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Anxious to fly the night, Barnabas listened for some sound before raising the lid of his casket. Fully awake now, he assessed his predicament: this place was dangerous, too easily discovered, and if he were to survive, he would need to return to his coffin in the Old House. Antoinette lived there now, all the more reason she should become his slave.
Antoinette! Her face floated across his mind—her mouth blossoming, her eyes hypnotic. Already, he could taste her, and—as he had done every evening since his transformation—he renewed his plan. He would draw her to him, bend her reluctant body to his, and he would force her to look into his eyes, all the while dazzling her with a power she had never imagined. Ignoring her struggles, he would find her heartbeat, and at that moment possess all that she was, all that she had been before. His pulse raced at the thought. The mystery of her past would be revealed to him—the moment he took her blood—and he would know at long last whether or not she was Angelique. Many things die, but desire is not one of them.
His memory of her indifference when he was still a human was painful—that night at the Blue Whale when Antoinette told him she would not marry him, that she did not love him. Humiliation in courtship was a common experience for mortals, but the sting of dismissal lay outside the vampire's range of emotions. Now that he had regained his powers, he vowed that she would come to regret her cruel rejection.
He reached across the width of his casket—so lovingly chosen for its breadth: providing room enough for two—and was relieved to find Julia gone. Julia, his savior and his guardian. Ever since his return—had it been a month?—he had been forced to lie with her, submitting to her embrace. This after a year of agony, her fiendish elixir, the painful injections, the curative that tamed the vampire's hungers. He could still hear the tinkle of the syringe, see her blood pumping into the tube, and feel the infernal heat when the concoction entered his veins. She made him human again, but infected herself in the process. That dark December night when she drained him and fed him and returned him to this monstrous form, he shuddered to think of it.
He pushed open the lid of his coffin and gazed at the rafters above his head. The basement room was suffused with the odor of lilies—white lilies Christian mortals bought to celebrate Easter. Although he could not see them, Barnabas knew the walls were hung with tapestries, scenes of Elizabethan hunters on horseback chasing a unicorn. In one tapestry, the snow white beast was cornered and fenced within brambles, and the hunters hoisting spears and bows stood around in plumed hats—their shapely legs encased in striped tights.
All these decorative efforts would be Julia's doing. Ridiculous how a woman must adorn her nest—even a vampire's nest—and Julia mistakenly believed lilies and candlelight would sway his crippled heart. But she was shrewd; he would have to admit that. He must never underestimate her cleverness. And oddly enough, even though they were reproductions, he rather liked the tapestries.
Still lying in his coffin, he adjusted his silken shirt, pulled the cuffs into the sleeves of his jacket, and carefully tied his cravat, all the time considering his troubling companion. What drove her to devote her life—my God, her own blood—to this last misadventure, to this trifling with the dead? Even after they had both gone over to the dark side, she had insisted that it was love. Barnabas uttered a dry chuckle. A living death, Julia, is not what you dreamed it would be.
He sighed, now reluctant to embark upon his night's vile quest. What drove her, he had come to realize, was that old worn-out engine: age. She was no longer young, and now, if life were to brim, it must brim with the juice of others. For a brief period, as a human of her making, he had succumbed to a limp sense of loyalty. But now, and this was the final irony, she had terminated the treatment, given him back his powers, and—without realizing it—created a monster incapable of gratitude. As he gazed up at the ceiling of his basement prison, and at the giant floor beams of the mansion where his family resided, he resolved to be rid of her. The thought of spending eternity with her was an abomination.
A voice floated out of the gloom. "Good evening, Barnabas, my love. I was waiting for you to wake." Ah, she was there. Rising up, he turned to look at her.
The room was small and the hard stone walls were burnished by the glow of candlelight. Julia was sitting among the lilies on a step that led up into the basement, and he was shocked again to see that she was not the aging woman he remembered but a vampire of shameless splendor. She wore a dress of wine dark velvet, and her arms were shapely, as were her surprisingly round breasts just glimpsed within her décolleté. He had immediate qualms when he thought of trying to overpower her, for he could see her body was as strong as a lioness's.
She had already ventured into the night. Her victim was reclining on her skirts, a young girl with bleached hair and a smudged face, still breathing, and the terror frozen in her eyes. Her threadbare coat was muddy—or were those bloodstains? And her bare legs were scratched. She wore no shoes and her feet were filthy, perhaps black with frostbite. Where had Julia found such a miserable wharf rat?
Behind her, the tapestries gleamed with life. One was a scene from an elfin forest where delicate flowers and small animals surrounded a medieval lady as she looked down demurely and rested her hand on the unicorn's long and slender horn. Barnabas imagined the three of them as a theatrical staging for his amusement—a triptych of womanhood: the goddess, the vampire, and the dying girl. Which would he choose?
Julia smiled, lifted the girl up into her arms, and the bright head fell against her breast. "You see what I have brought you?"
Even though he was hungry, Barnabas recoiled. "Like a house cat brings a dead mouse to her master?"
A shadow crossed Julia's face. She pursed her lips and spoke in a voice edged with sarcasm. "Can I do nothing to please you?"
Julia was a new vampire, still taken with the thrill of the hunt, not aware that there was far more to feeding. After more than a hundred years, one's victim was a delicate choice, and he had awakened this night with his selection already in mind. It was to be Antoinette, and only Antoinette. As he slid from his coffin and rose to his feet, he was conscious of his body's new tensile strength. Once again it surprised and even pleased him.
"I am perfectly capable of finding my own, in fact, I would prefer to—"
"But why, when it is my joy to serve you?"
He combed his thick, black hair with his fingers. "Julia, you must respect my wishes."
She rose—thoughtlessly allowing the girl to tumble among the flowers—and, floating as vampires do, drew close and placed a finger across his lips.
"Wait. Don't speak. I want to tell you the thoughts I had this evening as I wandered the streets." Her skin was flushed, and he could smell blood, a not unpleasant aroma, on her breath. "I am still amazed at this new existence that I now share with you, and each discovery brings me closer to … to those complexities of your mind I have always found so bewildering." He turned away, but she caught his arm. "Please, Barnabas, listen to me! I understand your hungers, and your remorse. And now that I am with you, you need not worry. Because I will protect you from guilt or shame. I will hunt for you."
He sighed. Like a good little wife.
Vampires, if nothing else, were beautiful, and Julia's beauty was blinding. Gone were the sunken cheeks and thrust-out chin of her middle-age years. Her amber eyes were soft, her skin glowed, and her hair had grown long and brushed with bronze. Was that why she was able to wander Collinsport in the evening without being recognized?
When she leaned against him and took his hands, he could see beneath the glittering facade the same needy and manipulative woman she had always been. Sensing his prying thoughts, she glanced back at the dying girl.
"Don't you want her?"
Still breathing, the girl stared past him, and then her eyes locked on his. She seemed unable to move; perhaps her back was broken.
"Please, help me," she whispered. A pink bubble formed on her lips. Yes, he could share her with Julia, and they could bond on that feast. Fill their veins from the same source. He imagined himself bent over the young body, his mouth pressed against her throat.
"No, I'm not interested," he said, and moved away as he began his preparations for the night.
Julia's copper eyes narrowed while he smoothed his black suit jacket over his scarlet vest and reached for his cape. As he adjusted its dark folds across his shoulders, it skimmed the floor of his prison and the candle flames danced. Then he reached back into his casket for his cane. The silver head of a wolf molded to his hand.
She became agitated in the old way and took hold of the back of his cloak. "Where are you going, Barnabas? Don't go without me."
Vile juices rose in his throat. Perhaps the moment had come. His hands twitched and his fingers curled on the cane's handle as if they were grabbing her by the neck, forcing her down. But her vigorous energy restrained him, and he was distracted by another lady in the tapestry, the one with the flowing hair. The unicorn had risen up and placed his feet in her lap. She wore a golden crown and had a wicked glance that reminded him of Antoinette—or was it Angelique? Recalling his night's mission, he longed to flee, but he stopped beside the flowers, the sweet odor rising to his nostrils, and turning back to his waiting companion, spoke with as much control as possible.
"My dear Julia, we are not involved in a love affair. Much less a marriage. Did you believe that we were? I don't have to explain where I am going."
Flickering in her eyes was the same confusion he had seen so many times when he had been brusque with her, but now she possessed a stronger will. She would be a powerful adversary.
"I thought," she said in a hoarse voice, "that things would be different now."
"Things are different," he said, growing impatient. "Things are very different now, thanks to you, and your incompetent meddling. You have brought this all upon yourself. And upon us. And now there is nothing to do but make the best of it." He swayed with restlessness.
"What are you saying, Barnabas? That I should have let you die?"
"In a word … yes. Death would have been far more palatable than this. You are still in the honeymoon of the vampire's adventures." He looked down at the dying girl. "Enjoy it while you can. You are swept up in the excitement. But that will pale, my dear, and grow brutally dull. Believe me, you will soon learn that you are doomed, as am I, to unrelenting misery."
She gasped as though he had slapped her. "How can you say that?"
"Because I have lived almost two hundred years, and I know it to be true!"
Grasping his cape, her eyes dark and her lips drawn tight, she bit out her words.
"Don't … don't think you can ignore me. I brought you back with my own blood. In time you will see that you cannot exist without me."
He wondered if that were true.
"And I will never leave you."
"Then I must leave you."
"How can you be so ungrateful?"
"You restored the curse! I despise you for that!"
He wrenched himself free, but she was too quick for him and again blocked his way. She fell to her knees.
"Wait! Don't go without me. We can have our lives and our happiness for all eternity. I gave up my life to make you what you are now. We belong together." She lifted herself into his arms and he could feel weakness trickle through him. She was stronger, perhaps because she was more determined. Her obsession fed her passion whereas he was drained of any feeling. As she caressed him, he felt hopelessly ensnared, and—as he had in his coffin—unable to breathe. With a determined effort, he pulled away and placed his hands on her wrists.
"Julia, this is pointless. Set me free, now, or we are both damned."
Carefully stepping over the wretched girl, he avoided her pleading eyes as he climbed the narrow stairway to the vast underground basement. Easing the portal open, he felt a blast of stale air, all the time aware of Julia still standing in the secret room, willing him to turn back. She whispered one last word.
He could sense her power draining him, and his knees felt weak as he shut the door on her face—a face he never wanted to see again.
The basement smelled of rat feces, and it was cluttered with dusty stacks of magazines and housekeeping paraphernalia—brooms and mops, sacks of rags, and old paint cans. Their room beneath the stair was well hidden but too close to the family living in the house. He fingered the key to their secret portal and thought of simply locking her in. He hesitated, feeling his hands open and close, one still gripping his cane.
Breathing hard, he made his way through the debris and searched among the gardening tools for what would be needed. He caught sight of a hay rake with five tines and a sharpened hoe; shears and clippers; a heavy shovel; and rolls of wire fencing. A dusty carpenter's bench displayed tools more purposeful, various wrenches and screwdrivers, hammers, and boxes of screws and nails. Near old bags of solidified cement mix and a pile of discarded lumber lay a few iron stakes. Any of these would do.
His patience was exhausted, and better to snatch the moment when his ire was rich. The stake was rough in his hand, decayed with rust, and a mallet lay on the bench. An open padlock he had found earlier, the key still inserted, hung from a nail on the wall; and, in a shadowy corner, behind some wooden skis, a child's sled beckoned, and a tangle of rusty snow chains tumbled out of a cardboard box.
When he slid open the door again to his chamber, Julia was feeding. All about her were strewn the bruised lilies—crimson pollen staining the petals—as if she had ripped them in anger. The flames of the candles had died; only one still flickered in its pool of wax. It cast her shadow on the wall, rising and falling as she drank. She was lying awkwardly on top of the girl with her dress draped over the body, and her copper hair falling across a face now frozen in death.
Watching her, Barnabas was revolted by a feeling of nausea; he could see her only as a reflection of his own morbidity. Desperation flowed through him like an electrical current. How could he spend eternity with her, ever to be reminded of his own loathsome nature, to see it mirrored in another—and one who enslaved him—leaving him with no will of his own?
The lady with the unicorn gazed down at him with a melancholy smile, bestowing her blessing. She stood in her brocaded gown among her rabbits and birds, her serenity a challenge and a taunt, the snowy beast curled by her side.
Barnabas gathered his courage, and, floating behind Julia, raised the stake. Finding his mark, he hesitated, and then realized in a rush that he had to do nothing; Julia's naiveté had done it for him. She had succumbed to the vampire's drunkenness and was sucking the girl dry, already drawing death from her victim's veins.
Only sipping up until now, tasting the nectar from so many vines, she had never learned that she must cease before draining the final glass. She knew to make a new vampire one must stop just before the heart stops and then feed the victim with one's own blood. That was the way she had brought him back. She had ripped open her own neck for him and leaned in to let him drink.
But did she know to kill a victim and not become mortally ill, one must never drink from a corpse? A vampire rarely fed until the body was drained because he was satiated long before then, but Julia's bitterness and her anger with Barnabas must have stunted her reason. Or, perhaps she did not know. There was no one to tell her, and she had drowned her sorrows in this excess. Now, he thought with a chuckle, rather than putting an end to her, it was up to him to save her.
He bent forward and placed a hand on her shoulder, gently pulling her loose. Julia groaned and rolled over, her hands grasping the air. Her mouth was slack, her face smeared with blood. Her eyelids fluttered, and her eyes grew soft.
"Barnabas," she whispered, "my love. You came back for me."
"Yes…" He leaned over and lifted her into his arms. She was weak and nearly unconscious. It was but a few steps to their coffin, and after he settled her on the satin, he placed the paper-thin body of the dead girl beside her. Julia stretched in luxuriant ease, smiling up at him, her eyes barely focusing.
"Come, my dearest," she said in a slurred voice. "Lie with me."
"Yes, I am coming. In a minute. Sleep now." He reached for the lid and only glimpsed her puzzled look the moment before he slammed it shut.
Enormous strength flowed through him, enough to resist her upward thrust. But still she fought like a tiger, the casket rocking with her struggles as again and again she forced the lid a gap, enough for him to catch sight of her wild eyes and hear her frantic screeching. He threw off his cape, climbed up on the casket, and knelt on the bucking lid. Then with a mighty heave he jammed it tight and held it there.
The first nail and the second slid in with single blows, and Julia's muffled wails were soon drowned out by the sounds of the hammer rattling down, pounding in nail after nail. Breathing heavily now, his heart ready to explode, Barnabas reached for the chains and hoisted them on the coffin, encircling it again and again, until all that was left was to attach the padlock.
After donning his cloak he made for the stair, but something jerked him back. His heart clenched. Had she escaped and got hold of him? But he saw he had only nailed a corner of his cape between the lid and the coffin. The unicorn maidens watched in amusement as he ripped off a piece of the fabric in order to free himself. With a final look back at the silent room, he bolted the door, dragged the cement sacks against it, and tossed the key into a corner of the basement before he fled.
* * *
Still shaking from the brutality of his deed, Barnabas crept stealthily up the basement stair and through the quiet kitchen. When he emerged into the outside world, he was awestruck with wonder. The grounds had been transformed into an endless ocean of white. Collinwood's vast lawn was blanketed by a heavy snow that obscured every shrub and wall and walkway. It was still twilight, and rising early behind the feathered trees was an enormous bloodred moon.
Realizing that Julia had risked daylight to bring him a victim ignited a flicker of guilt, but he shrugged it away. He was thankful to be rid of her. As he savored his freedom, he breathed in the frozen air along with the odors of warm-blooded animals that wafted out of the forest. Hunger gnawed in his gut, and he thought of Antoinette.
As he moved quietly toward the front of the Great House, he remembered that she had a daughter, Jacqueline. What would become of her if her mother disappeared? Would he be obligated to care for her as well? The thought made him uncomfortable. An oddly mysterious girl, she had fascinated him in ways he did not understand, although he had only spoken to her once or twice. He knew his young cousin David had developed an affection for her, and he had told Barnabas he believed her when she said she had lived past lives. Barnabas felt a pang of sympathy when he thought of David, and he worried about a teenage romance that could threaten the Collins heritage.
Still disturbing was the memory of a journey back in time with Antoinette—to Salem during the dreadful witch trials—in a misguided effort to save a girl she said was her daughter—a girl accused of witchcraft. He could still picture the black-robed parishioners who sent the young woman to her death and her enraged benediction from the scaffold: If you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink.
He remembered she had cursed all her judges, and one of them had been a Collins. Could she be the same girl who lived now with Antoinette? And was she a threat to David, Barnabas wondered, as the boy's welfare and happiness were his only concern. In spite of his unnatural state, Barnabas was still a Collins, and he had vowed always to watch over his young cousin, the last in the line.
The full moon glimmering behind the trees jarred his memory and pricked what was left of his conscience. He remembered he had one errand to complete before he could go to the Old House. During his time as a human he had made many mistakes in judgment, but one had been especially grievous. He had stolen a token of power that belonged to another, and if it was still where he had hidden it, he should return it to its rightful owner. As a vampire once again, he must respect those who were also immortal.
He flew freely through the trees behind Collinwood and a luminous blanket of snow stretched out beneath him. The unblemished earth was so bright it could have been day—a day with many shades of black and gray tinged with gold. The moon was a Wolf Moon, the first moon in January, rising at dusk, and so brilliant that it pained his eyes to look at it. Below was the graveyard, the home of all his memories, and he could not help but wish he were there among the dreaming dead, asleep in a tomb like some fortunate soul at rest.
He settled where the snow-topped statues were like robed phantoms poised to leap and dance. Yielding to a sentimental whim, he first stopped to visit a white marble tombstone, and, with his long cape spread out over the snow, he scraped the inscription with his shoe. It was an indifferent gesture, but when he exposed the name—Josette—he felt a twinge of remorse. There she lay, his beloved, so rudely taken, and he was somewhat surprised that he still remembered her with regret. Perhaps, in spite of a mind poisoned by bitterness, he had not gone completely numb.
He could still see her coming through the garden. She was wearing a pale cream dress nipped at the waist, an ermine across her shoulders, and a wide-brimmed hat that framed her delicate face. Her skin was petal smooth and her lips were trembling as she placed her gloved hand in his and lifted her face to be kissed. The ridiculous hat fell off her head, and when he reached to catch it, his fingers plunged into her curls. He could still feel their glossy texture against his lips.
A prickling in the back of his neck spread up into his hair, and he turned to see another grave. It was marked with the statue of an angel, her robed shape wavering in the whirling snowflakes. Her head was lowered, her hands clasped, and the frosted canopy of her wings rose above her in the moonlight. Her dark eyes peered into his with an accusing glare and he shivered. He had no need to find the inscription. Angelique was buried there, and for a moment he thought the ground beneath his feet was heaving. Hers had been the spiteful curse that had destroyed his life: You will never love, and anyone who loves you will die! Even buried beneath his feet she stirred rancor through his body.
As he stood among the marble monuments honoring the dead, he could feel the planes of his own face grow rigid. In the falling snow his dark cloak formed a shroud. The flakes dusted his eyebrows and chin—as though turning them to stone—and he felt the cold seep to his fingertips and into his heart.
Then something moving in the shadows caught his eye. Gray canine shapes as pale as ghosts threaded the graveyard fence. Their eyes gleamed crimson, their tongues drooped as if they had run for miles, and their bones were loose and jarring as they trotted past him. Coyotes, he thought in amazement, and he did not remember ever seeing a pack like this. Possibly there had been one lone animal, but never a group moving together. He watched them weave through the statues until they faded to whispers in the blurry air.
It was not easy to find the small crypt among the gravestones buried in the drifts, but when he finally discovered it, he brushed away the snow that had obscured the wooden portal, and pushed open the low door. In the dim light he could see a pile of dead leaves, and the animal odors of blood and feces rose to his nostrils. When he reached into the debris, his hand closed on a warm shape and he pulled out a rat. Tail twitching, it blinked at him with beady eyes and squirmed in his grasp. His hunger flared, and he considered a tasty morsel, an appetizer perhaps, but he was not inclined to spoil the feast to come. Releasing the creature, he watched it scamper off through the tombstones, then turned and rummaged further until his hand brushed against a hard surface. His stolen prize was still there wrapped in faded blue satin—the portrait of Quentin. He hesitated before extracting it, thinking perhaps he should leave it. He knew where it was hidden, that it was safe, and better stored in this secluded spot than unprotected in Antoinette's basement.
Nevertheless, prey to cold curiosity, he dragged the bundle out and, after leaning it against the stone wall of the crypt, removed the wrapping. He stared at the portrait dismayed to see that the rats had gnawed the gilded frame and the surface was covered with mold. What had he expected? He had left it for months in a filthy vault filled with rotting leaves. Areas of the painting were frayed, exposing the canvas, and others were eaten away, but Barnabas brushed off the debris and found that the visage was still compelling: a man of majestic beauty, dark-haired with long sideburns, and eyes of alluring intensity. Staring out from under heavy brows, those eyes—and a bemused smile—promised secret delights. Even in its damaged state, Barnabas could see it was a face that would seduce any woman. And, he thought with chagrin, even Antoinette had fallen under his spell.
Then, as though exposure to the air had caused an alteration, the features slowly dissolved into those of a hoary old man; the seductive gaze became demonic, the skin yellowed with age, and the lustrous black hair turned thin and gray. Barnabas backed away in disgust, remembering the spell that governed Quentin's life. The portrait aged, while, mysteriously, Quentin remained young.
He picked up the frame and moved it to where the moonlight fell upon it. But when the glare silvered the surface, it underwent another transformation even more hideous. As if the portrait were a magical hologram, the visage darkened and changed to that of a feral beast: the matted gray hair became fur that sprouted above pointed ears and the nose elongated into a jaw of exposed teeth gleaming over a crimson tongue.
Barnabas gasped. Somehow, immersed in his own concerns, he had ignored this dark secret until the full moon glowed in the sky. The painting absorbed a double curse that governed Quentin's existence: he was also a lycanthrope, and the portrait had succumbed to the wolf man's spell before Barnabas's eyes.
He tried to remember why, when he had first discovered the portrait in Antoinette's house, he hadn't destroyed it. It was because he had been human, suffering from human weakness, and in a moment of compassion he had worried that Antoinette might be harmed by the werewolf if Quentin were to assume that form.
But now there was nothing to fear. He, Barnabas, would be her protector. Quentin would never come near her. And if she still believed she loved Quentin, she was about to change. Barnabas laughed bitterly. He vowed he would never be tormented by jealousy again.
The picture was quivering with life, yet as threadbare as an ancient tapestry, and Barnabas lifted it, his arms trembling, feeling the power of a magic talisman radiate through his body. Its force was like an electrical shock, and in a sudden rage he raised the painting above his head and slammed it against the edge of the stone crypt. The canvas split, and the portrait gaped open in two halves that hung lifeless in the frame.
With that, it changed back into a faded old oil without luminosity, resembling so many hanging in dingy museums around the world, and it seemed drained of its power. As he clung to the ruined artifact, Barnabas realized that he had been deceiving himself all along. He had never meant to return the painting—he no longer felt any sympathy for Quentin—and now he had destroyed it. What would become of his rival? Would age catch up with him? And what of the werewolf curse? Barnabas shrugged off any concern he might have felt, and, without needing any further proof, he knew that he possessed—as a vampire once again—a heart of stone.
Copyright © 2013 by Dan Curtis Productions, Inc.