A Portrait of the Hunter as a Young Dhampir

Author's note: groan! The inclusion of an "author's note" means there's no turning back now… maybe I've finally lost it… As you can see, this is quite a project, one that I'm extremely fond (and a little ashamed) of. I've been calling it my "little D story" since the beginning (2 years ago), but it needed a better title. I utterly despise James Joyce and especially A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but I have to admit that this story is loosely parallel to it, so I think I'll stick with the parody of the title.

Okay… let me try to explain myself. This is a VHD crossover with the original book Dracula by Bram Stoker, and also with 20th century history. The beginning of this story occurs at the same time as Dracula. At the beginning of that book (in case you haven't read it), an Englishman named Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to do business with Count Dracula. That's the visitor that D is talking about in this first chapter…

Chapter 1: Visitors

Transylvania, 1896

D pounded on the huge wooden door with his fist. He was out of breath from running up the stairs, and his expression was dark and troubled.

"what, what?" his father said crossly, opening the door. "what's the matter with you? Speak up."

D huffed for breath and then gritted his teeth. "There's a man here," he said. "He's got a suitcase and everything. What's he doing here?"

"Yes, that's the guest I was telling you about. He arrived last night. You're not to bother him, do you understand? You must keep out of sight at all times, that's all I ask."

"Yes sir," D mumbled, but his face revealed that he wasn't satisfied. His father smiled thinly.

"Go on, tell me what's on your mind."

The little boy looked up at his father, looking worried and suspicious. "It's just that… well, what are you going to do with him?"

"That, my son, is none of your concern. You needn't worry about it. It's purely for business- I'll explain it to you once everything is in place." D glanced behind his father at the pile of gold on the floor. His dark eyes widened in surprise.

"All that money," he said curiously. "What's it for?"

Dracula sighed impatiently. "Business transactions, that's all. Uninteresting business. Why don't you get back to your studies?"

"I don't want to. And anyway, I can't concentrate with that stranger in the house."

"Well you had better redouble your efforts. That man will be staying here for a while and there's nothing you can do about it. You're forbidden from talking to him, do you understand?"

The boy nodded disappointedly, turned, and walked back down the stone stairs. Dracula cast a hesitant look after him, as if debating whether to say anything more, and then turned and shut the door to his office. Upon hearing the sound, D's face brightened a little, and he hurried away.

The door to the "guest's" bedroom was locked. D slipped his pale hand into the pocket of his trousers and pulled out a small golden key. It clicked in the keyhole and the handle turned beneath D's palm. With a grimace of determination, D stole silently into the room. Although the room was dim, it was a great deal brighter than the light D was used to in the castle, and so he blinked a bit as he looked around. The man was sleeping in the ornate bed, and D crept closer in fascination. Soon he was standing right beside the bed, examining the oblivious human. D felt strangely compelled to touch the sleeping face, as if to make certain that it was real and not an illusion. His fear of waking the man restrained him, and with a small nervous swallow, he turned around to inspect the rest of the room.

The first thing he found was the man's shaving kit, and the treasure it included: a small mirror. D smiled as he saw the reflection of the room around him, and then he picked it up, and tilted it towards himself… and dropped it with a sharp gasp. He caught it again before it hit the floor, but his heart was racing. He wasn't sure of what he had seen. He quickly looked over his shoulder, confirming that he was alone in the room with the sleeping foreigner. Then, gathering his courage, he raised the mirror before his face. Wondrously, he saw his own reflection in the glass.

The face he saw was pale, smooth, with the same chin and sharp nose as his father. D could see his father in his overall countenance, but not in his eyes. D's eyes were his own- wide, childlike, with sweeping dark lashes, and narrow brows. And they were blue, blue like his mother's eyes had been, not devilish red. D's curly brown hair was tied with a black ribbon at the nape of his neck. The soft brown hair and blue eyes did not belong to a vampire. "I don't look any different from the children in the village," he thought to himself. He glanced back at the sleeping man, who also had brown hair. "I could be that man's son!" Pleased with his appearance, D grinned, then immediately scowled as the mirror revealed his sharp teeth. When he scowled he looked more like his father again, stern and harsh.

"Hello there," a voice said behind him. D gasped and spun around, clutching the mirror to his chest. His eyes widened with horror. The man was awake! D took a step backward. "I see you found my mirror," the man said, sitting up in the great bed. D gulped and hurriedly replaced the mirror with the shaving kit on the table. Then he turned and fled from the room, already wincing in anticipation of his father's wrath.

D spent the rest of the day in hiding, but the castle was quiet. At last he crept out. The commonly used parts of the castle were deserted, but there was a light on in one of the libraries in the abandoned section where the guest was staying. D peered through the crack in the door and saw the strange man sitting in an ancient cushioned chair, writing. He was scribbling furiously at his paper and seemed to be deep in thought. D decided to leave him to his work.

D went to his own chambers and fetched a broad-brimmed hat and a cloak. Although it the sun was well behind the mountains, the afternoon light was still too bright for D. Stealing into the kitchen, D went through a door into the cellar, and trotted off down a narrow, musty corridor. After several turns and short flights of stairs, D came to a door that seemed to be set in the ceiling. Heaving it open, he could see the sky. D stepped into the daytime of the outside world. He took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air, and began to walk. It was a journey of several miles to the cabin, but the walk gave him time to think. This business of his father's… he wondered what it was, and he distrusted it. A human visitor to the castle was a rare thing indeed. The last time that had happened was when D's mother had died. His father had been kind enough to let her human family come and take her body. D had been furious at the time. There were lots of dead people still 'alive' at the castle, how come mother couldn't stay? His father had gripped his hand tightly and said, "if a creature such as you can cry, you ought to do it now." D had wept bitterly, hating both his parents. But that was years ago, and D felt much more intelligent and mature than he had on that sad day. He was a young scholar now, and his father's vast collection of books kept him busy day after day. He had finished one complete library and was now working on the second, but there were still half a dozen to go after that.

At last the cottage came into view. D sighed with relief. It was always so comforting to see that little cottage, with smoke drifting from the chimney and the old dog sleeping in the sun. As D approached, the dog stirred. It lifted its shaggy head and whined, then wagged its tail. It pulled itself up on it stiff legs as D got nearer, and hobbled over to sniff D's hand. "Hello," D said softly, smiling as the dog licked his hand sloppily. Then the dog barked, waving its tail. The cottage door opened a minute later and Mrs. Belus appeared. Her face brightened as she saw D standing in the yard.

"Why, look who it is! God bless you, little D! Come here, lad! It's been ages since we've seen you!" D ran forward into her open arms and she gave him a big hug, nearly scooping him off the ground. As she set him down she called for her daughter. "Tasia! Come see who it is!"

"Has it been that long, Mrs. Belus?" D asked politely. It didn't seem that long to him, but he was conscious of the way that time seemed to pass while he was confined to the castle. There was a patter of footsteps, and Tasia appeared in a doorway. D kept his lips pressed together but he couldn't hold back his smile. "Tasia!" he said, beaming. Tasia ran to him and took both his hands.

Tasia was a pretty little girl slightly taller than D, with large light brown eyes and bright rosy cheeks. Her hair was curly and the color of dark gold, and there were green ribbons in it. She was wearing a white blouse and a colorful little country dress of green and brown and red. "D! I've missed you so much! I was worried that I'd never see you again. But here you are! I'm so glad to see you!"

"Me too," D said, conscious of the warmth of her tan little hands on his.

"Are you hungry, dear?" Mrs. Belus asked.

In fact, D was hungry, so he had dinner with Mrs. Belus and her daughter. D had been friends with them for six years. Mr. Belus had disappeared when Tasia was a little baby, and Mrs. Belus never said much about him, except that he had gone to explore 'that abandoned castle' and had never returned. D had a pretty good idea what had happened to that unfortunate man, but he didn't say anything. To show his sympathy, D snuck them little treasures that he knew his father wouldn't miss. Of course Mrs. Belus knew that D lived in the castle, but D didn't like to talk about it, so she didn't press him for information. Tasia didn't care where D came from. He was her only friend, for no other people lived out in the forest so close to the castle. Once she had asked him about his pointy ears, and he was ashamed, but she had laughed and assured him that it was all right if he had pointy ears, "as long as they don't get furry like a rabbit's!"

After dinner, Mrs. Belus bustled off to the kitchen, and Tasia smiled at D and whispered, "it's my birthday today! Momma made a cake as a surprise, but I found it in the pantry this morning! Still, we have to act surprised, ok?" D nodded, awed that he should be included in such a ceremony as a birthday party. Sure enough, Mrs. Belus came back with a small cake, and Tasia let out a shriek of delight and burst from her chair to give her mother a hug. "A birthday cake! Oh, thank you momma! This is the best birthday ever!"

"My little Tasia turns 10 today," Mrs. Belus informed D as she set down the cake.

"How old are you, D?" Tasia asked curiously. When they had met, D had told her he was 6, because that's how old his father said that he looked, compared to human children. D faltered. "I'm 10 too," he told her.

"Now, that can't be right," Mrs. Belus said kindly. "You must be about 12 by now. Although, poor dear, you are a little small for your age. And still so pale! Are you sure you get enough to eat at home, dear?"

"Oh, yes, I do," D said, his mind racing. Tasia had been much smaller than he when they had met, and now she was an inch or two taller. "The doctor says I'm sickly, so I don't go out very much." It seemed a safe answer, based on the books he had read about humans and their customs. Mrs. Belus nodded and frowned.

"Well, what do you say we eat some cake?"

After the cake was gone, D felt sleepy, and Mrs. Belus invited him to stay the night, as she always did when D came to visit. Quite honestly, D always replied that he would be missed at home if he were out all night. But that night, D felt especially reluctant to leave. Noticing a large old book on a shelf, D asked about it. "That's our new Bible," Tasia told him with an air of importance. "It's very heavy. Would you like to hold it? Momma, would that be okay?"

"Yes dear, just be careful with it." Tasia pushed a chair over and began to pull the book off the shelf. In the process, however, she lost her balance, and came toppling down. D was there to catch her, and she felt surprisingly light in his arms.

"Thanks, D," she said, and he put her down. She handed him the sacred book, which had an ornate, gilded cover. "Isn't it beautiful?" she asked breathlessly, tracing one of the golden letters with her finger.

"Yes," D said. "I've never read this book before. Do you mind if I look at it?"

"You can read?" Tasia asked excitedly.

"Of course," D said, surprised by the question. "Can't you?" She shook her head, her eyes wide.

"Momma can't either."

D solemnly flipped through the pages. How strange, to be unable to read! D flipped to the back of the book. "Shall I read something to you?" he asked.

"Oh, yes please!" she exclaimed. "Momma, come in here! D's going to read for us!" she sat down on the floor, arranging her skirt over her knees. D sat down next to her and Mrs. Belus came into the room, sitting down on the chair, and D began to read.