Oxford, 1st November 1898, Sergeant James Hathaway esq. (Formerly of the Oxfordshire Police)
This Report Stands as a Factual Account of a Recent Happening Pertaining to our Continued Hunt for our Dark Enemy
After those fateful events of the previous year, duly recorded for the interest and edification of those who might undertake a study of these chronicles related to our dealings with our arch enemy, Inspector Lewis and I repaired to our lodgings defeated in our quest but nonetheless determined to continue the fight.
Many months thereafter were spent in the attempt to track Count Dracula’s movements since his so abrupt departure from Crossly Hall that evil night. That he and his minions had been seriously injured in our confrontation was not in doubt, but vampires are quick to heal and now Dracula had even more reason to hate us, not that I believed he needed that reason, it was not the first time we, his intended prey, had turned on him.
Our enquiries were long and mainly fruitless but Inspector Lewis remained determined that Dracula had not fled to his homeland of Transylvania but was still within the United Kingdom.
“He’s here, James,” he said to me often during our long and arduous searches. “I can feel it in my bones.”
What worried me was not his bones convincing Lewis of Dracula’s presence but his blood. Those who have fallen victim to a vampire and he has tasted of their blood are forever tied to the evil creature. Lewis’s assurances that Dracula’s fangs had but pierced his skin, that the creature had not drunk from him were little consolation when it was I who attended him at night when the dreams came to him and he tossed and turned and muttered incredible fantasies as if in a fever. True, my friend’s nightly malaise had lessened in the weeks that followed, as if he had truly been suffering from some sort of infection that was now abated, but still I watched, waited and worried.
It was several days before the anniversary of our last meeting with the count when our old friend and ally Bob Meeker told us of a strange encounter he had, an encounter that troubled him greatly. True to his promise Mr Meeker had not returned to Crossly Hall and as he was therefore without regular employment we had occasion to engage his services ourselves as a sort of general factotum whenever the need arose, thus ensuring our continued associated with the gallant gentleman.
It was in the local tavern, he told us, where he had repaired for a well-deserved libation, that the event occurred. He had brought his dog with him, a playful whippet by the name of George.
“Now my George is never any bother, just sits calm as anything under the table,” Meeker recounted the next day, anxiously wringing at the cap in his hands, a reminder of another night when the distraught man had paid us a visit with a story to be told. “But last night, just after Jess the barmaid laid my drink down he started up to whining as if he was afeared of something. I tried to coax him out, see what the matter might be, thinking he may have been bit by a flea or bug, but my poor George wouldn’t move.”
“Did you ascertain the reason for the dog’s distress?” Lewis asked, clearly unable to see the relevancy of where of this story was going.
“Not straight away, Inspector,” Meeker replied. “George just kept on a’wimpering so I let him be, thinking he’d settle soon enough. It were then I saw the man. He was stood at the top of the stairs as lead to the upper floor. He was wearing a cloak and a hat that was pulled low over his face.”
“Did you recognise him?” I said.
“I did not,” Meeker said positively. “And I know most of the patrons of the Anchor, I do. This ‘un was a stranger though.”
“What happened next?” I asked in an effort to hurry Meeker along. I could see Lewis was getting impatient.
“There’s the funny bit of it. Only it weren’t funny at the time you see. I was sitting by the stairs so had a good view. This stranger, he just stood there a moment, surveying the customers it seemed, then he starts down the stairs, passes right by my table and George, he starts up a howling as I’ve never heard from him before. That made the stranger stop and he stared so hard at me. I could see his eyes underneath the brim of his hat, and they were aglow like bright marbles,” he finished with a satisfied air.
“And?” Lewis prodded.
Meeker looked a little deflated at Lewis’s somewhat prosaic response but he carried on manfully. “Well, the stranger went on his way out the door without a second look, and then I had to take George outside too afore he’d stop his caterwauling, couldn’t even finish off me brew,” Meeker said morosely at the sad loss of his beverage. “Didn’t settle down ‘til we was at our own hearth.”
“So this man was staying at the Anchor?” I asked.
Meeker nodded. “No doubting it. Beggs, the landlord, he lives above the pub but lets out one of the rooms and that’s where he’d ’ave had to come from.”
“Have you seen him again since last night?” Lewis asked and at Meeker’s negative response he said, “Well, that’s all very interesting and we will certainly keep the encounter in mind.
“Struck me as right strange at the time so thought as I should tell you, gave me the shivers down my spine it did.” Meeker insisted.
“Of course, you did exactly the right thing. We will look into the matter, have no doubt.” Lewis assured, patting Meeker on the back as he led him to the door.
However Lewis was inclined to dismiss the incident. “Look into it if you must, James, but assuredly it is nothing other than a recalcitrant dog and friend Meeker’s overactive imagination,” he said after we had seen Meeker on his way. “The man’s getting jittery with Halloween approaching, that’s all.”
I was not so sure.
The next evening I took it upon myself to visit the Anchor alehouse. If there was anything to Meeker’s story, I’d find an answer there.
The establishment, it turned out, occupies a dusky corner in a tangle of cobblestone lanes behind Baliol College. A rather small and nondescript building it sits contentedly between a dilapidated haberdashers and a rather suspect butcher shop.
I purchased a tankard of ale from a young lady I took to be Jess and seated myself in a snug that gave a view of the same stairs Meeker had described in his story. There were few customers as the hour was early and the sun not yet at its lowest. I sat awhile, sipping the ale and observing the customers through dim gaslight and the smoke drifting from an open fireplace.
When my tankard was empty Jess sauntered to my table.
“Another drink, guv?” she said.
I nodded and produced some coins from my pocket. Jess swept them up with the empty tankard but seemed inclined to linger, bored perhaps at the so-far poor custom, which suited my hope to gain information admirably.
“Haven’t seen you in here before, ‘ave I.” she said.
I agreed and said, “I’m a stranger to Oxford, here on some business.”
Thus encouraged Jess propped her rather delectable hip on the edge of the table and gave me an assessing look. “Thought so, you don’t look like you’d be a regular.”
I wasn’t sure how to take that statement but Jess didn’t wait for my reaction. “What sort of business you on then?”
“This and that,” I answered, then hurried on before she could frame another question. “The thing is, this trip was unexpected and I’ve not had time to arrange accommodation and was told you have a room to rent.”
“We do, but it’s being let out at the moment to a foreign gentleman.”
“Oh,” I said, putting as much disappointment into my voice as I could. “My friend seemed certain the room was available. Do you know how long this gentleman will be staying?”
“’e sent a boy with a note and the first day’s rent the day afore yesterday. Turned up later in the night an’ paid for two more days.”
“I see,” I said, downcast. “Then I must look elsewhere.”
She made some suggestions of likely boarding houses then frowned.
“Pity you didn’t come earlier, I’d have preferred you company to ’is,” she said, giving me a saucy look before the frown got deeper. “He’s a right strange cove, that one. Bit of a night owl seems, but doesn’t come down here to drink. Out to all hours he is to somewhere or other, don’t want breakfast served, or lunch and we hardly seen him in the light of day. To be honest that first night, when I took his coin, he give me shivers down me spine, and not good ones.”
A shout for service had Jess on her feet with the promise to return, saving me from any immediate response. True to her word the ale landed on the table a few moments later, but patronage had picked up and her attention, by necessity, returned to her work.
I sat for a while with my drink, pondering her words. The similarly expressed reaction to this foreign stranger by both Mr Meeker and Jess gave me pause to think there might be some validity to Meeker’s fears despite Lewis’s attempts to shrug it off. It seemed prudent to wait in hope that the foreigner would make an appearance but as it turned out, my wait was in vain as the evening light turned to darkest night and there was no sign of him.
Finally I decided my investigation was leading me nowhere and made my way through the now crowded establishment to the door. The air outside had turned cold and the night was lit poorly by irregular gaslights, there being no sign of the moon or even starlight to guide my steps. I hugged my coat about me to avert the chill and set about my journey homewards, not keen to report my wasted evening to Inspector Lewis.
The streets were empty and the houses and business of the area dark, curtains drawn tight against the night, adding a sense of isolation as I quickened my pace, my footsteps echoing eerily against the walls as I passed. The chill seemed to have reached my bones and I shivered slightly. I had gone no more than a few dozen yards when the sound of my feet on the cobbles took on a different rhythm, the echo not mine but the sound of another’s footsteps coming from behind in tune with my own. I turned to survey who might be following, but there was nothing there other than shadows within shadows.
Chiding myself at my sudden irrational flash of fear I continued my journey and counted my footsteps, which were mine alone again. Until they weren’t. The echoing steps returned after a few seconds, forceful and definitely there. Someone was behind me, keeping pace with my every step. I stopped and the footsteps stopped. I started and they started. I stopped and turned, shouting out, “Who’s there?” expecting the sound of furtive giggles as the culprit, a young lad out for mischief no doubt, realised he’d been sussed and ran off. But again there was nothing, just the stillness of the night.
Tired of the game I hurried on at half a run and rounded the next corner. There was a small alleyway on my left, illuminated by a streetlamp. I ducked into it and stood with my back against the wall, waiting for my doppelganger to catch up. The minutes passed but whoever it was had apparently chosen not to accept my challenge.
I was about to give up and come out into the street again when a movement further down the alleyway caught my eye. I turned to it and watched in the poor light from the streetlamp as a hidden darkness detached itself from the shadows. It rose and expanded until it was the size and shape of a man and advanced towards me, ill-formed, indescribable and somehow terrifying. I did not wait for it but ran again, out of the alley and along the street. The footsteps followed me, not bothering now to disguise themselves, reverberating until it seemed whatever it was that was after me was chasing me from the walls themselves. I risked a glance over my shoulder as I ran, and wished I hadn’t as I saw that a dark shaped outline was indeed running along the wall, something that could have been a cloak streaming out behind it. It laughed at the chase, a sound that came from the grave and a sibilant voice twisted in my mind and knew my name, offering endless pleasure and endless life if I would just stop and accept its gift.
I despaired then, whatever it was that pursued me it was too close and too fast, I could not outrun it. And my crazy dash had confused my sense of direction so I did not know if I was running towards the salvation of a main street where there would be light and perhaps people to dispel the evil, or away from it and further into Oxford’s back lanes and alleys.
Then another the voice called, one that offered hope and I ran to it without hesitation or doubt.
“James, quickly, this way.”
“Robbie.” The name was torn from my lips, he was there, signalling to me and when I reached him he grabbed my arm. Together we bounded into light and I realised we were on St Barnabas street and Robbie was pulling me through the open door and into the holy sanctuary of the church of St Barnabas,
“How did you know?” I gasped as Robbie’s arms held onto me and we stared together out into the night. There was a brief moment where I thought I saw a swirl of cape, but the lights from the church drove it away.
Robbie loosened his grip on me and rubbed a hand to the back of his neck.
“A feeling,” he said, and there was puzzlement in his eyes. “I somehow knew you were in danger and that the evil was close. But I can’t explain it.”
“You found me,” I said, relief at my rescue all encompassing. “That’s all that matters.”
“Yes, I did,” he responded and we embraced again, but there was trepidation to match the puzzlement when I looked into his eyes and my concerns on his behalf redoubled.
We asked after the strange foreigner staying at the Anchor the following morning, but Jess informed us that he had gone, apparently in the night, even though he was still owed a day’s lodging. We convinced her to allow us to look at the room he had occupied, but he had left nothing to tell us who he was or where he had gone. Apart that is from a small broken gold chain resting on the sideboard.
There was no evidence to suggest that the chain had any relevance in this case. But the fact remains that although the cross Dracula tore from Robbie’s neck on that fateful Halloween night was retrieved from the ground near Crossly Hall’s folly, the chain was never found.
I therefore leave further speculation on this matter up to the reader of this report. My own thoughts I will keep to myself.