Chapter One: The Conundrum of Facts Versus Fancy
“Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively, and said in a soft whisper:-
‘Yes, I too can love; and yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so?’”
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Bellingham, Washington U.S.A.
“You don’t belong here.”
Sean faced me flabbergasted, though he intentionally forced the exaggeration, causing Sherry to giggle. Her innocent flirtations encouraged his boldness, and he kissed her on the cheek. Regardless, I stood my ground, ordering, “Sean, I’m serious; you can’t be back here. Shoo.”
“She’s right,” Sherry sighed. “We will get in trouble if our manager sees you.”
He replied with a handsome smile. “Fine.” One more kiss, and he started off, moving passed my small frame.
Large and lit, the lobby of the theater normally buzzed with life as people longing for their refreshments came up to the counter where Sherry and I served sweets and popcorn. However, a monday night always ensured gaps of downtime along with guaranteed visits from Sherry’s overly playful boyfriend. Sean leaned against the front counter across from Sherry while I scrubbed down the soda machine for the second time.
“Don’t you have homework, Sean?” I taunted.
He chuckled. “Don’t you? Aren’t you taking, like, two science classes?”
“And I manage to work, too,” I smiled.
Sean slapped his hand against his chest melodramatically, gasping at Sherry. “Do you hear that, babe? She thinks I’m incompetent.”
“Leave him alone, Julia,” Sherry ordered with a laugh.
Before I could answer, something like a pebble hit my shoulder. I whirled to watch a black, bulbous fly helplessly tap against the windows of the popcorn machine in attempts to reach the golden lights. Sherry noticed because she declared, “I’ll get it.”
After grabbing the fly swatter from the tools cabinet, she approached the doomed insect, slapping it flat against the glass. She grimaced to the black smear and used a napkin to clean it off, muttering, “I always feel kind of bad about killing them in the end.”
“It’s just a bug,” I stated.
Sherry sighed, “Yes, I suppose the little, insignificant things must be killed.”
“That’s nature,” I said while I kept busy tidying the cups.
As Sherry prepared to throw away the carcass, Sean screeched, “No! Give me the delicious fly! And I will drink its blood!”
“Are you trying to be a spider, Sean?” I spoke like a mother to a toddler.
“Spiders! Give me spiders too, and rats, and kittens!” Sean wailed.
I faced him, dubiously. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Sean laughed then explained, “I’m doing an impression of Reinfield.”
I raised my eyebrows at him.
“Reinfield,” he continued like I was supposed to understand. “You know… from Dracula.”
“Oh,” I uttered. “No, I wouldn’t know.”
Sean gaped at me before exclaiming, “You don’t even know the most infamous Vampire in literature? In western culture?”
“No, I mean I’ve heard of him,” I explained. “I’ve just never looked into the story.”
“Right, right,” Sean realized. “It must be a Grayson thing. How is your dad, anyway?”
My stomach fell a couple inches, but I forced, “As good as he can be…”
Sherry noticed my discomfort because she changed the subject. “We all have different interests, Sean. We all can’t be horror nerds like you.”
Sean “tsked” playfully. “How is being obsessed with horror classics nerdy?”
New customers entered through the glass doors.
“Looks like your time’s up, babe,” Sherry insisted. “I’ll text you when I get home.”
Sean teasingly feigned his disappointment then shared a goodbye kiss before departing. The new bunch came and left.
“As my best friend, I need your opinion on something,” Sherry started.
“Shoot,” I accepted.
“What do you think of marriage fresh out of high school? Or during college?” she asked me while we waited for the next swarm.
“Ridiculous,” I replied, honestly.
Sherry managed to sneak a piece of popcorn in her mouth, before questioning, “Why not?”
“What about college plans? Marriage will just get in the way of your dream of future success,” I explained, simply and reasonably.
Sherry laughed, peering over the cash machine at the oncoming customers while she said, “That’s a bit cynical, don’t you think? What if the idea of success involves marriage for someone’s life?”
I shrugged, not taking her opinion as an offense as I answered, “Still is a bit young to get married, I guess.”
“Not if you genuinely fall in love by that time,” Sherry playfully argued.
I wouldn’t know about falling in love, but I didn’t have the chance to speak my mind because of the customers eagerly waiting for their refreshments.
“Just watch,” Sherry added. “Out of the three of us, you will be the first one to be married.”
Amused, I scoffed back at her.
After serving drinks and snacks, Sherry continued, “Well, Sean and I are pretty serious. I mean, we’ve been dating for three years now, and he’s gotten me a promise ring. I think that’s a hint that he’s gonna want to propose sometime soon in the future.”
“I’m happy for you,” I told her sincerely. “And if that’s what you really want to do with your life, then go for it. It’s just difficult for me to comprehend that type of dream because of my upbringing.”
And you have never been in love, Julia, I thought, but that too I kept to myself.
“You know, back in the day, like way back, a girl would be married at twelve years of age,” Sherry continued.
“That’s unfortunate,” I muttered sarcastically, filling two large cups of soda from the fountain for her and myself.
“At this rate, back then, you would be considered an old maid; you’d be a spinster,” Sherry went on amusingly.
I faced her after taking a sip of Coke, my brow raised. “Well then...” I handed her the cup. “Here’s to me, a spinster in the making.”
Eventually, Sherry and I got off work at the same time, and we left the building to our cars. While we walked together through the dark Washington drizzle, Sherry continued the subject. “Imagine if a man was plucked out from the dark ages and was brought to our time .”
“I’m sure he would be much happier,” I chuckled.
Sherry dismissed me. “He could be, like, fifty and be trying to date girls our age because that was called ‘normal’ back in the time he came from.”
“Now we call it pedophilia,” I cut in bluntly.
“Oh Julia, use your imagination. Aren’t you a writer? By the way, did you get that scholarship yet?”
“Not yet,” I replied.
“You’ll get it, you’re really good at writing,” she assured me. “Have you told your parents?”
I replied, softly, “No.”
“I’m sure they’ll understand.”
“You obviously don’t know my father.”
Sherry shrugged. “Never hurts to try.”
We reached our cars which were parked next to each other.
“I don’t know,” I sighed, exhausted just thinking about how my dad would react.
“Just reminding you,” Sherry told me before getting into her car, “you act well beyond your age, and you are nearly an adult. Your dad will respect that, I’m sure.”
I appreciated her trying to help, but I repeated, “We’ll see.”
Sherry gave me a sympathetic look and answered gently, “Okay. Good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Bye,” I responded. We both got into our cars and headed back to our houses.
While I returned back to my neighborhood in the darkness, Sherry’s words replayed in my mind. I carefully made my way through town, flashing lights of all colors from brightly lit stores attempting to grab my attention as they blurred into a hue of red, illuminating my destined path. Sherry did have a point, and she was right; my issue was just mustering the courage. Before taking the road that would lead me home, I passed by an abandoned building put up for lease with words spray painted: For the dead travel fast! Happy Halloween!
After all, there were more things in the world of which to be afraid.
Once the boy entered the high school office, I knew by his overwhelmed expression he was the one I would help. I attempted to approach him, but he dismissed me, speaking to the adult behind the desk.
“Hi, I’m new. I’m supposed to get a tour today.”
He was further directed to me, and he faced me curiously. I forced a smile at him. “I’m Julia,” I said. “I’m the one giving you the tour.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, blushing.
I tackled his silence. “Follow me.”
As we walked down the hall, he continued. “I thought you must have been one of the office assistants’ kid or something. You don’t look like a high schooler,” he replied.
“It’s all good,” I told him, “happens all the time.”
Although I tried not to care that I looked like twelve years old, moments as such painfully reminded me that I stood at four feet and nine inches. All my clothes, no matter how petite they were, hung loosely over my body, concealing any womanly shape I managed to develop at sixteen. It was a shame because he was cute, too. It didn’t matter though. Given my small, plain, and pallid form, he would likely never be interested.
Besides, I didn’t need a boyfriend.
At present, my life didn’t require one. Or love, for that matter.
After the tour, I returned to my rigorous schedule. In Human Anatomy, the class started the blood unit. My notes:
Blood # 1
● Hemoglobin carries oxygen for the red blood cells
● Hemoglobin is the protein responsible for the color of blood
● Red blood cells do not have nuclei because they need the room for hemoglobin
● With no nuclei, red blood cells cannot synthesize proteins or divide
● There is no current successful substitute for blood
After my notes, I was required to write a one sentence conclusion. I paused for a moment, summarizing what I just processed. I wanted to write “blood is boring”; I was more looking forward to the brain unit. A thoughtful pursed lip, and I wrote:
“Blood is life.”
My fourth period was AP Literature, and it was the class I looked forward to most every day. The class was finally going to be given a new book to read. The summer reading requirement was The Great Gatsby, and for me, the book was an excellent drama that ended too shortly . The teacher passed out the new book to the class, announcing our assignment at the same time; once the novel reached my hands, I studied the cover, my eyes hungrily taking in every detail.
Dracula by Bram Stoker.
The cover art was vague. I was unsure if the painting was of a shadowy moon or a pale man draped in black cloaks or fingers clawing over the last bit of light in the illustration. I never realized the legend of Dracula started as a book. However, my memory was defiled with Sean’s recent shrieking about bugs, spiders, rats, and kittens, leaving me with an unruly first impression.
The assignment required the students to write journal entries about what we read much like how the novel was written. This intrigued me, of course. Now I would finally learn what the Dracula hype was all about. There had to be a specific reason why this Vampiric character was so revered.***
I had an earlier shift for work, so after school, I went to the Imax then made it home just in time for dinner. I checked the mail before entering the house: no letter for me yet. The dinner table often consisted of silverware gently clanging against plates along with the occasional sighs of exhaustion. Near the end of each meal, my family would manage a small conversation to at least create some type of familial connection. My younger brother, Mikey, pushed his food around with his fork; being eleven and growing, he would not deny a full meal unless he was nervous about something. He was the first to speak. “Dad…”
“Hm?” Dad grunted softly.
Mikey continued nervously, “Well… there’s a new game out that my friends are playing, and my allowance money covers most of it; I just need five more dollars.”
Dad sipped on his merlot before asking, “What is it about?”
“Uh-” Mikey stuttered. “Well… It’s a zombie game…”
Dad sputtered on his wine before exclaiming, “What is it with this generation and zombies?”
I stiffened a smile.
Dad noticed purple dribbled down his shirt. He cursed quietly while he rubbed his napkin on the stain, and he answered, “If you can give me a sound explanation about the zombie apocalypse then maybe I’ll lend you money.”
Mikey’s expression twisted with disappointment then managed a suggestion. “Rabies?”
Dad chuckled, but shook his head.
Mikey sank in his chair, so Mom changed the subject. “How was teaching today?”
“Just a bunch of fresh out of high school college kids who are scared shitless,” Dad responded. “But I think they are getting it now that I will not be so easy on them. Life is not easy. This is why you study hard and keep yourself away from fanciful, frivolous things, Julia.” He looked at me and my stomach churned. “It’s really good that you are focused on your science major because that is what is real and right. And it will take you far in a good career, even better than mine.”
I simply nodded then quickly changed the subject as well. “How about you, Mom; how was the clinic?”
“Well, we had a young lady come in with a tampon too far up her…” she paused, eyeing Mikey then continued with, “hoo-ha because she M-A-S-T-U-R-B-A-T-E-D and forgot that it was inside-”
“Mom,” Mikey groaned. “I know what you are talking about; you don’t need to censor it.”
I withheld my giggles.
“I agree with you, Micheal,” Dad added. “It is all natural and part of life.” Dad faced me again. “Isn’t that right, Julia? You want to be a doctor, don’t you?”
I returned to all seriousness. “I mean… That is what I wanted to be when I was thirteen…”
“Why wouldn’t you still?” Dad’s intense gaze criticized me.
Panicking, I replied, “I mean, it, of course, is still an option. I’m just also keeping my mind open to other opportunities in a similar field.”
“Good,” Dad said.
I helped Mom with the dishes while Dad and Mikey reclined for the evening. While I placed the plates in the dishwasher, Mom started, “So, do you want to talk about what happened tonight?”
I faced her as she rinsed off a sudded cup. She glanced at me with an expression waiting for a response. I chewed the inside of my cheek before replying, “what do you mean?”
“My motherly intuition tells me you were uncomfortable with the talk at dinner,” she explained. “And my guess it has something to do with your career path?”
I blew at the air, knowing I would eventually need to vent about it. I decided with, “Maybe…”
“What is it then?”
Just go for it, Julia.
“Writing,” I blurted quietly.
Mom nodded, not phased by my answer. I added, “Don’t tell Dad. I will let him know in better timing.”
“My lips are sealed,” she promised. “Besides, there are great career paths with writing. Your father is just protecting you.”
“Protecting me from what, though?”
“The world,” Mom said, sympathetically. “He just wants to give you a leveled head for when you finally venture out in it, because there is a hell lot more than Bellingham. He just wants to lower your expectations on things that are not plausible, but regardless, you will go into the unknown, and it is a devastatingly terrifying place, especially for a young girl.”
“I know,” I responded.
“No, you don’t,” Mom disagreed, and I looked at her again, taken aback. She continued with care, “But you will. And with you graduating this June, it will be sooner than later. So be aware of the dangers, but don’t be afraid of them.”
Understanding what she implied, I nodded.
Before I went to bed that night, I decided to gain a head start on Dracula. I sat cross legged on my bed, studying the cover again before I opened the book to the first chapter.
Jonathan Harker’s Journal
(Kept in shorthand)
3 May. Bistritz - Left Munich at 8:35 PM, on 1st May, arriving at Vienne early
next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late . . . .
I continued to read.
There came a soft knock on my door. “Come in,” I said.
Dad opened the door, peeking inside. “It’s late,” he said. “Why are you still up?”
“I wanted to start on the new book for my lit class,” I replied, resting the novel on my crossed legs.
“Oh, I see,” he mumbled, displeased. “What are they making you read now?”
Hesitantly, I showed him the cover. He cursed under his breath. “Absurd. I’d rather you read one of those unrealistic romances by Jane What’s-her-face.”
“Austen,” I corrected him quickly.
“Yes that,” he went on, gesturing to the book, “rather than this crap. Just don’t get too involved with that book no matter how fantastic it may be.”
I nodded only to give him comfort.
“Alright Julia, have a good night sleep,” he added.
“Good night,” I answered.
He left, closing the door behind him.
I sat in my position, staring at the closed door. The wood was dull and showed indications of age. The brass handle had a few scratch marks where fingernails dragged along the surface, the hand failing to find the knob.
I looked back at the pages of the book.
. . . I was speaking, as to make sure, I said interrogatively:-
“Count Dracula?” He bowed in a courtly way as he replied:-
“I am Dracula; and I bid you welcome, Mr. Harker, to my house . . .”