Author’s Note: A continuance of the story-thread from “Hidden Chambers of the Heart.” In this snippet, Matthew seeks to learn more about what he witnessed between his former lover, Elizabeth, and the mysterious and reclusive artist, Percival Lawrence. You may recognize Matthew from my paranormal romance novel, This Heart of Flame. These snippets are excerpted from the 1998 unpublished work that gave rise to Matthew and his world.
After what I saw that night in suite number ten, I found myself consumed with the possibility that Percival Lawrence was a vampire. I had to know more. Knowing Halaina’s own interest in the topic, I approached her butler, Robert.
“You don’t think I could borrow Halaina’s copy of that vampire novel, do you?” I asked. I felt strangely self-conscious about wanting to read it, but I knew I didn’t have the patience to wait until I was through teaching classes tomorrow to try finding it at a bookstore. With the play in town, every copy was probably sold out anyhow.
“Dracula?” Robert inquired.
“Is there more than one?” I responded, trying to recall some of the titles Elizabeth had mentioned to me.
“Christina Rosetti’s uncle wrote one as well,” he informed me. “It’s called simply, The Vampyre. Halaina owns both of them.”
“Could I borrow them both then?” I asked. Robert quirked a brow at me and guiltily, I tried explaining, “I haven’t been sleeping much the past couple nights, and I’m looking for something to occupy my time.”
Still looking somewhat skeptical, Robert nodded and said, “I’ll run up and get them presently. Sarah, could you watch the front desk for a few moments?”
The coat-check girl hurried over, smiling at both Robert and me.
“Thank you, Robert,” I said sincerely. While he was away, I chatted with Sarah. On a whim, I asked, “You don’t know anything about Percival Lawrence, do you?”
“He tips well,” she chirped. “And he’s always polite.”
“How long has he been coming here?” I pressed.
She thought about it, then shrugged. “At least as long as I’ve been here, and that will be two years in the spring.”
Two years. I hadn’t been frequenting Arkana for more than two months, and already everyone seemed to know there was something unusual about me. How had Percival been coming here for two years and escaped notice? Perhaps he and Elizabeth had only been playing out a fantasy after all.
“Is there anything unusual about him?” I pursued.
“There’s something unusual about everyone here,” she responded with a little smirk. “That’s what this place is for.”
I had to concede to her there. I stopped pressing the issue and chatted with her instead about inconsequentials until, with a terrible clatter, Robert arrived back down in the elevator. He had three volumes tucked under one arm.
“Halaina sent down a third book as well,” he said, holding them out to me. “It’s a collection of stories by LeFanu. The story she said you should read is entitled ‘Carmilla.’ She marked the page. Also, be very careful with Polidori’s book. It’s from the 1820s and the spine is getting weak.”
“Thank you, Robert,” I said, glancing at each of the three covers. Wesley was right. Dracula was lurid. Bright yellow, with red lettering, it had a picture of the Count crawling head-first down a castle wall. There was nothing at all romantic or compelling about the portrayal. Did the publisher even realize what the tale was about? “Give Halaina my thanks as well. I’ll have these back to her before the week is out.”
Robert nodded. Sarah ran off to retrieve my hat, cloak, and cane. Remembering what had stood out in her mind about Percival Lawrence, I gave her a sizeable tip and headed out into the night.
I spent the remainder of the night and most of the next morning reading. If I had been expecting Stoker’s book to be great literature, I was sorely disappointed. The first fifty pages were almost enough to discourage me from reading any further, and once I got past the limping introduction, the tale, with all its tedious melodrama, wasn’t much of a reward. Polidori’s shorter novel was no better. The introduction to the characters Aubrey and Ruthven seemed promising, but then the tale degraded into a series of lurid events and coincidences that seemed a stretch of the imagination even in a Gothic romance. LeFanu’s story was more satisfying, although the ending seemed a bit contrived. By the time I was ready to head off to the college, I found myself more confused about the subject of vampires than when I had started out.
All three stories agreed on one point: vampires drank blood. Beyond that simple fact, individual interpretations varied widely. Both Dracula and Carmilla preferred to sleep during the day, and when they had to be up before sunset, they struggled against an overwhelming sense of torpor. Ruthven didn’t seem to mind the day, so long as he had his requisite moonlight. Dracula had an affinity for wolves, while for Carmilla it was great cats. Garlic, wild roses, mirrors, stakes through the heart — all the rest of it was a confusing jumble of nonsense. Trying to get to the heart of what each story portrayed, I came to the conclusion that a vampire was something — Stoker had used the term undead — that had once been mortal and human, but had somehow become changed.
Of course, here was where I had a little laugh. All three stories implied that this change involved the working of infernal powers, a fact which I knew to be patently false. Thomas White had made the same mistake of assuming that those creatures he understood to be demons, and therefore infernal, could somehow confer upon him immortal life and magickal powers. Immortality wasn’t something I could give away, though sometimes I’d have loved to exchange it. And I didn’t know anything of magick. In fact, I made it a point to avoid the kinds of people who did. I knew about spirits and ghosts, but only because I cohabited with them for the better part of my existence. Once White had exhausted all my knowledge in that area, there was precious little he could get from me except sex and slave labor.
I mulled things over while I walked to the school. I knew one thing for certain. My kind had nothing to do with the creation of vampires. If we did, I’d know a great deal more about them than I did. I almost wished I had devoted a little more time to folklore. Considering what I was, it seemed only reasonable that I would, but frankly I’d avoided all things occult precisely because of my nature. My existence was strange and complicated enough without adding anything more to it. Whenever I had a say in the matter, I devoted my time almost exclusively to carnal and aesthetic pursuits. But now I wondered if there wasn’t a bit more to the world around me.
Fiction was clearly no help, so after my afternoon lectures, I strolled over to the university library. I was surprised to discover the extent of their collection on mythology and folklore. After spending more than two hours pouring over various esoteric texts, however, I only succeeded in confusing myself further with regards to the undead. The more I read, the further away seemed the possibility that Percival was anything other than an ordinary man with a less than ordinary fetish. Yet my brief foray into the texts on demonology which I also found in the university’s collection convinced me that no one who claimed to know anything about the supernatural had any idea what they were talking about. If the texts on demons were so far from the truth, then it only made sense that any information I might find on vampires was equally skewed.
Of course, I should have realized all that from my readings the night before.
Finally, I abandoned my research, admitting to myself that I had no head for the occult anyway, and neither did any of the other scholars whose works I had spent the afternoon studying. I decided to meet Percival Lawrence on my own terms. I wasn’t certain it was the wisest idea, but I determined to seek him out in his home. Charity was a small town. It shouldn’t be difficult to learn where he lived.