A/N My first attempt at a story based on this film...I hope you enjoy. Reviews extremely welcome!
The night was dark; a deep, velvet, unnatural black, but somehow he could see, nonetheless. Quietly, he slipped through the night, while above him, the sky began to rage....it would not be long now before he reached the church. There - over the mound of the hill! Above lay only a deep, cold silence, as the short, squat building rose ominously in front of him, silhouetted by the moon, until even that pale comfort slid, unspoken, behind the gathering black thunderheads which accumulated inevitably both within and without the man. Shivering, he quickened his pace, hurrying toward the church; now he could see more clearly the greyness of its cold, unyielding stone, the gravestones in the churchyard, rising from the blackness. It began to rain, and the rain was bloody; lightning flashed, and it was then that he saw the silhouette, waiting silently, inevitably, in the tower, distorted through the stained glass of the window....
The figure of the priest.
Carl awoke with a yelp, to blackness all around him, the dream lingering for a moment as it had for the last three nights, making him half-expect to see the faceless priest advancing on him out of the dark. Sitting up cautiously as his fear began slowly to abate, he groped for a candle and matches, his usually dextrous hands made clumsy with trembling. After what seemed like an hour he managed to light the candle and set it shakily upon the small stone shelf beside his bed.
"Midnight," he muttered, checking his Swiss pocket watch, a possession frowned upon by his fellows as being too expensive an item to be owned by a humble servant of God. But it was beautiful – its mechanism so intricate and complex – that he had been unable to resist it. There was no conflict in Carl's mind between science and religion; he had never found it difficult to accept both that God created things, and that Man could come to understand them. What kind of Father stifled his children in their growing?
Contemplating the watch had soothed him, and the Friar was no longer trembling, though the dream bothered him, more now than it had the first time. Was it really natural to experience the same nightmare over four nights, by coincidence? No. Then it must mean something. The first night he had blamed the cheese he had eaten for supper. Cheese before bedtime gave you nightmares; his mother had told him that. The second night, he had fallen asleep with the dream on his mind, and had attributed its reoccurrence to that.
On the third night, he had begun to wonder – and now, he was sure. The nightmare meant something; the grim church, which he did not recognise, and the priest; the priest was important. He had never seen its face, but on each night, he had drawn closer to the church.
Carl was very much afraid that tomorrow night he might end up inside, and then what would happen? That priest...that priest troubled him greatly. The image rose in his mind's eye, and unblushingly he pulled the thin Hessian blanket over his head. He did not want to see the priest's face...
Cowering under the blanket, having thoroughly unnerved himself again, the last thing Carl wanted was to hear a soft, insinuating knock on the door of his cell. A knock which grew louder and more insistent as he tried to ignore it.
"Go away," he whispered, under his breath, "go away..."
The knocking stopped. Carl heaved a sigh of relief, and peered over the top of his blanket...to see the door inch slowly open.
"Oh, God, why me?" he whimpered, diving for cover again. "What have I ever done to annoy You? First Transylvania and now this...it was the barmaid, wasn't it? Wasn't it? Send this thing away and I'll never do anything like it again...I'll take a vow of chastity – I promise!"
God, perhaps not surprisingly, did not deign to answer. Whatever had been knocking on the door was now inside the room, but it was not moving, or speaking. Could he have imagined it? Tentatively, Carl peered out from under the blanket again, only a tuft of untidy hair and wide, frightened eyes showing. He shifted his gaze slowly to the door...
The dark priest! In his room! The face hidden in shadow, it was coming slowly towards him...
"Go away!" Carl screamed at it. "I have the blessing and the love of God...in his name, I defy you!"
There was a pause, and then the figure spoke.
"Are you quite all right, Carl?"
The priest stepped fully into the light of the candle. He was young, tall and slender, with short dark hair and bright blue eyes, a concerned expression in them now. He was a young man, recently ordained, recently transferred from Ireland – and a new friend of Carl's.
There was another, somewhat embarrassed, pause. Then Carl said,
"Father Michael...er, how nice to see you."
The priest smiled amiably and came to sit on the edge of the stone cot that served Carl as a bed.
"I'm sorry to call on you so late," he said, pleasantly, "but you are usually in your laboratory at this hour."
"A failed experiment," Carl replied, grimly, then realised that he was still peeking over his blanket like a child playing peep-bo. He cast it aside quickly, blushing.
"Is something wrong?" asked Father Michael.
"No, no, nothing at all..." he broke off. Father Michael was staring at him, eyebrows raised. "Well...I had a nightmare."
"I'm not surprised. You faced vampires and werewolves, and got into all sorts of things in Transylvania, after all, didn't you?"
"I didn't get into anything apart from the vampires and werewolves," said Carl, a shade too quickly. "What did you what to see me for?" he changed the subject dextrously.
"Nothing, in particular, though I always welcome your company. Van Helsing wishes to see you on a matter of some urgency – he's waiting downstairs in your lecture room."
The lecture room, an office adjoining the laboratory, was where Carl instructed his occasional apprentices. Out of every new recruit to the Order, a small fraction – perhaps one every couple of years – was sent to Carl in the laboratory, to learn the intricacies of the complex and creative science he worked with. Carl's apprentices held him in great respect, accepting his cheerful hedonism as a kind of rarefied eccentricity associated with genius. So did most people, in fact – but Gabiel van Helsing had never been fooled. Carl thought affectionately of the tall, dark, grim-faced man, and wondered what Van Helsing might want to see him about in the middle of the night after months of absence from Italy.
"I'll be down directly," he told Father Michael, who was still smiling amicably at him from the end of the bed – among Novices and the occasional monk with a sense of humour, the friendly priest was, in fact, usually known as the 'Smiling Man'.
Father Michael politely left the room while Carl scrambled out of bed and pulled on his habit, first backwards, then after some fumbling, properly. He was tired, having spent the last week with hardly any sleep – he tended to work through the night a little too frequently – and what sleep he had, disturbed by visions of The Priest. Or indeed The Priest Who Wasn't Father Michael. Perhaps, he thought, Van Helsing's wanting to see him was not a coincidence? More probably, though, the most fearsome field operative the Order employed had simply come to report another crossbow killed in action. He got through far too many of them...but it was difficult to remain frustrated with someone who possessed such an engaging manner, Carl thought, chuckling aloud. The sound reverberated around the stairwell, making him jump. He was near the ground floor now.
The lecture room was open and dark except for a single candle burning at the far end. Carl made his way to it, discerning a large dark shape he assumed to be Van Helsing standing nearby.
"Good...middle of the night to you," he said, wanting to point out the fact that his friend had interrupted a few hours of much-needed rest. "You do realise they make me attend matins at six o'clock..."
Van Helsing did not reply, but that was hardly unusual. Taciturn devil, Carl thought, half annoyed and half amused. He went closer, making a great show of yawning and stretching. The figure made no movement.
"I suppose you've broken something again?" Carl asked, not at all minding addressing a figurative brick wall. He was quite aware that most people stopped listening to him after ten minutes or so. "You're too heavy handed, you know. I've explained many times that even the most heavy-duty weapon..."
He broke off. Van Helsing was facing away from him, apparently staring at a large painting of Jesus feeding the five thousand, mounted on the wall.
"Anyone would think you'd never seen the image of Christ before," muttered Carl, a little irritably. "It's a terrible painting, at any rate...I suppose now you're going to tell me I'm going to hell for blasphemy." He paused, suddenly reminded of the promise he'd make to take a vow of chastity if the evil priest had not entered his room to kill him. He worried about this for a split second before remembering that he had merely asked the Lord not to allow the 'thing' to enter, and that Father Michael, nice as he was, quite probably qualified as a 'thing' of some sort, and had, in fact entered. Cheered by this, Carl advanced to Van Helsing's side, and tapped the taller man on the shoulder.
"If you wake me up in the middle of the night, you might at least have the courtesy not to ignore me when I berate you," the Friar pointed out, faux- affronted...and then he froze, his blood chilling in his veins, as the figure slowly turned to face him. It was tall and dark, its face in shadow...and highlighted around its thick neck was a bright white collar.
It was not Van Helsing... ...it was...
...it was the figure of the Priest.
A/N Comments anyone!? By the way, the 'Smiling Man' is based on a real person, an old acquaintance of mine from university.