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Dead Men Tell No Tales

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Sir Malcolm Murray had known from an early age that he'd never have a comfortable life. His father had come from a family of minor nobility that had made their fortunes as merchants in the seventeenth century through the East India Company. History would best remember Mathew Murray as an abolitionist, a stark contrast to his ancestors. Malcolm had been born at the tail end of his country's anti-slave movement. Britain was heading into a new era as of the eighteen forties yet the direction of which had been the greater question. In the end, Mathew's Crusade had little bearing on his son's upbringing. An ill-fated carriage accident had robbed him of his parents at the age of three. Their deaths had been his first real test of hardship, but the challenges that would come later in his life would be what truly shaped him. Not long after their deaths he’d passed into the care of his maternal uncle, a lifelong bachelor and Protestant missionary that preferred the wilds of Africa to the English countryside.

The Dark Continent had been the land of his childhood adventures. As a boy he’d been no stranger to the depravities man was capable of committing. His uncle had forced him to see these things, so hopefully, a young Malcolm would grow into a man who did not turn a blind eye to like the rest of his countrymen did. He’d seen the mutilated carcass of an albino man murdered for his flesh. The remains of a woman and child mauled to death by a crocodile. A witness said the child had been playing too close to shore when it attacked. The young mother had rushed into the water rather than abandon her child. For her courage, the crocodile had dragged her under the water. His uncle’s good intentions had the opposite effect. Malcolm had been left desensitized to it all. Terrible things happened in the world. If you weren’t the cause of it, someone else was. That had been the philosophy of his adult life. Amidst the horrors, he’d taken pleasure and pride in his work where he could.

Living by this philosophy was easier said than done. Malcolm inherited his family’s dream of wishing to enrich humanity. In his younger days when he’d yearned to make his mark in the world, truth was both obsession and passion. After the hunter had finished his studies in England Malcolm returned to Africa. He’d sought to record both the wonders and terrors of Africa so that when his countrymen arrived, they would not be unprepared as the missionaries had been in the search for to uplift the savages of Africa’s dark corners only to be murdered for it. Many good men had fallen to disease, starvation, or prey to the dangerous wildlife. Malcolm had refused to let Death claim him like that. So every moment, every step, and every kills he’d record with painstaking detail to ensure others could be ready. When Malcolm reviewed his work, reread the brutalities and murders he’d seen, he’d ripped the pages free from his journals. The horrors his hands had wrought and the deeds of which only his memory kept the record of. No one else need know these things except him. No one would know that the kind-hearted Murrays’ legacy had been inherited by their monster of a son. But the ink was not the single means by which humans keep history. Living History wrote itself in blood. And Sir Malcolm Murray had spilled enough to cover every goddamn page of the British Museum’s book collection twofold.

The British government had been ruthless in their expansion of Africa to keep ahead of the other European nations. The expeditions he led into South Africa were little less than the rape and butchering of its lands and people, so driven by his lust for discovery and recognition back then. Not all that he killed had been innocent, but enough had been. Too clearly he recalled the time he and his men ambushed a slaver’s den. He and his men had not known the victims had overtaken their captors and were in the processing of freeing themselves. During the skirmish, he’d shot his rifle at one small figure as they were about to kill a man bound and tied. That man had been Sembene. Malcolm had shot a stolen child to protect the life of a Congo slaver. It was not so much the dead child that haunted as how easy pulling the trigger had been. How he could act before fully processing the chaos surrounding him

Sometimes, he wondered if his children had been punishment for his sins. The unmarked grave Peter was buried in. The casket Mina occupied beneath the earth of her childhood home. He remembered the shovel in his hands, each scoop of dirt he’d dug, before laying his firstborn to rest in a shallow hole. He’d cradled his cold body close before putting him to rest on the ground. Briefly, it reminded him of when Gladys tuck their son to sleep like a baby. She’d lay him in down in his crib adorned with Indian silks and animal fur from the game he’d kill in Africa. The mane of a lion’s pelt had fashioned into a pillow of sorts for his infant son.

He should have dug it deeper. He knew animal scavengers would come by to feed upon the body. But at the Malcolm had told himself his journey could not wait. How could he wait when Peter wished a mountain named after him? And then Malcolm had got to that damned mountain and what had he done? He’d named it after himself. Malcolm knew he should have named it for Peter. But at the time naming the mountain after his son would be as good as admitting he was truly...

Dead.

And God, Mina.

Her memory burned before his mind’s eye, his vain and spoiled girl. She’d dance through life as if its movements were the rehearsals of a grand performance. He remembered cradling her close as a newborn. He’d been in Africa during Peter’s birth but had made an effort to be there at Mina’s. He’d held her in his arms before his wife. Gladys had been left weary from the anesthetic treatment the physician had administered during the labor.

Then the world had taken Mina, and for what? Vanessa Ives, cruel and mean-spirited she could be, to consider her the prophesied Mother of Evil was utter lunacy. The memory of that monster’s teeth on Vanessa’s neck at the theater haunted him each night he closed his eyes. That had not been his daughter. Not at that moment she bared her fangs and proclaimed herself a servant of her beloved master. He’d only seen at an animal, a predator killing for the joy of it. The next action had been more muscle memory than anything else. A comrade endangered by a savage beast. Like killing the child to save Sembene he’d pulled the trigger.

Then he’d looked at her and saw her. The monster that wore Mina’s face had called her his daughter. God, how much he’d wanted to believe that was Mina. And he would have if not for the presence of the others. Sembene’s watchful gaze, a man armed and ready to pull him away should the battle turn treacherous. He’d felt Vanessa’s eyes on him, shocked and mortified. Dr. Frankenstein’s wide-eyed and bewildered stare reminded him so painfully of Peter’s own.

He had not worried about Ethan Chandler back then. The American had been a distant thought. No more than a hired gun. But now with Vanessa dead and the old Apache returning to America, he’d have to.

Kaetenay had told Malcolm he would stay until after Vanessa’s. He hadn’t come to honor Vanessa. Rather, he’d come for the sake of his “son.” At her request, Ethan had fired the gun that killed her. Unable to live with her guilt at having succumbed to Dracula she’d begged Ethan to shoot her and send her to God. In the last day, the American had wandered the halls of the Murray estate more dead than alive bearing a weight he wouldn’t let others help him shoulder. Malcolm had watch as Kootenay had hovered close by giving Ethan space, but close enough should the American man need him. The Apache had helped carry Vanessa’s casket to the funeral carriage alongside Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm, and Dr. Frankenstein to Highgate Cemetery with its sparse woods, haunted groves, and serpentine paths. Once at the graveyard the four men had lowered Vanessa Ives into the earth. The funeral had been small affair comprised only of the people that had known her in her final days. There had been no time to send word to anyone else. Not with so many having perished during Dracula’s brief reign of terror. He’s never seen London in such a hurry to bury their dead. The physicians and medical schools would have no need for the resurrections since London piled with corpses.

Dr. Florence Seward and Ms. Catriona Hartdegen had attended despite their brief acquaintance with Vanessa. Kaetenay had been the stranger among them never having met Vanessa in person. He’d been the first to break away the circle that had surrounded the grave at the funeral’s end. Soon Dr. Seward and Florence wandered off leaving Malcolm, Ethan, and Dr. Frankenstein. The three men had been the closest thing to a family the dead woman had left. Soon the doctor had walked off. The two men lingered perhaps longer than they should have at the grave. Whether it had been guilt or grief that tethered them Malcolm could not say.

He turned to leave letting Ethan have the moment to himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the pale-skinned phantom that had been following them since they’d loaded her casket into the funeral carriage. The cemetery’s tall headstones and walls may have hidden his hulking figure from the others but not Malcolm. Despite his age, his hunter’s instincts had not dulled. Often people were unnerved by his alertness. How even in the safest of places he seemed on edge as if expecting an ambush. Malcolm did not feel safe at night unless he had a gun within reach. The habit had terrified her so much she took to sleeping in the guest chambers when he was home. It had been one of the things that had first turned Gladys away.

With a slight turn of his head, he snuck a glance at the ghoul-like man. Lurking behind a headstone like that, a regular person might mistake him as a shadow or their eyes playing tricks on them. He craned his neck to get a better look. A flash of pain rewarded him. That damned vampire’s bite.

One of the unfortunate souls that took shelter in the underground clinics he donated too, a phantom white man of a quiet and reclusive nature. He let his matted black hair fall to the right side of his face to keep his scars hidden. White as a bloodless corpse and shunned by all of the humanity for his demon-like eyes. Vanessa had encountered this man herself and spoken of him. She’d asked Malcolm if there might be a chance her friend was an albino. While Malcolm could confirm for her that while true not all albino had red eyes, he’d met an African woman with a pair of pale blue, he’d never heard of one with golden eyes.

Waiting ahead of was Kaetenay. He stood before the grave of Karl Marx that, had it not been for the grim melancholy that had enveloped the city in the pestilence's wake, typically would be flooded by tourists and the like. The Apache’s attention was seemingly focus on lighting Churchwarden Briar pipe that the old Besides had gifted him to replace his older one. He turned his eyes in Malcolm’s direction yet his gaze stared pass the man. “Who was that monster following us?” Kaetenay asked in a hushed tone.

“A friend of Vanessa,” the phrasing set something afire in Kaetenay’s eyes. “If you think him a vampire you can rest assured he isn’t. He haunts the clinic that treats cholera and consumes the food there like any other man. I’ve seen him there myself.”

“But never talked to him, I imagine,” commented Kaetenay.

“I just buried my goddaughter today,” seethed the old explorer. “And your so called ‘son’ has lost the woman he loves. Please, do not do this today.”

Kaetenay gave him a baleful look, his eyes burning with rage hotter and harder than the New Mexican desert. “Do you think life stops because we will?” asked the Apache. “When my mother, a Cherokee tribeswoman, was forced to march to the New Mexican territory no one asked her if she and her family were ready. Her first husband had been killed leaving her responsible for the welfare of four children. She lost her oldest child to disease and her youngest ones to starvation. When the journey ended everyone she had known from her childhood was gone. All she had left was an unwed daughter sick with child, raped and impregnated by the men that had driven her from her land. Months later my sister died birthing a stillborn child. Had she been any other women she would have lost the will to live: stripped of her home, family, and identity. All she had to link her to her old life were the words of her native tongue and memories of pain. She married my father, an Apache raider, but theirs is not a story of love and redemption. He cared only for bloodshed, but she stayed strong for her people. In time she became a tribal elder and outlived my father and a third husband. She died the night Ethan’s company ambushed us. I watched as he shot her. She didn’t even raise a hand to defend herself.”

Malcolm lowered his head. “I am not trying to dismiss the tragedy of your people’s hardship, Mr. Kaetenay. All I ask is that you respect ours. Thousands of Londoners died in a single day, and a great many of them were children. She felt the blame fell upon her shoulders despite forcibly turned by the monster that brought about this pestilence. She was as much a victim as them, and she believed herself responsible.

“You think he brought about this plague, do you?” asked Kaetenay.

“Who else would there have been?” he demanded, his tone sounding gruffer than he’d meant it too.

Kaetenay’s eyes glanced around the cemetery. Around them, the wind whistled. It sounded like more life than anything else. Even the humans they had passed had seemed silent specters. The wail of a mourning woman might as well have been a banshee’s shriek. “Do you believe in God, Sir Malcolm?”

“Do you?” snapped back the old explorer, his anger breaking. “I find it odd that one as you would believe in the Christian God. Do your people not have their idols?”

The Apache's eyes narrowed. The lines on his face tightened in anger. “We do. And long ago they meant as little to me as did the God to whom your daughter prayed. Who is it you think we worship, Sir Malcolm? Do you see us like your wandering Jews that turned to golden cats when all we had to roam was a desert?”

The old explorer snorted. “If you think that’s what happened I know an Egyptologist that would be more than happy to give you a more educated lesson on the subject than I could ever be. I’m not assuming to know what your people believe. All I am asking is why you speak so freely of God? Is he not the God of your invaders? The men that decimated your people left you scattered, and confined you to the reservation?”

A flicker of uncertainty flashed in the Apache’s eyes. “Yes,” he confessed but did not elaborate. Of course, he would not. Why had Malcolm expected anything different?

“Let it be done,” he said, his tone rough. “Vanessa is dead. Let Ethan go in peace. The great battle between your 'spirits of the earth and skies' is over. If the Lord still has work to be done let someone else have it.” As Malcolm walked by Kaetenay reached and grabbed hold of his upper arm, His grip was iron-tight, fingers digging into his bones, but shaking. But as suddenly as he had grasped Malcolm the Apache released him. His body collapsed faced first onto the ground like a stringless puppet.

“Mr. Kaetenay!” cried Malcolm. Sinking to his knees he turned the old warrior over. Kaetenay had began to salivate from the mouth. “Ethan!”

“Sir Malcolm!” the old explorer lifted his head to see Dr. Seward hobbling his way. Behind her appeared Catriona Hartdegen and Victor Frankenstein. Both the young doctor and thanatologist sprinted past her coming to Malcolm’s side. Dr. Frankenstein’s face was red and breathless looking like he was on the verge of an asthma attack. Once he composed himself, he knelt down to Malcolm’s level. The old explorer watched as the doctor brought his hands to Kaetenay’s face forcing open a single eye.

“Pupils dilated,” spoke the young doctor automatically. “Shortness of breath, salivating at the mouth… What were his symptoms before?”

Malcolm gritted his teeth in frustration. “He asked me if I believed in God. Seemed in perfectly fine health if you ask me!”

“Fine does not look like a heart attack,” said Dr. Frankenstein. “We need to get him to a clinic.”

“Do you not have anything on you?”

“Everything I had I left at your manor,” shouted the younger man. “If he has any chance-”

“Kaetenay!” The doctor was pushed out of the way by Ethan. Shoving the younger man aside, the American took Dr. Frankenstein's by Kaetenay's side. Malcolm was struck by how frantic Ethan seemed. Not half an hour earlier had the man been silent and haunted as they buried Vanessa. Now he was animated, frantic with anxiety and dread. “What’s happening to him?”

“He grabbed by the arm and just dropped,” Malcolm hastily explained.

A crazed look came over the American’s face. He shook Kaetenay’s body as if trying to raise a sleeping man to be conscious. “No,” protested Ethan, his tone soft and desperate. “No. You’re not dying on me. Not like this.” He glanced up at Catriona. “You! You’re the death expert. Can’t you do something?”

Ms. Hartdegen who’d stood to the size turned her gaze sharply to him. “I’m a thanatologist, not a witch doctor! What would you have me do, call forth a choir of heavenly angels to receive the Lord’s blessing and spare him?”

“You knew how to keep Sir Malcolm from turning into a vampire. Isn't there anything you can do for this?”

Catriona’s eyes softened. A flash of guilt crosses her face. Her brows knitted together in thought. He knew that look. One lost in the past and alone in their thoughts. “You know something, don't you?” he whispered.

Catriona shook her head. “You don't know what you’re asking…”

“If you have the power to save a life, use it!” yelled Ethan. “What good are you if the people around you keep dying? Weren’t you supposed to help Vanessa?”

“Mr. Chandler!” exclaimed Dr. Seward.

The thanatologist stared thornily at Ethan, as a murderess on trial might at the witness condemning her. “Fine,” she said. The young woman lowered herself to the ground, and she withdrew a silver box from an inside pocket of her black coat. She fiddled with the knob on it before it made a ‘click’ and opened. Inside the silver box were half a dozen medical instruments resting on a velvet cloth. What caught his attention were the vials of brightly colored serums strapped to the roof of the silver box. Setting the box on the ground she moved quickly. Methodically she plucked a syringe and a vial of blue liquid. Catriona held the item to her eye level she stuck the instrument’s needle into the vial’s top. She threaded her thumb through the plunger’s ring and slowly lifted her digit allowing the syringe to suck up the whole serum.

“What the hell is that?” demanded Dr. Frankenstein. Malcolm found himself unsettled by the savage grin that lit Catriona’s face.

“Something you should be intimately familiar with, Frankenstein. A serum theorized and invented by Herbert West,” she answered. And in the blink of an eye, she jabbed the syringe into Kaetenay’s neck. The motion was reminiscent of stabbing a man with a knife than a doctor carefully inserting a shot in his patient. Malcolm watched as Kaetenay’s veins bulged underneath his skin like fat, parasitic worms.

Suddenly the Apache’s eyes flew open. The old explorer was taken aback as he stared into Kaetenay’s brightly yellow and hellish eyes.

“My God,” swore Dr. Seward next to him. Kaetenay’s body started to convulse and twist. He opened his mouth, and Malcolm’s own heart stopped when he saw the man’s canine teeth extend into fangs. Instinctively, he reached for his semi-automatic pistol.

"No!” cried the thanatologist. Both her hands grasped his that held the gun. She clutched at him with surprising strength. “The transformation should only be temporary.”

“Transformation?” repeated Dr. Seward in disbelief. “What do you think you’re doing by turning him into a vampire?”

Hartdegen rose to her feet. Her one hand still clutched Malcolm’s wrist as if she thought he was still of a mind to fire the gun. She drew herself up, poised and collected like a regal feline. “Not a vampire,” she said. “He’s the other bane. Not a skin-changer as I thought but I know those eyes.” Her lips trembled. Her eyes haunted, attention half in this world and half elsewhere reliving the past. The ghost of memory, trauma, and pain, flickered across her face. He’d seen it in Sembene’s eyes when the Wolof had still been alive. Saw the expression every time he looked himself in the mirror every morning. “Those are eyes of beast-folk,” the thanatologist mumbled under her breath. If Malcolm hadn't been standing right next to her, he doubted he’d of heard Hartdegen.

Wasn't howled agony and his body jerked violently. A clawed hand thrust forward taking a swipe at Ethan. Instead of falling back the American tackled hadn't Ethan body. Catriona released him, and the rest of the group scrambled away. Ethan and the Apache bodies were entangled each gripping at the other in a wrestle for dominance. But Kaetenay’s attempts were sluggish and halfhearted at best despite his child appearance. Knocking the ugly man in the face, Ethan stunned him long enough to shove him on his front. He restrained Kaetenay by penning him, and Ethan locked both of the old warrior’s wrists on his back with both hands. How did Ethan have the strength to restrain this beast? “Hold still you old demon. You aren't dying, and you ain’t forcing me to kill you. Not after the all you put me through, not like this.”

Malcolm instinctively moved forward to help Ethan, but Hartdegen still had a grip on his wrist. “I’d advise against nearing the Indian in this state. I’ve read that lycanthropy spreads like rabies. A bite mark or scratch will curse you.”

But Ethan- Malcolm’s thoughts were as Dr. Seward strolled forward. She stood a foot away from reverts she stared down at him with an impassive face. Her eyes were cold and hard as steel. The Apache’s animal-like eyes stared up at her balefully. Seward lifted her cane she twirled it in her hand so that it was upside down and swung the top Kaetenay’s head as if it were a police baton. A sickening crack filled the air as the Apache’s head was knocked to the side. His body fell limp beneath Ethan.

“What the hell?” yelled Ethan. “What if I hadn’t been able to hold him? He could’ve killed you!”

Seward regarded the gunslinger with distaste. “I know a thing or two about killing punches, boy. Should I have wanted him dead he would be.”

Besides Malcolm, Catriona Hartdegen shook her head and begun rummaged around in her bag. “If he’s unconscious I need to keep him sedated. I have a bottle of chloroform.” She pulled out a small bottle and handkerchief from her bag she knelt down beside Kaetenay. Dampening the cloth, she pressed it down on the lower half of his face. “We can’t let anyone see him in this state. The serum should last for only half an hour before he reverts back to a man.”

"You mean three hours,” stated Frankenstein. All eyes fell upon the doctor whose shoulders grew tense, and his body became rigid like a rabbit cornered by a hound. “I recognize this serum or at least something similar to it… is not unlike the elixir that a former classmate of mine devised. He claimed chemistry had allowed him to unlock the secrets of our neural reactions to ‘tame the beast within.’”

“Why the hell does any of that matter? Is Kaetenay going to make it?” questioned Ethan, his voice hard.

Slowly, Dr. Frankenstein reached a hand to Kaetenay’s neck. He pressed into the right side of his throat. Something sparked in the doctor’s eyes. A thought tugged at his face. “His pulse is rapid but steady. When most were injected with Dr. Jekyll’s serum, the subject suffered a reverse reaction. I’ve seen raving maniacs reduced to mild-mannered and calm paragons of sanity. This had the opposite effect of turning a sane man into a raging beast.” His eyes looked to Catriona Hartdegen accusingly. “How did you come by this? How is is this exactly like the serum he uses.”

Crossing her arms, she gave Victor a pointed look. “Henry didn’t mention me to you? Not surprising. The dear doctor does all have sorts of secrets he likes to hide from people.” She sighed in exasperation much like a mother did at the antics of her small child. “I live with him.”

Victor’s jaw dropped. But Malcolm was no longer paying attention to either of them.

Yet Malcolm wasn't paying attention to either of them. Something did not seem right about this whole affair between Ethan and Kaetenay. Malcolm studied the young man up and down. There was an old weariness in his eyes. He stared at Kaetenay with a mixture of contempt and self-inflicted guilt. The old hunter looked down at Kaetenay’s hands. His arithmetic joints and wrinkled skin were gone, replaced by long and slender hands ending in razor-sharp claws. It would be nothing for him to use those claws to kill a man. Why Ethan hadn’t feared the wolf-like man?

“You knew what he was,” he said as it dawned on him. “Ms. Hartdegen called it lycanthropy. The root word of lycan can be traced back to ancient Greek words of lukos to mean wolf. I know the legends. They can be found in every corner of the world. The Africans have their bouda in Sudan, Tanzania, and Morocco. I had a blacksmith once tell me they were witches and wizards. You knew he wouldn’t die from the snake bite because he was more than an Apache, medicine man. Even the gypsies had warnings for such creatures. ‘A man marked by the moon is a soul cursed by a wolf.’ There was just a full moon the other night… That’s why you both went off on your own. You didn’t want us to see him change. You didn’t want us to know what Kaetenay is.”

Ethan bowed his head. It reminded him painfully of a hunting dog he’d owned that had gotten loose and torn but the yard. Gladys had been furious. Malcolm had scolded the animal, but the dog had refused to meet his eyes by staring pitifully at the ground and ears pressed back. The gesture had been an indication of submission. That it had done wrong, knew it, and wished mercy from its master.

“My God,” he whispered in shock, “what you both are.”