Author: DarkPriestessofAssimbya PM
In the Count's castle Jonathan's vision of reality tilts, shifts, transfigures.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Supernatural - Words: 1,503 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 1 - Published: 01-01-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5630612
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The first night Jonathan stays in the Count's castle, he dreams of a ballroom, wide and cavernous, with ceilings so high that he cannot see them. It is full of guests in elaborate masks like the faces of animals and birds. Jonathan walks through the ballroom, and watches the people he passes. One woman with a mask like a silvery wolf smokes a cigar from which emits a curling blue smoke, forming patterns in the air before her. A man whose mask is that of a bright-plumed, exotic bird kneels at her feet, kissing her ankles.
He walks until Mina stands before him, her face bare of any mask. Silently, without a word of negotiation, Jonathan takes her hand in his and places his other hand upon her waist and they begin to dance, winding around thick-stemmed jungle plants which grow up from the marble floor. Mina's dress is iridescent, scaly and rough under Jonathan's fingers, and he realizes suddenly, with a thrill of shock, that it is made from snakeskin. She leans in to him and whispers, "The stones are hurting my feet."
He looks down, and she lifts her skirts, revealing petticoats made out of grey cobweb. She is barefoot, and her feet are bleeding. Jonathan wants to tell her something in response, some sort of comfort or reassurance, but he sees, as though inevitably, that the white clips in her dark hair are made from human teeth, and the image silences him.
From behind Mina, a young, dark haired man steps forward and places his hands upon her shoulders. Jonathan thinks that he is a wearing a mask, a chalk-cheeked, ruby-lipped mask, but he cannot see its edges. Mina turns around to face the man, as though mechanically, and begins to dance with him instead. Jonathan tries to step forward, to call out to her, but he feels the vines that grow from the floor winding up his legs, holding him in place. As he stands there, the vines grow up higher and higher, and the sensation of them against his body is not an unpleasant one.
From the high ceilings snow begins to fall, though none of it touches Jonathan. He can see it falling upon Mina's hair, upon the bare skin of her shoulders and arms. The man with whom she is dancing plucks snowflakes out of the air, and in his hands they expand so that the intricate filigree of their form is visible. One by one, he places them around Mina's neck till they make a high, sharp necklace which covers the entire expanse of her throat. As Jonathan watches, the snowflakes begin to grow down her chest and up her face, till her skin is entirely covered by a coating of intricately patterned ice, translucent and shimmering. Icicles drip from her fingertips.
Jonathan almost screams, despite the leaves working their way between his teeth, but then he feels a touch upon his shoulder. It is the Count, his gracious host, who says, his voice courteous, "My friend, you still have not signed the papers I gave you," and as Jonathan thinks of a response, the ground beneath them gapes open and Jonathan is falling, clutching onto the Count as he plummets into the darkness.
Jonathan's mirror is broken. He can see it catching the light, far down on the stone of the courtyard. It frightens him somehow, to see it there, and he does not want to look at it too long.
As he turns away, demons and spirits crawl out from the jagged edges of his broken mirror: all the images of his nightmares, freed by that breach in reality.
He does not undress any longer when he can avoid it. It seems to him that his skin is changing, as though with a strange illness, and he avoids touching it whenever he can. It is as though all the nerves in his flesh have risen up to the surface, so that each brush of his hand against his torso, or of his bare legs against the sheets of his bed, is so full of sensation that it is agonizing. Once, as the Count serves him dinner, his hand brushes Jonathan's and Jonathan wants to cry out at the feeling of it, which explodes in his mind like stars, too bright. And so he keeps his waistcoat buttoned and his shoes laced, and tries to imagine that his flesh does not exist.
The Count comes to Jonathan's room, dressed in Jonathan's own clothing. His hair has grown darker, Jonathan sees, and the deep lines in his face have thinned, now mere etchings, faint.
"I thank you," the Count says, "for the use of your clothing. It has proven invaluable." There are spots of blood on the rolled cuffs of the white shirt.
"What monster are you?" Jonathan asks, standing before the Count, still, straight-backed.
"In this place," the Count replies, "it is you who are the monster. So I study you, my friend. You are a foreigner. These clothes I wear now are as the ritual garments of some strange, superstitious tribe."
Jonathan commands, as much as he can command, "Give them back to me. They are mine."
The Count smiles, gracious, and before Jonathan he undresses, leaving Jonathan's tailored garments scattered on the floor around him like the fallen petals of a flower. Looking at the Count's bare flesh, heart pounding in his ears, Jonathan can see nothing but the winding pattern of blue veins tracing a path over his skin. Those veins, Jonathan knows, grow out of the Count's bare feet into the stone of the floor beneath him. They spurt from his fingertips into the air, where they continue to wind, traveling in spirals until they encircle Jonathan, invisible.
Jonathan closes his eyes and refuses to look.
After Jonathan fails to escape from the castle he sits alone with a half begun letter to Mina, but the characters of the shorthand twist and turn before his eyes into something unfamiliar and ugly, like the dark gears of a frightening factory machine. And so instead of continuing to write he takes the stiff white paper and slashes tiny cuts across each of his fingertips. The drops of blood that well up look to him like many things – exotic flowers, gemstones, teardrops colored by the setting sun.
When he next sees the Count Jonathan holds out his hands to him, with their stains of drying blood and fine, delicate cuts. The Count only smiles, eyes flaring like coals, and says, "Dear Mr. Harker, I shall ask far more of you than that when the time comes."
Left alone, Jonathan feels a terrible burning in his palms, in his hipbones, the closed cage of his ribs, the vertebra hard at the back of his neck. He can feel the edges of each of the cuts on his hands and they burn as though outlined by a candlewick. He searches for relief, rips off his clothing without regard for buttons or lacings and presses himself up against the bare stone wall, letting its cold seep through to his muscles. The stone envelops him, a gentle, emotionless embrace. He sinks into it like water and breathes in rich, cool earth.
Jonathan has a strange dream, a nightmare. He dreams that he sits a table set for tea. There is lace on the table, dripping over the edges. The teapot is of porcelain, and has painted on it an image of a flower, delicate as though it must have been painted with tiny brushes. There are scones on a platter, studded through with cranberries, a dish of jam glittering beside them. Mina sits across the table from him. Her dress is of a bright yellow, and is edged with lace that covers her throat entirely.
She smiles and asks him, "Would you like another cup of tea, dearest?" He nods, and she pours it for him. The liquid is a rich, warm brown, tinged with red. She adds a cube of sugar too, which sparkles in the silver tongs and then dissolves in the tea's warmth.
He lifts the teacup to his lips and she folds her hands in her lap. Her eyes, he sees, are distant, even though she smiles. The tea tastes delicate, sweet, intricate in its flavor. He is aware of how fragile the stem of his teacup is and feels a suddenly, overwhelming sympathy for Mina that makes him feel as though he is drowning.
Jonathan walks through the Count's castle. Shapes hover in the cobwebs, women's faces and bats' wings and wolves' claws. The walls sing soft songs to his ears, and though they have no words, he knows what they mean.
He steps around the plants that grow from the stone of the floors, and when he looks up to the ceilings he sees the vast, starry darkness of the cosmos.