It seemed to her that there was a great weight in the world. She felt it sometimes, in her bones, on nights when she would wake in the dark and gaze up at the blankness of the ceiling above her, or days that she'd spend on the beach, in the all too vivid brightness of the noonday sun, hardly able to rouse herself to stand, as though someone had hollowed out her bones and filled them with molten lead.
On those days, Hutter would bound along, eager as a loyal dog, and she wondered how she could ever manage to follow him, on that afternoon or through all their lives. She pictured years and years of him darting ahead and her lagging behind, until eventually he stopped even bothering to look for her behind him.
He seemed entirely a different creature from her, and she felt guilty that she was marrying him, as though her presence at his side would become a weight like her own, slowing those bounds down to a dejected crawl. But how was it that he didn't feel the weight, when it was so vivid to her? The sun was so bright that it blotted out her vision of him, and she felt a headache beginning, burning in some deep place in her skull. When she told Hutter this, he put his arm around her shoulders and led her back home, slowing his pace for her sake. And they got home quickly, where he poured out for her slick liquids prescribed by doctors for her headaches and sleepwalking, slippery down her throat.
She reached out and touched his face, his hair, so warm and human while she sometimes felt so cold. He was leaving soon, he was going to a dark place shaded with the threatening boughs of dark leafed trees, a place where the soil would smell rich with death. She knew this, from feeling with her fingers the erratic characters of the letter Knock had given him to deliver. "It's in this fellow's native language, I suppose," he had said when he showed her the letter, "I don't know what that would be; I'm not a linguist." She was not either, and in fact knew no language but her own, but sometimes she felt she could taste them, and this tasted like Latin but more bitter, centuries of loneliness distilled into a few paragraphs of cryptic writing.
It made her afraid, for the letter weighed more to her pale hands than all her lead-filled bones, and it made her feel as though this old castle to which Hutter was going would crumble on top of him, ancient bricks crushing him with the weight he had never before had to feel.
And so, her headache dissipating, she held him close, listening to his heartbeat.
She had always loved going to the ballet. The softness of the velvet seats, the thrill of importance that came from having one's own box, the glittering spectacle of the dancers, fluttering like exotic birds in the stiff tulle of their costumes. It was even better when it was John who took her, for he put his arm over her shoulder when the designated chaperone (normally Doctor Seward) wasn't looking, and he whispered in her ear during the boring parts.
This night had been particularly wonderful, for she felt that she and Lucy glittered as much as any of the dancers, their newly bobbed hair bright under the gaslights, Mina's teeth white and straight as she laughed at John's jokes.
And then there had been the Romanian nobleman (John had accidentally called him Hungarian later, but she remembered quite well – he was Romanian). True, she hadn't been so fond of him as Lucy (who didn't have a beau like John, the poor girl, and so could hardly be blamed for fancying every well dressed man who smiled at her, even if the smile did gleam as fake as Count Dracula's had), but he had been pleasant, interesting company. Sometimes she did grow so tired of the same people, from the same places, day in and day out. John didn't understand that, she knew that – he was a good, well meaning, perfectly lovely man, but he had no sense of all the things that lay out there in the world, so far outside the borders of England. He had the potential to be such a fascinating man, she was certain of that, but the shell of practical, middle-class solidity around him had to be cracked first.
In any case – Count Dracula. He wasn't the kind of person that, for instance, she'd want as a beau (and, if she was to tell the truth, she didn't think he was the sort of man who'd go beyond a few flirtations with poor Lucy), but she was sure that he would be wonderful to talk to, and she was very glad that she would be seeing him again.
She hoped that John would get a chance to talk to him as well – perhaps he could pick up some of his aristocratic, continental bearing.
Mina had always wanted to be a mother. She had no idea why she wasn't – she and Arthur had been married enough years for most women to have two or three, and God knew that they had tried hard enough. But, somehow, she had never conceived, and she would sometimes hold her hand over her stomach at night, imagining it rounding.
She hadn't lost herself in vague imaginings of what could have been, however. Lucy often felt more like a daughter than a sister to her, and ever since she married Arthur she had taken care of her like the mother who Lucy had never had (the woman had died giving birth of Lucy, leaving the girl to grow up in a house of grieving men, and who knew how she had managed to grow up so bright and rosy despite that beginning). She had braided Lucy's hair, teaching her hands to be gentle with it in ways she never was gentle with her own. She had helped Lucy with her schoolwork, explaining the sums in the soothing voice she had always imagined using with a child of her own blood.
And, since Lucy's illness began, she had been the one to take care of her most of the time, while Arthur was at work. She had made sure that Lucy ate, and took her on walks in the garden, and did everything else that the doctor ordered. It was her hand on Lucy's forehead that checked for fever, and when Lucy was in the painful grips of it, she called out for Arthur and Mina, just like any other child would for their parents.
Tania was a slightly different matter.
Tania had been born about two years after Mina married Arthur, and, at the time, it was a burden for Mina to watch the little girl mewling at her mother's breast, her little hands curling and uncurling. But, eventually, while Tania's mother was busy with her duties in the household, Mina took to caring for the child, playing with her and teaching her rhymes. Sometimes, on dreamy afternoons, Mina would imagine that Tania's hair was the color of Arthur's and the thickness of Mina's, and when the girl ran crying to Mina with her childhood griefs nearly as much as she did to her mother, it was not difficult to get lost in the fantasy.
The world was flipped upside down now, though. Lucy was in her grave, and Mina felt the painful wrongness of that as much as any mother who had to bury her child. Tania was shaken and fragile, always clutching the rosary that Doctor Van Helsing gave to her, and Mina felt hurt when the girl only shook her head to Mina's questions about what had happened to her. And Arthur's eyes were painfully distant, and though she put that down to his grief from Lucy's death, there was something about that which didn't seem quite true. She felt painfully inadequate as both make-believe mother and real wife, and there was nothing she could do about it.
It was with that thought, as she sat alone in the parlor, her pretty dress and carefully put up hair doing no good to anyone at all, that the message from Arthur came.
Her strength did not come from religion, and she counted that lucky in those bleak days. If her strength came from religion, then it would have taken a great effort of mind and will to convince herself that all these sorrows – Jonathan's illness, Mina's death, the existence of this fiend, the great, terrible plague that was filling the streets and canals of the city with bloated bodies – were the will of an ever benevolent God. That effort could have faltered, and led to doubts, leading, as doubts do, to indecision, to the hesitation that could have led to the death of nations.
No, her strength did not come from that, for all that the metal of her crucifix was worn with the compulsive rubbings of her fingers, for all that she prayed at night, old remembered words in Latin, and was sure that there was one who heard her. But her God was far from her, not as near as the figure on the crucifix, and she blamed neither him nor the devil for the troubles which afflicted her. No, she could not, for she had seen the agent of all these sorrows, and did not imagine him an apparition, for she had heard the rasp of his breathing, too distinct for anything but a being as close to humanity as those ratlike fangs could let him be.
No, her strength came from tangible things she could touch, and hear, and smell, and taste. Her strength came from the butter-yellow idylls of her days with Jonathan before his trip, the intricate patterns of his hands, the pale wood of the little house he had bought for her, his arms around her as she awoke from a nightmare.
(They hadn't had sex often, because for them it was a careful undertaking, each button and lace undone with deliberate care. He touched her gently, for her pale skin bruised easily, and he had been too wildly eager on their wedding night, and had wept the next morning to see the dark marks of his pleasure on her skin. For a dozen unarticulated reasons, they had never gotten one bed large enough for the two of them, but managed in the narrow confines of hers or his whenever they did sleep together.)
Her strength came from the cleanness of sand, and moss covered gravestones, and the warm fur of her kittens. The world crumbled around her and she stood still and straight in her white dress and her dark cloak, tactile memories like a wordless litany in her mind.
The Count not truly feel, she knew that. His long nailed nails could not touch without hurting, the bright pleasures of the human world would cause him to cringe away, murmuring in pain. If her compassion had been stronger than her courage, she could have gone to him as he asked, to cut his nails and teach him how to stroke a cat's fur gently. But Jonathan was in danger, his pallor and the dark circles around his eyes increasing with every night, and the clean white streets she loved were being filled with refuse and rotten vegetables, the unmarked bodies mingled with everything else. And she suspected that he was too far gone to be taught.
And so she gave him the only thing he could feel, which would do his soul no good whatsoever, and, as she lay in helpless stillness, his breathing began to sound to her like the rhythm of the waves.
It was odd, perhaps, that she had lived so long adjacent to it, and had spent so much time helping the patients there, but she had never been inside a cell at Carfax Asylum. Her father had never thought it proper. And though she had laughed at his old fashioned worries, and insisted that, if she knew so many of the patients so well, there could be no harm in seeing where they slept, she had obeyed. And so the multitude of locked doors had been to her impenetrable fortresses, as sealed to her sight as the minds of the inmates, filled with terrible mysteries beyond her comprehension.
Odd, then, to be locked in one, so odd that she nearly laughed at the irony of it. There was no mystery in this place, she realized as she looked around – there was no room for mystery in the stale air. She knew suddenly, with the burn of certainty, that there were more mysteries concealed in her own thin frame then in every padded cell of the asylum. But the locked door contained the mysteries, stopped them up like an overflowing bottle, and she thought that perhaps that was what all the rooms of the asylum did – stopped up the vivid mysteries in the minds of their madmen, till they screamed wordless screams that the walls reverberated back at them.
But they hadn't reckoned on one thing, her father and Professor Van Helsing and dear, dear Jonathan – they had put their fears in the explosion of her mysteries, her bare feet running across the dew-damp grass in the dark, towards the shadowy form of the castle which represented the greatest mystery of all. She could see broken window bars in her mind's eye, twisted into uselessness, and she knew that mist could get in anywhere, could makes its way into the asylum as surely as his blood had infiltrated hers. The Count was made of mysteries, so thick with them that the solid realities of the world crumbled at his careful, well chosen words.
Yes, he would come soon to take her away, the dark fabric of his cloak enveloping her, and though the air outside would be cold, she would be able to breathe it better than that of the asylum. Better his dark, quiet violence than the bright hypocrisy of those who could slit Mina (poor, dear Mina)'s chest open with a scalpel and lift out her heart, apathetic and calm, even Van Helsing, who called himself her father. With her heart in their hands, surely those men had thought that there were no more deadly mysteries in her, that they had killed them, just like crushing a fly. They had thought they could suffocate Lucy's by locking her up there, she knew that, and perhaps they could have, with enough time, but there wasn't going to be that much time.
Everything had begun to feel slick and slippery to her, as though she couldn't quite grab hold of it. The glass of absinthe felt as though it was going to drop – she imagined it shattering, dozens of icy pieces of glass everywhere, like stars – slip from the tips of her fingers as he kept pouring for her, glass after glass after glass. Had she eaten, or had she just been drinking absinthe this whole time, licorice against her tongue like a whole meal? She felt that she ought to be nervous, worried about the impropriety of this whole thing, but the world was so hazy, green mist before her eyes, and she felt safe.
The red silk dress he had given her was like water against her skin (for he had given it to her after she had already drunk one glass, and it had seemed completely reasonable to, right before his understanding eyes, strip out of her best clothes and put the dress on over bare skin), the polished wood of the table as smooth as glass. And he was the slipperiest thing of all, his words like snakes, his hands covered with scales. She put her hands against his chest, and the thick patterns of embroidery felt smooth. She reached up to touch his hair, down and flowing about his shoulders, and it felt heavy and glossy in her hands.
Even inside her mind, where everything normally felt like well pressed linen, things with slipping away from her, being replaced by new memories, that did not belong to her, that felt implanted there by the absinthe and her Prince's dark eyes. Rivers that she had never before seen flowed through her mind, and surrounded her, filling her lungs with water until she could not breathe. Heavy, unfamiliar garments encased her like a shroud; her hands touched the ridges of garish red armor the likes of which she had only seen in history books.
She felt her voice, halting, telling the old, sad story, the words darting away from her before she had the time to draw them back, before she had the chance to call out that, no, these were not her memories, this was not her, it was all a lie. No time to speak her own thoughts, the absinthe making her tongue slow and heavy as she was kissed by his lips, slick and unfamiliar, not those of a beloved husband thought dead.
His hands were cold. She had noticed that before, noticed that at the café when he had caught her hand in his, promising comfort in a voice that could not but lie. It seemed a more terrible fact now, as those elegant, long fingered hands caught her face between them, stroking her cheeks, her nose, her mouth, her eyelids, as though devouring the sensations of her skin. It seemed unendurable, the chill of those hands, especially when it felt certain that she would be feeling them forever, whether in the eternal terror of that very moment in the dark cellar, or in a thousand indistinguishable moments, lying in the dust beside him with his hands searching her skin, indefatigable, unassuagable.
Those sharp teeth hadn't entered her skin yet, but she could taste glimpses of his memory, cold as his hands – Jonathan's blood, Lucy's blood, Jonathan's body lying dead on the cruel stone, Lucy's writhing under the touch of invisible, icy hands. The fear and sorrow tasted in her mouth like iron, like the most vivid sensation she had ever felt, and she began to cry, her tears feeling burning in contrast to the cold of his hands, which still moved over her face, touching her tears as though marveling at the human capacity for sorrow.
The awareness of Jack, and Arthur somewhere near was gone – there was nothing but him and her and the fear, like adrenaline, in her veins, fear of possibilities which couldn't have even begun to articulate, so cold and shadowy were they, yet vivid as red blood. She found herself thinking of the buttons on her blouse, and how easy they would be to unfasten, and she cried more, thinking of Jonathan's uncertain caresses, and his smile, and the brown curls of his hair.
But Count Dracula's cold hands were too vivid for her to think of Jonathan's warmth for long, and the terror began to overcome the horror, until she was shivering, in a way that felt nearly violent, and she could see his fangs, by which Lucy died, and Jonathan, and his hands were on her neck, still so cold, and she was afraid, she was afraid, she was afraid in a way which made her terror in the alleyway of the previous night but a vague foreshadowing, for then she did not know how long the terror could last, centuries and centuries and centuries of dust and moldering fabric and his hands, staying the same through it all, and she felt herself becoming resigned, though somehow that did not dissipate the terror, and the cold must surely kill her, and –
A voice came, from the other side of the room, and the moment was over.