The Long Game

Alignments with Madmen

Jonathan thought he might find her in the amphitheatre lecture hall or the inner room where she had so frequently resided in times past. He had often suspected it was her sanctuary away from the rest of the world. Or perhaps just from him.

And so he went looking for Mina once more. To plead with her. Apologize. Attempt to talk some sense into her.

He passed through the empty lecture hall and into the inner room, heedless of the blood spatters that still dotted the floor. They were of no significance to him. That quiet area was vacant as well. But as he turned to go, he paused. Something pulled him deeper into the quarters and he discovered, quite hidden away, yet another room.

And so it came to pass that he did indeed find a person. Though it was not the one for whom he had been searching.

Her professor. van Helsing. The man stood in the dusty, secluded room with his back to Jonathan. On a table before him lay an assortment of various items including a medium sized wooden box. Only a fleeting glimpse afforded Jonathan a strange view of shiny cross-looking objects and a small book before the man closed the box and turned to face him.

Abraham van Helsing. Yes, he had sent word for Jonathan to meet him here. Jonathan had nearly forgotten about it in the midst of all his tormented musings. But something within his subconscious clearly had not.

"I got your message," he said noncommittally, covering his disappointment at this change of course.

"Mr. Harker," van Helsing said by way of welcome. "Please, have a seat."

No, no. He would not bend to formality. Not just yet. He felt he must remain standing and keep his exit way clear. For he saw there in the man's eyes a look of the dead. This man, surely born whole, now appeared hollow and bereft of any living soul. As Jonathan himself now felt. The surprise mirror image simultaneously called and repelled him.

"What can you tell me about Grayson?" he inquired, delving straight into the matter at hand.

The Order required information about Grayson for their own ends and he required information about the man of whom Mina had become so entranced. It seemed he might have found the one who could satisfy both purposes.

van Helsing sized him up for a moment, seeming to make a final commitment of some sort.

"Everything you need to know to destroy him," he declared finally.

Destroy. Good. That was a good word. Destroy. To ruin or make something useless. Yes. That was a good word indeed. For that was exactly what he desired to do to that devil Alexander Grayson.

"His name," van Helsing continued, ". . . is Dracula."

Jonathan stood completely still and allowed the utter impossibility of those words to slap him square in the face. Grayson? Dracula? An undead monster who could not withstand sunlight or holy relics? Who drank living blood to sustain its own existence?

It was a cruel tale told to frighten bad children. His own drunk of a father used to tuck him under his arm, alcohol oozing through his skin pores, heavy stinking breath in a cloud upon his child's face and tell him all about it.

"Look here, Johnny boy," he'd say. "You better straighten yourself up or tonight when the moon is full, that nasty creature Dracula'll creep in through your bedroom window while you're sleeping. And you'll not know a thing until . . . snnickkk . . ."

He'd thrust two fingers at the boy's neck, poking him with his ragged fingernails while the boy tried not to recoil. Recoiling only made the situation worse when his father was involved. It was counted as a weakness.

". . . he'll drink you dry," he'd whisper close to the boy's ears.

Then he'd release the near terrified lad and wander off, leaving Johnny boy alone to tremble and dread his solitary bed at night. Watching the shadows play upon the windowpane and praying for daylight until he fell into uneasy sleep haunted by frightful dreams.

His father. The Captain of the Guard.

He'd thought when he grew up, he would make himself into a fine, upstanding man. Marry a kind, lovely lady. And together, they would create a cozy family with happy children who neither feared their father nor the setting of the sun.

But now all those dreams had burned to ash.

The here. The now. The revenge. That was his wickedly hopeful dream, his one true desire. And now that desire was being twisted into folly by the whim of a madman.

"Dracula turns into bats. Are you saying that Grayson can turn himself into a flying rodent?" he asked van Helsing somewhat sarcastically.

van Helsing rolled his eyes. "No. That's hogwash. He has no such power. That's absurd."

"Yes," Jonathan agreed bitterly. "That's the absurd part."

Suddenly van Helsing launched himself at Jonathan, pinning him to the wall with his grasping, clenching hands. Jonathan's breath caught in his chest. He realized he was trapped, could soon come to harm here. Or die. And wasn't sure if he actually cared or not.

van Helsing spoke quietly, calmly. His words barely a murmur.

"Don't . . . mock me, Mr. Harker. I have seen things that cannot be unseen. I have done things that cannot be undone. And I will not be taunted now . . . by you."

He saw roiling madness in van Helsing, hiding its face behind a cracking mask of calm gentility.

Jonathan nodded as he spoke. "Release me, sir."

van Helsing stepped back slowly, ran a hand through his ruffled hair, and deliberately straightened his vestments.

"I understand your skepticism, Mr. Harker. But I can prove to you that vampires do exist and that Grayson is the first of them."

What a ridiculous ruse. He had seen Grayson in the sunlight. He was no vampire. He was only a man. Odd, yes. A diabolical devil, yes. But a vampire? Absurd.

And yet . . .

"Exactly how do you intend to prove this theory to me, sir?" Jonathan inquired.

van Helsing looked steadily at him, unblinking.

"We wait until nightfall. And then, we go on a hunt."

Jonathan could think of no other option available to him to get the answers he needed. And so he simply nodded his wary agreement. All the while wondering if he would ever manage to align himself with someone who wasn't a stark raving mad lunatic.

As van Helsing continued talking, quietly and calmly, he moved around the room. Jonathan watched him with all alertness, always keeping himself between van Helsing and the door. Ready at any moment for flight or fight.

Had he only waited a day to begin his search here, he have happened upon Mina instead of van Helsing. And no matter the outcome of that chance association, it would have been preferable to the one in which he found himself trapped now.

Fate, as it so happens, is not without a sense of the cruel.

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