Wilhelmina Harker was always quick to chastise those who called her by that name. She was just Wil, thank you very much. She certainly did not care for a name as fancy and long as Wilhelmina. But truly such chastisements were ill-suited to such an occasion as this, and that was why she hid her growing annoyance behind a blank façade as she was told, "My condolences, Miss Wilhelmina," for the umpteenth time.
Really, it was not as though condolences would bring her mother back. No, Alice Harker nee Beswick would never move from her ornate, flower-adorned coffin, and that was that.
"Wil?" croaked a hoarse voice full of wonder. It was a man with snow-white hair that did not quite match the relative youthfulness of his face. Her eyes widened and she bit her lip, for she knew well this face. It was the very same one featured in the miniscule portrait contained in the round locket that always hung from a fine silver chain around her neck. This man was Jonathan Harker, her Father. Her memories of him were pleasant but vague, as Mother had left him when she was very young and she had not seen him since. She could not remember the reason for the schism, only lots of yelling and crying, and Mother had never been forthcoming. Perhaps Jonathan had been unfaithful?
"Daddy?" she whispered, and reached up to clutch her locket. "Daddy, is that you?"
Her Father's smile was one of heartfelt joy. "I was afraid you wouldn't remember. Dear, dear Wil. You don't mind my calling you that, do you?"
"Not at all," she said gently. "It's about time someone in this damn churchyard did. If it wouldn't be a gross breach of etiquette, I'd slap the next person to call me by that damnable tongue twister."
Jonathan's lips twitched, but his expression became wretched as the coffin was lowered into the ground. A low groan escaped him. Struck by pity, Wil rested a comforting hand upon Jonathan's – Father's – shoulder.
Later, they were the last ones remaining in the churchyard. Stone monuments to the restful dead stood proud around them. Somewhere close by, a nightingale sang its pretty melody. "Um, Father? If you don't mind me asking… that is, well… why did Mother leave you?"
"You mean she never told you?" He sneezed, and then used a baby-blue handkerchief to wipe his red, runny nose. Wil gave him a concerned look. Perhaps she should later mix him up a warm concoction of lemon juice and honey? Mother had always done so for her when the flu came knocking at her door…
"She found out something about my past, something that I always meant to tell her but never did. It frightened her, frightened her terribly. So she grabbed you and ran. For a long time I searched for both of you, but it was as though you vanished off the face of the Earth. Eventually I came to think that perhaps I didn't deserve you. The searching became less fervent at that point, although I always felt that some vital part of me was missing. And then I heard of the funeral, and I hastened here immediately. Never, ever, could I miss it."
"What was the secret she discovered?" Wil prompted, both to satisfy her relentless curiosity and to distract Father from the terrible melancholy that imposed itself within his soul. Neither aim was realised, however, for Father's countenance took one more step towards wretchedness before he turned away, head lowered and shoulders slumped. Not a word did he say. Guilt seized upon her, so she shoved her curiosity to some deep dark corner of her mind to be re-examined at a later date.
Shadows lengthened as the sun descended. Father startled as he realised the lateness of the hour, and snuck an anxious peek at her. Wil smiled tentatively. "Where are you staying?" she asked.
"I plan to stay at an inn," he replied. "I only arrived today, so I have yet to make arrangements."
"Stay with me. I'd love the opportunity to get to know you better."
It took some haggling, for he was reluctant to inconvenience her, but he eventually accepted her proposition. Both of them smiled as they made their way to her home, for although they had lost someone dear to them they had also found each other at last. Wil cooked up a roast for supper along with the warm lemon and honey concoction she had earlier thought of. Afterwards she took his hands in hers and earnestly said, "Truly I mean not to bring you pain, but I should very much like to know what terrible secret came between you and Mother. Please tell me, that it may not one day come between us."
"You are right, but I fear. Will you leave me as she did? No, don't answer. I will tell all. I used to love another woman long before I met Alice. Her name's Wilhelmina Murray… yes, just the same as you, darling, and she too prefers a shorter version – Mina. Ah, beautiful she is, and we were engaged to be married. The seeds of our parting were sewn when I received an assignment from the law firm I worked for at that time. I was to travel to Romania, to the wild heart of the Carpathian Mountains, and help Count Dracula in the purchase of several properties around London. Oh, if only I knew! But I did not, and so I journeyed away, leaving Mina with her dear aristocrat friend Lucy Westenra. It's uncanny, you know, how much you look like Miss Westenra, but I suppose it's just coincidence. Dracula's castle lies in a strange, wild region, but none of that is as strange as the castle itself, nor that as strange and terrible as the man himself. You may think it impossible, but I swear I tell the truth. Count Dracula is a vampire, an undead drinker of blood!"
"That is indeed strange, but I see the truth in your eyes. Please continue, Father. You're the best thing I have left; I swear to stay by you even if it's revealed that you yourself are now a vampire."
"I'm not a vampire, I promise you, but thank you. My heart is warmed and reassured. The vampire imprisoned me, leaving me to be continually drained by three demonic women." He shuddered, and his daughter hastened to drape a woollen blanked over his shoulders. "Eventually I escaped, and stumbled feverish into a monastery. God praise those good Sisters that cared for me and nursed me back to health. A letter was sent to Mina, calling her to me that we may be married, and so she came. We married in a humble ceremony, and hastened back to London shortly thereafter. Oh! But what dastardly news awaited us there! Miss Westenra had died and risen again as a vampire. Good men had since brought about her passing into the grace of God, but Dracula was in London. I joined Abraham Van Helsing, Arthur Holmwood, Jack Seward and Quincey Morris in a quest to put down the monster. We left Mina alone in the guest quarters of Jack's asylum. Vampires cannot enter any private building without an invite, but one of the patients had given him one."
Wil gasped. "He killed Mina, didn't he?" She sat forward in her seat, every muscle tense.
"He fed her his blood," Father grimly replied. "We pursued him as he fled back to Romania, determined to end him that Mina might be saved from becoming his creature. To deceive him we went in one direction while Mina and Abraham went in another. We hoped that if he looked into her mind to see her location he would presume us to be with her. Still he evaded us, but we managed to close the gap as he drew near to his castle. Quincey fell from his horse and died, but we almost had the monster. That's when Mina stepped in. She helped him to escape and killed Arthur. I… she claimed responsibility for Abraham's murder as well. She assured me that she was acting of her own free will because she loved Dracula. She said that I should leave, forget her and find someone new."
"She'd become a vampire."
"Yes. I… I ended up leaving and marrying Alice, but I never could forget Mina. I guess she couldn't forget me either, because we've been pen-pals ever since. That's how Alice found out – she discovered the letters. I never knew until then that her parents were murdered by vampires. She wanted nothing to do with one of their… allies. Because that's what I've become, isn't it?"
"I guess so," murmured Wil, smiling weakly. "Father… I promised to stay by you, and I shall. You're still the best thing I have left, you know. But what happened to Jack? Did he come back with you?"
"No," Father replied, and a violent shiver travelled though him. "He's a vampire now. He… fell in love with one of those… demon-women."
The clock chimed midnight.
"Oh, is it that late already?" said Father. "I'm sorry for keeping you up so long, daughter." There was a wonderful joy in his eyes as he tenderly pronounced that last word.
Wil smiled and said, "I don't mind at all. I'm just glad to have met you at last."
That night she dreamed that rain drummed relentlessly around her as she laughed and danced through a maze of hedges. She clutched the hand of a beautiful brunette who was also laughing, her doe-like eyes brimming with the same joyful passion that she felt rising in her breast. Their lips met in exactly the same moment that thunder rumbled loudly in a way that was almost judgemental. They clasped each other in cold, clammy, wet embraces. One word echoed ecstatically in her mind, repeated over and over. Mina.
When Wil awoke, light shone through her window, blinding her. Wincing, she reflexively jerked the coverlets over her head. In soothing darkness her addled brains reordered themselves, and she remembered who and where she was. She was the respectable Wil Harker, most certainly not a woman who danced in thunderstorms and pashed other women.
But why had she felt so much happier in that dream than she ever had while awake?
Dreams came from the subconscious, did they not? Then did that mean that she…
She shook off the thought, and rose to change swiftly into her daywear. The sun was already high in the sky and she would be made a terrible hostess if her guest – her long-lost Father no less – was forced to prepare his own breakfast in the interest of avoiding starvation.
She found him in the sitting room, dressed smartly in a dusky brown suit and reclining upon a loveseat with the morning newspaper unfolded in front of him. He lowered it and smiled when he heard her enter. She smiled back, and then inquired as to what he would take for breakfast. Within minutes she was bustling around her small but efficient kitchen, humming as she prepared two steaming bowls of sweetened porridge.
They ate in agreeable silence, and Wil took the opportunity to study him from beneath modestly lowered eyelashes, hungrily drinking in the sight of this man who was her Father. The tale from the previous night had certainly excited her imagination. To think that vampires, those fiends from grotesque tales of horror, actually existed! Unexpectedly, an image flashed before her eyes – herself, deathly pale and bloody-lipped, a child held in her arms. A crimson droplet fell from the tip of a fang that barely emerged from between those macabre lips, descending like rain to mar the glittering white of her burial gown.
She blinked, and the vision was gone. First that sinful, homoerotic dream, and now this… What in the world was wrong with her?
"Wil?" asked Father, his voice hoarse and concerned. She gave him a shaky smile that was meant to be reassuring.
The look he gave her communicated clearly that he did not really believe her, but was not going to push the subject. Gratefulness bloomed within her, for she had no idea what she could have said if he had called her on it. She felt as though she was exploring a maze of pitch-black tunnels, and that with even one slip of the foot she would lose her very self.
She laughed abruptly. What silly, fanciful thoughts these were! All of the recent excitement – her Mother's malignant tumours, the funeral arrangements, meeting her Father, learning of the existence of vampires – must have gotten to her. But by no means was she in danger of losing herself.
Surely it was so.
Never mind that, she mentally scolded herself a moment later. She really did need to go shopping…