Dragoumanos cover.jpg
 

Intruder

Bram was sleeping fitfully when something awoke him. Opening his eyes, at first, he could not discern anything. Then he realised a dark shadow was bent over Jenny.

“Is she alright, John?” he called out quietly.

Immediately, the shape stood up and looked around. It moved towards him and at the same moment Bram realised it was not his friend. The stranger wore a long cloak and dark clothes, whereas John had been wearing a light jacket.

Now fully awake, Bram called out, “Who are you?”

The man snarled and raised an arm as if to strike.

Bram reacted immediately and leapt to his feet, blocking the descending blow as he did so. He staggered back from its force.

“Help!” he shouted as the man then moved towards him again. Bram sought to defend himself and continued to cry out.

His assailant struck at him again and Bram was sent sprawling and landed behind the armchair. The intruder took advantage of this to scramble through the window and disappear into the night.

A few seconds later, John rushed in to find Bram getting to his feet. “Quick,” Bram shouted, “he’s escaped out of the window.”

John immediately rushed over and looked out.

“He’s gone,” he announced as he turned back to see if Bram was alright.

Bram pointed at the bed. “See to Jenny. He was doing something to her.”

John hurried to the bed, turned up the paraffin light and started to examine his charge. After a few seconds, John announced, a tremor in his voice, “She’s dead.”

“Noooo…” Bram sagged to the ground.

John came over and put his arms around his friend. They remained huddled together until the maid and then Mrs Weston entered.

Leaving Bram on the floor, John rose and went to the two women.

“Please, Mrs Weston, take a seat.” John led the woman over to the armchair. He sat her down and then continued, “I have some bad news. There is no easy way to say this. Jenny is dead.”

Both women immediately began to wail and then Mrs Weston fainted, but John was able to catch her and make sure she did not slip out of the armchair. The maid had fallen to her knees and was in tears. John put his hand on her shoulder but did not say anything.

After a few minutes, Mrs Weston woke up and started sobbing loudly. Then Bram slowly got to his feet and went over to join them. They remained that way for some time before John got up and went over to Jenny’s corpse and pulled the blanket over her head. He then went out.

Disturbed by John’s actions, Bram then followed him, leaving the two grieving women, who were both sobbing loudly, alone.

In the distance, there was a flash of lightening, soon to be followed by a drum roll as the sound of the thunder reached them.

 

[The next section doesn’t actually follow in the story directly from the previous one.]

The Unexpected

 

Getting down from the hackney, Bram paid off the driver and motioned for Huxley to follow him into the undertakers. As he opened the door, a bell softly chimed and a thick set man in waistcoat and tails sporting a walrus moustache appeared through a door.

“May I help you, gentlemen?”

“We have come to inspect the body of Jenny Weston,” Huxley told him in an authoritative tone.

The man startled.

Spotting this, Huxley probed, “Is that a problem?”

“Well…” the man started and then stopped. Pausing, he resumed. “I am afraid that won’t be possible, sir.”

“Now listen here,” Bram butted in, “I’m a very good friend of the family. Engaged to the deceased,” he could not bring himself to say her name, “and we must see the body.”

“I’m afraid you can’t.” The man was now visibly discomfited.

“Do we have to call the police in order to be able to see the poor lady?” Huxley threatened.

“No, no,” the man immediately countered.

“So, we can see her then?” Huxley gestured towards the rear of the establishment.

“It’s not like that,” and the man pulled out a handkerchief and started mopping his brow. He looked miserable. “It’s…it’s…it’s just that she’s gone,” he eventually managed to blurt out.

“Gone?” Bram exclaimed. “How’s she gone?”

“We don’t know,” the hapless man told them. “We are fairly sure she was in her casket last night in the cold storage room. We keep it cold with ice as we are supposed to. This morning my partner came in to find the door to the room open, the lid of the casket pushed back and the body gone.” He paused to wipe his face once more, “We can’t believe body snatchers managed to get into our establishment. We thought all that business had long since stopped.”

Huxley pointed at the door. “I would like to see the storage room and the casket.”

“If you wish,” the undertaker readily agreed, “Please follow me,” and he led them into the back of the building and down a flight of stairs into the basement. Around them, coffins in various colours, some ornate, others quite plain, were stacked up to the ceiling. He fetched an oil lamp from a table

“In here,” the man said, opening a door and he led them in.

Bram was immediately hit by a strong smell of sweet perfume that to his nose masked a less pleasant smell. About a dozen coffins were arranged on racks. Jenny’s was obvious in that it lacked a lid.

Huxley went over and examined it. “Bring the light over, would you?” The man obliged. Huxley carefully went over the coffin noting various details. “See here, Bram,” he said, pointing at where the screws had been, “these are shredded. He then went over to the lid. “But look here, Bram, there’s no evidence that the lid was forced from the outside.”

“What does it mean?” Bram queried, the puzzlement apparent in his voice.

“What I had feared.” Turning to the undertaker, Huxley asked, “There’s no evidence that the building was broken into, is there?”

“No,” the man admitted, “We have been trying to figure how the grave robbers got in.”

“Thank you,” Huxley said, “I think we have seen all we need to.”

The man led them upstairs to the reception. He looked very worried and was twisting his handkerchief between his hands. Eventually he blurted out, “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

Huxley sought to reassure him. “It’s not your fault,” he told the hapless man, “we don’t blame you for this. But we may have to let the police know.” The man looked alarmed. “But we will make it clear you’re not to blame.”

“Thank you, sir,” the undertaker replied, “I very much appreciate that. We will make sure it never happens again.”

“I’m sure you will take the necessary precautions.” Turning to Bram he said, “Come we are finished here.”

Once outside on the street, Bram could contain himself no longer. “It’s awful, truly awful. They’ve lost her body. What will I say to Mrs Weston? I’m devastated.”

Huxley took him by the hand and started walking down the street. “What I’ve got to tell you will seem unbelievable, but it’s nevertheless the truth,” he informed Bram as they paced along Whitechapel High Street. “You have to understand that Jenny is now dead and her body now belongs to the lidérc. It is as I feared and why I hastened to get here. She is now one of his night creatures; she is dead but not dead.”

“I don’t understand,” Bram wailed. They stopped.

“Let me try and explain,” Huxley went on, “Jenny’s not been stolen by some grave robbers. Last night, as a result of what the lidérc did to her, she...” He paused as if trying to think what to say. “I’m at a loss for the right words here; but no one took her. All I can say is, she broke free from her coffin and escaped. You saw that the screw holes had been shredded and there was no evidence that someone had prised open the lid. She forced her way out, that’s why she’s gone.”

“So, she is alive! Where did she go?”

“She’s joined her master, the lidérc,” Huxley said in a matter of fact voice.

Bram raised in hands into the air. “This is all so hard to believe.” Then as if he suddenly understood the implications, he blurted out, “If she is not dead, then there’s a chance to rescue her.”

At first Huxley said nothing, fuelling Bram’s hopes, but then eventually he spoke: “Bram, my dear man, you must accept the fact she is dead. Even if we find the lidérc and overcome it and your fiancé is there, she is now one of its kind and must be destroyed, just as we must find and destroy the monster that took her life.”

“No, it can’t be. At first you gave me hope; then it’s snatched away. It’s so unjust,” Bram cried out loudly.

Passers-by turned their heads to see what the noise was about. Seeing this, Huxley took him by the arm and seeing a hansom without passengers hailed it.

“Come,” he informed his companion, as he pushed him into the passenger seat, “we must go to Scotland Yard.”

[The following section doesn’t follow directly from the previous one.]

A Journey Begins

 

Bram left his lodgings, bag in hand and walked to the waiting hansom. John smiled as he clambered into the spare seat and sat down beside him.

“A good day,” John said and indeed a late spell of warm weather meant that the usual London haze had lifted somewhat, and a bright autumn sun made it feel warm for the time of year.

“It is a good day,” Bram echoed in a monotone.

John turned to him. “What is wrong, dear friend?”

“What if we find nothing?” Bram exclaimed. “I cannot bear to think of it.”

John immediately reassured him. “Huxley would not have agreed to this journey if he didn’t think there was something in it.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely. I know the professor. He would not consider this venture unless he felt it had a good chance.”

“I hope you are right.”

The cab took them into Charing Cross Station. The two of them, helped by a porter who took their luggage, disembarked and headed for the ticket office. John made the purchases and, grabbing his friend, led him across to the ticket barrier.

Once through, John told his friend, “First Dover, and then the Continent. We will have to change trains several times, but we will be in Bucharest in no time—you wait and see.”

“Ah, there you are,” a voice called out.

The two of them looked in the direction of the caller and spotted Huxley striding towards them followed by a porter in tow hauling a cart load of baggage.

“Pleased to see you,” Bram said with genuine feeling as the professor approached, having feared that Huxley would not actually turn up.

“Ha!” Huxley burst out sensing some of Bram’s relief, “I wouldn’t miss this for all the money in the world. We have a real chance to discover a new creature, something that is outside and beyond science’s knowledge.”

“You have certainly come well equipped.” John pointing past Huxley at the loaded trolley.

Huxley smiled. “Any good scientific endeavour needs the appropriate apparatus.”

Bram was going to ask what the professor thought their journey was about when a guard bellowed out, “All aboard for the ferry express to Dover,” and the opportunity was lost.

The three of them found a compartment and clambered in. A minute later a long blast from a whistle announced the train’s departure followed by a shaking as the locomotive moved forward. A little while later the train was passing through the suburbs to the sound of steady click-clacking and intermittent whistles from the engine.

John got Huxley’s attention. “I have planned our journey. After we cross the Channel, we will go through Cologne and onto Munich. There we change for the Vienna train. After which we head for Budapest. After Hungary, it is strait to Bucharest. We will be there the day after tomorrow.”

“Well done,” Huxley informed him after he had finished. “The sooner we get there the more chance we have of finding the creature as the trail won’t have gone cold.”

“Professor,” Bram started, “what do we do when we get to Rumania and find this…?” He could not bring himself to speak of it out loud.

“Good question. To some extent, we will need to improvise depending on what we find. But remember, everything we know about the creature says it is very dangerous. So we must be cautious and plan our actions very carefully. In the next two days I will instruct you on how I think we should proceed. But for now, let me start by giving you a quick round-up of what I have learned about the creature.”

He took out and consulted a small notebook. “Through my studies, I have discovered that it goes by several names.” He ran his finger down the page. “Depending on location, it’s been called an incubus, obour, lidérc, nachzehrer, dhampir, strigoi and many other things, but a careful cross-examination of the different sources indicates considerable similarities in the being’s characteristics and behaviour. However, while the different writers agree on some rudiments, for instance, that the creature cannot stand daylight, on others there is disagreement. So we will proceed with caution and only trust as true those characteristics of the creature where all the sources agree. However, I surmise that some of the others are also likely to be true. But I don’t know which ones. But then when we encounter it, we will find out for ourselves.”

Bram burst out, “I’m glad you’re with us, Professor. You know so much!”

“Alas,” Huxley sighed, “I wish it were true. In fact, I know very little about what we’re getting into. One of the reasons for taking part in this expedition is to find out more. Scientific curiosity, you see.” And he smiled broadly.

Further conversation was interrupted as the train began to slow as it entered Dover. The first leg of their journey was nearly complete.