Actions

Work Header

Dance with the Devil

Work Text:

Oxford, 31st October 1897, Sergeant James Hathaway esq. (Formerly of the Oxfordshire Police)

Being a Retelling of the Dark and Mysterious Events of that Night


Perhaps this Retelling should begin with the whys and wherefores which led to that fateful night, but that would be a much longer tale and my purpose now is to record these Events whilst my memory is still fresh. Suffice it to say that my association with Inspector Robert Lewis, a retired Police Officer of high standing, began several years ago when our paths crossed and we found, to our mutual delight, a coincidence of purpose. Since then we have had many travels together in pursuit of that purpose, some that could be measured with success and some that could not, but never have we been able to track down our prey. You see, we seek the very devil himself and until now he has evaded us.

But, to my story.

We had returned to Oxford several weeks prior, repairing to our lodgings on the High Street, near Magdalen Bridge, having much need of rest and recuperation after a particularly long and trying period in the wild forests of Transylvania, where our endeavours had ended in dismal failure, our quarry having once more slipped our grasp. Even so, Inspector Lewis continued to chase down leads upon our return, his determination to continue our work such that he rarely paused to give thought to any other matter. There are good reason for his dedication, reasons that I understood and share.  As for myself, I was unfortunately confined to my bed for much of that time, having received a wound that left me feverish and weak, unable to assist as I wished in his investigations, in fact drawing him away from them to attend to my needs.

My recovery was slow but I had been well enough to leave my sick-bed for several days when one dark night a fellow came to our door with a strange story. We were taking our leisure in the drawing room after our dinner when there was a commotion at the front door.

 Lewis answered the wild hammering and a few moments later a rather bedraggled looking man preceded him into the room; his eyes wild, hair hanging long and lank, his demeanour one of great agitation.

“Inspector Lewis, I was told you investigate such matters and you must come at once, as there is something strange and unworldly at work at my master’s estate,” he said without preamble and barely standing still, his hands crushing and wringing the cloth hat he held in them.

I had risen, intending to greet the new arrival but Lewis waved me back down.

“Calm yourself and tell me who you are and what has happened first,” Lewis said, gently pushing the man into one of the waiting armchairs. The man did as he was told, but reluctantly, sitting close to the edge of the chair, his hat a wrinkled mess in his hands. At Lewis’s nod he started speaking, hesitant at first but gaining confidence as he went.

“The name’s Meeker, Bob Meeker, I’m the caretaker at Crossly Hall,” he said. “The master and mistress are in Europe right now and I have been taking care of the hall in their absence.’

“If I remember correctly,” I said. “Crossly Hall is the estate of Lord Trewartha.”

“Yes, that is correct. Lord and Lady Trewartha are not often there, they do a lot of travelling so the Hall is closed up for most of the year and I’m the only servant they retain when they are away, just to look after things for them on the estate.”

At Lewis’s nod Meeker continued with his story. “Last week I received a letter from my master telling me that a friend would be visiting Oxford and was in need of accommodation and that I must prepare a room for his visit. It was not an unusual request as my master often allows guests to stay in his absence.” He stopped talking, his face stricken as if from some horrible memory.

“The guest arrived as expected?” Lewis urged.

“I did not see him arrive, but arrive he must have done; three days ago in the dead of night when only dark creatures roam the earth. When I looked in upon the manor the next day the man was in occupation. It was the early morning, before the sun had fully risen. He told me then he would require no service of me but to only ensure there was wood for the fire available each day. I have not seen him in daylight thereafter as he is still abed when I deliver the wood.”

“Has anything else happened since the gentleman arrived?” I asked, as surely there was more to the man’s agitation than just a reclusive visitor who kept to himself.

“There has indeed,” Meeker answered, his hat receiving another twist. “Every night since that day I have been unable to sleep because of strange dreams and disturbances. The manor is lit from sundown to sun up and every night there are the most eerie noises, like music that’s not music, and the dogs howl with it. I think as well that there are more present in the manor than just the Count, for that is what he calls himself. Many shadows cross the window, strange shadows.”

The poor man seemed quite undone by his recitation and took several moments to collect himself. “Then just last night there was an unholy disturbance in the woods next to the manor. I was sore afraid but I took my lantern to see what I could but there was nought there when I arrived other than broken trees and shrubbery, as if something had fled through the woods. Then this morning I found a deer by the folly, dead, its neck broken and its blood drained. That was when I decided I must come to you, Inspector, and beg that you come yourself to see what there is to find at the manor. It’s devils work I’m sure.” He turned haunted, fear-filled eyes to each of us. “Please come, sirs. I cannot bear to be alone there again tonight.”

“Yes, we will come,” Lewis reassured him. “But first, tell me by what name this Count calls himself.”

“I was told Count Dracula of Walachia,” the man answered.

Lewis looked at me and I could see the gleam of the hunt in his eyes. “We must prepare, James,” he said, before turning to the whisky decanter on the table next to us and pouring a generous amount into a glass. “Drink this, Mr Meeker, it will fortify you for the trials ahead. We will return to you directly.”

There are certain preparations that must be made before venturing out on such a mission and my mind was already busy with what we might need as we made our way to the equipment room secreted behind a book case in the library. Lewis pressed the hidden button that opened the door and we slipped inside.

“It is he, isn’t it?” I said as soon as we were alone in the confines of the room.

“I do believe so,” Lewis replied almost gleefully. “And this time, James, we might succeed where before we have failed.”

It was with some hope that we packed equipment for the hunt - wooden stakes, a small mallet, iron coffin nails and a bible for Lewis in his carpet bag; candles, a mirror, rock salt and bulbs of garlic for me in my satchel; holy water and large crucifixes made of holly for us both.

We were about to leave when Lewis stopped and turned towards me. I drew back slightly as he reached out to the collar at my neck and his fingers moved deftly to undo the button and expose the cross that hung from the chain there. He touched it almost reverently.

“I always wear it,” I said.

“I know,” he replied. “And I always have to check.”

I smiled at him. “And you have yours.” I could see the cross he too wore flash in the dim light of the room.

“Yes, of course,” he said, his face tinged with sadness. Abruptly he turned to the doorway. “Come, we must get this business over with.” But at the door he turned again. “You don’t have to come this time, James. Your leg.”

“Yes, I do,” I replied. Nothing would keep me from being with Lewis on this dangerous quest. He looked into my eyes and saw my resolve. A smile played around his lips and he nodded, reaching up to cup the side of my face.

“Very well then,” he said. “Into the fray.”

~~~~~

Bright sparks flew from the horse’s shod hooves as the carriage hurried through the city of Oxford and on to Crossly Hall.  We were silent, our thoughts occupied with what was ahead and what we might meet when we got there. Finally we reached the gates of the hall. They were flung open, as though inviting us through. A long carriageway wove its way through trees and the hall could just be discerned beyond them. Meeker had been right, lights seemed to shine in every window of the Georgian mansion and there were vague sounds, a kind of rhythmic tapping, floating in the air.  A thin mist had risen its tendrils ghosting around us, giving a surreal edge to the surroundings. I looked to Lewis for our next move.

“We shall alight here and make our way through the trees by foot,” he said.

The carriage driver was instructed to wait for our return and promised a large sum of money to ensure his compliance. The night wrapped its dark cloak around us as we began our walk, my satchel slung across my shoulder, Lewis carrying the heavier carpet bag.  Meeker trudged beside us, each step a reluctant one, but I admired his fortitude and his determination to carry on.

The further we progressed the louder the tapping became until it surrounded us, the full beat of many drums but with no identifiable source. My heart seemed to beat in cadence with the rhythm, it was as if the drums had sought and found the pulsing of my life’s blood. I looked at Lewis and his face was grim.

The outline of a building had come into view through the trees on our left. It was sat atop a slight rise in the ground so that it stood out against the night sky.   

“Tis the folly,” Meeker said. “They say it is built upon an old burial site, from the days before the Romans. I know nothing of this but the Count was most particular in his enquiries of it the day he arrived.”

The building was bathed in moonlight and the faint glow of candles, and if a source must be given to the drumbeats that could have been it. Meeker was trembling now

“Thank you, Mr Meeker, you have done more than enough in this matter. Perhaps you should retire to your cottage while Sergeant Hathaway and I continue.

I could see the fellow was reluctant to leave us but a look in the direction of the folly decided him and he hurried away, the mist shrouding him in seconds.

We took a moment to retrieve our crucifixes from our baggage, I slipped mine into my belt and Lewis tucked his into an inner pocket of his coat. He started towards the folly and I began to follow but he waved me back. I watched his cautious progress through the trees knowing he was seeking a strategic point where we could see the folly but not be seen. At last he stopped and crouched, almost hidden from my view. Several seconds passed before he rose slightly and signalled for me to join him.

He had found a small hollow that gave us a splendid view of the folly, but what I saw there turned my blood cold.

The folly lacked a formal ditch but that it was a reproduction of a druid temple was clear; the tall sarsens formed an outer circle while smaller sandstones surrounded the central sacrificial altar.  The grandeur of the structure palled in comparison to the occupants now performing an unknown ritual to the pulsing drumbeat and whining sound of unidentifiable music that emanated from the site.

We watched, mesmerised as three women dressed in long flowing robes, swayed and turned to the pulsing drumbeat, wrapped in their own strange ritual, the purpose of which we had no way of discerning. That they were vampires was undeniable as they made no effort to hide sharp white teeth that protruded from blood red mouths and their eyes glinted with devilish passion. And there, at the centre of the stone circle was the sinister Master of Ceremonies; the one we had sought for so long, Count Dracula.

Fear ran through me and I looked to Inspector Lewis for word on our attack, but we were sorely outnumbered and he shook his head, so we stayed where we were, hoping to discern their unholy purpose. Gradually a new music began to swell from the temple and the very ground started to tremble. The moonlight suddenly faded as a great dark cloud raced across the sky and a wild wind rose that rustled through the trees, bending saplings so they bowed to the earth. The next moment all went black as the same wind extinguished the candles in the temple. When the moon appeared again more figures had joined the throng; unnatural beings with ragged clothing, vestiges of the graves they had come from, hanging in tatters from their skeletal frames as they moved among the vampires. The music swelled while the dead and the undead cavorted

This continued for some while as we crouched in our hiding place.

I will never know what drew their attention to us, some inadvertent movement perhaps, but all at once, while the dead continued with their dance, the undead stopped and turned their red gaze upon our hiding place. There was silence then, even the deathly knell of the drum ceased its mournful dirge. The Count spoke, his voice quiet but reaching across the distance with horrible clarity.

“Who has dared invade our ceremony?” His eyes sought us out, then fixed us both with a piercing intent and vindictive pleasure. “I know you,” he said. “This will be the last time you hunt me.”

The Count signalled and his creatures moved towards us, bending forward and hissing their displeasure
 
We stood together as one as the women advanced, holding our crucifixes before us. The women stopped a yard or so in front of us, unwilling to come further with the signs of God before them. The Count shouted words I could not understand to the sky and within seconds the air was full of screaming bats that flapped about our heads, knocking us this way and that. I lost my hold on the crucifix, despairing as it flew from my hand. The next instant the women were upon us and I felt strong hands grab at me. Lewis was in the same situation and we both struggled against the hold of the women, but it was useless, their unholy strength too great, and we were dragged towards the sacrificial altar to stand before Count Dracula.

The dead had stopped dancing now and looked with sightless eyes at the tableau before them, unconcerned it seemed with what would happen next.

“That one is mine, he belongs to me for all the trouble he has caused now and in the past.” the vampire said, pointing towards Lewis. “You may have the other.”

One woman held me while the other two brought Lewis to their master. He took my friend into his grip, one hand at the back of Lewis’s head, drawing him close, mouth opened to display the long teeth. With the other hand he ripped away the collar of Lewis’s shirt, then pulled back, hissing, when the cross at Lewis’s throat gleamed in the moonlight. He was not to be thwarted however and placing a long fingernail under the chain he ripped the cross from Lewis’s neck. There was a crackle and the smell of sulphur as the fingernail cracked and burned away. Dracula’s snarled and his eyes blazed a fiery red fury as he bent his head to Lewis’s neck.

“Robbie!” the scream was torn from my lips as the fangs pierced and bright bubbles of blood began to dribble down Lewis’s neck. But I could do nothing but try to struggle as hot breath brushed against my throat then drew away quickly as lips touched the chain that held the cross about my own neck.  

It was then I saw the first lantern sail through the air before striking the ground at Dracula’s feet. Fire and oil spilled from the shattered lamp, splashing those around it and the robes of one of the vampire women burst into flames. She shrieked and spun, setting fire in turn to her companion, who had so far successfully avoided the flames from the lantern. Their cries sent the hovering bats away and as the women struggled in the grip of the conflagration they transmogrified into large ugly bat-like creatures and took to the sky, chasing after their familiars, pieces of charred flesh falling from the huge wings as they flew.

I was still within my own struggle as the woman who held me tightened her grip and added her own shrieks of dismay at the fate of her sisters. A second lantern flew, landing next to me, then a third that hit squarely into the Count and Lewis. I kicked the flaming lantern into my captor, who had clearly had enough and transmogrifying herself into the same terrifying bat-shape she left before the flames had a chance to singe her wings.

I looked to where Count Dracula and Lewis had stood. Lewis lay unmoving on the ground while the Count stood, beating at the flames that had caught upon his coat. I searched about the ground in haste, looking for our lost crucifixes and found one.  In an instant I was beside my fallen friend, ready to stand my ground against the monster no matter what the cost. I had the crucifix and my cross was still about my throat. But there was no need for either as there on the horizon were the first rays of the rising sun.

Dracula turned towards the glow and I could see fury in his eyes. Before the brightness of the sun could strike him he began to disappear, his being melting into the last rays of a dying moon. His last look towards me as he faded was one of hate.

The skeletal undead who had been unwitting and silent witnesses to events now also began to fade away, leaving the folly empty of all but us humans.

I knelt where Lewis lay, he was cold and unresponsive, dark specks of blood surrounding two puncture marks standing out against the whiteness of his neck. I tapped gently on his cheek, hoping for a response and breathed a sigh of relief when his eyes opened. They were cloudy, confused but the spark of life was in them.

 “Dracula?” he whispered.

I shook my head, about to tell him of our failure when a familiar voice hailed us.

“Sergeant Hathaway, Inspector Lewis, saints be praised you are both alive.”

I had given little thought before to where the flying lanterns had come from, but now as I saw the stalwart figure who marched towards us I realised that it was the brave Meeker who had saved us.

“When the music stopped I couldn’t stay away, sirs,” he said. “Not when you were both here alone against the evil. So I thought that if I gathered some lanterns from the hall and brought them it would give protection from the night creatures. I was well glad of them when I saw what was here in the folly and the danger you were in.”

“And thank the Lord you did, Mr Meeker,” I said with great feeling. “Come, we must get Inspector Lewis back to the carriage and away from this place, he is in need of treatment.”

Between us we helped Lewis back to the carriage that thankfully still awaited us by the manor gates. It had been a grim night and we lucky to have survived. I did laugh to myself when we passed the many lamps that lay beside the path in an old wheelbarrow though. Mr Meeker had come exceedingly well armed.

~~~~~

We returned to Crossly Hall the next day, Lewis much recovered from the ordeal. Bob Meeker came with us, but vowed he would not return as caretaker to the Hall, his fear of the place too great and the trust in his former employers forever eroded. Of Dracula and his creatures there was no sign. The folly had return to its natural state and all was quiet in the manor itself, although signs of recent occupation were present, including much earth and dirt upon the floors. It is our hope that the dead who had been disturbed had now returned to their last resting place and lay once again in peace.

Robbie says that Dracula did not take his blood, and I pray he is right. But still I wait and watch him day and night and vow that I will not rest until I find that undead monster who has brought us to this pass and remove him from existence.

End