Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#75



Presenting the conclusion of our two-part tale of a struggling writer and his wife in the mountains of Romania. He wants to research his book about Vlad Tepes, the tyrant who may have inspired the legend of Dracula. And, what luck...they've just been invited to dinner...heh heh...

 
 

Authenticity
(Part Two of Two)

By John Whalen
About the author


Part One here


"The Price"

A T NINE, WITH THE FULL MOON now high in the black sky, Count Moravic’s car arrived at the hotel. The giant chauffeur, Ladislas, stood with the rear door open as Preston came out of the hotel next to Vivian. He thought she looked positively ravishing. She had unpacked a strapless red satin gown that hugged her figure voluptuously. She wore a black shawl over her bare shoulders. Preston had had his traveling tux pressed and sported gold cufflinks and satin bow tie. A black overcoat topped his tux.

The ride to Castle Moravic took them through the village, along a dark flat landscape, and then the treacherous road up Mount Ska. Ladislas seemed to pay no heed to the dangerous precipices that dropped along the sides of the vehicle as he drove the Rolls at break neck speed up the twisting road.

Soon the looming dark shape of the castle sitting high on the mountain top appeared against the stary, moonlit sky. Preston could see the castle turrets poking up into the darkness, and lights shown in several small windows. He thought of the poor Boyars who had given their lives to build the place.

The car came to a stop in a small parking area in front of a long flight of steps leading up to the front entrance of the castle. Ladislas opened their door and led them up the steps. At the top was a massive iron door with a huge brass knocker. Ladislas undid a latch and the door creaked open slowly. A pale young woman with straight black hair, wearing a maid’s uniform, was behind the door. Without a word she took their things and led them into an immense foyer. Her movements seemed very slow, as though she were walking in some drugged state. A wide, winding stairway stood on one side of the foyer.

“Good evening, my friends.” Count Moravic’s voice echoed in the cavernous foyer. He was standing in the middle of the staircase. He seemed to glide down the red carpet covering the steps. “I’m so happy you could come.”

“We’re so glad you invited us, count,” Vivian said, as the Romanian nobleman kissed her hand once more.

“Won’t you come into my study,” he said, shaking Preston’s hand, “while dinner is being prepared.”

He escorted them across the marble foyer to a large pair of mahogany double doors and opened one of them. It was a large study, with paneled walls and bookshelves reaching to the ceiling. There were glass display cases set about the room.

“Have a glass of sherry and a look at some of the artifacts I mentioned earlier,” he said

The pale young woman came into the room carrying a decanter of wine and three glasses on a silver tray. She set the tray down on a table and poured three glasses of sherry. Moravic picked up two glasses and handed them to his guests, then took one for himself.

“Here’s to new friends,” he said, raising his glass, his eyes fastened on Vivian.

Preston pretended not to pay attention to the obvious flirtation. He found the sherry exquisite. As he drank, he couldn’t help noticing the young maid, who was now listlessly making her way to the door. She moved so slowly, so lifelessly. And in the light of the study he could see that her pallor was almost death-like.

“I say, count,” Preston said. “She could do with a bit of sunlight.”

“The climate here keeps most inhabitants indoors,” the count said. “They prefer candle light to sunlight.”

“I see,” Preston said. He looked around the study. “If I may ask, how is it Castle Dracula became Castle Moravic?”

“As I indicated earlier, the Moravics were distant relations of the Basarabs. The Basarab line disappeared in the late 18th Century, and the castle became empty. Because of the superstitions surrounding the history of the place, no one wanted to come near it, and it fell into complete disrepair. However, a will turned up. The last of the Basarabs had left the place to my great-great grandfather, who had an estate in Hungary. After he died, his son, my great grandfather, sold the land and moved in here, spending a great deal of his fortune restoring the place to a livable condition. When he took possession he renamed it Castle Moravic.”

“It certainly looks lovely now,” Vivian said.

“Thank you, dear lady. Your praise is as a ray of sunshine on a fading rose.”

Preston looked over at one of the display cases. His eyebrows rose in shock.

“I see you have observed one of my dioramas,” the count said. “Come, let’s go closer.”

As he drew closer, Preston caught his breath. He could not believe what he saw. Inside the glass case was a perfect clay reproduction of Mount Ska -- the mountain they had just climbed, and the castle in which they now stood. All around the castle walls were tiny human figures impaled on miniature wooden stakes.

“It’s as I described it,” Preston said. “See, Vivian. The Boyars staked outside the castle walls after they had completed its construction.”

Vivian stared at it in fascination.

They moved to the next case.

“Here, Mr. Wynant, is a depiction of Vlad’s victory over the Turks,” the count said.

Inside the case were over a hundred miniature soldiers on horse back. Miniature swords, pikes and axes were raised in the air or embedded in the armor of an enemy. In the background behind the battle were another hundred miniature Turks impaled on stakes planted all over the hills.

“Sixty thousand men died that day,” Preston said. “Incredible. So realistic to the last detail. It looks almost as if the actual scene had somehow been preserved and shrunken. It doesn’t seem possible such minute craftsmanship can exist.”

“My great grandfather was obsessed with Vlad Tepes. He spent years of his life carving these tiny figures, building the backgrounds. All based on accurate historical detail.”

“Amazing,” Vivian said.

“Vivian,” he said. “You’ve always found such things to be too dreadful.”

“It’s the pains someone took to make all this that fascinates me,” she said, devouring the display with her eyes.

Preston looked over at a small table that stood in front of one of the bookcases. On it lay a leather bound volume. He went over to it. There were gold letters on the black leather cover. He had no knowledge of Romanian, but he could see two words among the several written there, clearly enough. Vlad Tepes.

“My God!” he cried out. He opened it breathlessly and flipped through the pages. “Is this what I think it is?”

His eyes moved over the ancient words, written in red.

“Yes,” Count Moravic said, coming up next to him. “I thought you might find that interesting. It is the authentic record of Vlad’s life in his own words.”

“God!” Preston whispered. “This volume is priceless,”

Moravic nodded.

“So I’m told,” he said.

Vivian came up next to him and the count looked at her. “Although, it is said that everything has its price,” he said.

“This is the answer to my prayer,” Preston said. “Or it would be, if there was a translation. Is there one?”

“An English translation is all you would need to finish your book?” Moravic asked.

“Yes,” Preston said looking up at him.

Ladislas appeared in the open doorway.

“Dinner is served,” the servant announced,

“Let us go to dinner,” the count said.

“But— ”

“Come,” the count said. “We can discuss more of this later.”


***

The dining room was large and beautifully annointed, with ancient tapestries on the walls that were covered with landscapes full of blue skies and white peaked mountains, lush valleys, and flower festooned plains. The table was long and set with exquisitely embossed silver plates and goblets, and ornately carved silverware. Dinner was served by two maids of pallid complexion, similar to the maid who had met them at the entrance and served them wine in the study. The food was sumptuous, the drink exquisite, but Preston hardly noticed. His mind was aflame with knowledge that the Journal of Vlad Tepes sat only a few feet away in the next room.

“Count Moravic,” he said as he sipped some delicious Port from a silver goblet. “You mustn’t keep me in suspense. Is there an English translation of the journal in existence?”

Moravic stuck a fork into the side of the baked pheasant that lay on his plate.

“If such a translation did exist,” Moravic said, “you would find it quite useful for your work, would you not? It would end your quest for . . . authenticity?”

“Useful?” Preston said. “That’s an understatement. It could very well save my career.”

“Then you might feel that no price would be too high to pay for it -- I mean, if such a volume were in existence.”

Preston felt a peculiar numbness in his lips, as he took another sip of the Port.

“I’d pay almost anything for it,” Preston said. “Anything within reason, of course.”

“Of course,” the count said with a strange smile on his lips.

Preston felt very tired all at once. He shook himself, but could not resist an enveloping sense of fatigue that had fallen over him like a cloud.

He sat there suddenly unable to move. He could not even raise the silver goblet to his lips. As he sat there, he noticed how the count’s conversation seemed aimed at Vivian rather than at him. He also notice how with each glass of wine, his wife seemed to become more and more enamored of their host. She laughed at every little comment he made and nodded her head in rapt attention at everything he said. His wife’s behavior had irritated him all night, and now he was positively angry.

Preston clutched his dinner knife, as they continued conversing, and looked at the reflection on the surface of the blade. His heart froze. In the reflection he could see Count Moravic’s chair. But where Count Moravic should have been sitting, there at the head of the table, he saw only the empty chair! With horror, he suddenly remembered.

“Vampires cast no reflection,” Preston muttered aloud. He got up shakily. His knees were turning to jelly. It wasn’t just fright. He realized, too late, his wine had been drugged.

“Vampires cast—” he started to repeat in a louder tone.

The smile on the count’s face suddenly dropped.

“But my dear Mr. Wynant, you don’t believe in that sort of rot,” he said.

Preston felt the room spinning, he started to move toward his wife.

“Vivian,” he cried. “Get out!”

He dove for the count but was suddenly stopped in mid air by a pair of powerful arms. Ladislas had entered the room silently from behind him. The giant had his throat in his powerful grip and was squeezing the life out of him.

He saw the count suddenly rise up from his chair and hover over the table as though suspended from a wire. He heard Vivian scream and saw her levitate from her chair. With Ladislas thick fingers closing off his windpipe, he saw the count float over to his wife, his dark headstone mouth open, two sharp fangs extended. The light in the room was fading as he saw Vivian staring at the count in a strange hopeless rapture as she floated in space. She almost smiled as he sank his fangs into her jugular. Then all was darkness.


***

Preston Wynant opened his eyes and saw that he was back in his bed in his room at the Hotel Verloff. He sat up still feeling dizzy. He looked around at the dark purple velvet curtains on the windows, the candles burning in the candelabra by the wall. He moved his leg and bumped something lying in the bed. It was a thick, leather bound book. He grasped it with a shaky hand and held it up to his blurry eyes. Gold lettering on the cover came into focus. It was in English.

“The Journal of Vlad Tepes.”

He stared at it in disbelief. He opened it. Page after page was written in a florid hand in red and in English. There were over three hundred pages.

My God! It was the English translation of Vlad’s diary that Count Moravic had hinted might exist. But how? He rifled through some more of the pages and a folded sheet of parchment dropped out. He opened it.

“A fair exchange, Mr. Wynant,” it said. “She is so very lovely. The answer to my prayer, as this volume is the answer to yours. You may still reclaim her. It is not too late. No permanent harm has been done to her. But you must then return this book. I could keep her without your consent, but I prefer that you offer her to me freely and of your own will. If you wish her returned, you must come at dawn. The decision is yours.”

He dropped the parchment on the bed.

“Vivian!” he cried. He recalled seeing her floating in the air with such ecstacy above Count Morvic’s dining table, as the count’s fangs sought the tender veins in her neck.

My God! Was he going insane? Had that actually happened? Or had he just had too much too drink at the Castle Moravic? That must have been it. There were no such things as vampires. It had been just too much wine and too many hours on the road earlier in the day. He jumped up from the bed and sprang out the door. He took one hurried flight of steps down to the hotel lobby and went to the desk. An old woman with white hair looked at him with a smile.

“May I be of service?” Her English was flavored with a heavy Eastern European accent.

The dizziness was gone but now a dull throbbing headache pounded against Preston’s temples.

“Have you seen my wife?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said, shaking her head.

“Did you see who brought me here?” he asked.

“I beg your pardon, sir?” the woman said.

“Did you see me come in last evening?”

“No, sir. I may have been in the back, when you returned.”

He stumbled back upstairs dizzily, staggered into his room and shut the door. He saw the black leather book lying there on the bed. He sat down on the bed and opened it again. His fingers flipped through the pages. What before had been written in an undecipherable ancient form of Romanian, was now set in contemporary English. His eyes scurried over several pages. The words told of ancient horrors, gory battles, and cruel inhuman punishments that had been the life of Vlad Tepes. It was all told in first person -- the autobiography of a mad man, the journal of a demon from hell.

Preston slapped the book shut and closed his eyes. From just the few pages he’d read, he knew he’d gotten what he came here for. He knew now he could finish his book. There would be no stopping him. It would be the most authentic novel he had ever written.

What was he thinking? He couldn’t leave Vivian behind in exchange for the book. She was his wife. True they hadn’t been getting along. It had not been a wise match. Temperamentally, they were both unsuited for each other. That had been obvious for a long time. She interfered with his writing. Always wanting attention. Always wanting to go somewhere, be taken someplace. But to leave her with that thing!

He picked up the parchment that had fallen out of the book. A fair exchange, it said. Fair? But then he recalled the look of -- was it pleasure? -- on her face as the count had floated toward her in the dining room of the castle. Stop it! he told himself. He had to go back to the castle. He started to get up. But as he moved his knee bumped the book and it fell open, almost as if by itself. He could not resist looking in it again.

He read a section dealing with Vlad’s victorious battle over the Turks. The passages were alive, authentic. Like nothing he had ever read before. Sixty thousand dead, thousands impaled on stakes, covering the hillsides like evil flowers of wood and flesh. How vivid the descriptions in his new book would be.

He looked up and saw that dawn was coming through an open space between the curtains on the window. You must come at dawn, the count had written. Must I? he asked himself. He remembered how openly Vivian had flirted with the Romanian. From the first moment they met, something had seemed to be going on between them.

He got up, went to the window, and pulled the curtains aside. A new day beginning. He saw his rented Stutz sitting at the curb across the street from the hotel. The mechanic Ladislas had hired must have fixed the tire and brought it back. His hand went inside his pants pocket. The keys were there. He took them out. In one hand he held the keys and in the other the journal, and he weighed them.

A few minutes, later he stood on the street, closing the door on the boot. His suitcases were all packed inside. He got in behind the wheel and put the key in the ignition. Next to him on the front seat was a small valise. He touched it with trembling fingers. The diary of Vlad the Impaler. He could scarcely believe it. He started the engine.

Ahead was the western road to Bran and the train station. Behind him, the sun rose over Mount Ska and Castle Moravic. The village had not yet awakened. Some dark birds cawed in the cool morning silence. They sounded like women screaming.

He depressed the clutch and put the motor in gear.

She had found him so charming. So sad. So “poetic.” Do you still think so, Vivian, he thought to himself?

He let up on the clutch and floored the accelerator. The car lurch forward. A chill ran down his back, as he saw the long, dark shadow of the Stutz thrown ahead of him on the road by the sun rising at his back. He would be in Bran by noon. By then, the sun would cast no shadow. No shadow at all. He started to laugh uncontrollably. Tears filled his eyes and the road ahead became a blur.

It would be the most authentic thing he’d ever written.

">The End


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The story is copyright by John Whalen. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)