DISCLAIMER: Dark Shadows and its canon characters are the property of Dan Curtis Productions; no copyright infringement is intended.
A first for me: I'm cleaning up and posting the completed portion of an unfinished (barely begun!) story, in the hope that working on it will galvanize me to resume writing.
This fic is part of the same universe as "Bitter End" and "Thorns Along the Way." It begins several weeks after the events of "Bitter End," in 1955. ("Thorns" takes place in 1960.)
I should also establish--though no descriptions will appear until later in the story--that werewolves in my fiction are four-legged wolves, oversized and luminous. Ripped clothing has fallen away. When a werewolf morphs back into human form he'll be naked, or at most, scantily clad.
I realize "Bitter End" isn't great literature (grins). So here, in a nutshell, is what the reader needs to know.
In this universe, Laura Collins' vices include pedophilia. She took advantage of the boy Quentin and pressured him to have sex with her--with the result that Jamison, only fifteen years Quentin's junior, is in fact his son. Over the years, Quentin and Jamison have both realized this.
Jamison, like his father, is a werewolf. He has long been protected by his best friend, Dr. Julian Hoffman. Julian discovered that if a werewolf is merely locked up during the full moon and not allowed to kill living beings, the timing of the transformations will become unpredictable (as later happens with Chris Jennings). So he provides stray animals to be Jamison's victims.
The curse also affected Jamison's eldest son Gavin (my original character), a near-lookalike for Quentin. Gavin fled to Europe...and encountered Count Petofi, who had for years been using the body of resurrected prison warden Garth Blackwood. Petofi mistook Gavin for Quentin and performed another mind-switch. Assuming his new body was protected by the still-missing portrait, Petofi was caught by surprise by a werewolf transformation. That night, villagers killed the werewolf with a silver bullet!
Gavin's original body has been destroyed, burned by those villagers. But he's free of the curse and has a body--Blackwood's--that's seemingly as indestructible as Quentin's. Grandfather and grandson have met. Quentin urged Gavin to tell Jamison the truth about what's happened to him, lest Jamison think him dead.
Now, several weeks later...
"Signor Corelli! I know you're there. Let me in!"
Quentin Collins woke with a start. Opened his eyes, and closed them quickly as light lanced into them.
His head was throbbing, and the pounding on the door didn't help. He could feel every blow.
He drew a deep, shuddering breath, gave the bedclothes a kick--and almost kicked a sleeping woman out of bed. Her only response was a grunt.
The pounding continued. Quentin forced his eyes open again, and struggled to a sitting position on the edge of the bed.
He tried to think.
He was in a residential hotel in...Monte Carlo. "Corelli," his alias, was a professional gambler. The woman, now snoring loudly, called herself Desiree.
God, he hoped the man at the door wasn't her husband.
"Please, Signor! I have to talk to you!"
"Awright, I'm comin'. Keep it down!"
Oh, that was bright. He'd replied in English, following the other man's lead, but he'd forgotten Corelli should speak it with an Italian accent.
His speech was so slurred that it probably didn't matter.
He lurched to his feet. And felt so bad that his first stop had to be the mirror.
He relaxed slightly when he saw nothing amiss. The man peering back at him was still a tousle-haired 27-year-old, in peak condition despite his hangover. Wearing pajama bottoms that met the requirements of decency, but left his well-muscled arms and torso exposed.
Maybe the husband would be so daunted that he wouldn't notice he could barely stand up.
"Come on, hurry!" Lower: "It's Gavin."
"Gavin?" Quentin stumbled to the door. Flung it open--and heaved a sigh of relief.
Whatever crisis had brought him here, Gavin appeared to be all right. A bearded man in his forties, using two canes for balance while he adjusted to an artificial leg.
"Ah, grandson." Quentin eyed him reproachfully. "The boundless energy of youth. Don't you know it's cruel to wake your poor old Grandpa at this ungodly--what time is it, anyway?"
"Past noon." Gavin elbowed his way into the suite and glanced into the bedroom. "For Christ's sake, are you always this careless? I was afraid you were dead in here. I haven't risked getting drunk in years. Or picking up women, either."
"I'm careful about birth control. Usually." He swayed slightly. "Come to think of it, there wasn't any sex last night. I took a shower, and by the time I got back, she'd passed out."
"Serves you right, you old reprobate." Gavin didn't sound as if he was joking.
Quentin eased himself into a chair. "Hey, I don't do this often. I'm still--I don't like to say 'celebrating' a death, even Petofi's. But I feel safer than I have in a half-century. Can you imagine living for fifty-eight years with the fear, every time you go to sleep, that you'll wake up in another body?"
"Fifty-eight years? I guess that was pretty grim." Gavin's frown relaxed into something that was almost, but not quite, a smile.
Quentin closed his eyes and began taking deep, regular breaths, willing himself to sober up in a hurry.
Something was wrong, or Gavin wouldn't have tracked him down. Only a few weeks ago they'd agreed not to stay in touch, beyond one elaborately planned contact every six months. Checking in, so if something happened to either of them, the other would learn about it soon enough to have a chance of avenging him. He still had enemies, and Gavin might have inherited some of Petofi's...
He smelled coffee. Gavin had obviously found the kitchen.
An hour later Desiree was gone, and the men were settled on the balcony with a pot of the strongest coffee Quentin had ever tasted.
He drained his fifth cup, leaned back, and let himself enjoy the sea breeze and the hot afternoon sun that beat down on his face and chest.
At least by comparison with the years that had gone before.
And he knew it was all about to crumble, as soon as he began asking questions.
He sat up straight and looked steadily at his grandson. "Okay. I know there's a serious problem, or you wouldn't be here. Tell me what it is."
Gavin twisted his hands in his lap. He stared out at the Mediterranean, refusing to meet Quentin's eyes. "I...I shouldn't have come."
"Now look! I'm sorry if my lifestyle offends you. I'm no saint, never have been. But I do care about you--"
"It's not your lifestyle." Gavin's voice cracked. "It's just that...I acted like a baby, running to the first person I could think of to scream 'Help!' But you can't help. No one can.
"I shouldn't be burdening you with this. Now I'm here, I suppose I'll have to tell you. And all that will accomplish is to make you feel--" He choked. "Not as bad as I do. No one can share the torment I'm going through!"
He lowered his head, staring at the clenched hands in his lap. At last he said, "Six years a werewolf, and I never wanted to die. Now I want to. And I can't." His shoulders heaved as he began to sob.
Quentin's blood ran cold. He moved his chair closer to Gavin's and put an arm around him. Nightmarish possibilities raced through his mind.
No! Don't let your imagination run away with you. Get at the truth.
"Tell me what's happened," he said, keeping his voice calm. "Don't assume I can't do anything. I may surprise you.
"But even if this is a situation no one can change, it helps to have someone to talk to, to offer moral support. Believe me, I know."
How well he remembered his long, fruitless search for the one friend he had dared to trust. Barnabas Collins, who had apparently vanished from the face of the earth after he eloped with Kitty Soames.
"All right." Gavin took a deep breath. "To begin with, I did call Dad, like you suggested."
Quentin's chest tightened. Jamison. "Is he all right? How did he take it?" I don't want to know I don't want to know I don't want to know...
"Very--very well, actually. He--he was shocked when I explained the--the physical change in me.
"But when he understood, he was overjoyed. For me and for you. He couldn't stop crying.
"He adores you, Quentin. He was so thankful you're alive and well!"
Quentin gave a bemused shake of his head. "He has to know I'm responsible for the werewolf curse. I brought this horror on him, and on you. But...go on."
"Dr. Hoffman--Dad's best friend, Julian Hoffman--had told him the same thing you told me. That my 'death' wouldn't cause the curse to pass to my younger brother. There hadn't been a full moon, that night I talked to Dad, but he wasn't worried. He was so happy..."
Quentin stiffened. "Are you saying he shouldn't have been happy? My God--did something happen to your brother?"
"Yes! I--I was uneasy. I c-called again after the full moon.
"Quentin, my brother Roger became a werewolf!"
"Damn!" Quentin exploded out of his chair. "I can't understand this. I've done a lot of research over the years. I've never heard of a curse passing to a younger brother."
"Julian Hoffman said the same thing. Could it have happened because some...dark power...knew I wasn't really dead, I'd cheated the curse?"
"I find that hard to believe." Quentin frowned. "Wait a minute. I assume you don't have any children that you know of?"
"No. And almost certainly none that I don't know of. Dad warned me when I was fourteen. I'm not a virgin, but I've been very careful."
"That's it," Quentin breathed. "It must be. I've investigated cases of men who supposedly left no children--I'm sure this Dr. Hoffman did, too. But so many men have 'accidents.' That has to be it, Gavin! We thought we knew what would happen, but we didn't, because all those other men had illegitimate sons."
"Makes sense. But this wouldn't have happened to Roger if I'd lived my life responsibly, like Dad! Hadn't run off to Europe, killed more people, forced those French villagers to try to destroy me..." Gavin's voice rose as he became more agitated. "I'm the only member of the family who refused help! Julian wanted to protect me, like he does Dad. But I was furious with both of them--with Dad for bringing children into the world, and Julian for encouraging him. And now, when I think what my foolish pride has caused..." He covered his eyes, and a shudder ran through his sturdy body.
Quentin sat down, putting a comforting arm around him again. "There's no point in torturing yourself. We all bear some of the blame for what happened. But remember, you were also indirectly responsible for putting an end to Count Petofi--"
"I don't give a damn about Petofi!"
Quentin cursed himself. Of course not. Why should he?
"All right...no, of course you don't." He tried another approach. "Gavin, I know what happened to your brother is tragic. But Dr. Hoffman is taking care of him, isn't he? He can have a long, full life, like your father."
Only a moment passed before Gavin looked at him and said, "Yes." But there was something about that moment's hesitation...and the look on his face, suddenly guarded, secretive...
Quentin's blood turned to ice again.
He grabbed Gavin, yanked him around in the chair and forced him to look him squarely in the eyes. "Tell me what else has happened!"
"You're lying." Quentin's heart was pounding. "Gavin--was your brother killed that first night?"
"I know there's something you haven't told me. Oh, God. Did--did the shock kill Jamison?"
"No, Quentin!" Gavin grasped the hands clutching his collar. "Let go. Dad's all right, at least for now.
"I...had decided not to tell you the rest of it. The worst part. But if you insist, I will."
"All right. Roger wasn't locked in a cell that first night. And Julian was so sure he wouldn't be affected that he hadn't warned him, hadn't prepared him at all. Maybe that would have made a difference, I don't know. Julian saw him transform into the werewolf, but he couldn't restrain him--"
"Did he attack Julian?"
"No. Julian was wearing a protective medallion, because he expected to be near Dad later that night.
"The wolf ran into the woods. He mauled two people and frightened several others that night, but no one was killed or badly injured. And everyone who saw him had been drinking, so the police didn't take the reports seriously.
"Julian went searching for Roger next morning. He found him in the alley behind the Blue Whale, still unconscious. Somehow, he got him in the car--thank God--and out of town before he came to.
"Quentin, when Roger came to, he...he began...screaming and raving. And he...never stopped. The experience had...had...caused his mind to snap!"
Quentin gave a strangled gasp. "You mean...he's...he's still--?"
Gavin nodded bitterly. "Yes. There hasn't been any significant improvement. He's quiet at times, but not coherent. Constantly terrified.
"And of course, he'll have to go through the horror that caused it again and again, every month, for the rest of his life.
"Julian has told Dad that in light of that, we should...reconcile ourselves to the likelihood...that Roger is hopelessly insane."
Quentin sat transfixed. From far away he heard his own voice say, "Oh God, noooooooo..."
He felt a need to scream, but no further sound came.
Insane insane insane insane insane...
He saw her eyes again, Jenny's mad accusing eyes, in the instant before she plunged a knife into his chest...
"Are you all right, Quentin?" Gavin was looking into his face anxiously, rubbing his hands. "You're cold as ice! I didn't expect you to take it this hard. You don't even know Roger."
"I...I'm all right." He tried to concentrate on the here and now. "It's true I've never met Roger, but he is my grandson. I certainly know you and Jamison."
He was still speaking breathlessly, his heart pounding.
There was no point in telling Gavin that the specter of insanity had haunted him for most of his life. Ever since that terrifying experience with Jenny--the wife he had failed in so many ways--he had feared the gods would one day exact retribution for his sins by destroying his mind.
Perhaps this was worse.
He needed air. He stood up and gripped the balcony railing, clutching it until the metal dug into his palms and the pain helped clear his head.
Gavin was saying, "Julian said Roger wasn't weaker than the rest of us, or anything like that. He'd read of this happening before, in rare cases. No one knows for sure, but it's thought that with some individuals, the human mind doesn't kick out completely when the werewolf takes over. The human is aware of what's happening but can't control it, and that drives him mad."
"Yes," Quentin said abstractedly, "I've heard that theory, too."
"I'm sorry I upset you by telling you. You can see there's nothing anyone can do to help."
He started to nod in agreement.
And then he froze, unable to move or breathe, as he recalled the words of an ancient sorcerer he'd met in the Himalayas.
An unworthy but very human part of him recoiled, wished desperately that he hadn't remembered. But there it was. A possible solution. And if there ever could be a crisis serious enough to warrant the action that old man had described, this was it.
Icy terror clawed at the pit of his stomach.
Do the right thing, damn you! It's your own fault this grandson, Roger, is a stranger.
Think of Jamison, only of Jamison. Seventy years old now. Think what this latest shock must be doing to him.
For once in your life, try to be worthy of the son you fathered.
"Gavin," he asked, "did I understand you to say Dr. Hoffman only considers the case hopeless because Roger will have to endure the transformation every month?"
"Y-yes. If it could, magically, be all over--no more werewolf curse--a psychiatrist with Julian's credentials could probably cure him. But that's not going to happen."
"Don't be so sure." He weighed his words carefully. "It may be possible to remove the curse from Roger--only from Roger--if I can find my portrait."
He turned to look at Gavin. Saw, as he expected, complete bewilderment.
"I don't see any connection. What can you do with your portrait that will help Roger?"
"It's not what I can do with it, exactly." Mustn't get into a discussion about what I'm planning. "Over the years I've made a point of seeking out psychically gifted artists, trying to find another one with the same talent as Charles Tate. Tate's still alive, but he and I were bitter enemies, so there's no way he'd help another member of the Collins family.
"I never did find an artist with the same talent. But in Italy, I found one who came close. Giuseppe Battaglia. If he drew a picture of a vase, let's say, and then hurled the real vase across the room, the vase in the picture would shatter, not the real one. Problem was, he could only influence inanimate objects.
"But he told me that if he could study my portrait, he could almost certainly duplicate what Tate had done."
"Ah...I see." Gavin frowned. "But if you haven't found the portrait in all these years of searching, how do you expect to find it now?"
"You don't understand. I haven't been searching! I was afraid an active search would attract Petofi's attention, do more harm than good. Now he's gone.
"Besides, it probably will be easier to find now than it would have been forty or even twenty years ago. Better records are kept of transactions in the art world, communications are better. I'm more sophisticated and knowledgeable." He managed a grin. "Last but not least, I have more money!"
Gavin smiled weakly. "Do you have any idea who has it?"
Quentin nodded. "A couple ideas. Starting points, at least.
"To begin with, I've always believed Tate stole it from Collinwood. Not long afterward, there was a fire in his studio. But obviously, the portrait wasn't destroyed.
"One possibility is that it was stolen by a looter. If so, anyone who looked at it during a full moon would have realized he had something very unusual. It probably would have wound up being sold to a collector of occult curiosities. The present owner may have no idea whose portrait it is.
"The other strong possibility is that Tate himself retrieved it after the fire. He would have preserved it, not for my sake, but for use as insurance in any future dealings with Petofi.
"I've often asked myself...if I were Tate, what would I have done with it? I wouldn't have kept it with me--too risky. I think I would have painted another commissioned portrait over it. Portraits tend to stay in the subject's family for generations, if only because most of them have very little resale value. So Tate would have known exactly where it was.
"If I pretend to have a passion for Tates and offer to buy any and all of them, for way more than they're worth...and use my own contacts in the occult world to check out the occult curiosities angle...I can't be sure I'll find it, but there's a good chance."
Gavin's eyes had lit up. "Quentin, I have another idea. Do you know whether a Tate portrait of Garth Blackwood is keeping this body in existence? I realize it wouldn't be the same, there never would have been a werewolf curse transferred to it. But if that portrait proved easier to find, it might help Battaglia--"
Quentin shook his head. "Good idea, but no--I feel sure there isn't one." And a good thing, too. If Gavin produced his portrait, how would I explain why we couldn't go to Battaglia with it? "Tate probably did use a portrait--or, more likely, a hasty drawing--to conjure up Garth Blackwood. But Blackwood turned on him and Petofi, and they must have tried desperately to get rid of him. I'm sure the first thing they would have done was destroy the drawing. Why that didn't destroy him, I don't know."
"It was just a thought." Gavin clasped Quentin's hand. "Whether or not this idea pans out, thank you, Quentin! I didn't think I'd ever know hope again."
"We're family, Gavin. We're in this together."
"That's right. And I want to help you search for the portrait."
The handshake wasn't enough. Quentin pulled his grandson into a quick embrace.
Then he turned back to the railing--hiding the tears that welled in his eyes. Blinking hard, he took a final, "casual" look at his surroundings before going inside.
His life had changed irreversibly in the last half hour, and he felt a vague surprise that nothing else had changed. The Mediterranean still lay shimmering at his feet. A gentle breeze ruffled his hair, and sounds of splashing and innocent laughter drifted up from the beach fronting the hotel.
I've been meaning to buy a sailboat for years. Why didn't I ever get that sailboat?
Lovers on the beach...Barnabas must be dead by now. I wish I'd been able to establish, for my own satisfaction, that he had a happy life with Kitty.
He would have been amused at how easily I misled Gavin, without telling a single lie.
Just neglected to mention that Giuseppe Battaglia has been dead for over forty years.
"All right," he said briskly. "Let's go in and start making phone calls."