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Dracula and Johnny

In our next Gutteral scream,

John Ryan sinks his teeth into a classic.

Dracula and Johnny by John Ryan


Did you know my family is quite adept at viniculture?” the Count asked. 

Viniculture? I’m afraid I don’t know what that is,” Harker confessed from the other end of the table.

The Count smiled broadly and leaned towards the candlelight, his beautiful teeth gleaming in even rows. He stuck his tongue between them playfully. “I refer, of course, to the cultivation of grapes for making wine,” he said. It took some effort to pronounce the w.

Ohhh, winemaking. Yeah, that’s great!” enthused Harker. “Can we have some?” He had only drunk an ouzo-like spirit since arriving. Disoriented by the train and carriage rides, the damp duskiness of the castle’s interior, the Count’s creepily stuffy manner, and now the effects of the high-octane drink, he failed at niceties.

But of course,” the Count rejoined. “Renfield!”

Harker heard the chiming of a bell. However, from the other end of the long mahogany table, he could not clearly see the Count’s hands. Were they still flat upon the table?

Yes, master.” The obsequious servant's voice came in through a wall-mounted megaphone.

Some wine for my guest and myself,” the Count commanded.

Right away, master,” Renfield croaked. The residual echo of his voice died over the table.

Harker was conscious of the great distance between himself and his host.
Yes, the Dragool Family have long inhabited this region, Mr. Harker.”

Harker started. The Count’s lips had not appeared to move, but Harker clearly heard his voice in his ears.

I’m sorry, but—did you just say—?”

Oh, yes, many centuries. Our red wines are, perhaps, the finest on this side of the Transylvanian Alps. But, ah, we enjoy such limited distribution. I would dare to say no one west of Budapest has quaffed a glass of one of our varietals and lived to tell about it. Ha-ha! I am speaking hyperbolically, of course.”

Harker felt the Count studying his face and looked away nervously.

Our country is exquisitely beautiful, is it not?”

Harker found himself nodding, even though the smeared window of the train car had revealed nothing. The darkness of the countryside was complete.

You passed many times over the River Olt but did not see it on your way to the castle. It is like a giant’s slowly unwinding tunic fluttering down off the tops of his shoulders, spreading over his toes to tangle in the valleys below. My castle overlooks those valleys. And I assure you,” the Count said, leaning in again, “that the giant does not sleep at night.”

Harker missed the meaning, his thirst getting the better of him. Loosening his shirt collar, he undid his ascot and let the ends lie alongside the opening, exposing a bit of neck. The Count’s eyes gleamed in the candlelight.

Tomorrow—if you are so able—I will show you the grape terraces carved on the southern bank of the river. Deep down in the ground are reserves of oil and coal. Perhaps they are what impart the pungent acidity that is the unique feature of our wines, the terroir.” He pronounced the word like terror and waited for effect, but none settled on Harker. The Count frowned. “Ah. As well, our oak casks lie deep under the castle in natural caves. Nothing but the wine. And the bats, of course.”

A sudden stirring of the darkness behind the Count arrested Harker’s attention. It might have been the mention of bats, but he could swear that Renfield simply materialized there.

The wine, master,” Renfield said, decidedly corporeal beside the host. He held two goblets in his hands, poised to give one to the Count.

Please, Renfield, serve our guest first.”

Yes, master.” Renfield shuffled down the length of the immense table. Harker could hear only the servant’s labored breathing. Finally, he reached Harker and, nearing exhaustion, announced, “Your…wine…. Sir.”

Thank you,” said Harker, waiting until the loathsome servant had resumed his arduous journey back to the Count before picking up the goblet. It was heavy, and the deep crimson liquid inside had legs, as they say. Harker had seen less viscous oil in his time.

To your longevity,” said the Count, raising his own goblet, his eyes catching a mischievous sparkle from the candlelight.

Harker wasted no time in draining half his cup. 

The Count waited to sip from his own, savoring the sumptuous undulations of Harker’s Adam’s apple and imagining the vital throb of blood through his carotid artery. At last, he brought his goblet up, just as Harker set his down.

Wow, Count, that is some wine. I’ve never had anything like it!”

Pleased, the Count smiled. Then, as the liquid in his cup touched his lips, he froze.

Oh, no.

No, that cannot be.

This cup has…wine?

Renfield!

Renfield!” the Count bellowed.

Master?” came the meek voice of the lugubrious servant. He materialized at the Count’s side as Harker gulped from his goblet again.

Renfield!” The Count quieted and pulled the servant’s head near his lips. “Did you make a mistake with the cups?”

No, master, I swear!

You lie!

Master, mercy!” the servant quavered.

Then what is this?” the Count hissed.

Wine!

Exactly! Then what does he have?

Realization dawned on Renfield. He looked Harker’s way simultaneous with his master.

Harker slammed the goblet to the table with a clang. “More, Renfield, more! Count, this stuff is amazing!”

The Count released Renfield’s head and patted the top of it instead. “Renfield, you will please excuse us now?”

Yes, master.”

Good. I am going to discuss…business with Mr. Harker.”

Jonathan Harker had unwittingly given Count Dracula a new idea. He had never prepared a guest with bloodmeal before, but then, why not? 

As he clutched a terrified Harker in the air, the vampire plunged his fangs in, savoring the relaxed blood flow, the tang of Harker’s final escaping breaths, the exotic terroir.

Vow, the Count thought, citing that night’s victim, this stuff is amazing.


John Joseph Ryan writes unusual tales, verse noir, and crime fiction. His work has appeared in River Styx, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Akashic Books' Mondays Are Murder series, Out of the Gutter Flash Fiction Offensive, the Noir Riot anthology, Shotgun Honey, Suspense Magazine, and elsewhere. John’s collaborative noir short, “Hothouse by the River,” was published in association with the University of Iowa Center for the Book. His debut novel, A Bullet Apiece, was published by Blank Slate Press in 2015. A true and shameless corrupter of the young, John is both a teacher and a parent in St. Louis, MO.