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We Shall Never Lack the Means of Life

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At the age of fifty-nine, R.M. Renfield remained a man of great physical strength; “more like a wild beast than a man”—even that lovelorn fool Seward had sometimes spoken truly. When the opportunity presented itself to escape the Lunatic Asylum House, that aforementioned strength had permitted him to overpower the attendants handily, to scale the solid stone wall surrounding Carfax, and to make his way to the Purfleet docks in the dead of night. En route he relieved a well-appointed man, one as burly as himself, of his costly vestments, his gold watch and chain, his purse, and various other personal effects. The sailors and stevedores raised their brows at the creature who stood among them—the wild white hair escaping from under his new top hat, the stubble lining his jaw, the unnerving stare, the grin of a ghoul; all giving the lie to his gentleman’s garb—and shifted their feet uneasily. Nonetheless, the captain of the freighter about to weigh anchor accepted the tidy sum Renfield proffered for discreet passage to the Continent, the accommodations less luxurious than a gentleman might expect but certainly more agreeable than his recently vacated cell.

Indeed, Renfield remained a man of prodigious fortitude; that acknowledged, he was yet a man of nearly six decades, and his age—as well as the toll of his maltreatment at the hands of the Count—had made his ascent through the Swiss Alps a taxing one even at the height of summer. Gasping great lungfuls of thin air, he sank down upon a broad, flat outcropping of rock to rest for a bit. A scuttling motion caught the corner of his eye; making its unhurried away across the surface of the montane stone about a foot away was a handsome example of Harpalus affinis, its metallic-green thorax gleaming lustrously in the mild morning light. “What a very pretty canapé you will make,” Renfield crooned to the beetle. Taking it up in two fingers, he popped it into his mouth, enjoying the crunch of it between the crowns of his teeth. His stomach absorbed the life-force of the resplendent insect, and he felt the surge of it in his blood—much stronger than any he had experienced before, even from the birds and kittens he had consumed.

This was no great surprise to him; the man whom he sought had supposedly survived for three hundred years on spiders alone, consuming thousands of them per day. Since arriving in the Alps, Renfield too had savoured his share of rejuvenating arachnids, primarily wolf and oak spiders, with the occasional Anyphaena accentuata whose buzz against his palate suggested the energy with which it was shortly to imbue him. Perhaps the harsh Alpine environs winnowed its fauna down to those with the greatest spark of life in them, as that Royal Society fellow might have put it; but Renfield, being no scholar, did not indulge himself with such speculation, any more than he indulged himself in matters spiritual. His only concern was that he might find a home with the subject of his quest, said to be a shy and retiring sort who would likely not stipulate that he be worshipped as a god before he agreed to share the life-giving bounty of his purlieu.

At length, being quite revived by the energies of the beetle, Renfield rose, shouldered his haversack once more, and resumed his journey upward. He had passed through many an Alpine meadow abloom with merry colours; now, as the air grew even more rarefied, the vegetation grew scrubbier and closer to the ground—save for the evergreens, which grew more and more stunted. Though his breaths came short and rapid and his heart worked madly in his breast, Renfield pressed on in his climb, for he knew he was not far from his destination. And, before long, it appeared on the horizon: the cave opening in question. Moss grew thickly and lavishly round the opening; off to one side stooped a Krummholz with dozens of twisted branches, as if marking the abode of a goblin-king in a fairy-tale.

If Renfield was very far from a gentleman now, he had been one long ago, long before the Count had drained from him his life-force and with it his sanity. It would not do to beg shelter and sustenance from another man without bringing him a host-gift—an offering—of some kind. He looked about and shortly found a healthy female specimen of Synema globosum, the background colouring of her abdomen a most cheerful shade of orange; cupping the small creature in his hands, he approached the cave entrance and called out loudly:—

“Herr Georg? Herr Spinnen Georg?”

There was a bit of silence, during which Renfield called for the man once again, his voice echoing inside the mouth of the cave. At length he heard the answering echo of shuffling foot-falls; shortly thereafter he perceived a human figure half-emerged from the shadows within. The fellow was quite pale, as one might expect of a cave-dweller, with strong dark brows above coarse if not-unhandsome features, and reddish-brown hair rising in an odd sort of poof all about his head, one which resembled a bird about to take flight. Out of the left corner of his mouth hung a wolf spider by one leg; inelegantly he sucked the entire creature in and began to masticate, the sound echoing faintly throughout the mouth of the cave. He remained partly concealed in shadow until the arachnid had been entirely consumed; then he stepped forward until he was within a few feet of Renfield, his expression neutral but not unwelcoming, and said, with a curious tilt of his head:— “Grüezi.”

“Ah, blast,” muttered Renfield. He spoke, or at one time had spoken, perfectly serviceable Hochdeutsch; but the dialect here was utterly different, as evidenced by the whispered snatches he had heard from locals eyeing him with suspicion and fear as he passed through their villages. With a frown, he tried:— “Sprechen Sie Hochdeutsch?”

His hoped-for host pulled his lips tight and replied with a begrudging “Gut genug”; for whatever reason, it was a language he did not care to speak. This was not a promising harbinger for Renfield’s planned entreaty. On a whim, reckoning that there was naught to be lost by it, he asked:— “Und Englisch?”

This drew a quiet smile from Georg, who said, “I have not been to your land since many years, but, yes, I speak your tongue.”

“Brilliant,” said Renfield with a note of relief; and he stretched out his cupped hands to display the pretty crab spider within. “I have brought you an offering, my good Sir.”

“Ah,” said Georg, his heavy brows rising toward the avian sweep of his hair. “Synema globosum. A most delicious spider. I have been eating mostly wolf spiders since several weeks; this shall be a welcome change of dish.” And, so saying, he popped the spider into his mouth. A distinct crunch was heard, after which Georg continued to chew; a beatific smile appeared on his rough face and lingered for a good minute, during which Renfield struggled to rein in his impatience. Finally the cave-dweller opened his eyes and said:— “I thank you for this savoury gift, Sir. Might I beg your company, that you will come into my cave and dine with me? Never before have I met another who shares my appreciation for Arachnida as sustenance. I am, you see, something of, how do you say? —The term in Hochdeutsch would be ein Sonderfall.

“An outlier,” Renfield translated.

“Yes,” said Georg; “an outlier.”

“To dine with you would be an honor, Sir,” Renfield replied. “Have you enough for two? I am given to understand you are a man of robust appetites; I can gorge myself on insects if need be, that you might have enough spiders to satiate yourself.”

“Oh, no,” said Georg, with a dismissive wave of his hand; “this cave is replete with spiders, and neither of us shall go hungry. Even—” There he stopped, his face colouring somewhat; he looked down to the cave floor, appearing to be quite abashed.

“Yes?” Renfield prompted him with rather less-restrained impatience, for he was eager to replenish his vitality with the singularly powerful arachnids to be found in this renowned Alpine cave.

Georg steadied himself with a deep breath; then he looked up into Renfield’s eyes and said, with a shyness one would not expect in a fellow who had lived for three centuries, “Even were you to remain here for good.”

Renfield did not reply for several long moments. At fifty-nine years of age, bereft of both youthful beauty and balance of mind, he had long since given up any hope of finding lifelong companionship. He had sought out Spiders Georg hoping they might work out a mutually agreeable arrangement revolving about the consumption of arthropods, and that Georg’s cave might be commodious enough that each would not get in the other’s way. Now, however, he found himself oddly beguiled by the pale face with its vaguely squashed features and, even more so, the hopeful look in the watery-blue eyes.

“In all truth, my dear Sir,” he said, a grin breaking over his craggy features, “I sought you out with the wish that we might come to such an agreement; but I had not dared hope that you would suggest it in just those words. For I, too, have been much misunderstood in my tastes. Most men are so repelled by the crawling things of God’s creation that they will never enjoy the wondrous energy afforded to he who consumes living creatures.”

“Yes,” echoed Georg, staring intently into Renfield’s eyes. “It is most wondrous energy. In all my life, I have met no other who has understood.”

Never one to let propriety dash opportunity, Renfield took both of Georg’s hands in his own; and he rejoiced inwardly when the other did not flinch away. “Replete with spiders, you say this cave is?” he murmured.

“Ah, yes,” whispered Georg; “thousands upon thousands of spiders, such that the ten thousand I consume daily do not make the slightest dent in their numbers.”

“Then,” said Renfield, squeezing Georg’s hands warmly in his own, “we’ve got all we require, and we shall never want, and that is all one can ask from life.”

“Indeed,” replied Georg, the beatific smile creeping back over his odd features; “delicious spiders, and friends—good friends—like—er… I do not believe you have told me your name, Sir?”

“It is Roderick Meriwether Renfield,” said Renfield. “But I have not been called anything but ‘Renfield’ in many years; and I am content with that appellation, even among my”—here he licked his lips—“intimates.”

A most becoming blush settled over Georg’s face; and he said, “Good friends like you, Renfield,” as he curled his fingertips round the backs of Renfield’s hands.

“Come, then, let us dine together,” said Renfield; “and then let us contemplate an existence together, one in which we shall never lack the means of life.”