step outside of his safe refuge, imploring dear Mina to join them...how they had screamed that night when he had staked them through the heart...
"You are one of them," he breathed, horrified. Numbly, he reached for his crucifix.
"Don't be absurd," she said coldly, a frown passing over her face. "Dracula and I may be of the same nature in the broadest sense, but we are in no way the same in character. He is the fiend that created my husband—believe me, Professor, no one wants that Count dead more than the two of us. No, do not take your crucifix out," she added, "that will only cause queer looks from bystanders. And it is only effective on evil vampires anyways. How could I possibly harm you here, now, even if I wanted to? This place is brimming with witnesses—that is why I chose it. I assure you, Professor, I merely wish to talk."
"And what," he managed to say in a strangled voice (for he had never carried on a conversation with the undead before), "did you wish to talk about regarding Dracula?"
"First," said Rosalind, her eyebrows rose gravely, "I want to talk about a certain Lucy Westenra."
Van Helsing's eyes widened at the name, but his lips pressed tightly together.
"I know you recognize the name, Van Helsing. She was a friend of yours, a dear friend, and you tried desperately to save her life." She leaned forward, her hands folded together. "But you made a grave mistake afterwards," she whispered.
This made Van Helsing's blood rush through his cheeks with indignation.
"And what, pray, would you know about Lucy Westenra?" he demanded. The memory—and the implication by a complete stranger that she knew better than he did—caused him renewed anguish over the sweet girl's fate.
"I know you were trying to do the right thing," she said, "and I know you had the noblest of intentions but you were misguided."
"Mrs. Romanov, how dare you suggest that you know more on the subject than I?" he snapped, his face turning dangerously magenta.
"Mr. Van Helsing, I did not come here to cause you pain," she soothed, her face softening with commiseration. "I know you loved her like a daughter, and that is why you acted in the manner that you did. But I believe you should know the truth, in order to be certain that this mistake shall never occur again."
"Lucy Westenra was slowly murdered by Count Dracula," said Van Helsing, barely containing his fury. "And she returned, thanks to him, as one of the undead. She was no longer our Lucy, no longer with a soul, no longer that sweet and innocent young lady we all loved—would she not be grateful that we set her free?"
"She was not lost just yet!" Rosalind cried. "There was still hope left for her. You do not understand the nature of vampires as well as you think you do, Mr. Van Helsing."
His eyebrows contracted in disbelief and anger, but he simply said, "Explain."
"We are not soulless demons, Mr. Van Helsing," she said firmly. "The desire to kill is a difficult one to conquer but it can be overcome—my husband and I have never murdered a soul in our three hundred years of life. It is a constant struggle, but it is not impossible. Thus, this makes us responsible for our actions—and makes the acts of the murderous undead all the more atrocious."
"How do you simply go without...sustenance?" Van Helsing cringed at the mention of blood.
"Animal blood," she muttered, hoping not to disgust him further. "But we are not here to discuss how my husband and I live. We were speaking of Lucy."
"The vampire that was once Lucy had been sucking the blood of children," Van Helsing protested.
"But she never killed any of them, do you recall? She took only a little from each of them—and surely she did not want to harm them. She did not know how else to survive without murdering."
"Do you intend to justify injuring innocent children?"
"Not at all," said Rosalind grimly. In a hollow voice she added, "But I was there the night that Lucy Westenra was killed a second time."
Startled, Van Helsing listened to her story with a mixture of skepticism and curiosity. He had to lean over across the table to hear all of her soft words.
"My husband Igor and I had heard that Dracula had gone to England—our castle in the Carpathians is very close by, and we had made a habit of monitoring his movements. I am sure he knew; it probably amused him. We knew that his sudden interest in England could only mean trouble, so we traveled via train all the way to France, and then crossed the English Channel by boat—the problem was, we could not cross running water unless it were high or low tide, and so we had to wait for the tide to turn. I fear that delayed us some. The Count, of course, had started off earlier and beat us to England.
"By the time we arrived, we traced his movements to the charming seaside residence where Mrs. Westenra and her daughter were staying. Dr. Seward was already perplexed by Lucy's condition, enough to have called you in to look at her. Igor knew already what was happening—for he himself had been transformed by that very same Count. But Dracula eluded us every time that we attempted to confront him. And even if we had tried to fight him, he would have destroyed us both, and we would have been no use to you dead.
"After the poor dear Lucy had died, Igor told me what was going to happen. He had seen it happen to me, as I lay cold and dead for a time, and then awakened at night to new life. We waited in the crypt for her to awaken.
"She opened the coffin lid and stretched, as though she had simply been asleep. But she looked about herself curiously, as though unsure of what she was doing there. I pitied her. I remembered the feeling.
"She noticed us then, with a startled little sound, but we must have frightened her—perhaps my husband reminded her of the other Count who had murdered her. Though we chased after her and called her name, she refused to speak to us; she ran away.
"The next day, as we read the newspapers, we began to hear of her deeds. The mysterious lady who lured children far from their homes and they returned with strange punctures in their neck... We believed she could be reasoned with, but it had to be done quickly.
"And then you, Jonathan, and Dr. Seward led poor Arthur to her vault, to prove her fate to him—and you actually encountered the girl. Igor and I could only watch from a distance. It broke my heart to see the way you all clutched stakes and cloves of garlic, the way you looked upon the lovely girl with such abhorrence, whom you had once loved so!"
Van Helsing interrupted with a growl, "She was no longer our Lucy, but only bore the appearance of her. The undead creature was mocking Lucy by looking like her."
Rosalind bowed her head. "I understand why it angered you, Van Helsing—how it must have seemed like Lucy had been replaced with a monster. But the poor girl was most aggrieved by your reaction to her. She opened her arms to her fiancé in supplication.
"'Arthur! My husband,' she sighed, 'Come to me.'
"Of course it seemed to you all she was simply luring him into a trap; that she intended to ensnare the poor man. You heard in her voice falseness; you heard what you expected to hear! The girl missed her fiancé. She loved him still. But Arthur thought his Lucy was gone, and all of you drove her back into her grave.
"After the group left, Igor and I followed Lucy into her crypt. She was sitting on the lid of her coffin, weeping wretchedly.
"'Lucy,' my husband said gently—even though he appears menacing, he is really quite compassionate. 'Lucy, I am sorry for what happened to you.'
"'Who are you?' she said suspiciously, edging further away from us. 'Don't you come any closer to me! You look like him.'
"I knew she meant the one other vampire she had met. 'Lucy, no, no, we won't hurt you,' I promised her, 'we want to help you. We know you didn't want to hurt those children.'
"She looked up at me with the saddest eyes I have ever seen. Tears were spilling down her face. 'I couldn't stop,' she said helplessly. 'I wish I were really dead. I've become a monster!'
"But my husband put a hand on her shoulder. 'You don't have to be, Lucy,' he assured her. 'Come with us. We can help you learn how to live without hurting anybody.'
"She looked skeptical, but she was listening. 'How can that be?'
"We both assured her that we would teach her. She could be like our sister, live with us and never have to be lonely again. She began to cry once more.
"'Arthur h-hates me!' she sobbed. 'Did you see the way he looked at me, like I was some sort of demon? And I am! Oh, but I love him so, I still love him!' And her sobs became incoherent.
"Igor and I watched her with pity, not knowing quite how to comfort her. 'Perhaps, if you learn how to control yourself,' he suggested, 'you could attempt to speak to him again. Perhaps he wouldn't despise you forever.'
"Lucy shook her head. 'He will hate me forever,' she insisted. 'He will not listen.' But she looked at us with curiosity. 'Who are you, anyways?'
"'My name is Igor,' said my husband with a bow, 'and this is my wife, Rosalind. We are like you, Lucy. We do not wish to harm humans. Come with us.'
"She looked at us, and for a moment, I saw hope dawning on her face like the sunrise. I could tell, she wanted to come with us. She wanted to be good.
"But then something caught her eye, and she looked frightened. 'Dawn is almost here,' she whispered. Igor and I looked at one another nervously, for we knew we had to escape quickly if we were to avoid the sunlight.
"'Think on what we said,' said Igor, 'and we will return tomorrow night. If you want to join us, we can bring you home tomorrow night.'
"Lucy nodded, and we slipped out the cemetery gate, into the safety of the dark woods."
Rosalind paused in her tale, closing her eyes in distress.
"When we arrived the next dusk to speak to her again, she was dead. A stake was pierced through her heart, her head was cut off, and her mouth was filled with garlic. We were too late."
Van Helsing's mouth was open slightly in a kind of horrified trance. He did not know whether to believe the incredible story or not—but what if they had been wrong after all?
A tear was glistening in Mrs. Romanov's eye. "She was going to come with us, I know it," she choked. "I realize it is not your fault, Mr. Van Helsing, but you made a grave mistake in killing Lucy Westenra."
Van Helsing took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose with a shaky hand. Mrs. Romanov noticed that his eyes were red around the rims.
"Mr. Van Helsing, I'm sorry," she said softly. "I know she was your friend." She placed a comforting hand over his—he winced a little when he felt how icy her hand was, but, as if he had forgotten what manner of a being she was, he did not pull his hand away.
"How could this be true? How can I believe you?" he muttered miserably to himself, shaking his head.
"What reason should I have for lying?" she pointed out. "You take great pride in having what you call an open mind—do not close your mind to the possibility of benevolent vampires simply because the thought is too inconvenient!"
Van Helsing was silent for a moment in wretched contemplation and renewed heartache. Could it all have been his fault? But if Mrs. Romanov was correct, how could he have known it at the time?
"It was not your fault," she repeated softly. "But take care that your vampire slayings are not so indiscriminate in the future. I could not bear to tell Arthur—I think it best that he never knows. It would destroy him."
"You mentioned earlier," said Van Helsing gruffly, with an obvious attempt at collecting himself matter-of-factly, "that there were two matters you wished to discuss. What is the other?"
"Indeed, there is one other—a question for you," she said, folding her hands together and studying him with one raised eyebrow. "You claim to have slain Count Dracula. Tell me how you...accomplished this."
Van Helsing was taken aback. "Why does it matter? He has been dead for a year."
Rosalind frowned. "I am not certain of that, Professor. Tell me how you killed him."
Van Helsing gave her an unadorned, succinct version of the tale—how they had trapped the Count on his flight back to Transylvania, when he lay in a box of earth being transported back to his castle; how they had first decapitated him with a knife and then stabbed him through the heart; how poor, courageous Quincey had perished of a mortal wound in the battle; how the Count had crumbled instantaneously into dust after they stabbed him.
Rosalind chewed on her bottom lip for a long moment, which made Van Helsing nervous—he did not care for the way it exposed her sharp fangs.
"You say your group stabbed him in the heart with a knife? And they had done the beheading first?" she ascertained absently.
"That is correct."
"Not with a stake," she said, shaking her head. "It must be done with a wooden stake, Professor—and that must come before the beheading, else he is not truly dead. The stake keeps a vampire from rising again by holding the creature down to the earth and keeps it from healing itself; the beheading afterwards keeps the creature separated from its senses and its mind."
"He crumbled into dust before our very eyes, Madam! I see not any other explanation. And our dear Madam Mina was freed from the curse of Dracula and her baptism of blood—surely that must mean her tormentor was dead!"
Rosalind shook her head. "Professor Van Helsing, it seems to me that Dracula only wanted you to believe that he had perished. He released Mina from his curse to throw you off the scent, so you would think him truly gone forever. Though he seemed to crumble into dust, you know that he is capable of changing himself into mist or smoke at will—do you not think that he could deceive you thus? Oh, he is clever, to be certain, clever enough to fake his own death to insure you will never hunt him again, while he regains his strength and plots another assault on England for a few more decades later, once you are gone!"
He slammed his fist on the table. "Dracula is dead, Madam! How could he be otherwise? How could he have survived our attack?"
"Van Helsing," she scolded, "you pride yourself with being a logical man! Do not ignore the truth simply because you do not want to believe it."
"My friend Quincey gave his life to our cause," said Van Helsing in a rough voice. "Are you trying to tell me that his sacrifice was in vain?"
"Not in vain," she assured him, "for you have delayed him many years, put him at an extreme disadvantage for the time being. But he is not gone...nor, do I think, will he ever be unless a veritable army was to rise up against him."
"The six of you humans," she added kindly, "were the bravest and noblest creatures I have ever had the pleasure to witness. You were earnest in your motives, and you wanted to spare the world from this fiend as well as save your dear Madam Mina. But truly, you had no chance against him," she said sadly. "No band of humans could have any hope of destroying such a powerful, vile creature—he is the worst of our kind, determined to survive forever and conquer all who stand in his way. My husband and I could not even hope to destroy him either—and we are of his species! He possesses dark powers which we dare not dabble in. How, then, could a small group of humans—stout of heart, yes, but comparatively weak—expect to slay him?"
Van Helsing was faintly touched by her genuine praise, but the rest of her message seemed rather discouraging.
"Is there nothing that we can possibly do to stop him, then?" he growled. "If you are correct, surely there is no hope for the world, which will slowly succumb to the Devil's powers."
"But you have stopped him—for now," she said. "And so will other bands of valiant souls, vampires and humans alike, delaying him again and again—why, perhaps he shall always be kept at bay. Perhaps one day your kind and mine shall work alongside each other to this end."
Van Helsing snorted. "You are rather idealistic, no?"
"I simply try to brighten up my immortality with some optimism for humanity," she said dryly. "Believe me, my husband makes up for it with his gloominess. I love him dearly, but often he sees the world in such a dim light...except for me, that is...poor dear."
Mrs. Romanov checked her watch. "It is getting late," she said.
"Surely the dark does not bother you," Van Helsing said sardonically.
Rosalind smirked. "No, but I did promise my husband I would be back shortly," she explained. "We are returning home to Transylvania tomorrow, hopefully."
"Then keep an eye on our mutual enemy, while you are there," said Van Helsing.
"I assure you, we will," she said darkly. "And we shall contact you should there be any sign of his returning to England."
They both stood.
"It has been, er, interesting meeting you, Mrs. Romanov," said Van Helsing honestly. "I cannot say that I trust you implicitly, but I cannot help but feel you are harmless."
She bowed her head with a smile. "That, sir, is the most I could hope for," she said graciously. "Thank you for patiently listening. It was a pleasure meeting you properly."
He kissed her hand politely, and they parted. He watched her go curiously, pondering the dark theories she had put forth—possibilities terrible to behold, yet seemingly inevitable ones. His life's most important accomplishment had, it seemed, been mainly ineffectual.
A certain idea seized him while he rode through London in a chaise: he had to be certain that another generation of slayers could succeed them in the task. They had to be clever enough to anticipate the Count's moves, and they had to be willing to devote themselves to the duty.
He had to leave a clue behind, out in the public eye so that anyone could discover it, but subtle enough that most would dismiss it. And it had to endure long after he was gone.
The carriage rolled past a library—and suddenly the solution was illuminated for him as though God himself had planted the idea.
Publish the journals that they had written on the experience—as a fiction novel!
It made for an incredible story, to be sure, and would certainly do well enough in sales, for seldom had such an eerie story been told in print. And any reader would dismiss it as a fantastical, imaginative, fictional tale—except those intelligent and open-minded enough to see the truth in it!
His face lit up with joy, for here was a glorious solution that ensured that everyone would know their story, without realizing it. And should another crisis arise, someone would know how to incapacitate the vampire.
All he needed was a good pen name, so that suspicion was not cast on any of the journal writers. Immediately Bram came to mind as the first name, for it was a nickname his mother had often used for him as a boy, when Abraham had seemed too long. He cast his gaze around the crowded London streets to come up with a last name.
A sign above a coffin shop caught his eye: Stoker and Sons.
A smile spread across Van Helsing's face. It sounded like a legitimate novel already, one that could interest the public, and a respectable front for their own terrifying autobiography: Dracula, by Bram Stoker.