Dracula: The Absence of Virtue is a vignette, focusing on the early part of the narrative associated with Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula novel, as well as the conventional Dracula story featured in many well-known filmic adaptations released thereafter. ‘The Absence of Virtue’ alters traditional structure and plot, encompassing re-worked themes transferred to the medium of short story.
This adaptation can be understood and enjoyed with no prior knowledge of the Dracula text, although having it would enhance the reader’s experience in terms of broadening understanding of character, extending meaning across time. The Absence of Virtue is seen through the intimate lens of the first person singular narration of Mina Harker, who takes husband Johnathan’s place in travelling to Castle Dracula. This allows for a politically loaded short story that highlights postmodern issues connected to feminism, emblematizing concerns with notions of feminine sexual empowerment purported through adverts and general media in the contemporary age. This vignette can be read and appreciated within the genre of fan fiction, as the gender transferals and short story form are both very subversive to the canon, but could attract interest from a more radical perspective.
Dracula: In the Absence of Virtue
Mr Hawkins reclines back into his racing green, leather, studded office chair, bolstered with padding for lower back support. His blue and white pinstripe shirt pulls tightly over his ever increasing stomach. His office is more like a lounge, carpeted luxuriantly throughout, filled with hundreds of books and a state of the art computer. He has been in this game for many years and has acquired the physique accorded to too many indulgent business lunches.
“So it’s an important one, the guy’s worth a hell of a lot, kiddo.” Hawkins clasps his hands together, resting them on his paunch, his gold rimmed frames equally resting on the tip of his rotund nose. A sharp glint of light captures my eye, from a gilded picture frame that sits on a mantle-piece, over the dormant fire grate; it’s a picture of a kindly looking aged brunette lady. She tilts her head to the right, against a sunny day. In that simple pose I gather that she’s submissive to him. She has been his slave for many years.
“Mrs Willemina Harker, I didn’t hire you to look at my wife.” Hawkins sits bolt upright, his grip squeezes a personalised biro pen. I imitate his posture automatically and push my black frames up onto my nose.
“Sorry, Sir, I hadn’t the best night’s sleep; my little girl was up late, and I guess I’m wired. Johnathan’s lucky, he sleeps through.”
“How’s his writing?”
“Oh it’s going great; he’s deeply engrossed in the creation of his latest novel.” I can’t help but smile as I think of my husband’s success.
“Ok, I’m glad home life is settled because I want you to do something for me,” he slides back sharply in his chair, wrenching out the heavy drawer to his right; he pulls out a cylinder shaped pole. He thrusts it onto the desk between us. I watch him unravel the barrel and notice the voracious way he licks his lips.
“In front of you lies a map of Transylvania.” He slams down a black and gold marble paperweight in the shape of a female torso, void of any appendage, in assault against the curling corners. The map looks ancient. It is tinged by a burnt orange. The markings and language are of original hand writing formatted in runic characters.
“Where did you get this? It looks like it’s worth something.”
“Nothing compared to what we’ll make on business with this client. Here – is his habitat,” Hawkins points to a plateau of seemingly high altitude, depicted by a blurring on the map and micro strokes that resemble clouds. He flattens his large pink hand across it. I can’t help notice his thick gold wedding ring digs uncomfortably into his bloated finger, grey hairs imprisoned underneath it. He averts his gaze, looking directly at me.
“He is rich beyond belief, pure old money. He is looking for a property in the thick of things, which I have found for him at number 1 Mayfair; a sixty eight million pound estate no less,” he winks animatedly, taking on a foxy grin. I’m in awe at the figures, loosely calculating the massive commission to Hawkins. “I want you to travel to him to finalise the deal. He’s after that personal touch. I’m too old. and you’re young and attractive.” Hawkins smiles, “It’s worth thirty thousand for you if we pull this off; all expenses paid, and the highest level of hospitality provided by the Count himself.”
The sharp sunset smatters over the skyline, creating searing iron reds that bleed through the last remains of daylight. I deduce from the dark shadows mirroring from my lenses, and the slither of the white moon, that this night will be a dark, cold one. The Carpathians consist of a chain of mountain ranges that stretch from the Czech Republic to Romania, I read from the pocket travel guide purchased at Waterloo station, imagining the broad linguistic lexicon. The speed train enters the channel and runs smoothly against the bottom of the ocean. I feel an excitable blaze of adventure rage within me, and devour the enterprise of independence, as I forgo my usual motherly responsibility, kicking off my black leather court shoes under the table.
I witness the beauty of new lands on leaving Paris as I’m dragged into Munich aboard a streamline sleeper train, via the twinkling of pin point lights dotted within the surroundings of boundless forests. The Austrian Railjet train – proves a bumpier transit, but allows for breath-taking views made possible from the scores upon scores of Alpine, displayed in such intricate form, as if designed directly by God’s hand. On entry to Brasov, I notice the sharp descent of temperature, and the synergy of that manifestation within the peoples.
The night I spend in the town is one of confusion to me. I am shocked by the scarcity of English speakers. The statuesque and hardened hotelier and his quaint wife build a sentence together, asking me my destination; I tell them Castle Dracula and they break into conversation about me, for they both look at me pityingly. There are a number of words said that stick out in my mind: ‘Pokol’, ‘Ordog’,’stegoica’ and ‘vrolok’. I address them in my polygot dictionary and am startled to discover they mean ‘Hell’, ‘Satan’, ‘witch’ and ‘vampire’. What a strange couple.
Tonight in my room I feel the burden of journey creep up on me like a listless parasite. It’s dark, and the floor boards creak; the building sits disjointed; a crooked house no less. I catch my reflection in a pentagonal mirror that reflects the snowy, dense blue twilight behind me, beyond a wide, rectangular window, offering an image of a lonely raven-haired woman void of lipstick. I want to speak to my husband, and see how things are with baby Elizabeth.
I have walked the length and breadth of this motel unable to a get signal from my mobile phone and am annoyed to find the lack of facilities here. There is no internet and no phones. I find this very strange in this day and age.
I did not sleep well as I was struck by the most vivid dreams; I could hear breathing in my room, in a desolate corner; I walked towards it and it stopped and seemed to move to another corner, next to a rickety old wardrobe; again I walked towards it and it disappeared.
It is the morning of the eve of St George’s Day, according to the old lady who wakes me with her insatiable banging on my door. She has a letter from the Count, reminding me that I will be with him very soon. She insists I wear a crucifix- around my neck; this comes after she asks me whether I know- that this night, when the clock strikes midnight, is when all the evil things in the world are at their most powerful? She then asks me, if I know where I am going. I fear she sees the irritation in my face as she then falls to her knees, begging me not to go. I’m starting to feel that I’m the subject of some unfunny prank.
Following instructions, I head on foot to the domestic station, which is situated very near to the place I stayed. There is a group of people huddled together in the dusty space; the men, statuesque in form, barbarian looking, wear big cow-boy hats. They have long hair and heavy moustaches. The women are their polar opposites – wearing tight corsets, accentuating their waists marvellously. They look pretty, with cheeks pinched pink, so much so it’s as if they have rubbed their own blood into themselves for extra effect. They appear braless, with exposed petticoats. The children play with sticks and stones, but are instructed to stop and return to their parents on sight of me.
I tread up onto the rotting wooden deck of the station entrance. It is desolate, and I can see there is only one wrought iron track, indicating that the train only ever runs back and forth on a single line. According to the information board, there are thirteen stops before I reach the Borgo Pass. My train is due soon. I hear voices and am shocked to see that the locals have moved closer to me, hissing the same words as the ones I had heard spoken by the hoteliers. I hide myself behind the station building; there I sit frozen to the spot. What the hell is it all about?
The steaming locomotive scrapes and squeals towards me. I am aware that I’ll be experiencing this icon of transport history. The black cast iron configuration of shapes, which make up the machine, appears proud and combative. The engine sits at the crest of the vehicle, wrapped within a black iron cylinder. It spits steam into the fresh air as if choking through its oral cavity. It reminds me of an old army major, basking in high rank and responsibility. The black leather of my shoes becomes laced with fine dust as it churns to a halt. There are several carriages; I choose the one closest to the front, in the vein of magical thinking, wanting to be closer to the man I see in it. As I sit by the window seat I notice the group enter the station. They see me through the thin glass.
“Diabol,” a woman with red hair shouts with all the might of an angry lunatic, her face so red, it looks sore. I see no other person on this carriage, and am saved from sheer and utter humiliation. I know what the word means, as I had seen it in the dictionary, along with the other insults, although I’ve never thought myself as a devil before. God, I want my Johnathan and am sad to see above the phone screen image of my ashen haired baby and handsome husband, that a little cross sits in place of the usual white signal bars, indicating that phone service is inoperative. I’m relieved that the train rears into motion, leaving those horrid people behind, with such a high pitched scream that would be sure to deafen their torrid thoughts.
All day long we dawdle through a country full of beauty. At every station there are clusters of people and in all sorts of attire; every now and then a passenger would enter the carriage but would soon depart. I, by far, have been the longest traveler. I flick through the guide and am startled to read that the number of wolves here is between 2500-3000.
I can see dark forests and intersecting valleys from my window. Beyond the green swellings are mighty slopes that run up the lofty steeps of the Carpathians’ themselves. They tower right and left of us, the afternoon sun falling full upon them, till these are themselves lost and replaced by grand snowy peaks. It has been seven hours, and I know, from the Count’s letter, to look for a red Dacia, a make of car I have never encountered in all of my thirty one years.
As the train closes in on the last stop, I see that I’m the only soul here; evident from the sheer silence. It’s twilight and the chill brushes my cheeks. Even the train seems to die as the smoke falls flat into nothing. The little station building is engorged with wild and savage plant life, dotted by cardinal red roses with ferociously large thorns. The sound of a smooth engine violates my senses, along with the sight of a ruby red car, as stretched as a hearse- and as sleek as a Bentley; it nestles along the outer edge of the station, behind the overgrown grass. I walk towards it, as no one gets out. It’s impossible to see who’s driving as the windows mirror the outside world.
The door opens and I enter the dark interior. The car lights blaze, making the sky look black as I fall back into plush, soft leather; my bags fall to the floor as if they are pulled from me. I catch a glimpse of the driver through the centre mirror; his face is ancient looking, deeply lined and of the whitest pallor; his hair is arranged in two mounds on either arc of the head, positively ivory and fastened back, as if very long. He looks back at me. I feel an icy tremor; his eyes are black and beady, and as the light glimmers across him, I see his mouth, fixed and cruel looking. Without a word, he spurs the car forward and we sweep into the darkness of the Pass. As I look back, through the dimmed, gleaming back window, I can see my army major in the face of the train, defeated.
We sink further into darkness and I feel a strange chill. This is punctuated by the driver’s voice, “My lady; my Master the Count bade me take care of you. There is a drink of slivovitz, a plum brandy, in front of you should require it,” he pronounces in excellent English. I like the civilized parlance of his words and the velvety depth of pitch. I see the curved, auburn bottle, with a shimmery label, embossed with the year ‘1897’. I am able to release the attached click-off cork easily – it seems like the Count has thought of everything, I think, whilst tipping the spirit into the available heavy glass bulb.
The driver is hidden behind a black screen and I can only see blankets of snow from the windows. Soon we are hemmed in by trees, which arch over the roadway till we pass through a tunnel where tiny blue lights become visible. I had read about these, being a symbol of buried treasures left by the dead from war times. We keep on ascending, with occasional periods of descent, but in the main, ascending.
In the unlit courtyard of a vast castle, from whose tall black windows comes no light- I am confused by the lapse in my consciousness as I find myself standing at a great door, old and studded, not recalling how I got here. I look around to see the Dacia swerve away into a greater darkness. Suddenly there is a sound of clanking bolts being drawn back. The door swings open. Behind it – stands a tall, beautiful man with very long, black, wavy hair and a neat, black moustache. He wears a steel-coloured suit jacket, double breasted with shining buttons and a dark silver neck scarf with a monogramed diamond, which sits at his throat.
“Welcome to my house; come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring,” he says in a voice surprisingly similar to the driver’s. He looks at me through black eyes, offering me his hand as I step in; candle light quivers around me.
“You must eat and take rest before we discuss matters,” he advises, taking my hand luggage with a type of ease of someone strong. I watch his vigorous steps as we walk up a winding staircase, adorned in a heavy, blood red carpet. I follow him onwards to another vast passage; he looks around at me in a sweeping glance. “I prefer to see to your comfort myself,” he explains as he pushes at a heavy door, which falls back easily. I see a well-lit room, where a table is freshly laid out with chocolate cake, tea, and an elaborately designed green bottle decorated with the swirling letters ‘Absinth’. A fire burns brightly on a feast of forest logs, flaming wildly.
The Count puts down my bags and I hand him the sealed letter which Mr. Hawkins had entrusted to me. He accepts it and with a charming smile, assures me that he will tend to the ‘finer matter’ alone. He crosses the room, opening another door, leading into an octagonal area, lit by burning candles on candelabras; the flames sway playfully. It’s a welcome sight, this bathroom warmed with another log fire, sending a hollow roar up a wide chimney. I see the bath is ready, a rose scent leaping off of its steamy water.
“It is very hot and will be the perfect temperature very soon,” the Count informs me, an artful smile upon his impressive face. I stand in this small room directly opposite him, and the captivating figure he imposes and I am hit by a feeling of attraction. I re-assert myself and the Count withdraws. I hear the outer door close.
I discover that I am famished with hunger, and devour the delightful cake, feeling myself replenish. I fall back into the red velvet, cushioned chair, feeling a grin cross my face; he is very beautiful. I take some tea but pour myself some Absinth at the same time; curious whether I might see the ‘green fairy’! I watch the emerald coloured liquid engulf the glass bulb. There are hoards of books stacked atop long shelves; I see he has an interest in drugs and medicine. I notice the dark wood of my four poster bed is complemented by the arrangement of fine white linens. The strange flavoured drink is deliciously numbing and perfect to assist me with my bath.
The plumes of steam sift in and out of each other as if they are alive. The heat is suffocating and I feel lost in time. I was sure there was someone in here with me, a figure standing by the arched door. I feel re-awakened as if I was sleeping in these waters; how strange. I must get out and tend to business, the reason why I’m here.
The candle flames suddenly diminish and it’s pitch black. I can’t find any towels. It’s cold. I pull the door open. The bedroom is black; a cold draught runs at me like a typhoon. I can’t make out where things are. I remember my luggage being placed near to the entrance. I’m sickened to find that it’s not there. I feel like a rat in a trap as I grab at the stone walls and objects, desperately searching for my clothes, which I laid out – where – I can’t remember. The icy air hits my naked body so sharply that I feel distressed; I run towards the door. Suddenly I can hear a long agonized wailing – of dogs, and then another and another, till a wild howling begins, which seems to come from all over the country. I pull the heavy door open and rush out into the great hallway. I cover myself with my arms and hands. There are many doors along the passage; I try to open them to find a blanket or something, but they are all locked and bolted. I feel the dust belonging to this strange place stick to my bare feet. I tread the stairwell, scared and embarrassed. I am met with the sight of flickering candles within an area of darkness. Am I in trouble? I walk towards the lights, feeling the cold stone floor meet my skin; I’m startled to see the outline of the Count, who appears to be seated at one end of a long table.
“Come – sit opposite me – supper awaits you,” he says, in a commanding tone.
“My clothes have gone – where are my clothes?” I’m shivering; my wet hair sticks to my neck.
“I will have someone find them – for now, sit – and dine with me”.
“How can I sit here with no clothes?”
“Sit,” he roars, followed by a hissing. The conviction in his tone enforces my powerlessness, and I sit down quietly —as quietly as I have ever done anything in my life—and begin to think over what is best to be done – as my gaze trails over a feast of roast chicken and fruits of all kinds. He sits opposite, shadows illuminate his face. I cover myself with crossed arms.
“I have dined whilst you bathed.” He says as he spins a red eyed stare to me. Is this is a nightmare? Searing chills glide across my damp skin. I can barely make out my surroundings, although behind the Count, upon a high wall, sits an illuminated painting of a long dark haired soldier clad in a suit of blood red armour, displaying the shape of muscle sinews over every curve and plate. The warrior royally clasps the pommel of his sword, positioned vertically next to himself whilst in a crouched stance. The might of the thing is epitomized in the fullness of its blade. He is alive in the eyes.
“Tell me of London and of the house which you have procured for me.”
I see the extent of his face as the candlelight burns bright; he is ill looking, very pale; his eyes blaze.
“It is of an ancient structure. The estate is called Carfax. There are many trees on it, and there is a deep, dark-looking lake. The house is vast and medieval in style, heavily barred with iron. It looks like part of a keep. I could not enter it, as I had not the key of the door leading to it.”
“I am glad that it is old and private. I am no longer young and would prefer to be alone with my thoughts.” His words did not seem to accord his appearance; he seems no more than thirty five.
I notice his fingers are long, emphasized by overly sharp nails. He is different to the man I first encountered, more malignant. His hands open up, creating huge shadows on the walls. He stands to a great height and I am beside myself with fear, shivering profusely. I whimper. His footsteps tread the stone gradually. I cannot believe my eyes as I see on him the face of the driver; he exposes vile, sharp teeth. What manner of man is this?
All of a sudden, three women stand around me, arising from nowhere. They have long flowing hair, a blonde, red head and one raven haired. I see their ice green eyes look like those of snakes. They pull my arms viciously away from my body and lay me on the cold floor; their floaty dresses touch me. I am in fear. They all possess long, sharp teeth. I see the malevolent figure of the Count behind them. I feel a burning desire to be kissed. They whisper together, and then laugh—a silvery, musical laugh, so hard, as if impossible to have come from human lips. I see the blonde looking at me; her teeth fully exposed. She stares at me through piercing eyes. I feel a sharp pain and the offensive scent of blood. I watch massive sharp shadows cross the walls, taking on a life of their own. The women’s bodies feel like cold steel. They keep fastening their teeth onto my neck. I look and see the red-head nestled face down in my rib cage – she looks up, grinning – her mouth is blood filled. What is left of me? I can hear the churning sound of their tongues as they lick their teeth, feeling the continuous piercing of sharp teeth in their twos. My God, save me.
The Count grasps the necks of the woman, with giant’s power. With a fierce sweep of his arm, he hurls them against a wall, “That’s enough, she belongs to me; now go.” The red-head girl, like a hologram, rises up to him.
“You never loved.” The women join in such a hard, soulless laughter that it makes me dizzy. He leans over me, old and evil, staring into my face
“The heart of the hunter can love” he whispers, exposing such fearsome, long, sharp teeth. I shake uncontrollably but I cannot seem to move from this spot.
“Are we to have nothing to-night?” said one of them, hissing. I see a bag moving about the floor as though there were some living thing within it.
“Take the bag,” the Count instructs. The black haired one grabs it. I hear wailing, from a baby. The women close in on it. I scream and scream. A huge beast pins me to the floor. Where’s the Count? It is ferocious and heavy, breathing profusely; its claws scrape my skin; he’s mauling me; I see my own blood spurt. It hooks huge teeth into to my throat. “Johnathan, help me.” I’m paralyzed. I will die.
The white light of the sun wakes me. I’m cushioned by the white soft blankets of a four poster bed – in Dracula’s home. Oh God – help me; what about the blood? What….. I am uninjured – only good skin I see as I look down through the neck of my white t-shirt. Who put this on me? I see a breakfast laid out and a note.
Dear Ms Harker,
I’m away on business. A car waits for you.
I need to get out of here.
I run through the passageway. Its bleak walls are punctuated by glimmers of sunlight.
The fresh air hits me and I see the red Dacia waiting. The back door opens automatically. I wonder if he is driving. I hesitate, but realise that I would be dead by now if he wanted to kill me, so I step in. The driver is hidden behind a black screen.
The beauty from the train transfixes me; everything is so vivid, the purple of the jacaranda and the crimson peonies blaze with such dynamism. I have pains on my neck – a terrible sore throat. I feel weak. I can’t wait to see Johnathan.
“Mina, leave that computer alone, come down, the dinner is on the table,”
“Yes Johnathan; I’m just reading something in The Metro.”
Soho prostitute claims to have been the victim of a brutal assault. Other women have come forward; all say that they may have been drugged and bitten at the throat, as well as additional foul play, although none have injuries.
This is very strange.
13th October 2004 Miss Marietta Renfield, 24 years old, claims to have been violently assaulted and bitten at the throat although no injuries substantiated this. Renfield claims to have been held captive during a visit to Eastern Europe whilst on business for P.B Hawkins Solicitor’s Ltd, Regent Street. Renfield was sectioned in Dartmoor Mental Health Facility under the Mental Health Act ………………..
Mirrors in this elevator used to be such a bonus; now I can’t even see myself to check my make-up. Ding. That’s my floor. I see the cleaners have come and gone. That smell of polish is sickening.
Tap tap tap.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Mina – I can smell you.”
“Ha – come in Mina.”
I peer around the door at him. His glasses are steamed up; he is sweating and looking out of sorts.
“Receive the money?” he asks – as if that will make everything better.
“Did you – more to the point?”
I feel the urge so badly that I run at him; my teeth drip wet and I want to thrive. My brain and body has grown. I need to feed. I grab his head, digging my sharp nails into his skull and take a look at that fat neck. He screams like a baby.