"He must receive a proper Christian burial."
The statement and the absolute conviction with which it was spoken shocked the remaining four male companions of Mina Harker. Even her husband Jonathan, who was already used to acquiescing to his wife's demands, however preposterous he found them, blanched at the idea of awarding the body of the recently deceased vampire count with such an honor.
"Mina, he is… was a beast. A monster. He deserves nothing from us, and least of all from you," Jonathan tried, but the look in Mina's large chestnut eyes told him that her mind had already been made, the decision set in stone, and no attempts at persuasion, however ardent, would change it.
"Before he became a beast, he was a man, and we don't deny this to anyone, not even the most heinous of criminals," Mina argued. Her eyes were shiny and wet with fresh tears, and her tone of voice betrayed the depth of her raw, unbridled passion for the monster they had worked so hard to hunt down and destroy.
It pained Jonathan to admit that Mina had never spoken to or about him in such a passionate manner. Even after his demise, Dracula seemed to retain his devilish hold over her, and it made the young solicitor fear for their future together. Even though they were now a lawfully wedded couple, joined before the eyes of God in holy matrimony, would he forever remain Mina's second choice for a husband? Would he have to compete for her affections with the ghost of a monster?
Doctor Seward then entered the discussion, his regal features distorted by grief as well as anger. "Quincy is dead, and you speak of the rights of this monster?" he shouted savagely enough to make the woman before him cower. "Have you no shame at all, Mrs. Harker?"
"Now, now, Jack," Van Helsing admonished, stepping forward to simultaneously console and chastise his former student with an arm across his chest. "If it bring comfort to Madam Mina to have the remains of the nosferatu buried in consecrated earth, then buried they shall be. I'll see to it. We are all weary and grieving the loss of our brave friend Quincy, but it gives us no right to abandon our sophisticated ways and act like beasts. If we did, we'd be no better than the creature we came to slay, no?"
Though not wholly convinced and looking like he had a lot more to say, Seward conceded with a small inclination of his head and did not challenge his mentor's stance. His cheeks flushed a deep scarlet.
"I apologize for shouting, Mrs. Harker," he said meekly, ashamed that his grief had prompted such an ungentlemanly reaction from him. "It wasn't my intention to intimidate or accuse…"
"Oh, Doctor Seward, worry not, for I am made of stern stuff," Mina interrupted, placing her small, white and surprisingly unsoiled hand on the psychiatrist's arm to ensure him that there were no ill feelings on her part.
It was almost unimaginable for any of the men to truly think about what those superficially frail, birdlike hands had done just recently. They all strategically avoided looking at Seward's hands, which were maroon with the caked, quickly drying blood of Quincy Morris. No one liked to be reminded of the grim reality of the young American's untimely and ultimately meaningless passing, but they all readily acknowledged that Seward had been Quincy's closest friend and thus took his death the hardest.
"So you are, Madam Mina, and the wisest and kindest of us all," Van Helsing added. "Extending your compassion to everyone whether they deserve it or not. But I must warm you, Madam, that you might be hard-pressed to find a priest willing to perform the burial rites. People in these regions, including the clergy, have a long history of burning the undead."
"I do not care!" Mina ejected hotly, her narrow shoulders squared as if subconsciously preparing for battle. "I'll keep looking until I find one that will give me what I want."
No objection was raised by the menfolk.
Victor Frankenstein began to suspect it was time to move.
No matter how careful he was, no matter how many precautions he took and how well tried to conceal his true nature and his practices, his reputation always seemed to catch up with him sooner or later and force him to relocate. Even though the people here in Romania - his current country of residence - were more superstitious than those in the civilized parts of Europe and stayed away from him mostly out of fear, the circulating rumors of the ghoul, the grave robber, and the body snatcher always found their way back to Victor and compelled him to flee, not so much out of fear as of convenience.
He had stayed in this location for the better part of a half-year; it wasn't much and it certainly did not live up to the sophistication or opulence of is birth place in Geneva, but Victor had long since learned that beggars could not be choosers. Despite its very limited dimensions and lack of modern amenities, the small rented attic apartment offered the privacy needed for someone in his line of work, and it was spacious enough to accommodate a smaller, more mobile and readily assembled version of his laboratory; one that could be easily taken down and reassembled by only one pair of hands.
Victor may have been dubbed mad by his contemporaries, but he was no fool; the pig's heart nailed to his door the other night had sent him a very clear message of how unwanted he was in these regions. Had this been any other occasion, he would have been on the road already, laboratory and all, but an opportunity which seldom presented itself to a scientist of his caliber had compelled him to stay put until he'd had the chance to investigate the rumor.
The blond-haired man - slender but possessing a wiry strength which reflected his equally tenacious mind - raised his head from the table, his excited, thumping heart pumping hard and fast enough to cause a sharp blush in his normally pallid complexion. Victor was no longer young but wrought with the wear and tear of decades of sleepless nights, not enough food, and too much alcohol.
Finally, after such a long wait, he had been given a chance to acquire a much sought-after specimen: the body of what was rumored to be a deceased strigoi. So far there were only rumors and no way of substantiating them, but the news already had Victor on edge. Should he manage to get his hands on this creature, these parts, these materials, it could create previously unimagined possibilities in his research. Materials - not so much the supply, but the limitations imposed by rapid post-mortem cellular decay - had always been a limiting factor in his work. No matter how quickly he acquired them, how short a while they had been dead, or to whatever lengths he went in order to preserve the tissues, there was always decay, and the resulting reanimation presented as a mockery of life rather than a true imitation of the same.
He briefly turned his attention to a contraption that had no practical utility but was nonetheless very dear to him; a monkey's paw which had previously belonged to the late Professor Waldmann. Victor was sometimes comforted, sometimes dispirited by the simplicity of its construction and how utterly insufficient the techniques that had been used to create it were for restoring not only animation but a soul or a sense of purpose to a human reanimant. His research needed a new and previously untried ingredient, and he became more and more convinced that the body of the recently deceased strigoi would offer the solution to a problem that had escaped his grasp for well over a century.
Victor knew he needed to move fast. Even the smallest suspicion of vampirism in these regions was usually dealt with quickly by burning the suspect's remains. He was tempted to follow his typical coping method of using drink to calm his racing heart and frayed nerves, but the thought of what lay ahead of him in the near future made him want to operate with a clear mind and unclouded senses. There was no room for error in a situation like this.
Victor stood up on somewhat shaky legs, momentarily cursing himself for having gravely neglected his body's need for food and rest yet again. He was not a young man anymore. He could not do this indefinitely and expect to get away with it. The limitations of man's physical existence which Victor had devoted his life to defeating constantly reminded him of its looming presence with each new grey strand of hair sprouting from his head, and with each new wrinkle that formed around his often scrunched eyes.
…with each pound of muscle lost from his frame, never to return. With eyes that required the help of spectacles to even be able to pass on important visual information to his magnificent brain. The list went on.
He shakily walked over to the settee that had served as a bed many a night when the doctor was either too weary or too intoxicated to safely make it back to the bedroom. He lay down, not to sleep, not truly, but to get perhaps a tiny wink of rest before undertaking the next big challenge in his eternal quest of battling the seemingly inevitable course of nature. He knew it was a race he was unlikely to win, but he would go down fighting right to the bitter end nonetheless. This fruitless quest was all Victor Frankenstein had left today.
Victor's sleep was usually dreamless, but this time he dreamt about a glowing pair of red eyes in the dark, accompanied by a man's voice, deep and rich, speaking in a language he did not recognize, except for a few jumbled words here and there. Amongst the words he could make out, a phrase stood out, remarkable in its similarity to Latin.
To be continued...