I’ve had an awful lot of fun lately taking concepts I started a long, long time ago and revamping them. It’s shown me how much I’ve grown as a writer, and how much experience I’ve accumulated. This story started as something very different. It started a long time ago. But in reviewing the concept, I considered a few things: 1) I liked the idea of a gaslight horror mystery, and the Victorian era became an easy ground to sow these seeds, and 2) I’d grown up on the Universal Monsters, so I included more characters to better match the traditional monster lineup. This became a love letter to things I adored, from monster mashes, to goofy ahistorical histories, to the only classical literature I enjoyed, to the things I longed to see more of in fiction. This is the story I’ve dedicated my time to finishing and will begin editing soon, so I thought I’d give a little sneak preview.
Men and Monsters
They came to her studio, which was quiet and dark. Carmilla lit only a single lantern as she undid her hair and removed her evening coat. She invited them upstairs to the apartment. Elsa offered to make tea while she scrubbed her hands.
“You saw the man last night?” Carmilla asked after Elsa had introduced themselves further.
“He attacked me,” she said. “Silvanus was thankfully there. He was strange, wasn’t he? Why would he have a syringe?”
“Mad men do strange things.”
“It suggests purpose,” she said.
“I really don’t want to think about it.” Carmilla dried her hands and helped her with the kettle. “I’m just happy you two came along.”
She wanted them to leave first and foremost, but they’d remain to make sure she was well. So she poured them tea and smiled, feigning a woman brushing off a traumatic experience. The blood was still sharp in her nose, and the heartbeats of those around her aggravated it. She brought her teacup to her lips, hoping they didn’t hear the clink against her long teeth.
Carmilla was startled when she heard the banging against her door. She glanced at the other two.
“You didn’t inform the police,” she said as she stood.
“Perhaps someone saw,” Elsa offered.
She waved a hand at them and descended the stairs. No one called on her. No one was supposed to know she was here. She could hear two heartbeats on the other side of the door, and she hesitated at the handle. She decided on pulling the door back an inch and saw Pelkha on the other side.
“Now is not the best time,” Carmilla said.
She was surprised when the second person pushed open the door. A man entered, satchel slung over his shoulders, and she turned to Pelkha, eyes narrowing.
“This is Quincey Harker,” Pelkha said. “I came to him asking about the murderer.”
Carmilla looked at Quincey, and he looked at her.
“You’re a monster hunter,” she said, biting at the words. She looked back at Pelkha. “Strange you’d ask for his help.”
“There is a murder on the loose,” Pelkha said, staring right back at her.
“Yes, I’ve met him!” She smiled at Quincey. “I had the pleasure of being attacked not even twenty minutes ago. I’m sure you were going to accuse me of something.”
“Pelkha thinks you haven’t murdered anyone,” he said.
“Recently.” She grinned widely, knowing her teeth were out. “But you’ve already drawn your own conclusions, haven’t you?”
“You saw him?” Pelkha asked. “Where is he?”
“Long gone by now. I appreciate your desire to help others, Pelkha, but I’m busy at this moment. Could you come back with your witch hunt later?”
“One of the victims was drained entirely of blood,” Quincey said.
Carmilla sighed. “Yes, one was. And the obvious conclusion is vampire.”
“When a vampire is right in front of me.”
“And if I were some gutter crawling ghoul who left my dead in the street, perhaps you would have a point!” She gripped her fists, claws digging into her skin. “I haven’t killed anyone. Not in a century.”
“You were going to drink my blood,” Pelkha said.
“But I wasn’t going to kill you! You’re the one who brought a vampire killer into my house!”
“You’ve taken victims,” Quincey said. “It doesn’t take very much for a hungry vampire to act.”
Carmilla glared at him. “It’s been a very bad couple of days. If you don’t leave my house immediately—”
“You’ll kill me?”
Her hand shot out before she could stop herself, grabbing his shoulder hard enough to pierce her nails through the thick coat. She had been starving for nearly a century, and she had been some level of good, and this was the thanks she received. The part of her that had been Carmilla drew back, swallowed into the jaw of the great rising jungle cat, and she growled at him, eyes flashing red.
“Yes,” she said.
The kukri knife sliced at her from within his coat, and she stumbled back at the strike. He brought it down again, but she caught his arm and twisted him around, throwing him into Pelkha. Before he had a chance to retaliate, she grabbed him by the shoulder and head and brought his neck to her height. Pelkha sprung forward, shoving her back. She turned quickly and stopped Quincey as he raised the knife again.
“That’s enough!” she shouted. “This isn’t what we came here to do!”
“She’s a monster!” Quincey shouted back.
Carmilla laughed. “Pelkha, you really ought to tell him the truth.”
“This isn’t about me.”
“You thought bringing in a killer of the undead would be helpful? You didn’t think he’d get a little upset when he learned about you?”
“What is she talking about?” Quincey asked.
“I’m not the only undead in this room.” She pointed to Pelkha. “She’s really four thousand years old. Come back from the dead by eating the organs of the men who excavated her. Pelkha, darling, if there’s a likely suspect for a killer in this room, you’re at the top of the list.”
Quincey moved forward, knife out, just as Elsa and Silvanus descended the stairs. They both surveyed the scene with alarm.
“What is going on here?” Elsa asked.
“That woman,” Quincey said, pointing with his knife, “is a vampire.”
“Well she’s a mummy!” Carmilla pointed an accusing finger at Pelkha. “And just because you’ve slaughtered monsters in the name of righteousness doesn’t mean your hands are any more free of blood!”
“Hold on.” Silvanus drew in front of Elsa. “This is madness. What on earth is anyone talking about?”
“These two think I’m the murderer,” Carmilla said, “which is ridiculous because these two saw me attacked by the same murderer earlier this evening. I don’t kill. I don’t do that anymore.”
“All vampires kill,” Quincey said.
She glanced at the others, suddenly aware of how many people were let in on her secret. She should’ve left London. She shouldn’t have let them in, she shouldn’t have ever talked to Pelkha, and she should’ve just stayed dead all those years ago, instead of inexplicably rising from her grave. Her fingers uncurled as she tried to calm herself. They all watched her, waiting.
“I haven’t killed,” she said slowly, “since Laura.”
“Oh, Lord,” Quincey said.
“No!” She waved a hand at him. “Since you’re so interested in accusing me, you’ll allow me to say my piece. Do you want to know why I’m not your killer? Because I loved someone. I met a girl named Laura, and with every intention of draining her of her life and blood I fell in love instead. I clouded her mind, asked her to love me, and was rewarded for my manipulation by having my body dragged out and torn apart. It made me recognize what I was. What I am. A monster. And after I was put together again, I wanted to change that. So, yes, I’ve sampled blood and taken what I need to survive, but I haven’t taken a life. Not since.”
“That is a truly terrible story,” he said. “And an emotion is not an alibi.”
“The madman had a syringe,” Elsa said, stepping towards them. She showed the pieces she saved in her hands.
They all turned to her.
“What does that mean?” Pelkha asked.
She glanced at Silvanus before moving closer to them. “I don’t really know what’s going on here, but I doubt very much Miss De Karnstein is behind this. He’s stealing organs and taking blood. He’s experimenting.”
“You think he’s some kind of mad scientist?” Quincey asked.
“I don’t know. But it would make sense if he needed them for something. Maybe he took what he needed from the bodies and left the remains.”
Carmilla straightened her back and fixed her hair. “There were two men that attacked me.”
Pelkha turned to her. “That seems like a very important piece of information you weren’t going to share.”
“To be fair you both greeted me with a knife.” She shrugged. “And I didn’t share the fact because one of them wasn’t there. Or, he was. I didn’t really want to explain that I could sense his heartbeat and his warmth, but now the secret’s out. He wasn’t made of air. He was solid. But I couldn’t see him.”
Elsa brought a hand to her lips. “He was invisible.”
“And since I’m already sharing.” She waved the hand that had been bloodied. “Your madman is a man, in fact. His blood was human, but it was altered, I think. There was some kind of chemical in it.” She smiled at Quincey. “There. I’ve done my good deed. You two can go run along to whatever dull investigation you think you’re up to.”
“Altered, you said?” Now Silvanus spoke. His hand clenched the silver wolf’s head. “You think he was changed?”
“I really don’t know,” she said. “I don’t have much experience with how medicine affects the blood. But it certainly changed him enough to be… unappetizing.”
“He didn’t look like a man at all,” Elsa said, looking at her companion. “And he couldn’t speak. How could a man transform himself like that?”
Silvanus’ hands shook as he removed the vial from his pocket. He wanted to curse and cry and shout, but he simply said, “This.”
Carmilla put on more tea as they reconvened upstairs. The entertainment value of this train wreck outweighed her desire to be left alone. They sat in her small, unused living space, nervously looking to the other. Silvanus, in a shaky voice, explained the nature of the experiments he conducted with Dr. Henry Jekyll and what the good doctor had produced. Elsa rolled the vial of pink liquid over in her hands as though she could discern its secrets.
“You’re a werewolf,” Quincey said slowly, “who visited a doctor for your condition.”
Carmilla burst out laughing. “It’s so ridiculous! It’s a curse! You can’t just take a pill!”
Elsa placed her hand over his. “But he must’ve done it. Unlocked the secret to changing his shape.”
“I’m sorry.” Carmilla was still laughing as she stood and pointed to each of them. “You’re a werewolf, you’re a mummy, I’m a vampire, and he kills things for a living. Now all of us are discussing the incredible shape changer and the invisible man! Is there anything you wanted to add, dear? Are you perhaps a yeti or some kind of ghost?”
Elsa looked up at her, and then at the others. “I suppose, as long as we’re being truthful.”
“You know I was joking.”
She ignored her. “My name is Elsa Frankenstein, and I am my father’s daughter, but perhaps not in the traditional sense.”
She removed her gloves, showing the black stitches of her skin. Carmilla sat down as they stared at her.
“You were made?” Quincey asked in a quiet voice.
“From a dead body.” She gave a sheepish smile. “So I suppose I make the undead a majority here.”
A thick silence descended on them, so palpable they were afraid to move for fear of breaking it. The reality of the situation had suddenly dawned on each of them.
“Alright,” Carmilla said. “Get out. All of you.”
Pelkha looked at her. “But what about—”
“You I’m mad at most of all.” She pointed an accusing finger. “I was going to leave, you know. London is dead to me. Apparently it was dead all along. If I have to sit one more moment with these ridiculous stories about mummies crawling out of their tomb and young ladies made of other dead young ladies, I’m going to save Mister Harker the trouble and stake myself. Everyone leave.”
“There is a murderer on the loose,” Silvanus said.
“Yes, and it sounds like you had a decent hand of helping him along.”
Quincey stood. “I cannot believe I’m saying this, but she’s right. Whatever the hell is going on here is too much. I don’t even know where to begin.”
He marched out of the room. Pelkha looked between him and Carmilla before letting out a huff and chasing after. Carmilla gave an expectant look to the other two.
“Are you really a vampire?” Elsa asked.
She stretched her grin so she could see all her teeth. “Were you really made?”
Silvanus took Elsa’s hand and led her downstairs. Pelkha and Quincey were arguing out front, and as the pair exited the studio they both turned to look at them.
“You,” Pelkha said, pointing at Silvanus. “Where is your doctor now?”
He clutched onto his cane as all attention turned to him. “I don’t know.”
“It’s why we came here,” Elsa jumped in. “We thought he might be using a lab once used by my father.”
“Where is this lab?” Pelkha asked. “If we know where they are we can stop them now.”
“We don’t know where they are.” Elsa shuffled through her things and produced her father’s journal. “My father never wrote down the exact location. But I know Dr. Jekyll visited it. As for our invisible man, I don’t know.”
“Fine. Let’s find it.”
The vampire killer ran a hand through his hair as he considered things. He glanced at Silvanus. “Against my better judgement I’m getting involved in this. You are going to show me this laboratory for werewolves.”
“It’s not for werewolves,” Silvanus murmured.
“Then I’ll go with this one.” Pelkha grabbed Elsa’s arm. “You two can search the doctor. If we find her father’s home, we’ll know for certain.”
Silvanus looked at Elsa. “And if it’s filled with killers?”
Pelkha smiled. “I’m more than capable.”
Quincey gestured to Silvanus. “I will meet you at Dr. Jekyll’s residence tomorrow. For now I’m going home so I can process all this.”
Silvanus doubted he had much of a choice in the matter. The night seemed much darker now, and the realizations of their equal strangeness exhausted each of them. They agreed to wait until the following day to do any investigating. Silvanus walked Elsa home, and Pelkha turned back around to look at Carmilla’s home. The lamps in the upstairs window had been turned down. She reached for the door, hesitated, and then it was pulled back for her.
“It’s been a long night,” Carmilla’s voice sounded from within the dark studio.
Pelkha leaned through the door. “I wouldn’t have let him kill you.”
She laughed morosely. “I wouldn’t have either.”
Pelkha waited in the shadow of the threshold, but Carmilla didn’t say anything. She could make out the slight movement of a shadow, a wavering line that melded with the darkness, or it might’ve been her imagination.
“You obviously wanted to say something,” the shadow said.
Pelkha closed her eyes. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt I could talk to anyone. Longer than I’ve even been dead. I was relieved to have met you.”
The shadows paused. Tiny footsteps signaled her approach to the door, and the pale face of Carmilla emerged.
“Now I find myself less of a stranger.” Pelkha motioned to the long disappeared trail of their new companions. “But I would still like to think of you as a friend.”
Carmilla looked at her, dark eyes and black dress making her meld back into the shadows so that she was only a face. Her red lips pursed, and then she shook her head.
“These sorts of things are fool’s errands. Good luck with your venture.”
And the door clicked shut.