The year is 1931:
Edgar awoke to the startling wail of the steam engines whistle. It’s shrill, perennial song caused a sharp pain in his ears and instinctively he clasped his hands over his ears. When it subsided, he was roused from his trance by a deep, silky laugh just in front of him. He sheepishly released his small, perky ears and looked up to see quite frankly the most resplendent individual he’d ever cast eyes on. The man’s coat was a deep red, that had a beautiful shimmer to the material that Edgar assumed was silk. It flowed like oceanic waves and was offset by a parade of shiny, thick, black buttons that Edgar couldn’t help but stare at for a moment. There was something oddly hypnotic about them, a depth in their darkness that was like looking into the deepest abyss. The coat was open, revealing a black waistcoat of a similar material to the coat, perfectly complimenting the buttons. He looked to the man’s face, hardly defined in the dim light of the carriage they were in and thought he seemed rather pale (in this light at least) His cheekbones protruded proudly, and a sharp jawline was adorned with a shortly trimmed beard. He had a thin moustache, as dark as the buttons, that stretched across his face and had a shine that suggested he oiled it. His face was framed with long flowing hair that rested just below his shoulders. He noticed Edgar’s gawking and composed himself swiftly.
“My deepest apologies,” he said, and Edgar was rather surprised by how rich and deep the strangers voice was, most certainly the most incredible voice he’d ever heard, “I hope I didn’t embarrass you; I simply have a hard time controlling myself sometimes.”
Edgar felt a light sheet of perspiration begin to form over his face and he reached into his coat pocket for a handkerchief and dabbed delicately at his face. “No, no, not at all. I was just taken by surprise is all I…” He looked around the carriage and out of the window to see the English countryside plummeting by into the folds of the night, “Well it’s the strangest thing, I don’t actually recall getting on a train.” The man leaned forward in his seat, his fingers steepled over the table between them.
“How very peculiar and where, may I ask, are you headed?”
Edgar thought for a moment and patted his pockets for a ticket yet felt none. “I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that.”
The man leaned back into his seat and pulled a golden pocket watch from his left pocket and flicked it open, after inspecting it for himself he turned it to Edgar and saw that it was just past 8pm.
“Well, the night is still young,” the stranger said, “plenty of time to solve this mystery.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
An overly cheerful woman bearing a trolley was making her rounds of the carriages offering a bakery sized selection of the most gorgeous and aromatic cakes, pastries and tarts which normally would have enticed Edgar to lighten his wallet significantly and feast until his suit felt strangling. Yet presently it simply caused his stomach to turn and make his face go a sickly green colour. His throat went dry, and he realised he couldn’t have felt more revolted if he was being forced to eat from a sewer. He opted for a cup of tea and the stranger decided to join him and for a while they sat in pleasant silence; Edgar tentatively sipping his drink and never fully taking his fascinated eyes off the stranger. The stranger drank his tea quickly and soon smacked his lips and placed the cup and saucer delicately on the table with a soft ‘clink’ He noticed Edgar staring after a while and a small coy smile cracked his porcelain features. “What is your name?” He asked. Edgar blushed just being addressed and it took him a fair few attempts to manage to speak without stuttering or stumbling.
“E-Edgar. Edgar Robins.”
“Well Edgar, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am Viktor Bellue.”
“That- that is a rather exotic name.” Edgar hoped it came across as a compliment because he truly desired Viktor’s favour.
“Thank you. And if I may return a kindness back to you, I believe your name is very suited for you.”
Edgar tilted his head with genuine curiosity, like a dog, “How so?”
Viktor gestured to the rest of the carriage as he spoke in a level purr, “Robins are too beautiful to be caged. And you seem so uncomfortable in this environment. You crave to be free.”
“I am free.” Edgar gently insisted and this made Viktor smile, “Not yet you’re not.” He retorted simply. He rose from his seat and Edgar felt a twinge of disappointment in his lack of vicinity and Viktor collected the cups and saucers and slid the door open. “I have just the thing for your sickness my friend,” He smiled warmly, “I shall return momentarily.” The silence in Viktor’s absence was louder than the train could ever have been, and Edgar felt a monumental sense of loss without his new travelling companion, like a piece of him had been violently ripped away. The world outside the window was merely a dark blur and made his nausea feel worse so he rose from his seat thinking he would take some air to distract himself, maybe even find Viktor and bring himself some meagre comfort. He was disheartened to find that when the carriage door slid open there was no respite for him from the silence. While he had optimistically awaited the hum of chattering businessmen and bored children all he was greeted with was the rhythmic clattering of the train beating against the tracks. The corridor was lined with a maroon carpet flecked with small, yellow diamonds. It seemed very regal, Edgar thought and as he walked, he couldn’t help but notice it swallowed the sound of his footsteps. He huffed and began stomping, then furiously jumping and when he still couldn’t hear his steps, he yelled in aggravation flung open the carriage door and threw himself onto the gangway connection. He could’ve cried finally being able to hear something tangible and he clung to the deathly cold railing as the night wind stung his face with its icy touch. Edgar inhaled deeply, sucking in air like a glutton. His nausea ever so slowly began to subside a little. He closed his eyes and laughed in relief, his own voice sounding alien to him.
Then he heard a tearing sound as a match was ignited behind him. He jolted and spun to see a figure, illuminated only by the malnourished flame as they lit a cigarette and shunned themself into the dark once again when they shook the flame out. The smoker’s breath was rattling as they inhaled then they stepped forward into the light and Edgar cautiously stepped back, pushing himself further against the railing. The man (for the smoker was perhaps the most textbook example of a man one could fathom) was an ape. Which Edgar thought seemed awfully rude of him to think but there really was no other way to describe him. He was quite simply a collection of muscle and hair. A stout man brandishing impressive voluptuous mutton chops and muddy brown hair that was slicked back and shiny. A stout man, perhaps 5 foot 6 with great broad shoulders and black gloved hands that dwarfed the cigarette and made it look quite ridiculous. He wore a brown leather coat that draped to his ankles and was quite clearly very frequently worn…and rarely washed. Edgar scrunched up his nose, the man was rather musty, like a closet of moth ravaged clothes. The man exhaled a great smog from his mouth that made Edgar cough.
“Evening.” The man said after the cloud of smoke subsided. His voice was rough like sandpaper and nails and was positively as terrifying as the rest of him.
“Good evening.” Edgar managed, trying not to choke over the smoke.
“Where are you headed?” the man enquired, to which Edgar of course had no response, and while he was trying to formulate one; the man grew bored and moved on.
“What about where you’re coming from?” He tried instead and again Edgar’s response was non-existent.
“Don’t know where you’ve been and don’t know where you’re going. So, what in the hell are you doing on this train?” The man was amused. Good, Edgar thought, people never killed the amusing folk, even when they could squash aforementioned folk’s head as swiftly as swatting a fly.
“I’m…just enjoying the ride, I suppose.” Edgar eventually concluded, to which the man scoffed.
“You look sickly, you coming down with something?”
“I- I felt a little unsteady but the air is helping.” The man stepped closer. Edgar had nowhere further to step to.
“Perhaps in your…unsteady state…you’ve had a little difficulty with the senses.”
Edgar’s eyes widened and the suspicion sprouting in his chest was blossoming into accusatory anger, “Just who are you? How do you know these things?” As the man got closer and stepped under the light of the small lantern hanging over the connection doorway, Edgar spied a mark on his white and blue striped button down. It looked diluted, like it had been scrubbed and it had gone a very light, faded red. It could’ve been any number of things he supposed but Edgar felt a cold certainty worm through his being, and he knew it to be blood. The man noticed Edgar’s wayward glance and smiled at him. An awful, crooked smile of yellowed teeth.
“I’ve been a bad boy, but if it reassures you any, I’m far from the baddest on this train.”
“Good god, what have you done?” Edgar paled in the face, his now sweaty palms slipped and grasped for a firm hold on the railing. He tried not to look. He didn’t want to, it was revolting. This lunatic must surely have hurt a passenger. Not that he’d seen any and… his train of thought derailed as he fixated on the blood stain again. Revolting…of course. Evil, wicked. His mouth went dry, and he smacked his lips hungrily. Hungrily? Did he feel…
“Hungry?” The man sneered, seeming to read Edgar’s thoughts and Edgar spluttered a feeble response in the negative. The cigarette had burned quickly to the man’s fingertips, and he threw it under his boot and violently stomped it out. “Don’t. Drink. Anything.” He firmly commanded, “Otherwise you’ll end up another stain on this shirt.” The man entered the next carriage and Edgar slid to the floor in deflated relief, clutching his chest and allowing his fear to finally present itself on his face.
After a few minutes he felt sturdy enough within himself to return inside and, while feeling rather lightheaded from his encounter with an obvious lunatic managed to return to the compartment. Inside he could see Viktor sitting slumped back into his chair, his head hidden from the light. He was dragging the slender index finger of his right hand around in circles on the table. His nail (which Edgar only now observed was shockingly pointed and sharp looking) was absently marking doodles into the table. On both sides of the table stood a glass, filled to the brim with a cherry red coloured liquid. Edgar looked to the end of the carriage where he had had his encounter with the smoker and when he looked back, he recoiled because pressed against the doorway was the darkened outline of Viktor, inches from Edgar, only separated by a thin door. Slowly, Viktor raised his hand and slid the door open, he smiled but there was a weight in his features and Edgar could see how manufactured it was.
“Rude to leave a friend waiting,” Viktor scolded lightly, “I thought you’d perhaps left me.” A pang of guilt hit Edgar at Viktor’s words, a genuine sympathy for the man who had merely wished to remedy Edgar’s sickness.
“I’m truly sorry, Viktor,” and he meant it, “I…was distracted.”
“Well, you’re here know.” Viktor returned to his seat and Edgar to his. They sat in silence for a few moments with Viktor sitting expectantly with his fingers steepled watching Edgar. He leaned forward onto the table and with two fingers reached across to Edgar’s glass and pushed it closer towards him. Edgar looked down into the pool of red and he felt that hunger take hold of him again.
“What- what is it, Viktor?”
“It is the finest of all wines, it is the nectar of kings and queens alike.”
“I’m afraid I am neither of those things.”
“Perhaps I am,” Viktor dragged a slightly salivating tongue over his pink lips and cradled his own glass maternally in his hand. He took a long sip, “And perhaps, if you drink, you could be too.”
Edgar flushed at this, his face reaching a colour close to the wine. He picked up the glass and it trembled in his hand, jostling small waves over the liquid. He heard the lunatics voice, ‘Don’t. drink. Anything.” Edgar returned the glass to the table.
“I’m not thirsty.” He muttered nervously. The piercing glare of Viktor was apparent, and Edgar couldn’t bring himself to meet it.
“You’re in a cage, little robin.” Viktor stated coldly. “I can see your wings, the beautiful colours hidden beneath your clothing. I can see how you long to fly.” Edgar’s heart leapt and he finally faced Viktor’s eyes. They looked empty, void of emotion, but Edgar could see himself within Viktor’s glassy pupil and felt a longing so deep and complete that he could see everything in them. Past, present, future. Everything. Viktor placed a cold hand over Edgar’s, “You are clipped by cowardice, you allow it so. I want you to fly with me.”
“I want that too.” For in that moment, Edgar wanted nothing more. With his free hand, Viktor pushed the glass closer to Edgar, “Then free yourself.” He implored. The drink looked tantalizing, Edgar was acutely aware of how parched he was, how cool and refreshing it looked.
Don’t. Drink. Anything.
The frightful voice of the lunatic broke to the forefront of his mind again, throwing everything he felt into disequilibrium.
“I- I” Edgar started but was hushed with an extended finger.
“Do you love me?” Viktor asked, catching Edgar completely by surprise. Edgar had no idea what to say and couldn’t even tell himself what he felt. The pull to Viktor was undeniable, a magnetism. Viktor said each word slowly, enunciating every word and making it sound like poetry, “Do you love me, Edgar Robins?” He whispered.
He had felt caged, Viktor was right. His whole life he felt confined within himself, trapped in a sarcophagus of his own skin. Yet, that was different with Viktor. His gaze was like feeling the sun on his skin for the first time, his touch like sheets of satin on his bathed body.
“Yes,” Edgar answered after a few moments, “I love you.”
“Then drink. Fly with me.”
Edgar picked up the glass once more, his hand no longer trembled. He brought it to his lips and the crisp, chill condensation of the glass was a welcome sanctuary for his dry mouth. He tipped the glass and felt the wine pour over the crescent curves of his lips, invigorating his tongue with a satisfaction that was heavenly. It was unlike any wine in taste though, a metallic twang was present, like iron. The door to the compartment slid open, “I told you not to drink.” The voice of the smoker hissed and both Edgar and Viktor turned surprised to see the brute of a man in their carriage. A snarl quaked through Viktor’s throat and two long fang like teeth grew and jutted from his mouth.
“Van Helsing.” He snarled and was greeted with that same crooked grin he had given Edgar.
“Viktor, you haven’t changed a bit.”
“You have, decrepit and mangled.”
“Yes, the cost of aging unfortunately. You’ll have to forgive the state of my clothes though, for that I have no excuse.” He lifted his jacket back, openly exposing the blood stain on his shirt, “I had an issue boarding, me and a passenger seemed to have mixed up our seats.” Viktor’s eyes widened and he shot to his feet.
“Bastard,” Viktor hissed, “Like the rest of your filthy clan.”
“Whose blood is that Viktor?” Edgar asked, rising to join him.
“I don’t enjoy being the bearer of bad news,” Van Helsing said, pulling a cigarette from his jacket and pursing it between his lips, “You may love him, but his heart is in many other places besides this quaint little compartment.”
Edgar felt his heart break and looked to Viktor who hadn’t taken his eyes of Helsing or even looked at Edgar since his arrival. He seemed detached, so suddenly not the same man, distant and bitter. Van Helsing swiped a match against his boot and lit the cigarette.
“Don’t look at me like that Viktor, it’s only fair really, blood for blood, lost love for lost love.”
Viktor scoffed, “So you come all this way just to taunt me over one lost bride? Van Helsing, I never thought you so petty, I can fill my bed again easily enough.”
“No, I didn’t come here for one. I have nothing left, and so shall you.”
Edgar felt a sudden burning in his neck. Wincing, he looked at his reflection in the window and saw two narrow holes in his neck, fading and being covered over with fresh skin as they pulsed hotly. In the reflection, he saw Van Helsing drop the cigarette and when it hit the carpet, he heard a shockingly loud whoosh and the carpet erupted into flame. It followed a neat, thin trail out of the carriage, over the connection and into the next.
“Goodbye Viktor.” Van Helsing smiled. It wasn’t so crooked this time, there seemed genuine warmth. Viktor roared and flung himself at Van Helsing throwing him to the ground as the two grappled. Viktor broke free and instead set off to curb the marching of the fire but Van Helsing pulled a knife from his jacket and ran at the back of Viktor. Edgar cried out a terrified warning and Viktor turned just in time to see Van Helsing’s blade pierce his chest.
“I’ll see you in hell, old friend.” Van Helsing said as the train suddenly exploded, and the carriages were engulfed in a great whirlwind of fire.
Edgar awoke sometime later on the ground, coughing and spluttering ash into the air. He could hear the soft crackling of a fire and sat up to see the remains of the train scattered around him. Flaming shards of metal and upholstery searing and charring. He rose to his feet; a sharp flare of pain tore through his left leg and so he limped through the debris. He saw surprisingly intact, some kind of box pinned under some rubble and out of sheer curiosity, lifted some of it to investigate. It was a coffin, a plain simple affair, made of light, un-sanded wood, inside was a corpse, its skin crackling and crunching. Edgar looked around and saw corners, planks and random pieces of that same wood thrown haphazardly all around him. Far too much wood for just one coffin of that he was certain. His back started to burn, and he looked behind him and saw the first golden rays of the morning sun. He squinted and hissed as the burning seemed to spread. He quickly found the most intact coffin, emptied it and dragged it underneath a sufficiently large sheet of metal. As he climbed in, he paused to look at the sun. The last time he would ever see it and he tried to forge every detail to memory, like the last lingering kiss of a departing lover. When he could stand the burning no longer, he closed the lid of the coffin and plunged himself into darkness. As Edgar Robins drifted to sleep, he found himself laughing lightly as he thought that he now lay among the broken cages of others, as he sealed himself into a new one.