4. L’AMOUR MUET: Caritas

“Sup away; I have sipped, and will sup on your presence alone.”
“Then surely I shall sup.”

Bistritz the magnificent castlebat glided through the night sky, ever heading for parts ever darker. His condominium-sized wings needed only flap once to guarantee an hour’s worth of flight. Truly he, and the castle on his back, constituted the most impressive home in the world.

The monstrous friends would soon dine within this bat’s hallowed halls. In a posh dining room was seated Adam, duly amazed. He enjoyed a roaring fireplace and the sight of a mystery staircase from his position at one end of a meters-long table. On the walls were hung medieval relics, swords and banners which predated even he. But the pièce de résistance waited on the table, where an exquisite cornucopia offered plentiful fresh fruit.

Adam’s side screamed with ham sandwiches, Turkish delights, roast beef, turkey legs, an entire ham, string beans, chicken pot pie, robber steak, a spiced ham, and a coffee cake. Never in all his days had he seen so much food, much less in such garnished array!

Dracula’s side, far at the other end, was barren, by contrast, of plates. It was also barren of Dracula. But not for long.

All down the table’s length, from Adam’s end to the empty one soon to be Dracula’s, standing at attention, were cups of wine…wine for vampires, which would be blood. As Adam sized up his food, a strange yet familiar mist passed slowly over the table. Any wine it passed, it slurped, saying “mmm,” “slllllurp,” and “schleeeyerp mmmyumyumyummy.” Soon the cups were empty—and Dracula, full, materialized, sated from sip in his seat.

“What a delightful meal,” he said. “I used to do this trick on battlefields, you know.”

The act had made Adam nervous. He inquired, “Are you most definitely sure you do not want any of this extravagant, overlarge meal you have graciously prepared?”

“Do not worry about my wellbeing. You have only just started your Baptism of Blood, which is what we call the first stage of vampirism. While I do not need to sup on much supper due to my more advanced condition, I acquired food as well as blood in case you would, in fact, like to sup. So sup away; I have sipped, and will sup on your presence alone.”

“Then surely I shall sup.”

So sup he did. At intervals throughout, he turned, with his mouth meat-laden, to the spaces on the walls where windows should have been.

“So I notice that your castle is closed to the outdoors,” he said.

“That it is! In case I have need to protect my condition.”

“And what of the steps by thine fireplace?” A carpet-clad stairway of mystique led up to a tiny deck; when Adam leaned, he could clearly see that deck, complete with an old-fashioned sailing vessel wheel, poised behind a grand circular window. From that window’s girthy width and tallness, one could see all that lay before Bistritz in the sky, possibly including the sun.

“Without it, how could I steer my bat?”

“Ah. But of course.”

Yet more supping ensued.

After consumption of the second pork dish: “I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said Adam.

“Quite again there is no need! It was my pleasure to extomb you from beneath Egypt.”

“Not for that. For this most delectable selection of dishes, the likes of which I could have only dreamed of. For I have spent a life subsisting on nothing but roots, fruits, and wild brutes, and this meal is the most scrumptious I have ever had in my long and yet short life!”

“You do not need to consume it all just to show your appreciation,” Dracula advised. “I have had a long life in which to practice the culinary arts with few to enact my skills upon. In fact…by the end of our friendly relations, you may be apt to reject this sup with anger.”

“Why should I want to rescind this supper? Has this something to do with your reason for retrieving my unhappy corpse from the sweltering sands of the north Sahara?”

Dracula, a mite less playful, reached beneath the table and lifted a bottle of red wine: true wine, that being the blood of grapes. “Do you sip wine with your sup?”

“I should say I desire a sip, please.”

He tossed the bottle. It sailed over the cornucopia and, with the perfect landing of a gold-medal gymnast, landed tilted against the rim of the wine glass closest to Adam. The cork popped off as if by command; the cup was filled to the ideal volume.

“My thanks. Do you sip?”

“No, I neither sip nor sup. And now, my books.” Dracula flicked his arms like a ninja launching dangerous stars. Past his shoulders sailed two books, straight from the dining room library. One landed in the coffee cake, the other against the wine glass, which knocked the bottle off the table. “Drat. But please inspect the volumes.”

Adam, who with his fork had just hoisted the entire spiced ham, lowered it sadly and turned to the first novel: Frankenstein. “What manner of volume is this?”

“I apologize for recalling bad memories, but please, verify the ending for me.”

A quick inspection afforded the conclusion to the novel. Victor Frankenstein passed away in the far north aboard a sailing vessel, and Adam himself forged a funeral pyre at the very tip of the world to burn himself to death—at least, such had been the intent.

“This is a real account,” said Adam.

“And examine the second.”

Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

“That account was invented, they say,” Dracula prefaced, “by a man who lived in Whitby, England, when I had come to roost there. They call it a fable, an assemblage of fabricated memoirs from the various heroes involved in my slaying. But in truth, this Mr. Stoker looted real journals and printed them under guise of speculative fiction!” He scoffed. “So it is the genuine article, accurate down to the letter.”

Adam flipped to Dracula’s end. A Romanian mob found his coffin in the forest. His macabre seat of slumber was pried open, his chest pierced with a common Bowie knife, and his body became dust and scattered in the sun. Also, his head was removed with a kukri knife! Very impressive.

“Beheaded as well as staked through the heart?” Adam fact-checked.

Dracula drew an X over his heart with a finger and chuckled. “Do you think a common dagger owned by some random Englishman is guaranteed to be made of silver? It simply must be made of silver, or a vampire will not pass on. Otherwise, if we are substantially harmed, we simply revert to ash, blow away in the wind, and are reborn as the phoenix, only more bat-like.”

“Fantastic. But why this exercise in literary history?”

“I have waited many moons to ask you this, my friend…” The heckish host loosened his collar and took a long breath. Several meters away sat Adam, who might have been perfectly content if not for his memories, some of them vicious, others yet vague and awash in ominous mist. Dracula leaned forward and asked, “What happened after the end of Frankenstein? What was your fate?”

“It certainly was not a happy doom, nor one as exciting as burning to ash. Nor did I succeed in returning to the ashes from which I crawled in my loathsome genesis. For you see, I did hold to the promise I made the sailor that frozen day!

“I took myself to the pinnacle of the icéd wastes, carrying kindling which I had procured at the start of my journey. Then I set them all ablaze and laid myself in the pyre. I let the flames overtake me! I howled under the Northern Lights for an eternity of pain! And my nerves savored every second, every miniscule particle of that flesh-rending time. It was a banquet of suffering—but I deserved every serving. For it was I who rampaged through Europe, I who murdered Victor’s brother, his friend, his wife, and even Victor himself! And yet no matter how long I remained on the pyre, my body, harbor of my sins, would not burn away!

“By next morning, the kindle was utterly spent. I examined myself. To my utter shock, though my flesh continued to scream with anguish, I myself was unseared, unmarked. I was not only naturally cold-resistant, immune from the day of my creation to frostbite and pneumonia; I was also too tough to burn. I long considered seeking death through other means, but ultimately lacked the resolve to do so. Instead, I slowly returned to the land of the living, and…”

“And right after that, you were seen by the monster hunter Van Helsing, initiating a lengthy manhunt that spanned the planet, I presume?”

“Ah. Ah! Ah. Yes, I shall, shall confirm that, yes that is what happened most indubitably,” Adam confirmed incredibly credibly. There was a strange, sad truth he could not reveal, that he scarcely knew himself, which smarted at the touch like a new wound. “And how did you know, oh correct one?”

The host brandished a thick stack of highly yellowed pages, tied with twine. Even with his vampire eyes, Adam still had to squint to see it, thanks to the gargantuan length of their fabulous dinner table. “This,” said Dracula, “is the manuscript to the unpublished work Frankenstein 2. It may as well have been a treasure map leading to your formerly final resting place! If not for your would-be killers,” he explained, fondly remembering the recent jaunt which already made him wax nostalgic, “I would have never revived you.”

“Prodigious,” Adam gasped. “Such an incredulous series of events both fortunate and un-!”

Dracula then tossed him a copy of The Invisible Man. It curved wrong and flew directly into the fireplace. Then it burned up. “Whoops. Looks like we will not be reading that story.”

Adam eyed his spiced ham.

“Yes, eat away. I implore you, simply enjoy your meal and rest your voice. Allow I your servant to regale you with the true tale of Dracula’s life since his own story ended. And though his tale shall be both tall and long, it is replete with circumstances that shaped his person as well as the world beneath his home’s wings. May it be most insightful to thy person, and pleasing to thine ear.

“My legend begins in the 1930s. It took merely a few decades for my ashes to reconvene and comprise this form once more. Recalling my previous death, I decided that rather than restricting myself to the Transylvanian lands and relying on world-dominating servants, I would follow my dreams and become a globetrotter, sampling the blood of different nations. (This was the old, wild Dracula, not the domesticated sort that I have become of late.)

“I happened to be sneaking around in Wales when I received news of a peculiar death: that of a certain Larry Talbot, who had been saddled with a werewolf’s curse. On a lark, I decided, ‘I want to suck his blood.’ So I did, making the journey to the university inspecting his body for post-mortem study. Sneaking in was no issue; imbibing what little blood remained, a delight. I even discovered that consuming werewolf blood temporarily bequeaths some measure of werewolf power on the drinker! This may be a little technical for you, but the effect is not unlike how drinking wine raises one’s Blood Alcohol Concentration…indeed, one might even say there exists a Blood Werewolf Concentration.

“Thus I became a treasure hunter, a ghoul gourmand, seeking odd individuals anywhere and everywhere so that I might sample them—and their powers—for myself. But to my growing shock, for many years I had little success. Even more greatly shockingly, I was soon to learn that the most astounding human beings on this green earth are in reality the weakest. Not the most beautiful, either.

“My ramblings took me to the French monasteries of Notre Dame! A favorite haunt; the aged architecture of France has always made a fine treat for the eyes. I explored its churches, which, with their rampant Catholicism, are thought to be the bane of all vampires. Well, know that a cross cannot hurt you if you do not look directly at it. Ha! And again, ha!

“One morning I found myself in an unkempt room of a cloister owned by the resident monks. They were raising an orphan, who rarely left that hogsty of a room. The mess, however, was books, sweetmeat for the mind. I eyed the charming things, trying my best to leaf through not a one as the orphan boy slept.

“Believe me, the literature’s temptation was great. I knew well of the grand library by Bistritz’s esophagus, which comprised much of history and philosophies, but the volumes this orphan possessed were exclusively of the scientific variety. My mind was transfixed by one book left open, the pages of which explained how to sap energy from a mere potato. Could tubers truly contain such heavenly powers? Could the mechanical extravagances of the age have all stemmed from such simple vegetation? I was completely astounded—I had to read more!

“Before I myself knew it, I had turned the page…and even a boy just awakened, rubbing his tired eyes, could dimly see my monstrous hand and the tome it cradled.

“Such a simple mistake it was, to forget my place. Straightaway the boy pointed and cried, ‘What manner of devil are you, foul ghost? Release my book and be done with this house of spirit, spirit!’ To which I responded, ‘I am no spirit, sprat!’ I stepped out from the shadows and loomed above him, making grand display of my prized teeths.

“What an unfortunate son of faith he was. A quick examination proved that he had a hunched back like no one would ever believe. I almost thought he were the offspring of a dromedary camel, how humped was his back! And the first thing he did when he saw my fangs, poor urchin, was leap from his bed to kneel before me and beg for his own demise. For his peers had forsaken him, and even the monks his fathers scorned him, claiming that his back was as crooked as his sinful heart. Ashamed, rejected, he had cast himself into worldly studies, sequestered sorrowful in that tower of gray.

“His pitifulness was too utterly great to bear. I decided to take him under my cape. Thus Hunchback Igor became a vampire and Vlad Dracula became a man of science. Ours was a wondrous relation, I the itinerant count, he the young ward. A shame that our team-up terminated with a titanic shift in world politics…but let me continue.

“What I did to Igor on that fateful morning, as I did to you also, was inject, through my impressive dentals, my own blood. He became immortal just as you and I have. With infinite time all to ourselves, we set about making eternity as interesting as possible. I am still proud to say that my protégé turned me into a true renaissance vampire. We learned all the disciplines of every prestigious learning center—in secret! Only with Igor’s help did I breed dear Bistritz. Igor was my candle-bearer on the path of transformation from vampiric killer to vampiric inquisitor.

“We had many wild adventures—ha…many indeed. One moonlit night in a Romanian grove, we were caught unawares by a hungry werewolf; we subdued him, however, without issue, and sampled his blood. Normally I would have slurped such blood hastily, but Igor convinced me to take it to our study. We isolated the blood-borne virus responsible for a particular strain of werewolfism, coaxed it to reproduce…and Igor claimed its powers as his own, injecting himself with ichor of lupe! He was perhaps the first human in history to willingly, permanently become a wolf-man, and I joined him. Then we held a spectacular feast, toasting the increase in our powers as well as our shared bounty of knowledge!

“In hindsight, that night spelled the beginning of the end for our friendship. I believe that Igor’s heart is quite noble, even to this grave day, and I can scarcely believe that such a fine wolfman vampire as he would allow our world to grow so corrupt! But I must backtrack, for you know little of this, young Ramses. Indeed, one great mystery remains in this tale: what compelled Igor to take his heart and intellect to the polls as the first inhuman president…how came he to champion werewolf rights, eventually uniting this planet under the banner of a new, all-encompassing werewolf cultural identity…”

Dracula, curious about his guest’s comfort, stretched to peek over the table cornucopia. The mummy was fast asleep among empty plates. He was flouting a primo vampire rule: always sleep in your coffin. Fortunately, every room inside of Bistritz was a little long and featured six sides—ergo, coffin-shaped. However subtle the added corners, they seemed to do the trick. “Perhaps my monologue has run a tad too long,” Dracula reasoned, wearing a wry grin.

He traversed the tableside, reached his friend, and lifted him from the chair with ease. “You must still be groggy after your thousand years of sleep. Let me guide you to a more proper rest. Before you wake, we shall have arrived at another friend of mine’s abode.”

And so the big bat soared, far above the clouds. Futuristic wingless jet planes cruised hundreds of feet below, none the wiser.

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