This is the dark tale of Count Dracula, told through chilling journal entries. It starts with Jonathan Harker’s visit to the Count’s castle.
In the castle.
The gray of the morning has passed, and the sun is high over the distant horizon. The horizon isn’t flat, but jagged with trees or hills. I’m not sleepy now, so I’ll write until I fall asleep. There are so many odd things to write down.
I think I’ll start by writing down what I had for dinner before I left the hotel. I ate what they called “robber steak.” It was bits of bacon, onion and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and roasted over a fire. The wine was Golden Mediasch, which gives your tongue a strange sting. It wasn’t disagreeable. I only had a couple glasses of this, and nothing else to drink.
When I got on the coach, the driver had not yet taken his seat, and I saw him talking with owner’s wife. They seemed to be talking about me because every now and then, they looked at me. And some of the people who were sitting on the bench outside the door came and listened, and then looked at me, most of them with an expression of pity. I could hear a lot of words being repeated. Strange words, because there were many nationalities among the group of people. So I quietly took out my multi-lingual dictionary and looked up some of the words. What I found in the dictionary only made me more uneasy.
“Ordog” means Satan, or the devil.
“Pokol” means hell.
“Stregoica” means witch.
“Vrolok” in one language and “vlkoslak” in another language means something like “werewolf” or “vampire.”
(Note to self: I must ask the Count about these superstitions.)
When the coach finally departed, the crowd standing around the hotel door, which for some reason increased to a large number of people, all made gestures and pointed at me. They made signs of the cross by tapping their shoulders, head and stomach. With some difficulty, I asked another passenger on the coach. I tried to ask him what those people were doing and why. He would not answer me at first, but when he realized that I was English, he explained that it was a charm or guard against the “evil eye.”
This wasn’t very pleasant for me, however, it’s good to know that the people here were so kind-hearted, sorrowful and sympathetic. It touched my heart.
I will never forget my last glimpse of the hotel yard and its crowd of figures, all drawing the shape of a cross on their body as they stood under the wide archway, with rich foliage and orange trees in the background.
Our driver cracked his whip over his four small horses, and we set off on our journey.
I soon lost sight of the hotel and stopped thinking about the ghostly fears. The trail we drove down was so beautiful that it put my mind at ease. Ahead of us, the green sloping land was full of forests and woods. Here and there, I could see steep hills, with trees or farmhouses on top. Everywhere I looked, there was a bewildering amount of fruit trees—apple, plum, pear, and cherry. As we passed them, I could see the pink and white fallen petals over the green grass.
The road was rugged, but the coach seemed to fly over it in a panicked hurry. At the time, I couldn’t understand why on Earth he seemed to be in such a hurry. Later I learned that he was determined to reach Borgo Prund as quickly as possible.
As we continued on, the landscape became more jagged. The afternoon sun was falling and it brought out the beautiful colors of the distant hills—deep blue and purple in the shadows, green and brown where the grass and rock mingled. The hills and mountains were steeper, and the snowy peaks were grand.
One of the other passengers touched my arm as we drove around the base of a hill, and came into view of a snow-covered mountain in front of us. He said:
“Look! Isten Szek! God’s seat!” And he crossed himself.
As we continued down the winding road, the sun sank lower and lower behind us. The shadows of the evening began to creep closer. The snowy mountain top swallowed the sunset and seemed to glow with a delicate pink. Here and there, we passed some groups of people, Cszeks and Slovaks, all wearing fashionable attire. I began to notice just how prevalent religion was in these parts. By the roadside, there were many crosses, and as we drove by, all the passengers moved their hands swiftly across the front of their bodies, crossing themselves. I saw several men and woman kneeling in front of small shrines, and none of them lifted their eyes to see us driving past. They seemed to be in complete devotion to prayer, without eyes or ears for the outer world.
As evening fell, it began to get very cold. The twilight seemed to merge into one dark mistiness. The gloom of the trees—oak, beech, and pine—stood our against the background of snow that had been leftover from the winter. Sometimes, the darkness between the trees produced a weird and solemn feeling. It carried my thoughts back to my memories of the people outside the hotel crossing themselves as they watched our coach leave. The ghost-like clouds seemed to wind ceaselessly through the valleys. Sometimes the hills were so steep that, despite our driver’s haste, the horses would only go slowly. I wanted to get off the coach and walk along—that’s what we usually do in London in order to make it easier for the horses to climb the steep hill—but the driver absolutely refused.
“No, no,” he said. “You must not walk here. The wolves are too fierce.” And then he added, with some kind of grim pleasantry, “and you may have enough trouble before you go to sleep.” The only time he stopped the coach was just to quickly light the lamps.
When it became dark, the other passengers seemed restless, and they kept speaking to the driver, one after another, as though they were urging him to go faster. He whipped the horses fiercely and shouted at them to increase their speed. Up ahead, through the darkness, I could see a patch of gray light. The passengers became more excited, and the coach rocked on its springs like a boat on a stormy sea. I had to hold on. The mountain path became level, and the horses picked up speed. We were going through a valley and the mountains on both sides were close. It was like the mountains were frowning down at us as we entered the Borgo Pass. One by one, the passengers offered me gifts. It surprised me, but they each gave me a small trinket while muttering kind words (a blessing?). Their movements seemed fearful, and they gestured the sign of the cross.
Continuing along, the driver leaned forward and peered eagerly into the darkness. It was evident that something very exciting was expected. I tried to ask the other passengers, but no one would give me any explanation. This state of nervous tension continued on for some time. At last, we saw the Pass in front of us, opening out on the eastern side.
There were dark, rolling clouds overhead, and the air seemed to be holding back thunder. The mountain range looked as if it had two separate atmospheres, and now we had passed into the thunderous one.
We were nearing the stop where I intended to get off. I started looking around for the carriage that was supposed to meet us and take me to the Count. Each moment, I expected to see the light of lamps approaching, but it was all dark ahead. The only light was the flickering rays of our own lamps. We could see the sandy road ahead, but there was no sign of another vehicle. The passengers relaxed with a sigh of relief—the opposite of my disappointment.
The driver looked at his watch and said something quietly to the other passengers. I think he said, “We are an hour early.”
Then, he turned to me and said in German that was worse than my own:
“There is no carriage here. There must have been a mistake. You will now come with us to Bukovina. You can return here tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.” While he was speaking, the horses began to neigh and snort and kick wildly. The driver had to pull the reigns to control them.
Then, the passengers screamed in unison and crossed themselves. A carriage, with four horses had appeared behind us. It drove up to us and stopped beside our coach. I could see by the light of our lamps that the horses were coal-black and powerful animals. They were driven by a tall man, with a long brown beard and a great black hat, which hid his face from us. I could only see the gleam of his eyes, which seemed red in the lamplight, as he turned towards us.
He said to the driver, “You are early tonight, my friend.”
The man stammered in reply, “The Englishman was in a hurry.”
And to that, the mysterious man responded, “That is why, I suppose, you wanted him to go with you to Bukovina? I know you are lying to me. You cannot deceive me. I know too much, and my horses are fast.” As he spoke, he smiled, and the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp teeth that were as white as ivory.
The passenger next to me whispered, “Denn die Todten reiten schnell.” I know that it means “The dead travel fast.”
The strange driver must have heard the words, because he looked up with a gleaming smile. The passenger turned his face away while crossing himself.
“Give me the gentleman’s luggage,” said the driver.
With exceeding speed, my bags were handed over.
I got down from the coach and got into the carriage. The driver helped me up, grabbing my arm with a grip of steel. His strength surprised me.
Without a word, he shook the reins. The horses turned and we swept into the darkness of the Pass. As I looked back, I saw the coach in the light of the lamps, and the figures the passengers all crossing themselves. The driver cracked his whip and they flew off on their way to Bukovina. I watched them rush away into the darkness until their light faded from my view. I felt a strange chill, and a lonely feeling came over me. But a blanket was thrown over my shoulders, and another over my knees, and the driver said in excellent German:
“The night is chilly, and my master, the Count, told me to take care of you. There is a flask of slivovitz (the local plum brandy) underneath the seat, if you need a drink.”
I didn’t take any, but it was a comfort to know it was there.
Though I felt a little strange, I didn’t feel frightened. If there had been an alternative to this journey, I would have preferred it.
The carriage drove straight along at a hard pace, and then we made a complete turn and went along another straight road. It seemed to me that we were simply going back and forth, and back and forth again. I tested my suspicions by making a mental note of a landmark. After a turn, I saw that we passed the same landmark again.
I wanted to ask the driver why he was just going back and forth, but I was afraid. Even if I protested, there might have been a logical reason for delaying our travel like this.
Though I didn’t question the driver, I was curious to know how much time had passed. I lit a match, and by its flame, I read my watch. It was a few minutes before midnight. This gave me a shock, because I remembered that the local superstition was that evil can run free at the stroke of midnight. I waited with a sick feeling of suspense.
Then, a dog began to howl somewhere in a farmhouse down the road. The dog’s wailing was long and agonized—like it was fearful. Another dog joined the howling, and then another dog, and another. Soon, the howling, as if it was riding the wind, filled the Pass. A wild howling from the wolves in the mountains began, and it came from every direction, as far as my imagination could grasp.
From the first howl, the horses reacted nervously, straining against the reins. But the driver spoke to them soothingly, and they quieted down. They still shivered as they ran, though.
Then, far off in the distance, the wolves began a sharper, louder howl. The horses, and even I, became tense with the desire to flee. The horses reared and kicked, and the driver had to use all his strength to keep them in control. In a few minutes, however, my ears got accustomed to the sound. The driver stopped the carriage to get off. He stood next to the horses, petting and soothing them, and whispering in their ears. I’ve heard of horse-tamers doing such things. After a few moments, the horses seemed manageable again, although they still trembled. The driver took his seat again, shook his reins, and we drove off at high speed. This time, after going to the far side of the Pass, he suddenly turned down a narrow road which turned sharply to the right.
The road was so narrow that it was squeezed by trees which arched over the road like a tunnel. Even though we were in such a thick forest, we could hear the rising wind crashing through the branches of the trees.
The night grew colder and colder, and powdery snow began to fall. Soon, everything, including us, was covered with a white blanket. The wind still carried the howling of the dogs, though the sound grew fainter as we continued on. The cries of the wolves, however, sounded nearer and nearer, as if they were surrounding us from every side. I felt dreadfully afraid, and the horses shared my fear. The driver, however, was not at all disturbed. He kept looking from left to right, but I couldn’t see anything in the darkness.
Suddenly, way to the left, I saw a faint flicker of a blue flame. The driver saw it at the same moment. He stopped the horses at once, jumped to the ground and disappeared into the darkness. I didn’t know what to do and the sound of the wolves made me less sure of myself. But before I could even think of a plan, the driver suddenly reappeared and took his seat without saying a word. We resumed our journey.
At some point, I think I must have fallen asleep. I must have kept dreaming of this incident, because it seemed to happen again and again endlessly. Now, thinking back on it, it was kind of like an awful nightmare.
One time in these nightmares, the flame appears so close to the road that even in the darkness, I could see the driver’s motions. He went swiftly to where the blue flame was—it must have been a very faint flame because it didn’t illuminate the place very much—and gathered a few stones and put them together to form a sort of device.
In another nightmare, there was a strange optical illusion: when he stood between me and the flame, somehow, I could still see the flame. It was as if he was invisible, and I could see the ghostly flicker through his body. This startled me, but it only happened momentarily. Perhaps it was just my eyes that deceived me.
Then, for a long time, we sped onwards without any blue flames. The howling of the wolves never ceased, and it was as if we were traveling in the middle of a moving circle of wolves.
At last, a blue flame appeared and the driver got down from the carriage and went further into the forest than he had gone before. While he was gone, the horses began to tremble worse than ever and they snorted and screamed with fright. At first, I wasn’t sure why, because the wolves had suddenly stopped howling. But just then, the moon, which had been hidden by black clouds, appeared brightly in the sky. By the moonlight, I saw a terrible sight. The wolves had formed a ring around us. They had white teeth and rolling red tongues, and long limbs and shaggy fur. Compared to the howling, they were a hundred times more frightening in the grim silence.
I was paralyzed with fear.
All at once, the wolves howled as though the moonlight had energized them. The horses jumped and reared. Their eyes rolled around helplessly. We were completely surrounded and the horses didn’t dare try to bolt out of the circle.
Desperately, I called out to the driver to come back. Surely, only he could break us out of this ring of terror. I shouted and beat my hands on the side of the carriage, hoping that the noise would scare the wolves on that side of the circle, giving the driver a chance to dash back to the carriage.
How he came back, I don’t know. But I looked up when I heard his voice booming a command. He was standing in the roadway in front of the carriage. As he swept his long arms, as if he was brushing aside tall grass, the wolves stepped back, and back more. Just then, a heavy cloud covered the moon so that we were in complete darkness again.
When I could see again, the driver was climbing back into the carriage, and the wolves had disappeared. This was all so strange that I was afraid to move or speak. I couldn’t keep track of the time as we continued driving on.
It was too dark to see, but I could feel us ascending, up and up a hill. Suddenly, I realized that we were entering a courtyard of a vast ruined castle. A castle with tall black windows that had no light, and whose battered rooftops were jagged against the moonlit sky.