the silver room
Caitlyn pushed herself into the corner of the room so her back pressed against the wall. Shadows lurked in the corner opposite her—taunting her, threatening her. The little lamp beside the old bed shed warm orange light, but only on one half of the room. It just wasn’t enough.
And it was that half of the room, the one that was dark and shadowy, that had swallowed her teddy bear. It was the last thing she had to remind her of home. She needed it. And getting it back might call for some desperate measures.
Very cautiously, she unwrapped her arms from around her legs and scooted to the edge of the bed. She peered over the edge, then cringed and shuffled back. There had to be something under there. The lamp wasn’t enough light, and she couldn’t take it with her to get her teddy back.
Maybe she could just leap off the bed, run over there, grab the bear, and sprint back before something grabbed her. She was speedy enough. She was always the fastest one on her soccer team before they moved out of Halifax, and she always managed to escape when Abby tried to chase her for doing something wrong. But this wasn’t soccer, and Abby was old and slow. Monsters were probably super fast. They could catch a little girl.
Her mother always assured her of that, when she was telling her the stories before bed.
No, running was out of the question. Caitlyn sighed heavily and jutted her lip out in a pout as she stared into the shadows. She wanted the bear back. If only her dad were here; he could get it for her. He wasn’t afraid of anything. But there were no daddies or Abbies to help her chase off these monsters.
“Meanie,” she whispered, glaring at the darkness across from her. Those monsters under the bed and hiding in the shadows probably took the bear so she would go get it. They probably wanted her to try something adventurous, just so they could have a kid to snack on.
Maybe she could trick the monsters into thinking she was sleepwalking—no, no, monsters were probably smart as well as fast. Tricking wouldn’t work. Maybe they could make a truce? It worked with Emma and Sydney when they were playing games, so why shouldn’t it work with things that lurked in the dark?
A creak interrupted her thoughts, and a brilliant pillar of light briefly lit up the room as the door opened. Caitlyn spotted the worn bear lying a few feet from the end of her bed, but didn’t move to get it.
She watched as a tall man slipped into the room. He toed the door nearly shut, leaving a bit of light from the hallway spilling in. Long, skinny, proper—he was what her mom used to call a Proper Brit. Caitlyn had met him a few times before, and thought her mom had been related to him somehow.
Lines around his mouth deepened as he smiled warmly at her. Caitlyn beamed back. “Hi, Mister Wentworth! I lost a tooth!” she exclaimed, showing off the gaping hole in the front of her mouth. “Will the tooth fairy find me here?”
“I don’t know, Caitlyn. I can’t say I know her routes. How are you?”
“A little sleepy. And my mouth hurts. Can you get me my bear? It fell off the bed last night, and I don’t want to get it.”
He chuckled and stooped. In a moment, the bear was back in her arms. His dark eyes lingered on her for a moment, and his jaw moved as he chewed on his lip. Seeing the gesture sent a fresh wave of sorrow over her. Her mom used to do the same.
“Caitlyn, can you talk to me for a bit?”
She frowned and held the bear closer. “Why? Is he making you do this again? Mom wouldn’t want you to keep asking me questions.”
“No, she wouldn’t,” he agreed. Exhaustion was etched not only in the lines of his face, but in his voice as well. “But this is my job, Caty. Please answer some questions.”
She hesitated and shifted her weight on her knees. “Are you going to ask me again?”
The old man sighed and licked his lips. “I… I don’t think so.”
Caitlyn pouted again, but decided against using stubbornness to get her way. Abby always got mad at her for being stubborn, and she knew that if her dad wasn’t so tired all the time, he would too. Instead, she kissed the bear’s head and held him out. “You need him more than me, Mister Wentworth,” she said.
Something flickered over his face. Sadness, and something else Caitlyn couldn’t understand. He touched the button eyes of the bear, then seemed to deflate. “Thank you, Caitlyn,” he whispered, then added, louder, “Mister Holman, sir—”
“Yes, yes, I heard, Robert.” The voice echoing from the hallway was hoarse and thick, as if the speaker had a frog with a bad head cold stuck in his throat. Caitlyn swallowed and held her breath as he pushed through the doorway, bringing a cloud of smoke with him. He was Mister Wentworth’s opposite: he was fat where Mister Wentworth was thin, short where Mister Wentworth was tall, and gross where Mister Wentworth was nice and sweet and proper.
“Be gentle with her, sir,” Mister Wentworth said softly. He backed away from the bed to give more room to Holman. “She won’t talk if you continue to shout.”
“She doesn’t tell me anything anyways, Robert,” Holman snapped. The smoke curled from a fat cigar in his fingers, and he waved this at his employee. “Would you just get whatever you’re up to over with? I’m meeting someone for new business in an hour, and I don’t want to have to babysit a little brat the whole time.”
Caitlyn crossed her arms and flopped back on the bed. Anything they ever said in her presence involved her dad’s work, and that bored her to death. She only knew a little about it because she had asked one question and bam! He had told her everything about it.
She had always been way more interested in her mom’s work anyway. Art was better than business.
And now the two were arguing, but they were being sure to keep their voices low, acting like she wasn’t even in the room.
She sighed and clapped her pillow over her chest. It was just like when her mom and dad used to fight.
Quite unconsciously, she began to chew on her lip as she stared up at the stucco ceiling. She had tried and failed before to find shapes in the plaster. In her old room, the one in Halifax, she could see ships and eyes and animals in the ceiling. Not here, and not in the house in London.
Her eyes prickled with tears, and she rubbed her eyes with her fists. Was she still in London? She had no idea. She hadn’t been there too long, but it had to be long enough for Abby to call the police. They had been in a crowded museum together when Caitlyn wandered off. It was too easy to miss a little girl in a mass of people. And she would bet anything that nobody saw who took her.
She looked over. The men were finished snarling at each other like dogs.
“Caitlyn, please… please just answer some questions. Just tell him what he needs to know, please.”
“But I don’t know,” she insisted, as she had each time they came to her. “I don’t know anything about it!”
Mister Wentworth frowned, and the desperation was clear in his eyes. “But you told me he told you all about it.”
“I don’t remember anything.” And that was the truth. He had explained just about every aspect of his business to her, but she hadn’t remembered a thing of it.
Behind Mister Wentworth, Holman’s piggy face screwed up in a grimace. The room was foggy with smoke as he continued to suck back the cigar. “She’s lying,” he spat. “She knows what he does. She knows about that goddamn program. And she knows where he keeps it.”
Holman loomed over her, lip pulled back in a sneer. She clamped her teeth into her lip and held her breath. This close, she could see the faint lines in his face and the menacing glint in his dark eyes.
“So where is it, eh? I’m sick of listening to your goddamn excuses, girl. I know he told you about his program, and I know you remember.”
“But I don’t! Why don’t you believe me?”
A rumbling snarl escaped from Holman’s lips, and he straightened. “Robert, do you have the key to the silver room with you? We won’t be asking you anymore questions right now, girl.” His voice was suddenly calm, void of anger. It made ripples of terror crawl down her spine.
“The silver room? Yes, sir, but—”
“Take her there.”
Caitlyn frowned. The silver room? That didn’t sound that bad. She pictured an entire room dedicated to silverware, like a shrine. The image made her snort with laughter, and Holman shot her another dark glower.
“Sir? She’s only a girl and that… that’s inhuman…”
Holman took another puff of the cigar, and the tip briefly glowed red. “I don’t give a shit, Robert. I’ve got to be somewhere in an hour. Tight schedule, you know. So take her there, before I get testy.”
“Sir, can’t you see how wrong that is? It’s the only one we’ve managed to find—think how much money it could fetch if you exposed its reality to the world. Think who it is! And think about what would happen if you found more… or if you found any of the others. Why waste your—your experiment on a little girl? Keep it… keep it for later.”
Holman stared at Wentworth for a long time. Finally, he said, “Bring her to the silver room, Robert. I’ll meet you there.”
Once he left and the smoky room cleared of tension, Caitlyn looked up at Mister Wentworth and asked, “What’s the silver room?”
His lips pressed together and he exhaled through his nose. He gazed at her for a moment, then handed her the bear and beckoned for her to follow as he left the room. She cradled the toy to her chest and reluctantly followed. She rarely left the room, and she didn’t want to go to a place that probably housed a shrine for silver forks and spoons.
Adults were weird.
Eyes wide and jaw clenched, she shuffled out of the room and followed Mister Wentworth. The two made their way down to the end of the hall, then another to the left, and then the right, passing unlabelled wooden doors along the way. Soon, they came to an archway that opened to a large room, decorated with fine furniture meant for entertaining. The walls, covered in fine paper, were blank except for a single large portrait of Alfred Holman.
Caitlyn cringed at it. It was well done, sure, but who decorated their house with a painting of themselves?
So distracted was she that she didn’t notice what Mister Wentworth did, but when she looked back a door had opened in the wall. Beyond was total blackness.
She hesitated, her breath catching in her throat. “Is there no light?” she asked, squeezing the bear close.
Mister Wentworth shook his head and nudged her forward. They stood at the edge of darkness for only a moment, then he shut the door.
Perfect blackness devoured them.
They stood in silence for some time. Well, almost silence. Caitlyn could hear her heart thudding dementedly away in her chest, and her breathing was loud in her ears, but there was something too quiet in the background that made icy fingers crawl up her spine. The room was chilling, colder than a fine sprinkle of snow. The invisible walls seemed to be swelling and deflating, breathing around them.
Something clanged, shattering the silence. She gasped, her heart skipped, and she backed into Mister Wentworth’s legs.
What bothered her most was the whispering she heard in her head. It was a low male voice with an accent that sounded eerily like her father’s. She couldn’t tell what the voice said, but it sounded like a curse in some ancient tongue. A shiver rippled through her flesh, and she reached for Mister Wentworth’s hand.
She jumped when the door opened. Sudden bright light washed through the room, but the door shut before she could see why it was called the silver room—and the chanting in her mind instantly stilled.
The sudden reek of smoke announced Holman’s arrival. Shortly after the door shut behind him, he said, “Robert, hold this.”
“What is it?”
“A candle. I can’t see a bloody fricking thing in here. Hold still.”
“Have you put more thought into connecting the electricity in here?”
Holman made a choked noise—from fear? Or something more?—in his throat as he lit a match. His face was illuminated as it flared to life, and he touched the trembling flame to the candle Mister Wentworth held. Once it was lit, he dropped the match and took the candle, gripping it so tightly his fat knuckles turned white, and he whispered, “Then it could see.”
A sudden low laugh ripped through Caitlyn’s mind, and she jerked backward, startled. Dread swiftly filled her, and she pressed herself against the wall, close to Mister Wentworth. Both men with her jumped—they heard it too, but she could have sworn that it hadn’t been her ears that picked up the sound. It had been inside her head.
She was certain that the silver room did not contain silverware.
“Jesus Christ,” Holman hissed. “Leave, Robert.”
“Bloody hell, if you say one more thing about the profits it could make, or how she’s just a kid, I’ll feed you to it myself! Goddamn it, Robert, get out!”
This time, she knew it came from somewhere in the room. The downy hairs on the back of her neck lifted when the deep, quiet voice murmured teasingly, “Yes, say one more thing, Robert. Let him feed you to it.”
Mister Wentworth was all too ready to obey Holman this time. He spared one apologetic glance for Caitlyn, whispered, “Please forgive me,” and left the room. For the fraction the door was open, Caitlyn thought she saw something hunched in the corner, but the door shut and they were once again trapped in suffocating darkness.
This had to be a way of unnerving her so she would tell them about her father’s work. That was the only logical explanation for this madness.
Or was it?
Caitlyn glanced up at Al, suddenly grateful for his presence and the candle. Whatever else was in this room, it had to be worse than him.
He licked his lips and glanced around the room. “Well, Miss Negrescu, I’m not going to ask you anything about your father’s program right now, all right? I’m still going to… well, let’s just get to it, hm? I don’t like this room all too much. I think the man who sold me this house forgot to tell me it’s haunted.” If he was trying to sound nice, it was failing. There was a definite panicked note in his voice, and the smile forced on his lips was pained and wavering.
“Ghosts aren’t real,” she whispered, too quietly for him to overhear. They were bold words from a cowardly girl. After watching ghost movies at her friend Emma’s house, she believed that the supernatural was far too real.
“Your father’s from Romania, isn’t he?” When Caitlyn nodded, Holman did the same and exhaled slowly. “Yes, he’s still got an accent. He’s from Bucharest, isn’t he? The capital?”
“He’s from Braşov.”
“Ah, yes, that’s right. Thank you. You’ve been?”
“Has he brought you to Bran Castle? I hear it’s a very popular tourist destination.”
“A beautiful creation,” something in the room whispered, and the temperature dropped several crucial degrees.
“I’ve been there,” she said, swallowing a lump in her throat and wishing the candle lit the room better. They should have brought the lamp. Or a flashlight.
“Have you heard the stories about Bran Castle and Romania?” Holman asked. “About how it was once populated by creatures called vampires? I’ve heard through the grapevine that your mother used to tell you stories about vampires. Odd, isn’t it? That she believed in Romanian creatures even though she was Irish? Maybe your father believes in leprechauns and pots of gold,” he added, chuckling at his joke.
“Vampires aren’t real.” This time it was something she believed. She and Emma had been to chicken to watch Dracula after the ghost movies.
“Is that what you think? It’s what your father thinks, isn’t it? And what most of the world thinks? But not what your mother thought. You see, I’m like her.” Whatever had calmed him during the run of the conversation was edging away, and the fear crept back into his voice. “I believe in them.”
“They aren’t real…”
“You’re wrong. In fact, I own one.”
Another metallic song danced through the chilly air, and the quiet voice with the growling accent hissed, “You could never own one of the strigoi morţi.”
The corner of Holman’s mouth turned downward, but he remained as courageous as possible. “May I introduce Fane Dracul?” he said, lifting his arm to the blackness. The flickering orange light reflected off something shiny and silver, and Caitlyn stared in horror. This had to be a trick… an optical illusion… she was dreaming…
This dream was a nightmare. The thing before her looked like a man, but this was no ordinary man. Though it was bent over on the floor in the corner, it looked like a giant. Its hair was deep ebony, a little too long, and the dancing light of the flame caused strands of red, gold, and deep brown to pierce the shadows. A few loose strands fell before his face, covering eyes from hell itself. They were narrowed with menace, locked on Alfred Holman, and a deep, blood-chilling scarlet, highlighted with vermillion, crimson, and dark orange. The colour of spilled human blood.
The flesh was pulled taut over hollow cheeks and a long nose. It was a stark contrast to the hair, as it was whiter than snow, but showed no spidery blue veins underneath, as fair skin often did. The chin was narrow and somewhat pointed, and the brow was smooth with immaculate black eyebrows.
This thing wore a bizarre assortment of clothes. Black trousers and outdated polished shoes. A white shirt with belled sleeves, hugging a thin torso with a black waistcoat. It was borderline skinny, but somehow Caitlyn knew it was powerful—horrifyingly powerful.
Even though thick silver manacles were clamped about its wrists and it was chained to the wall behind it, the thing emanated glory and royal magnificence.
It was terrifying.
Caitlyn couldn’t look away, and the image was burned into her eyes.
“Dracul is part of a very unusual clan of people in Romania, Miss Negrescu,” Holman said, his arm still extended to expose the monster. “They call themselves strigoi morţi. We call them vampires. You know the tales. Blood-suckers, the lot of them. Don’t judge him by his appearance, girl. He’s smart. Got to be, having lived over four hundred years. He was aggressive when we found him; we had to lock him up with silver. It’s true, those legends. Silver burns them.
“You see, girl, this is a bit of a hobby of mine. I’ve found the major hideouts of the strigoi morţi, and researched their habits and weaknesses. They have an army and a monarchy, did you know? And, as with any good governmental system, they have allies.”
Holman cleared his throat and etched a smile onto his lips. “They are known to associate with the vârcolaci—werewolves, in English. There’s also the elf-folk, and the banshees here in Britain. And valkyries up north, and angels.”
“A-Angels?” She gawked at him, dumbstruck. “What?”
“Angels. They’re exactly what they sound like. It’s a strange world we live in, girl.”
Her breath had been yanked from her throat, and she stared at him, incapable of forming words that might make sense of this situation.
“Isn’t he glorious?” he asked, waving a hand toward the creature in the corner. “I hear that his people call him Dracula, but that’s just a story. Made by an Irishman, like your mum.”
The ashen lips parted, and the monster murmured, “It is more real than you think, Mister Holman.”
A shiver danced through her at the sound of his voice. Holman seemed to have a similar reaction; the light of the candle trembled.
“Unless you’re going to be helpful, Dracul…”
“It is fact,” the thing continued. “And your information is not quite correct.”
Holman’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. “See, girl? Smart. And arrogant. Want to spend more time with him?”
She reluctantly stole another glance at it to see the blood red gaze on her now. The lids were partially lowered, as if the thing was bored. Biting her lip, she peered discreetly at its wrists, where the silver shackles remained. As if it knew she was watching, it shifted so the skin of its wrists was visible. Caitlyn cringed and looked back at the floor. The snow-white skin was raw and reddened, with twisting, vein-like lines and marks that looked like scabs.
“No,” she whispered, shutting her eyes. The image of the scorched flesh remained in her vision.
“Makes sense,” Holman remarked. He exhaled, and the reek of smoke became stronger. “So, if you could just answer a few questions…”
“I’ve told you millions of times!” she cried. “I don’t know anything about his dumb program!”
Holman gave her an icy smile and blew a perfect smoke ring on her face. She reeled back, choking. “I’m sure Dracul would love your company girl. You can argue together. Goodnight.”
He thrust the candle toward her, and she took it mechanically, gawking after him. Just as he whirled around and opened the door, blasting a beam of electric light into the room for just a moment, the full horror of her situation smacked her, and she took a step toward him.
“I’ll tell you—”
But the door shut before she could finish, and the key turned in the lock with a definite thud.
Caitlyn backed into the corner opposite the—the thing and slid to the ground, setting the candle beside her. She hugged the bear to her chest and pulled her knees to her, biting her lip to keep the tears from falling freely.
This couldn’t be real. Alfred Holman had to have something important missing in his head, to be feeding her lies about fantasy creatures that existed only in movies and stories. They weren’t real. Ghosts, yeah, angels, yeah, but not vampires and werewolves and elves and banshees and valkyries—unless you were Gaelic or Scandinavian for the last two, and really stuck to the old myths.
“The old myths are what the new myths, the Hollywood myths, are based upon,” the creature remarked.
Caitlyn shut her eyes and wished it would just stop speaking. If Holman was telling the truth and this thing wasn’t human, then it was a demon. While she wasn’t an extremely devout person, her mother had been, and prayers were once a common part of their lives.
If mundane times like dinner and bedtime were meant for prayer, then so was this: sitting in the company of a demon, if it was truly a vampire—a strigoi mort.
Keeping her voice to herself and speaking to the bear and her knees, she mumbled, “Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name—”
“Deliver us from evil?”
Caitlyn glanced over her kneecaps. It was barely visible in the gloom of their prison, but she could see that the ashen lips were tugged into a cocky smirk. “That comes later,” she said.
“I was once told that to believe in God was to believe in the strigoi morţi—the vampires,” it said. Its accent was strong, much stronger than her father’s, but despite the growling catch it didn’t frighten her like her dad’s did when he got angry. Or maybe she was just startled into an emotionless stupor.
What was strange though—or not, if she really thought about it—was that it spoke without any emotion. Void.
“Is it?” The creature shifted; she could only tell because of the metallic clang as the chains clinked together. “Tell me, Christian girl, what is your name? You know mine. It would only be polite if the pleasantries were properly taken care of.”
She didn’t know quite why, but she didn’t want it to know her name. To distract it, she said, “I-I don’t remember yours.”
“Is that so? I never thought it was so difficult to remember,” it remarked. It was conversational, but its voice always remained carefully level. “Four letters are not so frustrating. Very well. I am Fane Vladislav Drăculea—or perhaps Dracul to you, for humans truly are ignorant.”
Something compelled her to give her name fully. Perhaps it was because it was what the creature had done, or maybe something else drove her to do it. “C-Caitlyn Gabrielle Negrescu,” she whispered, and prayed silently for strength.
It was silent. Maybe it was finally finished speaking, and Caitlyn could have a chance to sleep and wake from this nightmare.
But it spoke again. “Pure godly strength of the black-haired one.”
“Pure godly strength of the black-haired one. The meanings of your names.”
Caitlyn pinched her chapped lip between her teeth, squinting through the gloom to see the dark shadow before her. It was watching her with narrowed eyes, its head cocked to the side like it was appraising her in an art show—or a a feast.
“Oddly suiting, no? It is rare that children are named for their lot in life, or for who they are, in this modern era. You seem to be the exception.”
“Pure… your blood, it is the purest type. I can smell it from here. It is the untouched blood of a young female virgin. Purity and richness in its most glorious form. You radiate strength from you; it crushes your fear of me, of what you do not know, and of the monsters you so readily fear.”
Before thinking it through, she blurted, “What are you?”
The thing gave a low chuckle, and it was oddly warm compared to its prior laughter. “What am I? Am I not but a human being, like you? Or am I something much more? Am I something completely unholy? Am I the ruler of the night, prince of the undead, son of the Devil, voivode of the strigoi morţi—vampire? The fool who has imprisoned me seems to believe this.”
“Is… is he wrong?”
“How would you react if I told that were true? That I was only being held here because Alfred Holman speaks the raving of a madman? He could misconstrue my appearance with that of the strigoi morţi. I could be little more than a diseased man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, little one, this is not so.
“My name condemns me. Vladislav, the name of my father, of the father of my people, and Dracul—Dracula. And my own meanings: crown, glorious ruler, dragon—or as modern language says, son of the Devil. People must instantly assume the worse. My people are forced by fear of death to assume aliases. These are useless against men who understand the ways of the strigoi morţi.
“Alfred Holman is one of those special few. He knew my most often used false identities. He knew my appearance, my accent, my way of speech. And when his minions encountered me, they could not help but take me to their employer, to exhibit their trophy. I was weak. I had not fed in nearly a day, which is just long enough to render my power near to uselessness. Mister Holman believes that my identity can be used to earn uncountable sums. He wishes to prove that creatures of myth do exist in this unbelieving world. He locks me in silver for fear that I will escape his freak show. I am kept alive by being fed the blood of rats once a day. I am weak. I am exhausted. I have been locked here for over a month. Escape would be simple if only I had real blood… pure blood…”
“Why not just get Mister Holman then? His blood must be real.”
“Real, certainly, but foul, and he has never given me a chance to incapacitate him. He visits me very rarely, and approaches me even less.”
Caitlyn gave it a hard stare—or rather, gave what she could see of it a hard stare. The candlelight was low, and she could barely see its face.
She blinked, realizing that the creature’s torso was bent forward and its face was pointed to her, nose in the air and eyes shut. Even from where she sat across the room, she could hear it inhaling and sniffing.
“What are you doing?” she asked, startled. The immediate terror of being locked away with this ting was fading, and for the moment she was just grateful to have company.
“I can smell your blood. It smells delicious.”
“Pure blood… if you had pure blood, could you get out?”
The eyes snapped open and fastened on her, and its lips parted. Caitlyn shrunk back, horrified. Set in its mouth where normal people had canine teeth were two fangs, at least half an inch long each. All of its teeth were somewhat crowded, and were an interesting off-white coated in a fine film of red. Stuck around the gums and edging the teeth were darker, blacker patches where, it seemed, blood had clumped rather than be… ingested.
“Pure blood… your blood… it would give me the strength to break free of this prison and return home to my people.”
The chains chimed again. It moved its hand to the ground beside its leg, and she noticed that its right hand was clenched in a tight fist, whereas the left was completely relaxed. Her frown deepened, but she didn’t ask.
Silence overtook the room. No longer did it feel as though the walls were breathing, pulsing around them, and Caitlyn’s heart returned to a beat that wasn’t so erratic. She didn’t know the time, but a distinct heaviness began pulling at her eyelids. The Sandman had arrived.
“Do you believe in angels?” it asked, just before she fell asleep.
She yawned and leaned her forehead on her knees. “Yes.”
There was another bout of silence from across the room, just long enough for her to reach the point of no return, where it was impossible to keep her eyes open. Then it remarked, “You had better pray to them. We may require their assistance.”