Author: PeekabooFang PM
After 172 years locked away in her coffin, the vampire Josette DuPres walks free again. What happens when she encounters the possible reincarnation of her lost love, Barnabas Collins, tutor to young David Collins? Obvious AU, with lots of gender reversal.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Romance - Chapters: 19 - Words: 81,282 - Reviews: 40 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 16 - Updated: 05-15-13 - Published: 05-16-12 - id: 8123525
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
So a new journey begins, eh, old fellow? Barnabas Collins asked himself as he stared out the train's window at Maine's coast rolling by. He smiled ruefully to himself. Back to your roots.
Since childhood, the orphaned Collins had immersed himself in reading book upon book detailing the exploits of the American branch of his troubled family history. Sequestered in the home of his godfather, Nile Bradford, the boy through his solitary reading became naturally moody and taciturn, only brightening when imagining himself the hero of any given generation of the Collinsport Collins.
Eventually the patient, understanding Nile Bradford was able to channel his charge's wild imagination and infatuation with the past into more studious fields, and after years of intensive schooling, old Bradford was proud that just before his death he was able to see his beloved godson on his way to becoming a professor of Colonial American History at Oxford.
Poor Nile, thought Barnabas morosely. Luckily, old friend, you didn't have to witness how it all turned out.
"Hey." Barnabas was jolted from his brooding by the porter. "We're in Collinsport, buddy."
He straightened immediately from his meditative posture, grabbing his sparse luggage. "Oh, ah, yes. Thank you." Squeezing past the porter, he exited the train.
"Good Lord," he muttered to himself, taking in the thick fog and empty platform. "You can take the man out of the London fog, but you can't take the London fog out of the man's eyesight." He pulled up his coat collar, shivering from the damp sea air. Outside of the impenetrable mist, everything was pitch-black this autumn night.
In truth, this gloomy, foreboding greeting only increased the excitement Barnabas was only just keeping at bay in his breast.
For all the shame and disappointed ambition that had brought him to this crossroads in life, Barnabas felt an eerie calling stirring in his veins as he stood in the cold, vacant station. Here, perhaps, more than the quiet home on Oxford Street, or the hallowed halls of University, was home.
…An impression that grew slightly less convincing as a half-hour passed and no signs of the promised car appeared to whisk him away to Collinwood.
Checking his wristwatch, Barnabas tapped his foot absently for another forty-nine seconds before heading with imperious impulsiveness to the payphone near the station house.
"Oh, goodness, Mr. Collins!" the exaggerated, breathless voice of the housekeeper spoke from the other end when Barnabas explained his marooned status. "Oh, dear me. Mrs. Stoddard will be furious with Willie! Willie Loomis, that is. That's our groundskeeper, you know. Worthless wreck of a boy. Probably out getting drunk at The Blue Whale. That's our local tavern, you know. Well, Mr. Collins, If you're willing to wait just another half-hour or so, I'm sure that when Mr. Collins comes home—er, Mr. Roger Collins, that is—he can take one of the cars and"—
"Oh, no, no, no! Thank you. I wouldn't hear of it," Barnabas cut in quickly. The night air was getting chillier by the minute and as the station house was closed this time of night, Barnabas was far from willing to extend his current occupation of pacing the dark platform for another weary half-hour. "I wouldn't want to put anyone out. I realize this is all just a misunderstanding. Oh, wait one moment!" He put down the phone and waved as he saw a taxi approach. The car reluctantly slowed. Barnabas held up a finger to let the driver know to wait, and then put the phone to his ear again. "Happily, Madame, it looks like help is at hand. A taxi just arrived. Tell Mrs. Stoddard I'll hopefully be at Collinwood's gate shortly."
So enthused was he that he cut off the voice on the other end in hanging up, grabbing his bags and racing toward the cab.
The irate driver's face glared at him from behind the rolled-down window of the passenger's seat.
"Look, pal," he said, halting Barnabas from opening the car door. "This ain't New York with empty cabs running around 24/7. I'm off duty, all right?"
Barnabas's heart sank. "Oh, please. Just a moment. I'd have to wait another half-hour in this miserable cold for a ride to come if you don't help me out. I'll make it worth your while, and where I'm heading can't be too far away. I'm going to Collinwood. Perhaps you've heard of it? It's an old mansion at"—
"Collinwood?" The driver asked incredulously, eyes wide and eyebrows up in his broad round face. "You're goin' to Collinwood?"
"What the hell you want in a joint like Collinwood? Nobody in their right mind goes there."
Barnabas took a deep, impatient breath, willing himself not to snap at his only hope for salvation to please stop repeating incredulously everything he said.
"Work at what?"
"As tutor to young David Collins."
The man's face brightened eagerly as he turned back to the wheel. "Oh, this I gotta hear. Hop in, pal."
"Boy," the driver said, shaking his head as he pulled in front of the tall iron gate in front of Collinwood about thirty minutes later. "Wait till I tell the guys at Blue Whale about this. Right out of some gothic horror story you comin' here. Anyways, there's the madhouse in question, Mister," he jerked his thumb toward the gate.
Barnabas handed him the American currency Elizabeth Stoddard had wired him in case of emergency.
"Thank you very much for your trouble."
"No problem. Hey," he said, turning around to grab Barnabas's arm as he was about to leave the cab. "Good luck. And be careful. This place is chock full of nut-jobs and weirdoes. If you want, I can take you to the Collinsport Inn where you can spend the night and leave on the morning train back to New York or to Bangor. It ain't too late to turn back, y'know."
Unable and unwilling to express that these warnings only increased his perverse anticipation, Barnabas politely replied, "Thank you for your generous offer, but that won't be necessary. I believe I shall be fine."
Shrugging, the driver released him. "Have it your way, bud. Your funeral."
Closing the car door, Barnabas waited until the cab was out of sight before facing the steely black gate guarding the home of his American ancestors and current distant cousins.
Stamping down again on the excitement fluttering in his chest, Barnabas pushed at the rusty gates until they eventually gave way. He walked slowly down the weed-strewn path before him, observing as much of his surroundings as he could through the darkness.
From what he could see, the twisted vines and overgrown grass indicated the garden was in a state of total disrepair. Whoever this Willie is certainly isn't only neglecting his duties as chauffeur.
Following the light provided by the almost-full moon, Barnabas eventually reached the end of the crooked path, and stood in awe of the sight before him.
Collinwood loomed large like a gray Goliath. The moonlight silhouetted the spiraling steeples, gables, grimacing gargoyles, and outsized structure of the house in stark relief. Barnabas turned to his right at the sound of crashing waves, just able to make out the black waters crashing against the shore, the shore Collinwood imperiously overlooked.
The dreary environs and Collinwood's brutal design made descriptions of Castle Udolpho look meek in comparison, made Castle Dracula look tastefully subdued, made Norman Bates's house look positively sane.
Barnabas Collins was falling more and more madly in love by the minute.
Relishing Collinwood's exterior, Barnabas headed toward the front door, anxious to inspect the interior.
His knocks were answered by a flustered-looking older woman, a dishrag in hand as she wiped away the sweat from her forehead.
"Mr. Collins?" She asked.
"Yes. How do you do?"
"Oh, I'm fine, I'm fine. I'm Mrs. Johnson. I'm the one you spoke to on the telephone."
"Come in, come in! Were you able to get here without much trouble? I was starting to tell you over the phone that taxis don't run this late in Collinsport, but you'd already hung up."
"Oh, yes, I'm sorry about that. I was just so anxious to arrive. No, everything went fine, really. Once I mentioned where I was heading, I held the driver's undivided attention the whole way."
Mrs. Johnson nodded wryly. "Yes, I'm not surprised. We're always the talk of the town one way or the other. Here, let me take your coat for you."
"Thank you," Barnabas said absently, taking in Collinwood's expansive entryway. "It's just like it was described in the original plans."
"What's that, Mr. Collins?"
Barnabas blinked, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Johnson. But my parents inherited a great many of the papers and books from the Collinsport branch of our family tree, and since childhood I've absolutely devoured them, particularly those pertaining to Collinwood's construction. And I must say, every detail exceeds my expectations."
"Yes, it's a beautiful old house," Mrs. Johnson conceded as she hung up his coat and moved his bags closer to the staircase. "Of course, these recent years haven't seen the place at its best."
Barnabas had to agree with her there. As Mrs. Johnson headed upstairs to inform Elizabeth Stoddard of his arrival, Barnabas noticed the classic architecture and winding staircase were offset by the inclusion of collecting dust and cobwebs. While some beautiful original pieces remained such as the tall grandfather clock and antique chairs, much of the décor was heavily influenced by the garish bright articles of the day, such as shag rugs and lava lamps.
Yet Barnabas's good opinion was restored when inspecting the walls he found the family portraits staring down at him, defiant in the face of changing times, dating all the way back to the 17th Century.
"What a history," he murmured proudly.
"Why, I wouldn't believe it if I didn't see you with my own eyes," a melodious voice spoke from the stairs.
Barnabas turned to see a beautiful and regal middle-aged woman with a stiff up-do and elegant evening dress descend the steps, a gracious, subtly sad smile on her face.
"I don't believe I have to ask who you are, Mrs. Stoddard," he said with friendly deference, warmly shaking her hand as she approached.
"Please, Cousin Barnabas, no need for such formality. Call me Elizabeth, please."
"And I'd never have to ask who you are, even if I didn't know you were coming."
He tilted his head questioningly. "How's that?"
"Why, your portrait, of course."
"I'm just being flippant. The painting of the original Barnabas Collins, your namesake, resides in the Old House, a little ways from here. It's been…some years since I've been to the Old House, as it's very dilapidated now. But even though I haven't seen the portrait in a while I can still remember enough to know the resemblance between you two is absolutely uncanny." Her eyes ran over his face with muted surprise.
Barnabas's smile widened. "Ah yes, the original Barnabas! Always my favorite when I'd read up on the family history, at the risk of sounding conceited."
Elizabeth nodded, family pride written in her own face. "Yes, he was the one who really got the cannery business off the ground, and the one who started construction of the new house." She continued staring unabashedly into Barnabas's face. "The resemblance is so eerily striking."
Barnabas's masculine pride couldn't help but be tickled here, to be compared so closely to his namesake, one of the more dashing and romantic figures in the Collins history.
"Considering his contributions to the Collins name, I do believe I will take that as a compliment, Elizabeth."
"As you should. But you must forgive me, my surprise at your appearance kept me from greeting you properly: welcome to Collinwood, Barnabas Collins."
"I am honored to be here," he said genuinely.
Approving, Elizabeth continued, "If you follow me now to the dining room, I've asked Mrs. Johnson to prepare some supper for you."
"That's very kind," Barnabas said, following her down the long, stately corridor. "But it's really not necessary. I don't want to put you or your staff to any trouble."
"Nonsense," Elizabeth dismissed the issue with the wave of her hand. "It is we who put you through so much trouble. I do apologize for you being left abandoned at the train station. A nice hello, wasn't it? As for our staff, there's only Mrs. Johnson," she inhaled sharply, her face grim and disapproving, "and Willie Loomis."
"Ah, yes, the groundskeeper, so I've heard."
Elizabeth laughed shortly. "If you can call him that. I took him on as..." she hesitated uncomfortably for a moment, looking away. "As a favor to an…old friend. Willie's a total waste of a human being, spending most of the time drunk and ending up in more fights than doing any actual work. He should be in shortly to take up your luggage, however."
Oh, lovely, Barnabas thought bleakly. He was glad there was nothing worth stealing in his possessions after hearing this cheerful description of Collinwood's only manservant.
The dining room was perhaps the most dreary place he'd yet come across. It was about two sizes too big, and sitting across from Mrs. Stoddard at the long thin table gave one a very hopeless, lonely feeling.
As he ate, Elizabeth cleared her throat carefully. "Barnabas, I decided before you came here not to ask any pressing questions concerning your…dismissal from Oxford."
Barnabas slowly laid down his fork.
Elizabeth continued. "The past is the past. I know how untruthful and hurtful gossip can be"—
Barnabas held up his hand, gently stopping her. "Please, Elizabeth. I admire your sensitivity, but I would feel more at ease if you let me explain everything."
"Now, really, it's not"—
"I must, if we're to have total honesty between us, as is befitting family members." He stared at his hands for a moment, resting tensely on either side of his plate. Finally he looked up and spoke. "I'm not sure how much of the scandal you've heard, but I might as well start at the beginning. I had recently received my fellowship at Oxford, and enjoyed the close friendship and endorsement of Dr. Sky Rumson, a prominent dean and donor to the school. Unfortunately," he paused. "Unfortunately, I also enjoyed the dubious privilege of being the subject of his wife's affections."
Noticing Elizabeth shifting in her seat, Barnabas locked eyes with her quickly. "But I assure you with every fiber of my being, I never encouraged her or reciprocated her advances. But after I had only been about a year teaching, Sky discovered her feelings and in a rage threw her out and destroyed my career. With his clout and reputation, he was easily able to secure my dismissal. Having just started my career, and without any friendships yet established in Oxford beyond his, I was an easy target for slander. My reputation was tarnished past the point of anyone hiring me. I am, essentially, persona non grata in London's academic circle."
He exhaled an uneasy breath at the end of his confession. He stared at his hands again, waiting for Elizabeth to speak.
"I know what it is like to be gossiped about, to be slandered," she said with quiet empathy. "Sometimes the charges were true, but most of the time they've been false. If I've learned anything from life, it's that everyone deserves a second chance, innocent or guilty. I appreciate your candor, Barnabas."
"And I yours, Elizabeth," he returned softly. "But…might I ask how it is you learned I was in need of a position? Your letter was rather vague on that point."
"Oh, that," she said easily. "Roger—my brother, you'll probably meet him tomorrow—was in London on business a few months ago and heard odd rumors about the incident. Although I sympathized with you, for I've heard Sky Rumson often abuses his power, I decided that it was at least a fortuitous stroke of luck where David was concerned."
This piqued Barnabas's interest. "Ah, yes, David! I've been remiss in not inquiring after my new pupil."
Elizabeth's easy manner was replaced by obvious consternation. She took a few moments before answering. "You appreciated my candor earlier, so I'll not let you down now. David is a disturbed young man. We had to pull him out of school, because he was disruptive, moody, and frightening the other children."
It was Barnabas's turn to be uneasy. "I must confess, Elizabeth, I don't have much prior experience with children, much less troubled ones."
"I know. That's why I chose you. David isn't like other children. Oh, he's fanciful, very fanciful. That's part of the problem. But he's also very precocious. He won't take being talked down to. Keep the curriculum simpler than what you'd teach at Oxford, of course, but don't treat him any differently than you would your other students. He'll pick up on any condescension." She smiled at him apologetically. "I fear this position is a step down for you, Barnabas."
"Not at all, Elizabeth. I'm grateful for the work. And I must admit to having rather selfish motives for coming here as well," he said, eyes twinkling. "Ever since I was a child I've wanted the chance to reside at Collinwood, to stand at Widow's Hill and watch the waves crash against the shore."
Elizabeth laughed. "Well, I'm afraid you won't find much romance here, Barnabas. We're all pretty set in our ways." She stood. "Hopefully Willie's back by now. He'll escort you to your room."
As they made their way back down the corridor, Barnabas found himself again engrossed by the various paintings that followed them, and stopped to study a photograph at the end of the hall: a family portrait of the current Collins family.
Elizabeth sat in the center, ever regal and lovely. A bored, rigid-looking man some ten years younger stood at her right, apparently too consumed with ennui to smile beyond a tired smirk. To Elizabeth's left stood a pretty blonde teenager, whose exaggerated bright smile failed to mask her petulant and angry eyes. In front of the man was a boy of about ten years old. The lad stared with penetrating glum eyes out of the picture frame, not even making a cursory attempt to look more cheerful.
Elizabeth joined Barnabas in studying the unconventional group. "This was taken last Christmas. It's one of the few times I've been able to convince everyone to appear in a picture together"—
"—Yeah, we're usually smart enough to realize nobody wants to see another portrait of the Collins family," a pert voice interrupted.
At the end of the hall, leaning lazily against a wall with her feet and arms crossed, smiled the blonde teenager from the picture.
"Barnabas," Elizabeth said stiffly. "This is my daughter, Carolyn."
He bowed his head. "Very glad to meet you, Carolyn."
"Likewise." She skipped over to him, holding her hand up, eyelids batting as she indicated he should kiss it.
Unable to stifle his grin at her impertinence despite her mother rolling her eyes, Barnabas complied. "The picture doesn't do you justice. You're even prettier in person."
She giggled. "Oh, wow! Love the accent." Happily, Barnabas noticed that this time her eyes seemed to match her big grin. "What's London like, anyhow?"
"Carolyn," her mother softly but firmly interjected. "Mr. Collins has had a very long voyage. In the space of a few days, he took the boat from Southampton to New York, then the train from New York to here. Why don't we let him get a good night's rest before bombarding him with nosy questions?"
Carolyn did a fair imitation of her mother by rolling her own eyes. "Ugh! Fine. Just trying to make conversation. Anyways, I'm only here because I heard Willie pull up in his car and thought you might like to know." She swallowed a mischievous giggle. "He's stinko again."
Elizabeth closed her eyes. "It figures."
"Well," Carolyn said, winking at Barnabas, "Good luck, teach!" She bounced off down the hall.
"Charming girl," Barnabas said.
"Yes, she is when she wants to be," Elizabeth said sardonically, leading him toward the entryway. "I love that girl more than life itself, but there's no denying she can be a bit of a trial. Unlike you, she's never treasured Collinwood for its history, but instead feels stifled by it. It's not the most exciting place for a young girl in this day and age."
She halted in her tracks and stared crossly at the figure in the entryway.
The young man slammed the door behind him, swaying on his feet.
"Willie," she said sharply.
The boy's bleary eyes met hers. "Yeah?" He asked snappishly. His beat-up leather jacket was torn at the sleeve, and his sandy hair was disheveled. He had a small bruise under his eye. He reeked of beer.
Elizabeth gave him the once-over. "You've been in another fight."
He grinned cockily as he stuck a cigarette in his mouth.
"No smoking in the house," she said with a forceful note in her even voice.
Raising his eyebrows, he took it out, hands in the air in a mock display of peace. He leaned against the doors, steadying himself.
"This is Mr. Barnabas Collins, Willie."
"Hello, Willie," Barnabas said with stiff propriety, masking his disapproval of the wild-looking youth.
"Hiya," Willie mumbled disinterestedly.
"You were supposed to pick up Mr. Collins at the train station, Willie," Elizabeth said icily.
"Got held up," Willie answered unrepentantly. He moseyed casually over to Barnabas's suitcases. "This all you got?"
"Yes," Barnabas said uneasily, noticing how the man still didn't seem to possess a healthy sense of balance. "Are…are you sure you can handle them, young man?"
"What, cuz I'm wasted?" He laughed unpleasantly. "Brother, I've handled a lot worse with a lot more liquor in me."
"Willie, please," Elizabeth said, quietly mortified that her sophisticated cousin should see her groundskeeper this way.
"What, he's a man of the world! Am I right, Mr. Collins?" He said, exaggerating the title.
"Please, call me Barnabas," Barnabas replied hesitantly.
"As you wish, Barnabas." He jerked his head upstairs. "Come on. I'll take you to your room. Get you away from the rest of this dump." He stomped loudly and unevenly up the stairs, dragging the cases behind him.
Barnabas turned to bid his cousin goodnight, who was frowning in embarrassment. "Well, I hate for your first night here to end in such a mean way, Barnabas," she said by way of apology. "But I do sincerely welcome you. I'll introduce you to David and his father tomorrow morning."
Barnabas took her hand again. "Excellent. And I thank you, Elizabeth. I thank you…for the second chance."
Willie was waiting for him at the top of the stairs, the cases nearly coming out of his grasp.
"Uh, here," Barnabas said awkwardly. "Hate to load you with all these. Why don't you let me take one?"
"Suit yourself," Willie said, tossing him the heaviest. He grinned as Barnabas caught it with an "oof!"
Barnabas soon forgot his unease when he noticed again all the portraits gracing the wall. Unlike Elizabeth, Willie had next to no knowledge of the Collins family tree, and in response to Barnabas's questions about various ancestors portrayed in the paintings, he'd answer with grunts that he didn't know and didn't care.
Bemused, Barnabas asked, "Don't you know anything about the Collins ancestry?"
Here Willie stopped for a moment, and eyed him slyly. "Sure. I know about one. And she's in your room."
Barnabas was perplexed.
"C'mon, I'll show you," Willie whispered in a nasty voice that almost overwhelmed Barnabas with its heavy stench of alcohol.
He kicked open the last door on the left.
"Ta-dah!" He sang out sarcastically, turning on the light.
Barnabas entered the neat room and then stopped, transfixed.
He didn't see the tidy space. Didn't see the warm, welcoming bed, tired as he was.
What he saw was she.
She looked at him from where she sat gracefully above the vanity, her doe eyes tender and bright, vivacious. Her silken hair flowed in loose ringlets down her shoulders, a lilac sash tied just below her bosom on her white dress. A large ruby ring graced one of the fingers that demurely clutched a bouquet of jasmine to her chest.
But what caught him most was the singular expression on her face, so much more alive and loving than any of the other stiff and formal faces on the paintings outside. She was ethereal in a most uncanny way, and her large eyes drew Barnabas in until he felt himself almost hypnotized.
It was the most stimulating and disturbing sensation Barnabas had ever felt.
He licked his lips, which had suddenly become dry. "Who…?" He managed to ask at last.
"Josette DuPres," came Willie's cunning voice at his shoulder.
"Josette DuPres!" Barnabas recognized the name instantly. "Fiancée to Barnabas Collins!"
"Huh?" Willie asked, confused. "Your fiancée?"
"No, no, not my fiancée," Barnabas answered hastily. "My namesake's. She returned to Martinique soon after his death. No one knows for sure what became of her after that. There's speculation she entered a convent and never saw man again."
"Oh, yeah? How'd lover boy die?"
"He fell off Widow's Hill."
Willie laughed. "Ha, really! How do you just fall off that thing?"
Barnabas shook his head, never taking his eyes off Josette's image. "No one knows if it was on accident or on purpose." His stare intensified. "It couldn't have been on purpose. What man would kill himself when engaged to such a vision?" He asked mostly to himself. He frowned as he thought of something else. "Odd."
"That Josette's portrait should be here and Barnabas's in the Old House. The Old House is technically the property of the DuPres family. After Collinwood was built, Barnabas gave the deed to the Old House over to Josette's father, Andre DuPres. It was supposed to be handed down from one generation of DuPres to the next. Sadly," he continued in a lower voice, "Josette's little brother Stefan died, and with no other sons, along with Andre's return to Martinique with his daughter, the place has remained neglected ever since. I don't know if there are even any remaining DuPres out there. Still, you'd think the one portrait of a DuPres available would grace their abandoned home."
"I can answer that, bud," Willie answered. "This here was to be the honeymoon suite for Barnabas and Josette, so I've heard. Old Barnabas must've put the portrait here or whatever beforehand. I didn't know that junk about the guy dyin', but every other head of the household has left this place as it is. Anyways, who gives a rat's ass? That ain't the reason I showed ya this."
Amused, Barnabas asked, "Oh, and why are you so interested, Willie? Taken by the girl's beauty?"
Willie made a face. "Hell, no. Too old-fashioned for my tastes. All that princessy crap. Plus, I ain't no perv. I like my chicks alive. No, it's that I'm interested in."
He pointed at the ruby ring.
He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "What do ya think?"
Barnabas shrugged, at a loss.
Willie reached into his pocket and took out an aged piece of paper. Various marks and lines similar to those found on a treasure map were sprawled all over the yellow material. "You know what this is?" Willie asked with husky greed in his voice. "This here's a map to the Collins family tomb. To the secret room behind the wall."
Barnabas rolled his eyes, smiling wryly. "Ah, yes. The secret room. Who hasn't heard about the secret room who's read anything about the family history?"
Willie glowered. "What, you don't believe in it?"
"Let me guess, Willie: you've heard all about the secret coffin within that secret room, filled with the family's jewels. Am I correct?"
Willie looked at him cagily. "You think it's bull?"
"It must be bull."
"Yeah, well, you're wrong," Willie spat out. He hit the piece of paper in his hand. "This here's proof the stuff exists!"
Barnabas glanced at it skeptically. "Where did you even find this, Willie?"
Willie clucked his tongue malevolently. He tapped on Josette's frame. "Behind this old girl."
Barnabas stared at him shocked. "Behind here? What on earth made you look behind here?"
"You talk around town to some of the old codgers and you hear things after awhile. You hear all about this ring, and how it and many other jewels are hidden somewhere's in that old tomb. It's just a matter of finding the map. And guess what," he leered, leaning in. "I found it. I looked at that damn ring, put two and two together, lifted the frame, and tucked away behind it was this little darlin'." He kissed the dusty piece of paper. "A map. Found it just yesterday as I was preparing this room for your arrival." He punched Barnabas lightly in the shoulder. "Thanks, man," he sneered.
Barnabas remained skeptical. "Willie, there are about a hundred different things that 'map' could signify."
"Oh, yeah?" Willie challenged. "Like what?"
"I don't know, but"—
"But nothin'! It's gotta be the map."
"All right, all right," Barnabas held up his hands, echoing Willie's gesture of compliance from before. "So be it, then. And what precisely do you plan to do with this map now that you've got it?"
Willie rubbed the back of his neck, expression growing more and more scheming. "Why, uh, I already took it to, uh, Mr. Collins. Mr. Roger Collins, that is. He, uh, he gave me the go-ahead to, y'know, check it out. Say," he said silkily, trying and failing to appear affable. "You know I'll probably need some help with all this. I'm sure I could get Mr. Collins to give you a cut if, ah, you help me out some. You know, with opening up the coffin and that sort of thing. What do you say, huh? You game? It should probably be tonight, y'know, because-"
Barnabas's voice was oblique and censuring. "I don't believe you, Willie."
"I don't believe you've told Roger Collins anything."
"C'mon, what do you take me for?"
"I don't know that I take you for anything. But don't you understand how ugly and debasing a crime grave-robbing is?"
"Hey!" Willie snapped. "Don't you judge me, Mr. Fancy Ex-Oxford Man! I got a right to what's comin' to me!"
"Oh, and why is that?"
"I been bustin' my ass off at this dump for three years now! And believe you me, there ain't no action in this damn little ghost town to make up for it. I'm a young man. I got things I wanna do."
"All right then, Willie," Barnabas said with a hint of challenge in his own voice. "I'll help you."
"Yeah? You will?" He asked eagerly.
"Yes, once I've spoken to Mr. Collins about it."
"Nuts to you!" Willie said, accompanying this biting witticism with a choice gesture. "Don't come whinin' to me when I'm richer than in your wildest dreams, you damn hypocritical failed professor! Yeah, word gets around! I know all about you, you lousy loser jerk! Sleep tight, asshole!" Stuffing the map back in his pocket, Willie slunk out of the room, slamming the door vengefully behind him.
Barnabas whistled in disbelief. It was his earnest belief—and hope—that the man was too drunk to try anything with that map tonight. Barnabas prayed Willie would sober up in the morning and realize what a wasted dream he was nurturing.
Meanwhile, Barnabas turned back to Josette's painting.
Once again, he was transfixed by her image.
The way the head was posed on the slender neck, the delicacy of her hands as they held the jasmine flowers, the soft lips partly opened.
And the eyes. The haunting eyes.
He'd seen those eyes before. Somewhere primal in his heart confirmed this. He'd seen that face, those hands, that hair, those lips. Those eyes. But where, and why? Who was he to feel such things for a woman long dead?
As he stared an eerily high-pitched voice answered him: "You're a ghost."
Barnabas's heart stilled in his chest. He whipped around.
"You're a ghost," the voice repeated.
Barnabas had it now. It came from behind the curtains.
His heart in his throat, Barnabas raced to the window and tore the curtains open.
Familiar glum eyes stared up at him out of a young face.
Barnabas relaxed. He smiled graciously. "Master David Collins, I presume?"
The boy leaped forward, face vicious. "You're not who you say you are. You're a ghost."
Barnabas had never seen such sickly fire in anyone before, much less a child so young. The boy was pale with dark circles under his eyes, reedy but with surprising strength in his wiry little limbs. Despite the intimidating figure the child cut, Barnabas kept his composure. "Indeed. And let me guess, I am the ghost of Barnabas Collins, died in 1795?"
David nodded, his eyes searing contemptuously into Barnabas's countenance.
"Have you ever seen my ghost before?"
David shook his head, still glaring.
Barnabas indicated Josette. "What about her?"
Another curt shake.
"Come, now. Tell the truth, my boy. Have you ever actually seen a ghost, or is your imagination running away with you?"
"I've seen a ghost, stupid," David shot back, acid dripping from his tone. "I see one all the time. Stefan."
Barnabas's eyes widened. "Stefan DuPres?"
"That's right. And he warned me you'd be coming, along with her ghost!" He pointed angrily at Josette.
"Ah, well. Nice family reunion, then. No, honestly, David. I'm no ghost. I'm but a man, made of the same stuff as you. I'm your cousin from England, Barnabas Collins." He smiled ingratiatingly, holding out his hand to the boy.
David only looked at the outstretched hand as if it were a decaying rat. "You're here to teach me, aren't you?"
"That is the general idea, yes."
"Then I hate you." His eyes were more venomous than even before. He sped out of the room, the second person in the space of a few minutes to slam the door on Barnabas tonight.
He sat down heavily on the bed.
He hadn't been in Collinwood for more than a few hours and already he'd made two enemies despite himself.
He stared wearily at Josette's portrait. "What have you gotten yourself into, old boy?" He asked himself aloud.
Willie trudged across the lawn, swearing, smoking, and kicking at various objects in his path. Stick-up-their-asses jerks. The whole lot of 'em, including that penniless leach upstairs, thinks they're too damn good for Willie. He'd show 'em. He'd show those rich bastards.
He was halfway to his car when a familiar voice barked at him. "Willie!"
He groaned as he turned around to face an irate Roger Collins heading his way, back from the cannery.
"What do ya want, Collins?"
"I've just spoken with my sister," the man said with his usual in-born sneer plastered on his face. "She said once again you got drunk and started a fight at Blue Whale. Is this true?"
"I dunno what she's talkin' about," he slurred.
"Don't play innocent with me, Loomis!" Roger yelled. "I can smell a rat from a mile away, especially one who's been drinking cheap beer all night! And worst, you forgot to pick up my cousin! Jesus, what must he think of us?"
"That's all that matters to you assholes, isn't it?" Willie retorted. "What people think of you. Well, news flash, Roger, everybody in town thinks your lousy family stinks. Put that in your damn pipe." He ambled off to his car.
"Don't you walk away from me, Willie Loomis! I might not have the authority to fire you over my sister, but I won't hesitate to get the law on you so quick it"—
He leapt back for dear life as Willie backed up his car violently and then tore out of the driveway, leaving Roger Collins sputtering in his wake.
All was silent in Collinwood. In his bedroom, Barnabas had just turned off the light and lied down in bed, closing his eyes and willing himself to sleep. However, an irresistible impulse made him turn the lamp back on.
He slowly left his bed and stood once more in front of the likeness of Josette DuPres.
He stood for five minutes, eyes never once leaving her face, a face vivid even in the dim light.
Eventually he tore himself away. With heavy steps he returned to bed. He turned off the lamp and rolled over.
As sleep gradually overtook him, he could almost hear a sweet voice in his subconscious, smelling of jasmine bloom, say, "Soon, my love. Soon."
All was darkness in the cold, barred-off room, as it had been for centuries. Shocking as a bullet came the sudden sound of a gate screeching open, and footsteps lurching across the pavement on the other side of the wall. Heavy breathing, followed by tapping, tapping, tapping against the wall.
All at once, the intruder found what it was he was looking for, and the heavy wall slowly opened.
Willie didn't have much time.
He grabbed his flashlight, a smile of utter lunacy on his drunken face. He stumbled forward, and an ecstatic gleam infused him as the flashlight illuminated what he was searching for.
A single coffin in chains.
He laughed in gleeful shudders for a few moments. Then placing the flashlight on the coffin's lid, he grabbed his toolbox.
Minutes passed, then an hour.
Finally, rusty chains gave way.
Willie was exultant. Pushing aside his tools, his flashlight tucked into his elbow, he triumphantly raised the coffin lid.
The flashlight shone on the treasure within.
Willie's face shifted from ecstasy to unspeakable, unbearable terror in the blink of an eye.
So paralyzed was he that he couldn't find strength to call out.
A small, white, graceful hand reached out, clutching him by the throat. The hand wore a large ruby ring on one of its fingers.