For Peter Cushing
“-A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?”
---William Wordsworth We Are Seven (1798)
“Tell me about the child,” Van Helsing said.
The vampire hunter stood face to face with the man who had invited him to Karlsbruck, Father Butler, inside Butler’s modest rectory, with fresh rolls and a bottle of red wine on a small table behind them. Van Helsing had declined both, deciding he wanted to discuss business first. He hadn’t even removed his overcoat.
“It started about three years ago,” the priest said. He poured himself a glass of wine and did all he could not to spill it. His hands trembled as he brought the glass to his lips and drank. “The boy fell ill with a disease. The doctors could not cure him. They couldn’t even agree as to what he had. The one thing they did agree on was that he was dying. The boy’s parents, the Baron and Baroness Tarken, panicked. They evicted the doctors from the castle and began searching for other innovative and unorthodox methods of treatment. They opened their doors to midwives, witch doctors, even Satanists, all in a desperate attempt to save their son. But in spite of their best efforts, nothing changed. The boy only grew worse.”
“What happened?” Van Helsing asked.
“We were visited by the devil, is what happened, Dr. Van Helsing,” Father Butler said, his brow moist with perspiration. “Convinced her son was going to die, the Baroness took some bed sheets and hung herself. Her husband, the Baron, found her. She had left a note. She wrote that she couldn’t see her son suffer any longer. She knew he was going to die, and she wanted to be there in the next life ahead of him, so she could take care of him.”
Van Helsing thought of his own wife and son, young Abraham, about the same age as the Tarken boy. For a moment he shared the pain of Baron Tarken and understood such pain doesn’t leave a man whole.
“Hours after the Baroness’ funeral, a man came to the castle,” Butler continued. “According to the villagers, this man was a vampire. He took the child and with his kiss turned him into an undead, thus in the Baron’s eyes, saving his life. Did this really happen? I don’t know. However, the boy was suddenly, miraculously ‘cured.’ That was three years ago. Since that time, villagers, mostly young children, have disappeared in the night. Some abducted from their own bedrooms. They say it is the young Tarken child, that he is a vampire feasting on other children.”
“What do you say?” Van Helsing asked.
“I’m no expert. I couldn’t tell a vampire from a vegetarian. But this much I do know. Children are disappearing. There have been reports---,” Butler paused, he was choked up. He cleared his throat. “There have been reports that some of these missing children have reappeared in the middle of the night, at the windows of their homes, only to disappear again after attacking their parents. And the young Tarken child is no longer seen in the daytime, and when he is seen, they say he hasn’t changed one bit, that he still looks seven even though he should be ten. I have seen him myself, and while yes he still looks young, how much of a difference is there between a seven year-old and a ten year-old? We definitely have a problem here in Karlsbruck, but whether it is vampirism or not, well, that’s why I’ve asked you here, doctor.”
“What would you like me to do?” Van Helsing asked.
Father Butler cleared his throat again. “I want you to examine the boy, to determine whether he’s a vampire or not, and if he is--- God forgive me, I want you to destroy him.”
The Castle Tarken stood majestically on the mountainside, overlooking the tiny village of Karlsbruck like a proud father at his son. It was not the largest castle Van Helsing had ever seen, nor the most elaborate, but it served its purpose. It let the villagers know that within the stone walls of the castle lived a separate class of people, a superior class.
Van Helsing and Father Butler rode in the doctor’s tiny black buggy, pulled by a single white horse, until they reached the castle gate. The rest of the trip they had to make on foot, along a dirt path up a steep incline.
It was a beautiful morning full of bright sunshine and fresh air. Birds were singing everywhere.
They reached the castle door, and Van Helsing noticed that the birds had stopped singing. He had experienced this phenomenon before. The presence of evil made even the smallest of creatures uncomfortable.
Up close, the castle looked run-down. Large cracks had begun to appear in the outer stone walls, and the greenery around the grounds was unkempt and wild.
The servant who greeted them at the door refused to let them in. Van Helsing and Butler had expected as much. Baron Tarken kept to himself and rarely allowed visitors. When they had made it clear to the servant that they weren’t going away, at least not until they had spoken to Baron Tarken himself, Van Helsing and Butler breathed a sigh of relief as the servant finally conceded and left them by the door while he summoned his master.
Baron Tarken ignored his servant’s meager attempt to apologize and in a manner that suggested he was quite irritated, marched towards the entrance, apparently, to berate Van Helsing and Father Butler for the disturbance.
The Baron was a tall thin man, several inches taller than Van Helsing, and his face was all angles. He had a diamond shaped head, with slanted eyes, an angular nose that looked to be as sharp as an ice pick, a tight mouth, and a triangular chin that came to a point like a church spire.
His flesh was pale, his eyes dark, with deep purple circles all around, and his lips were unnaturally red. His straight hair was slicked back and was prematurely gray in many places, especially around the edges. He looked like a man who had suffered greatly, as Van Helsing knew he had.
“Father Butler, what do I owe this--- visit?” the Baron “greeted,” though it was painfully clear he was only interested in ridding himself of the two men.
Father Butler introduced Van Helsing as “Dr. Abrams,” a disease specialist who had been called in to treat a new virus that was affecting the area’s children. Butler and Van Helsing had agreed upon the use of an alias because Van Helsing’s reputation as a vampire hunter was renowned all across Europe, even though he’d been “retired” for nearly a decade. Yet few people knew what he looked like.
Father Butler was still explaining the reason for their visit when the Baron interrupted him.
“That’s all very good, Father, but I assure you, my son does not have this disease.”
“It’s highly contagious and easily passable,” Van Helsing said.
The Baron shook his head. “My son does not socialize with other children, and he certainly spends no time in the village where you say this disease is ravaging. I’m disappointed in you, Father. I would have expected you to know this in advance.”
Father Butler stammered for words. Van Helsing spoke first.
“It’s not passed from child to child,” Van Helsing said. “But from animal to child. Horses, goats, sheep, they’re the carriers. Does your son not have contact with such animals?”
The Baron paused, his mouth wide open. Van Helsing’s revelation had obviously come as a surprise to him.
“What’s the name of this disease?” the Baron asked.
Van Helsing made up the most confusing Latin name he could think of.
The Baron nodded. “I see. Why haven’t I heard of it before?”
“It has reached this area only recently,” Van Helsing said. “We’ve traced its origins to southeast Asia, but it is spreading throughout Europe like wildfire.”
“It’s fatal, you say?” The Baron asked.
Van Helsing nodded.
“Well, I suppose you should see him, then. Let me see if he is awake. My servant Lawrence will send for you presently.”
The Baron took leave of them.
Father Butler tugged softly on Van Helsing’s sleeve and whispered, “From what you’ve told me, if the boy were truly a vampire, he’d be unable to succumb to disease, and the Baron would know this. He must not be a vampire, then.”
“Not necessarily,” Van Helsing answered quietly. “A father’s love runs deep. I know. Even if he believes with absolute certainty that his son cannot die, once the possibility of death is suggested, he may out of fear and natural parental worry begin to doubt his own convictions. Besides, you’ve described the Baron as a very shrewd individual. It would be somewhat suspicious if he rejected our help outright, and I don’t think that’s the kind of attention the Baron wants. ”
Lawrence the servant returned to the castle entrance and ushered Van Helsing and Father Butler up an elegant set of stairs to the castle’s second level.
They walked a very dark corridor. Van Helsing noticed that all the blinds and curtains on the windows had been drawn.
The Baron stood at the end of the long hallway, waiting outside an opened door.
“This way, gentlemen,” the Baron said. He motioned with his hand for the two men to enter the room. “This way.”
Van Helsing moved first.
The Baron grabbed the doctor by his right arm.
“You’re here strictly to examine, not medicate, correct?” the Baron asked.
Van Helsing nodded.
“Good. You may see Justin now,” the Baron said.
Van Helsing entered the room, with Father Butler and the Baron right behind him.
Young Justin’s room was even darker than the rest of the castle. The large window behind the bed was completely covered with a pair of massive wooden shutters. In spite of the open books and puzzles strewn about the floor, there was nothing cheery about this room. It was also cold. It reminded Van Helsing of a sepulcher.
The boy, Justin, lay on his back on his bed. Van Helsing approached him and sat on the edge of the bed by the boy’s feet.
“Hello, Justin,” Van Helsing said. “I am Dr. Abrams. Has your father explained why I’m here?”
“Yes,” the boy answered. He yawned.
“I kept him up too late last night, I’m afraid,” the Baron said. “Sometimes we get so deep into reading we can’t put the book down.”
Van Helsing flashed a half smile and began the examination. He touched the boy’s wrist to take a pulse, and as he expected it would be, the boy’s flesh was ice cold.
“Very good,” Van Helsing said.
Justin’s flesh was also extremely pale. He looked ill.
Van Helsing continued the examination and finished by checking the boy’s mouth.
“You need to check his teeth, too?” the Baron asked.
“Yes,” Van Helsing answered, eyeing the pair of sharp fangs inside Justin’s mouth. “Thank you, Justin. That’ll be all for now.”
“Well? What’s the verdict?” the Baron asked, as Van Helsing stood from the bed.
“He does not have the disease,” Van Helsing said.
The Baron smiled. “Excellent news!”
“However, he should be vaccinated,” Van Helsing said. “I can return later in the week with the vaccination.”
“I’m sorry, doctor, but I don’t believe in vaccines. Or medications for that matter. I try to keep my son’s blood as pure as possible,” the Baron said.
“I’m sorry to hear that. The vaccine is the one true way to protect your son,” Van Helsing said.
“We’ll take our chances. He enjoys excellent health. You just examined him, doctor, wouldn’t you agree?” the Baron asked.
Van Helsing looked at Justin, then ushered the Baron towards the door. He spoke softly when he said, “I cannot attest to his general health since I was looking for specific symptoms. However, he does seem rather pale and weak. Has he been ill recently?”
“No. He just doesn’t like the outdoors. He’s a thinker, not a doer.”
“I see. Even the thinkers need sunshine,” Van Helsing said.
“I’ll remember that.” The Baron’s face hardened. “Good day gentlemen.”
“Good day,” Van Helsing answered.
Father Butler gulped the wine from the goblet and wished for more.
“How I didn’t want this to be true!” he said. “What are we going to do? You speak of driving stakes through hearts. He’s a child, for heaven’s sake!”
“No,” Van Helsing answered firmly. “The child is dead. Justin is now an undead.”
“Undead, vampire, all words! It’s horrible!” Butler cried.
“It’s more than just words, father. Vampirism is a disease that must be stamped out. I don’t relish the idea of driving a stake through a young boy’s heart, believe me, but if we don’t destroy him, your village in fact the entire countryside will be infested with these creatures. We have to destroy him.”
The priest paced up and down his rectory. “I don’t feel good about this! What are you going to do? Even if you’re able to get back into the castle, how would you ever get out?”
“I’m not going back inside the castle,” Van Helsing said.
“You’re not? What are you going to do, then?”
“Not me. You.”
“Sit down, father, and listen. This is what we’re going to do.”
As Father Butler listened, Van Helsing explained what he had in mind. Father Butler was to instruct his congregation on how to protect themselves from vampires. He was to go door to door to each and every house with the following information. All children were to be kept inside after nightfall. Even during the daylight hours, the children must not be left alone. Crucifixes should be placed above the child’s bed. The windows, even on warm nights, had to be locked. Garlic should be placed along the windows and doors. It was imperative, Van Helsing explained, that everyone with children follow these instructions.
“Will they cooperate?” Van Helsing asked.
“Yes, I think so. I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” Father Butler answered. “But what does this achieve?”
“We’re going to draw him out, Father,” Van Helsing said. “I meant it when I said I wouldn’t need to go back to the castle. The boy shall come to us.”
Three nights passed without incident. Then, on the fourth evening of the villagers implementing Father Butler’s instructions, the most horrid wails exploded from within the castle walls. Young Justin Tarken. Screaming with gut wrenching hunger pains.
“We’ve cut him off,” Van Helsing told Butler in confidence. “Now we shall bait him.”
Father Butler had made an arrangement with one of his most faithful parishioner families, the Carlsons. The Carslon family, who had a six year-old son named Peter, were to leave their son’s bedroom exposed. No garlic, no crucifixes, no form of protection whatsoever. Van Helsing and Butler were to be hiding in the adjoining room, awaiting the arrival of the young vampire.
Very few families would have agreed to this arrangement, but the Carlson’s had full faith in God, and they said yes to Father Butler’s request without hesitation.
One, then two, then three nights passed without any sign of Justin Tarken. Van Helsing admitted he was surprised. When a week had gone by and still there had been no visit by the Tarken boy, Van Helsing was about to rethink his plan when word arrived in Karlsbruck that the child abductions had not ceased after all, but had only moved on to the surrounding villages.
While Van Helsing and Butler sat tight in the Carlson home, two other young children had been abducted from the two villages that boarded Karlsbruck.
In a fit of rage, Van Helsing swore that “not another child” would be harmed by young Justin Tarken. The doctor secluded himself in the back room of Father Butler’s rectory, and when he emerged several hours later, he surprised Butler with a request.
“There’s something I need to discuss with you,” Van Helsing said.
“What is it?” Butler asked.
Van Helsing told him.
“You shouldn’t have done that. It’s sacrilegious,” Butler said.
“It might not even work,” Butler said.
“You could be condemned.”
“Father, I know all that, but---.”
“It was a damn foolish thing to do!” Butler interrupted. “But---in a way, I’m glad you did it. God knows we need all the help we can get!”
“Pray for me?”
“Of course I will! God be with you, and may He forgive us both!”
The Tarken coach had disappeared.
Van Helsing tugged the reigns and gently stopped the white horse which pulled his buggy.
He listened. He was surrounded by an eerie silence. The moon lit up the night sky above creating shadows all around him. Both sides of the road were heavily wooded, and all he could see were trees and more trees. Of the coach there was no sign.
Yet he knew the coach couldn’t be far. He had seen it just a few short moments ago.
He ushered his horse and buggy to the side of the dirt road, jumped to the ground, and walked along the pebbly path. He reached the edge of a hill, below which he saw open fields and the town of Oakwood. The coach was nowhere in sight. It was either behind him somewhere in the woods or down there in front of him, somewhere in Oakwood. Van Helsing didn’t know which.
His gut told him that the Tarken coach wouldn’t be bold enough to drive directly into the center of town. They’d keep to the shadows, he thought.
Van Helsing turned around.
“They’re in the woods,” he said to himself.
He started to walk back towards his buggy when he heard the voice of a child. It sounded like a young boy, and he was singing, some sort of nursery rhyme. Van Helsing stopped and listened. The boy was in the woods.
For a brief moment Van Helsing wondered what a child was doing in the woods in the middle of the night, but then he realized the child was there because he had been called.
Young Justin Tarken was in the woods too, somewhere, calling to the boy. Van Helsing couldn’t hear Tarken, but he was sure of this fact just the same.
Van Helsing broke into a quick trot, running along the road, looking into the woods for any sign of the boy. He had almost made it to his horse and buggy when to his left deep inside the woods he saw the white nightclothes of a young child. The child was skipping, heading in the opposite direction from Oakwood. He was being drawn further away.
Van Helsing entered the woods running and quickly closed the gap between himself and the child.
The boy stopped skipping. With his arms by his side, he appeared to be looking for someone. Van Helsing stopped behind a tree and peered out from behind it.
“I’m here, master,” the boy said. “I’m here.”
Van Helsing eyed the surroundings. Again there was no sign of Justin Tarken.
“Yes, master, I will do it for you,” the boy said. He lifted his little right hand and in it he held a knife, its jagged edge pointed at his own throat.
Van Helsing’s eyes widened.
“No!” Van Helsing shouted. He charged out from behind the tree and ran towards the boy, and when he reached him, he grabbed his arm and yanked the knife from his hand.
The boy was Justin Tarken.
“Got you!” Justin snarled, rearing back his teeth and showing his fangs.
Van Helsing reached inside his coat and removed a crucifix. He extended it towards the vampire child. Justin hissed and cowered before Van Helsing.
Lawrence the servant appeared behind Van Helsing and struck the doctor in the back of the head with a heavy mallet.
Van Helsing groaned and crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
“Looking for this?”
That’s the question Van Helsing heard as he opened his eyes. His head throbbed. He was tied to a table, with tight restraints around his wrists and ankles.
Baron Tarken stood over him. He held Van Helsing’s medical bag.
“I didn’t think a hammer and stake were standard medical issue these days,” the Baron said. “Not to mention a crucifix and a vial of holy water. Only one doctor I know of carries these items, Van Helsing.”
“I don’t know---.”
“Don’t deny it,” the Baron interrupted. “I’ve had you followed since you first visited my home. My spies have heard your conversations with the good Father Butler. I know all about you, and what you had in store for my son.”
“What are you going to do?” Van Helsing asked.
“What any good father would do. I’m going to protect my son.”
“Your son is dead.”
There was a knock at the door, and the servant Lawrence entered the room.
“Get rid of these things. Burn them,” the Baron instructed.
“Yes, sir,” Lawrence answered. He took Van Helsing’s coat and grabbed the crucifix and the medical bag. “I’ll be back for the rest in a moment.”
Van Helsing wondered what the “rest” was. He looked around the room. It was dark. There was an oil lamp on a table against the wall, providing the only light. He also saw a couple of chairs and a chest. On the chest, in the dim light, he saw the hammer and stake.
“If I thought you’d leave us alone, I wouldn’t have to do any of this,” the Baron said. “But your reputation precedes you. You never quit. You never stop. Do you? Which leaves me no choice.”
“You’re going to kill me?” Van Helsing asked.
“I could, and considering who I am, I’d probably get away with it,” the Baron answered. “But still, you are known across the continent, and your death or disappearance would certainly cry out for an investigation. I’m too private a person for that. I have better plans for you, and I’m sure you know exactly what they are.”
The Baron turned his head. “Come in, Justin.”
Young Justin Tarken entered the room and stood by his father.
“What better fate for you, Van Helsing, than to be turned into the very creature you abhor, the creature you have spent your life fighting?” Baron Tarken said. “And what better champion to defeat you than my own son? And the absolute beauty of this plan is that you do not die, you do not disappear. You simply leave.
“I understand you’re married with a son of your own,” the Baron continued. “You might think me an evil man, but I’m not. I wish your family no harm. If you wish it, I can arrange for them to move to a place where you will not be able to find them, where you will not be able to harm them. What I do now I do to protect my son, and for no other reason.”
“Your son is dead,” Van Helsing said. “If you truly loved him, you’d untie me and let me---.”
you ever question my love for my son! How
dare you!” the Baron shouted.
“I offer to save your family from you and you insult me?
If it were your son, would you do it?
Would you drive a shaft of wood through his heart?
Would you? Would
Van Helsing didn’t answer.
“I’ll take that as a no,” the Baron said. “Now, I’ll ask you again. Would you like me to relocate your family? This is the last chance you’ll have to tell me.”
Van Helsing looked directly into the eyes of Baron Tarken.
“They will do well without your help, thank you,” Van Helsing said.
“The words of a proud man,” Tarken said. “Unfortunately, sometimes pride gets in the way of common sense. So be it.”
The Baron turned to his son. “Justin, he’s yours.”
The boy stepped towards Van Helsing. Saliva dripped from his open mouth.
Van Helsing took a deep breath. He knew he only had one chance, and it was a chance he wasn’t even sure would work. He allowed himself to feel the total anxiety of the moment. As the boy vampire stood above him, Van Helsing began to sweat profusely.
Van Helsing thought of his wife and son, and prayed that he’d be able to see them again. He struggled against the binds, but it was useless. He could see the hammer and stake on the chest, so close but in no way reachable.
The boy placed his small hands upon Van Helsing’s shoulder. He opened his mouth wider and closed in towards Van Helsing’s sweaty throat.
The Baron looked on expectantly, waiting to hear Van Helsing scream in pain. He was shocked when it was Justin who screamed.
“What is it?” the Baron cried out.
Justin stumbled backwards away from Van Helsing, and he clutched his mouth as if he’d been struck in the face.
“Help me, father!” the boy screamed.
“What is it?” the Baron asked again. He ran to his son. The boy was still covering his mouth. “Are your hurt?” The boy nodded. “Let me see.”
The Baron tore the screaming child’s hands away from his mouth, and his eyes widened at what he saw. Justin’s lips were smoldering, and the flesh around his mouth was bleeding, as if he’d been scalded by boiling water.
The Baron dove towards Van Helsing. “What did you do to him?”
Van Helsing didn’t answer.
The Baron looked closely at Van Helsing’s throat. He saw blood, but it wasn’t the doctor’s blood. There weren’t any wounds on his flesh. His son hadn’t broken the doctor’s skin. It was his son’s blood, intermingled with drops of Van Helsing’s perspiration.
“Tell me what you did to him!”
“I drank--- holy water,” Van Helsing said.
“You drank---?” The Baron put two and two together. “It’s in your sweat! You bastard! I’ll kill you for this!”
The Baron looked wildly around the room. He spotted the hammer and stake and grabbed them both. He waved them in front of Van Helsing’s face. “How about this for poetic justice?”
“If you kill me, you won’t get away with it,” Van Helsing said. “You’ll be of no use to your son behind bars.”
Justin shrieked, “Father! Help me!”
The Baron looked over his shoulder. “Not now.” He placed the point of the wooden stake onto Van Helsing’s chest and raised the hammer high above his head.
“Yes, now!” Justin cried. He screamed in agony. “It hurts! PLEASE!”
Van Helsing thought quickly. “I can save the boy.”
“What?” the Baron asked.
“Untie me, and I’ll save him,” Van Helsing said.
“Never! You’ll kill him!”
“Untie him father!” Justin screamed. “Please!
Justin dropped to the floor, flailing his arms and kicking his legs.
The Baron couldn’t help but look at son. The boy’s mouth seemed to be melting away. The thought of his child deformed enraged him. He swore, threw the hammer and stake to the floor, and tore from the room. A moment later, he was back with a revolver in his hand. He pointed it at Van Helsing’s face.
“If you don’t save him immediately, I’ll shoot you,” the Baron warned.
He attempted to untie Van Helsing, but he couldn’t manage with one hand. Against his better judgement, he placed the revolver down upon the chest, and with his two free hands began to untie the doctor.
“I’ll need my bag,” Van Helsing said.
“I can’t help him without my bag!”
The Baron growled. He untied Van Helsing’s hands and instructed him to untie his own legs. He retrieved the revolver and again aimed it at Van Helsing.
“Justin,” the Baron said. “Go and get Lawrence. Tell him to bring the doctor’s bag.”
“I can’t!” the boy cried.
“Father, I can’t!”
“He’s is in no condition to move,” Van Helsing said, having untied his own legs. He stepped from the table and planted his feet firmly upon the floor. “I’ll get the bag.”
The Baron inserted himself in between Van Helsing and the exit. “No you won’t!”
“You’ll have to get it then,” Van Helsing said.
“And leave you here alone with my son? Do you think I’m crazy?”
“What choice do you have?”
“Lawrence will be back any moment now. I’ll send him for the bag.”
“There’s no time! Look at your son, Baron! Every second you waste--- . I give you my word as a father, I won’t harm your son,” Van Helsing said.
“I don’t believe you!”
“You’re running out of time!” Van Helsing warned. “If you want me to save him, you’ll have to act now. Do it, man!”
The Baron moaned. “Your word as a father?”
“Yes! Now go!”
The Baron turned and ran from the room.
Van Helsing looked down upon the floor at the screaming boy. Also on the floor were the hammer and stake, which in his panic, the Baron had forgotten to take with him. Van Helsing crouched down and grabbed the weapons.
He didn’t hesitate.
thrust the boy on his back and pressed the wooden stake upon his chest.
Young Justin’s eyes widened in terror.
“What are you doing?” Justin cried. “You promised my father!”
promised I wouldn’t harm his son. You’re
not his son. Justin Tarken is dead.”
“No! I am Justin Tarken! I’m just a little kid! You can’t do this to me!”
Van Helsing saw his own son in the boy vampire’s eyes. He summoned every ounce of strength within him to block out the cries of this young undead who looked so innocent. Van Helsing focused on the bloody chunks of flesh hanging from the boy’s chin and told himself to remember that no ordinary living child would have been so affected by something as harmless as holy water.
“Justin Tarken is dead,” Van Helsing said aloud. He raised the hammer.
The boy squealed.
Van Helsing closed his eyes and thrust the hammer down.
Father Butler placed his hands upon Van Helsing’s forehead and blessed him.
“You’ve rid this village of a terrible evil. I know it wasn’t easy for you.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Van Helsing said softly.
“Just remember that the child was evil.”
“I keep telling myself that.”
Butler read the horror on Van Helsing’s face, and suddenly experienced doubt. “He was a vampire, wasn’t he?”
“Then you did the right thing. Didn’t you?”
Van Helsing nodded.
“Still, you’re in pain?” Butler asked.
“He was a boy, Father, and this job belongs to men without boys of their own. I’ll never shed blood again.”
“You’d best be going now,” Father Butler said. “The Baron is sure to be on his way. It isn’t safe for you to be here.”
“What about you?” Van Helsing asked.
“The Baron’s not stupid. He won’t harm a priest. Be on your guard, Van Helsing. The Baron’s reach is far and wide. Protect your family, especially your son.”
“Yes, Father, I will.”
“God be with you.”
Van Helsing climbed into his buggy and tapped the reigns. The white horse broke into a trot and raced along the road into the surrounding countryside, whisking Van Helsing away from the village of Karlsbruck, from the Castle Tarken, and from the horrifying images and memories it contained, memories Van Helsing feared would haunt him for the rest of his days.
COPYRIGHT MICHAEL ARRUDA 2004