Chapter 5: This Old House
BRENDAN Quinn sat, jaw agape, trying to process the tale he had just been told, of centuries-old vampires and the traveling circus clan that hunted them. Of Abraham Van Helsing who, it turns out, was not just a figment of Bram Stoker’s imagination. That nothing was a figment of Bram Stoker’s imagination, that it had all been real and sold as fiction to make a buck and support Van Helsing’s team.
BQ had never been what you would call a scholar of classic literature, but he remembered studying Dracula in a college writing course and being chilled to the bone. Now, much more than his bones were chilled.
“Are you okay?” Hannah asked him.
BQ nodded. “I’m good, just… wow.”
“So you’re, what, descended from Abraham Van Helsing?”
She gave a noncommittal shrug. “In a manner of speaking. I… my family, we were recruited to work for Abraham, generations ago, and the tale I told you is the tale I learned as a child. Von Port was not our given name, but after so many years in the carnival it just stuck.”
BQ shook his head, “Crazy. Abraham and Tituba, what happened to them?”
Hannah’s face clouded over, “The history there is a little hazy. It’s over a hundred years ago now. I know that Tituba lived a long life, long enough to make it to America near the turn of the century and find success as a seamstress and nanny.”
Hannah produced a small leather booklet. Inside it was an old, yellowed photo of a very black woman standing next to a very young child, a toddler really, one or two years old.
“1921,” Hannah said. “Tituba would be about 50 years old here.”
“Who’s the baby?” BQ asked, staring at the photo.
“What do you mean?”
“The baby, with Tituba. The original Hannah Von Port would be about 22, 23 years old in this photo.”
Hannah stuffed the booklet back in her pack. “Probably one of the kids she nannied. This picture was handed down to me – it could have come from anywhere.”
“Then how do you know it’s her?” he asked.
She smiled at him. “I just know, okay? Why don’t we leave it at that.”
“Are you hungry?” she asked, changing the subject.
“Starved,” he replied.
They’d gotten to the very large house on Beach Drive early that morning. They fell asleep immediately after the adrenaline rush of being attacked by two massive vampires at BQ’s apartment. When they woke again the sun was setting over the Delaware Bay. That’s when BQ asked her exactly what the hell was going on and Hannah had told him the tale handed down to her many years before.
“Hannah Von Port became the name of a lot of girls that moved in our circle,” she had told him, “the better to confuse any vampire assassins that might want to carry on Vlad Dracul’s dirty work.”
It was all massively confusing to BQ, yet also somehow made perfect sense. He was terrified and thrilled to be caught up in such an insane adventure. Death now loomed behind every corner and in every shadow, but never had he felt so alive.
If he knew exactly how close to death he was at the moment, he might have felt differently.
Outside the sunlight waned, and as the shadows crept across the dunes so too did a small army of vampires. They moved between buildings, vehicles, anything that cast a shadow. To passersby they looked like a clutch of albinos, trying their best to avoid direct sunlight in their long coats and sunglasses, but not so much as to be conspicuous. They divided into several small groups and took several paths up the beach toward the neighborhood of giant houses where the mighty Christian Admiral once stood.
As the seconds turned to minutes the darkness spread. By the time they massed at the northernmost jetty it was almost fully dark. The last rays of sunlight still stung them, but it was tolerable through their clothes and thick sunscreen.
Even vampires needed to be practical.
They gathered excitedly, chattered and gnashed their teeth. As the light disappeared they shed their human guise and clothing and rocked excitedly among the dune brush, saliva dripping from their jaws.
“The plan…” the biggest one hissed, “remember the master’s plan… ten from the front… ten from the rear… ten from the windows… ten from above… we must not fail him or our punishment will be great…”
At this they chattered more loudly, more excitedly, anxious for the kill.
“Forward…” the biggest one said a moment later when the moon shone bright.
They slithered through the brush and to the sea wall. Across the street they went, their feet skittering on the blacktop, to the front yard of the big house. The smell of cooking animal flesh met them.
“On my command…” the biggest one said and the vampires separated into four groups. Ten of them transformed into flying creatures with a barely audible pop! and floated up to the roof.
The biggest vampire took a deep breath of the foul, salty human air, and gave the command.
“Now!” he cried, and the vampire army stormed the house, crashing through the front and rear doors, shattering the gable windows, seeking their prey like fleshy missiles.
The house would soon be full of death.
“I’ve got steaks or chicken,” Hannah announced from the freezer.
“You pick,” BQ replied.
“Hmmm…” she pondered and looked over at him.
“I’m in the mood for some meat.”
At this they both blushed.
BQ coughed, “Sounds good.”
Hannah set to the task of preparing the steaks as the awkward moment hung there.
“So…” BQ asked, “does the Von Port Traveling Amusement still exist?”
“You’re looking at it,” she answered and popped the steaks in a pan.
She put a bag of frozen veggies in the microwave.
“It was… it was 1973. It did not end well.”
BQ swallowed hard, reached out, and put his hand on hers across the breakfast nook.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I’ve asked enough questions already.”
She shook her head, “It’s okay. You should know everything. I got you into this, the least I can do is tell you how it got this far.”
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand – it came away wet.
“We were doing a show in rural Pennsylvania, little town called Kennett Square. We weren’t there to hunt, we stopped there every year to do a show, make a few bucks, and move on. We should have known, we should have seen it coming… it’s a mushroom growing town, lots of illegal labor, lots of brown skin… We didn’t charge much, so we’d fill the tent with hundreds of them every night. Cheap for them, but it added up for us. But this night…”
It was her turn to swallow hard and grab BQ’s hand.
“This night it was all gray skin. We should have known. We did our show as we always do, about an hour-and-a-half of all the tropes; clowns, trapeze, a few animal bits… at the end we all came out for a curtain call. But this night… nobody clapped. We stood there, all of us, in the center ring, lambs to the slaughter. The crowd stood, all of them, but not to applaud. By the time we figured it out it was too late. They descended on us like the vermin they are. We took a good many with us. We fought, God knows we fought, but they were too many and we fell. One by one, we fell.”
“My… guardians ordered me away and covered my escape.”
By the last few words she was weeping. He wiped a few tears from her cheeks.
“Thanks,” she said, and went back to preparing the meal.
“We,” BQ said.
“You kept saying ‘we.’”
“You said it was 1973. You can’t be older than 28, 29.”
“Right,” she did not look up. “I meant the royal we.”
He gazed steadily at her. “Right, the royal we. I gotcha’. I suppose somebody passed down this story to you, too?”
“Exactly,” she said, still looking down. “It’s been a lot of years, there are a lot of stories.”
She turned the steaks in the pan. The aroma was heavenly. She looked up, BQ was still staring at her.
“Tell me,” he said.
“Tell you what?”
She considered this for a moment, then went to her pack and retrieved the leather booklet. She opened it to the old photo and held it up to BQ.
“The little girl in the picture is me. I was there in 1973 when the vampire clan destroyed my team. They fought to the death to cover my escape. Most of them, the ones that were prepared, chewed on the little red tablets they kept on them at all times. Those that weren’t prepared were turned or drained. My name is Hannah Von Port, the only surviving child of Abraham and Elizabeth Van Helsing. I am 113 years old, but due to the vampire blood from which I was born I do not age very quickly. It is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I can continue my father’s good work, a curse because I’ve seen too many people I love die. I do not intend to let that happen to you.”
BQ blinked several times. “So…”
“You love me?”
“I… no, that’s not what I… I mean, you’re a good guy and all, but… you misunderstood me. I only meant I’m going to try to protect you. What?”
BQ was laughing hysterically.
“You should see your face. That must be what I look like all the time!”
“You were just messing with me?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know you don’t love me. I mean, I love you, there’s no doubt about that. Happened somewhere around the third or fourth second I laid eyes on you. But that’s me. You can take your time, because I’m never leaving your side.”
They smiled at each other, then she turned the stove off.
BQ asked, “What are you doing? The steaks aren’t cooked.”
“We’ll get to those later,” she said. “Right now I want to eat something else.”
“Take your clothes off…”
She rounded the breakfast window and was on him like a cat, kneading at him, pulling him off the chair. He did not resist.
“Come on,” she said and led him to the stairs.
“Let’s go fu..”
KWEE! KWEE! KWEE!
The shrill alarm sounded from a panel in the next room.
Hannah grabbed her pack from the chair.
“We have ten seconds. Move!”
BQ was flummoxed. “What…”
She slung the pack over her shoulder and dragged him through the kitchen and into what looked like the pantry.
She pulled them inside the closet-sized pantry, punched a button on the wall, and the floor beneath them disappeared. They fell into blackness.
The biggest vampire watched as his charges entered the house. No sooner had the sound of breaking glass ended when a new sound emerged.
KWEE! KWEE! KWEE!
The high-pitched whine of the alarm pierced his ears and he fell to the ground. Inside the house his minions did the same. Hidden inside the alarm was an ultra-low frequency pulse that instantly ruptured their ear drums.
It was then, several seconds too late, that the biggest vampire figured out that Hannah Von Port knew what the hell she was doing.
“Master…” he hissed. “We have failed you…”
Two seconds later the house erupted into a giant fireball.
With a thump they landed on a cushion. Hannah immediately bounded to her feet and pulled BQ away.
“It’s going to get warm,” she told him.
Above them the house exploded. A sonic wave of heat shot down the corrugated metal and cement tube they had just fallen down and the small room was insufferably hot and airless for a few seconds. Hannah wasted no time in pulling them into yet another room by hitting yet another seemingly invisible button on the wall. Fresh, cool air met them in a dimly lit hallway that stretched for eternity in either direction. BQ could breathe again. His lungs worked fine; it was his brain that was failing him.
“Are you kidding me?” he asked.
At this Hannah allowed a flickering smirk and pulled them down the corridor. It was lit every 20 feet by very small, low wattage bulbs. She pulled them along. In his confused state BQ wasn’t much help. She felt like she was running a three-legged race, yanking and coaxing her partner along.
“You’ll never get your deposit back on that house,” he quipped.
“I own it, smart guy. And the three around it.”
“The traveling amusement did well. I invested wisely over 113 years…”
As they talked he returned to himself, his body loosened up and she no longer had to pull him. A few minutes later they came to a stop.
“Here,” she said.
Another invisible button-push and down came a red ladder. Up they climbed into a small rectangular room. She pushed open the door and they stood in the bathroom of an efficiency motel room. BQ looked out the heavily tinted window and from three blocks away saw the pluming smoke rise from the burning house, darkening the moon. Sirens rang in the distance.
Hannah went to a control panel near the front door, punched a series of buttons and the windows went full black by some computer voodoo.
She turned to him. “You okay?”
“Good. Get on the bed.”
He nodded and did as he was told.
He laid down.
He gripped the sheets.
She stalked him, circled the bed twice, eyed him up and down. She climbed onto the mattress and felt the cool silk sheets against her hot flesh. It was time. She put her face in his and kissed him deeply.
He snored loudly.