By Johnny Nys
Published: April 17, 2008
Updated: April 17, 2008
Frederick Richter gazed at the distant lightning. He counted the seconds till the thunder reached the boat. A summer storm was drowning the mainland with heavy rains. The French farmers would welcome the water. Sitting amongst them in one of the harbour cafés of Calais, their nagging had driven Frederick nearly crazy. Their twittery voices and haughty attitude made him homesick for his own country.
Germany, the pride of Europe. His country was heading toward a wonderful future. The economy was rising thanks to new alliances with foreign businessmen. Much was owed to the first train steaming its way out of Dresdner station in Leipzig last April. Frederick himself was off to see one of his new partners in transportation, Sir Duffling of England.
Not only business alliances stirred up this 19th century world; political ones as well. Britain, along with the other major European powers, had signed a pact that guaranteed the sovereignty of Belgium. Next February Queen Victoria of England, cousin to the Belgian King Leopold, would marry another of the King’s cousins, Prince Albert. Frederick Richter had received an invitation to the wedding through Sir Duffling. That was going to be an event he would remember for the rest of his life. Sir Duffling was a good man – with a charming daughter to boot. If everything went well, they would be married before it was the Queen’s turn.
Ah, the sweet Annabelle Duffling. Frederick had only seen paintings of her, done by a very gifted artist Sir Duffling had hired to immortalize his family. Duffling had brought the paintings with him when he had come to Germany last year. Annabelle had been fifteen at the time of her modelling, nothing more than a child but with the future woman hiding beneath the surface. Frederick could detect that woman in the drawings. A year had gone by and he had no problem envisioning how Annabelle would look today.
Nothing better than a marriage to seal business contracts. Annabelle Duffling would make him a good wife and her father would gain a powerful associate on the mainland. Everybody would win.
Frederick turned his back to the far-away storm and walked across the deck to the staircase. His cabin was next to the captain’s. A privilege Sir Duffling had arranged for him as well.
As he opened a door, a draft blew in his face. The porthole was open. He clearly remembered closing it before he had left the cabin. He was carrying too many valuables in his luggage. These shipping folk could not be trusted.
He walked over to the porthole and glanced outside. Below him, the Channel waters broke away under the hull of the ship. White foam glistened in the dark. He shivered, closed the porthole and turned around.
A man was standing in the middle of his cabin.
Before Frederick could address him, the man jumped at him with such speed and agility Frederick remembered hunting wolves in the Black Forest. This time, the wolf was hunting him.
The man held his face only inches from his own. His skin was almost transparent, bloodless. The man grabbed Frederick by his arms. Frederick did the same. His fingers closed around sturdy muscles, flexing furiously beneath his grasp. In an instant, the man shook off Frederick’s hands, turned him around and clasped them behind his back, but not before Frederick got a look at the man’s teeth.
A beast’s teeth.
Dressed in a man’s clothes, expensive clothes at that, the creature was no man at all. Clad in a dark, velvet cloak and a three piece suit, it was a man on the surface but underneath a demon from hell, faster and stronger than physically possible. And now it was holding him captive.
“Keep very still,” the creature whispered. “This might hurt.”
It did, at first. The beast's fangs penetrated Frederick’s skin. He was sure he was going to die. Hoping for it. His neck was on fire. Then his head. Soon his entire body. He closed his eyes to welcome the darkness of death. Suddenly, the heat left him. Something cold dripped across his lips. The creature’s teeth no longer pressed against him. He opened his eyes. Their roles had reversed. Frederick was clutching the other one by the shoulders, pressing his mouth against its neck, sucking.
Next to the coldness, images flashed into his mind. Jungles, pyramids, the ocean, a huge island, the starry sky but so different from the one he knew. The images came faster and faster. He knew if he stopped drinking the creature’s blood they would cease, but he couldn’t stop. He needed the blood. Needed it so badly.
What was happening to him?
When the speed of the images became too much for him to bear, he let out a cry, pushed the other one away and collapsed.
He came to lying in the middle of the cabin. He looked around him in a daze, trying to recognize the objects surrounding him. His desk. His bed. Someone sitting on his bed. No, not someone. SomeTHING.
“Vhy are you here?” he asked slow and quietly. “Vhat did you do to me?”
Frederick stumbled to his feet. He had trouble finding his balance. He touched his neck where the creature’s fangs had penetrated his skin. The small holes had closed up. Not a drop of blood was spilled.
“In the morning the marks will be gone,” the creature said, avoiding Frederick’s question.
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t expect you to understand,” the creature said. “Call it … an experiment. Why did God create humans?”
“As good an explanation as any.”
“I don’t believe zat.”
The creature sighed. “It doesn’t matter what you believe. What matters is what IS. Look around you. We’re in a boat, crossing the Channel. You don’t have to believe it. You have to accept it. It’s undeniable. We’re here. Don’t ponder HOW we got here, WHO supposedly put us here, or WHY. In the end, none of that matters. You’ll see.”
The creature circled him. Frederick tried to look him in the eyes all the way. When it passed behind him, he quickly turned his head the other way.
The creature was gone.
Frederick turned around, searched the cabin. He turned again and there it was, its nose an inch separated from his own. “How did you …”
“You’ll learn. You have time to learn. Plenty of time. You don’t need to worry about your business. No more elaborate meals for you. Sleep, yes, plenty of sleep, but all the night’s hours are yours. As long as you remember that to the rest of the world, you are dead.”
“But … I’m not! I’m standing, breazing, talking. I can’t be dead.”
“Face it, you’re dead.”
“But … I vas going to get married! I haf an important business transaction with Herr Duffling! I can’t …”
“You will,” the creature said. “You have no choice.”
“No, I don’t believe zat! I von’t believe zat!”
The creature sighed. “Suit yourself. But you’ll come looking for me soon.”
It vanished again, leaving Frederick alone and devastated.