Authors: Brian Lumley
Tags: #Horror, #Fiction, #Vampires
“Hah!” said the hunter. “This Texas would
to be big to accommodate such as him!”
Vulpe translated, then nodded in the direction of the third member of his group. “And this one,” he said, “is Randy Laverne from Madison, Wisconsin. It mightn’t be so mountainous up there, but believe me it can get just as cold!”
“Cold?” said Gogosu. “Well, that shouldn’t bother this one. I envy him all that good meat on his bones—and all the good meals it took to put it there—but it’s not much use in climbing. Me, I’m able to cling to the rocks snug as a lichen, in places where gravity would get him for sure.”
Vulpe translated and Laverne laughed good-naturedly. He was the youngest and smallest (or at least the shortest) of the three Americans: twenty-five, freckle-faced, way overweight and constantly hungry. His face was round and topped with wavy red hair; his green eyes friendly and full of fun; the corners of his eyes and mouth running into mazes of laughter lines. But there was nothing soft about him: his huge hands were incredibly strong, a legacy of his blacksmith father.
“Very well,” said George Vulpe, “so now we know each other. Or rather, you know us. But what about you, Emil? You’re a hunter, yes, but what else?”
“Nothing else!” said Gogosu. “I don’t need to be anything else. I’ve a small house and a smaller woman in Ilia; in the summer I hunt wild pig and sell meat to the butchers and skins to the tailors and boot makers; in the winter I take furs and kill a few foxes, and they hire me ,to shoot the occasional wolf. And so I make a living—barely! And now maybe I’ll be a guide, too. Why not?—for I know the heights as well as the eagles who nest in ‘em.”
“And the odd ruined castle? You can show us one of those, too?”
“Castles abound,” said Gogosu. “But you told me there are guides and guides. Well, so are there castles and castles. And you’re right: anyone can show you a tumble of old boulders and call it a castle. But I, Emil Gogosu, can show you a
The Americans Armstrong and Laverne got the gist of this and became excited. Armstrong, in his Texas drawl, said: “Hey, George, tell him what we’re really doing here. Explain to him how close he was when he talked about Dracula and vampires and all.”
“In America,” Vulpe told the hunter, “all over the world, in fact, Transylvania and the
are famous! Not so much for their dramatic beauty or gaunt isolation as for their myths and legends. You talked of Dracula, who had his origins in a cruel Vlad of olden times … but don’t you know that every year the tourists flock in their droves to visit the great Drakul’s homeland and the castles where he’s said to have dwelled? Indeed, it’s big business. And we believe it could be even bigger.”
“Pah!” said Gogosu. “Why, this whole country is steeped in olden lore and superstitious myths. This impaler Vlad’s just a one of them.” He leaned closer, lowered his voice and his eyes went big and round. “I could take you to a castle old as the mountains themselves, a shattered keep so feared that even today it’s left entirely alone in a trackless place, like naked bones under the moon, kept secret in the lee of haunted crags!” He sat back and nodded his satisfaction with their expressions. “There!”
After Vulpe had translated, Randy Laverne said, “Wow!” And more soberly: “But … do you think he’s for real?”
And the hunter knew what he’d said. He stared straight and frowning into Laverne’s wide eyes and instructed Vulpe: “You tell him that I shot the last man who called me a liar right in his backside. And you can also tell him this: that in these ruins I know, there’s a great grey wolf keeps watch even today. And that’s a fact, for I’ve tried to shoot him, too!”
Vulpe began to translate, but in the middle of it the hunter started to laugh. “Hey! Hey!” he said. “Not so serious! And don’t take my threats too much to heart. Oh, I know my story’s a wild-sounding thing but it’s true all the same. Pay me for my time and trouble and come see for yourselves. Well, what do you say?”
Vulpe held up a cautionary hand and Gogosu looked at it curiously in the moment before it was withdrawn. It had felt strange, that hand, when he’d grasped it. And there’d been something not quite right about it when Vulpe had clasped the gangling Armstrong’s shoulder. Also, Vulpe seemed shy about his hands and kept them out of sight most of the time. “Now wait,” said the young expatriate Romanian, reclaiming the hunter’s attention. “Let’s first see if we’re talking about the right place.”
place?” said Gogosu, puzzled. “And just how many such places do you think there are?”
“I meant,” Vulpe explained, “let’s see if maybe we’ve heard of this castle of yours.”
“I doubt it. You’ll not find it on any modern maps, and that’s for sure. I reckon the authorities think that if they leave it alone—if they just ignore it for long enough—then maybe it’ll finally crumble away! No, no, you’ve not heard of this place, I’m sure.”
“Well, let’s check it out anyway,” said Vulpe. “You see, the deeds, territories and history of the original Dracula—I mean of the Wallachian prince from whom Dracula took his name—are well chronicled and absolutely authentic. An Englishman turned the fact into fiction, that’s all, and in so doing started a legend. Then there was a famous Frenchman who also wrote about a castle in the Carpathians, and possibly started a legend or two of his own. And finally an American did the same thing.
“Now the thing is, this American—his name would mean nothing to you—has since become very famous. If we could find
castle … it could be the Dracula story all over again! Tourists? Ah, but you’d see some
then, Emil Gogosu! And who knows but that you’d be chief guide, eh?”
Gogosu chewed the centre of his moustache. “Huh!” he finally snorted; but his eyes had grown very bright and not a little greedy. He rubbed his nose, finally said: “Very well, so what do you want to know? How can we decide if the castle I know and the one you’re looking for is one and the same, eh?”
“It might be simpler than you think,” said Vulpe. “For example, how long has this place of yours been a ruin?”
“Oh, it blew up before my time,” Gogosu answered with a shrug—and was at once astonished to see Vulpe give a great start! “Eh?”
But already the American was translating to his friends, and astonishment and wonder were mirrored in their faces, too. Finally Vulpe turned again to the hunter. “Blew up, you say? You mean … exploded?”
“Or bombed, yes,” said Gogosu, frowning. “When a wall falls it falls, but some of these walls have been blasted outwards, hurled afar.”
Vulpe was very excited now, but he tried not to show it. “And did it have a name, this castle? What of its owner before it fell? That could be very important.”
“Its name?” Gogosu screwed up his face in concentration. He tapped his forehead, leaned back in his chair, finally shook his head. “My father’s father had old maps,” he said. “The name of the place was on them. That’s where I first saw it and when I first decided to go and see it. But its name … it’s gone now.”
“Maps like this one?” said Armstrong. He produced a copy of an old Romanian map and spread it on the table. It soaked up a little beer but otherwise was fine.
“Like this one, aye,” Gogosu nodded, “but older, far older. This is just a copy. Here, let me see.” He smoothed the map out, stared at it in several places. “Not shown,” he said. “My castle is not shown. Just a blank space. Well, that’s understandable enough. Gloomy old place. It’s like I said: they’d like to forget it. Legends? You don’t know the half of it!” And a moment later:
he jerked back in his seat and clutched at his forehead with both hands.
cried Laverne. “Is he OK?”
“OK, yes …
said Emil Gogosu. And to Vulpe: “Now I remember, Gheorghe. It was … Ferenczy!”
Vulpe’s bottom jaw, and those of his friends, fell open. “Jesus!” said Laverne again, this time in a whisper.
“The Castle Ferenczy?” Armstrong reached over and grabbed the hunter’s forearm.
Gogosu nodded. “That’s it. And that’s the one, eh?”
Vulpe and the others fell back in their seats, gaped at each other; they acted bewildered, confused or simply astonished. But at last Vulpe said, “Yes, that’s the one. And you’ll take us to it? Tomorrow?”
“Oh, be sure I will—” said Gogosu,”—for a price!” And he looked at Vulpe’s hands where he’d spread them on the table, holding down the map. Vulpe saw where the hunter was looking but this time made no attempt to hide his hands away. Instead, he merely raised an eyebrow.
“An accident?” the old Romanian asked him. “If so, they patched you up rather cleverly.”
“No,” Vulpe answered, “no accident. I was born like this. It’s just that my parents always taught me to hide them away, that’s all. And so I do, except from my friends …”
Because of the mountains, the sun seemed a little late in rising. When it did it came up hot and smoky. At eight-thirty the three Americans were waiting for Gogosu on the dusty road outside the inn, their packs at their feet, peaked caps on their heads with tinted visors to keep out the worst of the sun. The old hunter had told them he’d “collect” them here, at this hour, though they hadn’t been sure exactly what he’d meant.
Randy Laverne had just drained a small bottle of beer and put it down to one side of the inn’s doorstep when they heard the rattle and clatter of a local bus. These were so rare as to be near-fabulous; certainly the arrival of one such demanded a photograph or two; Seth Armstrong got out his camera and started snapping as the beaten-up bus came lurching out of the pines and down the serpentine road towards the inn.
The thing was a wonderful contraption: bald tyres, bonnet vibrating to a blur over the back-firing engine, windows bleary and fly-specked. The driver’s window was especially bloody, from the eviscerations of a thousand suicided insects; and Emil Gogosu was leaning out of the folding doors at the front with a huge grin stamped on his leathery face, waving at them, indicating they should get aboard.
The bus shuddered to a halt; the driver grinned, nodded and held up a roll of brown tickets; Gogosu stepped down and helped the three strap their packs to running-boards which went the full length of this ancient vehicle. Then they were aboard, paid their fare, collapsed or were shaken into bone-jarring seats as the driver engaged a low gear to let the one-in-five downward slope do the work of his engine.
George Vulpe was seated beside Gogosu. “OK,” he said, when he’d recovered his breath, “so where are we going?”
“First the payment,” said the hunter.
“Old man,” Vulpe returned, “I’ve this feeling you don’t much trust us!”
“Not so much of the “old”—I’m only fifty-four,” said Gogosu. “I weather easy. But even so, I didn’t get this old without learning that it’s sometimes best to collect your pay
the fact! Trust has nothing to do with it. I don’t want you falling off a mountain with my wages in your pocket, that’s all!” And he burst into laughter at Vulpe’s expression. But in another moment:
“We’re going down to Lipova where we’ll pick up a train to Sebis. Then we’ll try to hitch a ride on a cart to Halmagiu village. And
we start climbing! Actually it’s a longcut. You know what that is? The opposite to a shortcut. You see, the castle is only, oh, maybe fifty kilometres from here as the crow flies—but we’re not crows. So instead of crossing the Zarundului we’re going round ‘em. Can’t cross ‘em anyway; no roads. And Halmagiu is a good base camp for the climb. Now don’t go getting all worried: it’s not
much of a climb, not in daylight. If an “old man” like me can do it, you young ’uns should shoot up there like goats!”
“Couldn’t we have taken the train from Savirsin all the way?” Vulpe wanted to know.
“If there was one scheduled. But there isn’t. Don’t be so eager. We’ll get there. You did say you had six days left before you have to be in Bucuresti to catch your plane? So what’s the hurry? The way I reckon it we should be in Sebis before noon—if we make the connection in Lipova. There
be a bus from Sebis to Halmagiu, which would get us there by, oh, two-thirty at the latest. Or we hitch rides … on trucks, carts, what have you. So we could get in late, and have to put up there for the night. Any time after four is too late—unless you maybe fancy sleeping on the mountain?”
“We wouldn’t fancy that, no.”
“Hah!” Gogosu snorted. “Fair-weather climbers! But in fact the weather
fair. Too damned warm for me! There’d be no problems. A big tin of Hungarian sausages in brine—they come in cheap from across the border—a loaf of black bread, a cheap bottle of plum brandy and a few beers. What? … a night under the stars in the lee of the crags, with a campfire burning red and the smell of resin coming up off the pines, would do you three the world of good. Your lungs would think they’d died and gone to lung heaven!” He made it sound good.
“We’ll see,” said Vulpe. “Meanwhile, we’ll pay you half now and the rest when we see these ruins you’ve promised us.” He took out a bundle of
and counted off the notes—probably more money than Gogosu would normally see in a month, but very little to him and his companions—then topped up the hunter’s cupped palms with a pile of copper
“shrapnel” or “scrap metal” to the three Americans. Gogosu counted it all very carefully and finally tucked it away, tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t hold it. In the end he grinned broadly and smacked his lips.
That’ll keep me in brandy for a while,” he said. And more hurriedly: “A
while, you understand.”
Vulpe nodded knowingly: “Oh, yes, I understand,” and smiled as he settled back in his half of the seat.
From behind, the strident, excited voices of Armstrong and Laverne grew loud to compensate for the rumble and clatter of the bus; in front an old woman sat with a huge wire cage of squabbling chicks in her lap; a pair of hulking young farmers were hunched on the other side of the central aisle, discussing fowl-pest or some such and arguing over a decades-browned copy of
Romanian Farming Life.
There was a family group in the rear of the bus—all very smart, incongruous, uncomfortable and odd-looking in almost-modern suits and dresses—possibly on their way to a wedding or reunion or whatever.