Young Quincey Harker is woken in the middle of the night, and his mother reads him a story to help him sleep.
In a moment, the gentle midnight shattered into a howling wail. It startled the young Quincey Harker from his slumber and poured out into the empty hallways of the estate. Quincey pulled his covers to his head and stared out his window. The lamplights offered little warmth in the empty night sky. Ships bobbed in the inky black ocean, and the town outside was filled with dark shadows. He could hear his mother’s feet on the carpet, the servants running up the stairs, saw the lights come on from the crack beneath his door. The placid nighttime became a frantic cacophony. Quincey Harker was only six years old, and he knew many nights like this. Worse than the monsters that lived under his bed were the shadows that tapped against his father’s window.
His father would scream at invisible demons until morning came, and like many nights Quincey would hide beneath his covers, praying for the sun. His mother would come in once his father had calmed and brush back Quincey’s hair, telling him everything was alright now. Each morning the night terrors were never spoken of, as though they never happened, and his father would go to another appointment with Dr. Thackery. The fits would disappear for sometimes months at a time, long enough for the family to pretend all was normal, and then they’d start again. His mother told them they were from a darker time in their life. Quincey could not imagine how dark.
Tonight, though, Quincey felt brave. He watched the lights of the ships bob on the ocean of night and squeezed his hands into fists. He was nearly seven now–nearly a man, his parents always said–and he could no longer cower beneath his bedsheets. Sucking in a breath, he set his feet on the cool wooden floor of his bedroom, staring down at the shadows as though a hand might reach from them. The screaming had not stopped, and the worried feet of hurried servants thumped outside his hall. He pushed open the door an inch, creating a triangle of light in his room. He ducked back as a maid ran past, but her nerves were too unsettled for her to notice him. He followed the hallway past the playroom, past the study where his father spent his days, past the parlor where his mother would write, and to his parents’ bedroom. The head of house was talking quietly with his mother, and he ducked behind the railings of the stairs so he could listen.
“It’s getting worse,” Mr. Harlow said. “The neighbors will start to talk.”
“They already do.” His mother’s face was half in shadow as she peered into the bedroom. Her dark hair had started to grey at the temples, and her eyes were sunken in. She pulled her nightgown close, as though she were cold. “I’ve sent for Dr. Van Helsing. He helped me purge the demon from my thoughts.”
“Will he come?” Mr. Harlow asked.
“He must.” She put her face in her hands. “I don’t know how much more of this my Jonathon can take.”
Quincey clung to to the shadows as the manservant trudged past. His mother turned away, shoulders shaking for a moment, and then she walked to the parlor. Quincey waited for her to disappear behind the door, and he climbed to his feet. His hand paused as he rested it against the door to his father’s room. There were no lights on inside, and the darkness consumed his father’s still form. A demon haunted his father, he knew that much, and here in the comfort and safety of the lit hallway, it felt like it warded away such monsters. But he was brave, and he would not abandon his father in this moment.
Quincey stepped into the dark room. His father hung limp, bedsheets tangled around him. The curtains were drawn, giving no extra light, and Quincey’s footsteps were softened by the carpet. He raised himself up by the side of the bed. He saw his father’s pale face, eyes open, their pupils extended to the edge of his eye, mouth parted as he panted softly. His fingers curled and opened again and again. He looked without seeing.
“Father,” Quincey whispered, scared any noise might break the spell his father was under. “I’m here.”
He reached out a hand and his father grabbed him by the wrist. The grip was tight, and Quincey gave a shout of surprise.
“I can hear the sisters singing,” his father said, teeth gritted together. His eyes flickered back and forth. “They’re here.”
Quincey sucked in a breath as he listened. Nothing but wind. His father dragged him closer, and his voice became a hoarse whisper.
“We’ve named you after dead men,” his father said, and for the first time he looked at his son. “And I fear what that means.”
Quincey couldn’t breathe as he stared into his father’s eyes, as he saw reflected back at him the unbridled horrors the darkness held for him. There lay beasts that walked like men, white faces full of teeth, pale shrouds that marched behind his eyelids. And beneath the ashen facade, scraping deep below decrepit crypts, pouring from the mouths of monsters, was blood.
“Quincey,” he heard his mother gasp, and then her arms scooped him up. His father’s hands fell limp, and his eyes closed. The horrors embraced him. Quincey was dragged back into the light of the hallway, and his mother knelt down, pressing her hands to his face.
“You shouldn’t be in there,” she said. “Your father’s very ill.”
Quincey was mute, and, like his father, he imagined the things that waited in the shadows.
“You should be in bed,” she continued. “Harlow!”
He held her hand. “I don’t want to go back to bed.”
“The doctor is coming, Quincey. By morning, this will all go away.”
“It won’t.” He swallowed down his fear. “He sees them all the time, mother.”
She looked at him. They had the same eyes, the same shade of blue, the same curl of the lip. People always commented he looked so much like his father, but to him, he always saw so much of her.
“Why?” he asked, the question spilling out of him. It was the same question he asked every night his father’s screams woke him, quietly, in his own head. By morning they never wanted to bring it up again. “Why does he see them?”
“Mrs. Harker,” the housekeeper said behind them. Harlow gestured Quincey forward. “I can take the boy.”
She didn’t take her eyes off her son. Slowly, she took his hands in hers, kissed him on the forehead, and stood.
“Will you?” She squeezed his fingers. “I’ll be there in a moment.”
The housekeeper settled Quincey in his bed and patted him on the head. The door was left ajar, and he listened as his mother’s voice said quiet words to the servants, and doors closed and lights were turned down. After a while, she appeared in his doorway, carrying with her a candle that spread yellow light across the floor. In her other hand was a book. She sat down beside him, placing the candle on the bedside table, and set the book between them.
“Do you remember,” she asked, “when I told you about my friend Lucy?”
He nodded. Often his parents would start to share stories about their old friends before they trailed off into melancholy. He knew many of them were dead.
She opened the book. Quincey leaned forward and saw it was a journal, the yellowed pages scrawled on it in his father’s scratchy handwriting, and between the pages were letters signed by familiar names, news articles in big bold print that warned of fog and black ships at sea and murders. A printed drawing of Lucy Westenra, and beneath it two dates, in memoriam. Tucked into the center was a braid of dried garlic blossoms that crumbled where his mother touched them.
She held in a shaky breath and continued, “Many years ago, your father was asked to travel to a far away place to offer his services to a count. He was a monster, truly. He kept your father prisoner until he drove him mad, and after he escaped, he was still not himself. The count came here, killing my friend Lucy, who in turn killed a man she loved. He came for me as well, and for a while I was–I was under his sway. Our friend Dr. Van Helsing was able to help me turn my demons away, but your father… So much was happening. I don’t think he ever really dealt with it.”
She picked up the newspaper clipping that carried with it the image of a ship. It was a lonely blot of black ink amid a dark sea. “When I found your father, after he escaped, he was so much worse then. Seeing visions. Screaming about monsters. Harming himself. He pulled himself out of it then, because he was worried about me. All of us. I don’t know if I could ever describe to you what he saw–what we both went through, but I’ve kept it all. This is the truth,Quincey. The monsters that haunt your father are real. They haunt all of us. But we stopped those monsters. We defeated them.”
“Then why do they still haunt him?” Quincey asked.
She brushed back her hair, revealing the scar across her forehead. The strange red mark had never been explained to Quincey, and she always kept it covered.
“Because it leaves us with many scars,” she said. “Some are on the outside, and some are so deep inside, it becomes impossible to heal them all the way.”
He picked up the book, touching the old paper and feeling where the pen scratched into the page. His mother held him tight.
“I want you to understand,” she said. “So keep this. Read it. And if it scares you, remember that your father and I defeated those monsters before.”
She left, leaving the door closed behind her. Quincey sat alone with only the candle as his companion to chase away the darkness. He held the book his lap, turning the pages with more reverence than he would the bible. Quincey absorbed every world, carefully held up the news articles, relived the dangers that plagued them thanks to the strange count. He read until the doctor came with medicine to quiet his father’s dreams, until he heard the servants climb back into their own beds in their own quarters, until the sun began to lighten the sky outside his window, until the candle burned down to its last stub. Quincey learned about monsters. He learned how to defeat monsters.