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Nosferatu

by Tom Baker 4 days ago in fiction

Adapted from the Screenplay by Henrik Galeen

Preface

The author does not wish to go on and on at length as to his adaptation of Nosferatu. It was completed chiefly because it was impossible for him to do otherwise. It was a project too tempting, too perfect, too darkly enchanting NOT to eventually undertake. Though we have departed here and there from Herr Galeen's original script, we have remained, as it were, scrupulously faithful. Put down our departures to necessity, if you must, artistic lisence, at the very least.

Nosferatu (1922) is a film both horrifyingly stark and iconically brilliant; its images present a vampire tale out of the worst and most fearful, dire aspects of the Victorian imagination. The film's vampire, Orlok, unlike the suave, sexy Lugosi, or even later interpretations, is a rat-like, cadaverous, verminous living corpse; a silent film grotesque as mad and menacing as a literal reanimated cadaver. He carries death with him in his wake, a reverse Pied Piper of Hamlin, bringing the rats WITH him, instead of leading them (and finally the children) away. He seems to stink of must and mildew and rats and blood.

His eyes are ferocious and mad, and also insensate and sometimes even a little stupid. There is nothing robust, human, or remotely attractive about him. He is a stiff come back to repellent, parasitic, diseased life.

The rest, as they say, is simply a light and shadow show. (Or, rather, that is how Omar Khayyim termed it.)

And it is only a movie.

But it brings the gothic trope of the vampire to life in a way that has seldom ever been equaled. Actually never.

And we write this on Halloween.

And we wonder.

***

--October 31st, 2019.

Nosferatu

Adapted from the screenplay by Henrik Galeen.

By C. Augustine.

(2018-2019)

As menacing in daylight as he is at night, Count Orlok (Max Shreck) greets Hutter at the door of his castle.

Nosferatu! That name alone can chill the blood! Nosferatu! Was it he who brought the plaque to Wisborg in 1838? I have long sought the causes of that terrible epidemic, and found at its origin and its climax the innocent figures of Jonathon Hutter and his young wife Ellen."

--From The Diary of Johann Cavillius, notable historian of his native city of Wisborg.

Wisborg 1 8 3 8

It was morning, the daylight peeping above the trees as the handsome young Johnathan Hutter prepared himself in the mirror, carefully buttoning his collar, tieing his tie, and freshening his skin with a bit of cream before looking in the mirror to find himself, as they say, "quite presentable." His young wife Ellen was toying with the cat.

"Oh Johnathan," she said, running to him. "You must sit for a bit of breakfast. You need your strength."

He brushed her aside, perhaps a little too indelicately.

"Ellen! I have no time. Herr Knock has asked me to come to the office very early this morning, to discuss an important business arrangement! I don't have time to eat! I'll be late."

At hearing this, Ellen looked downcast. Then Hutter took her in his arms, and said, "I promise, I'll be back for lunch, and we'll eat together this afternoon. Alright?"

She looked up at him, seeming a little tearful, but said, "Alright."

"Good!" And, with that, he kissed her on the chin and slipped out the door. He was gone.

Lonely ellen (Greta Schroeder) hates to see Johnathan (Gustav von Wangenheim) leave for Transylvania.

The sun was beaming brightly on the streets of Wisborg, the odd little town whose cobbled streets and alleyways, old houses hinting at Dutch windmills and wooden bridges and gentle wharves, all bespoke a charm that was old and picturesque; like the seamed and worn face of a beautiful painting, perhaps.

Johnathan Hutter liked the clop-clop of hooves on the cobbles, the rattle of wheels, the friendly faces of his fellow townsfolk, one of whom, an aged and seamed old man who seemed to have been alive for time out of mind, came forth and greeted him.

"Mornin' Master Hutter!" he said, grabbing the hand and doffing the hat. Johnathan smiled, returned the greeting.

"But you must slow down, young man. You cannot outrun your fate!"

Johnathan thought this a peculiar thing for the old man to say but smiled nonetheless.

Finally, the old man (who possessed an uncanny strength, it seemed) let go, and Johnathan proceeded on his way.

Upon rounding a corner he spied the wooden sign that said: Knock and Sons, Solicitors. It was his present place of employment.

Hutter looked through the window in the door. Inside, Knock sniveled and giggled as he held the letter clenched in his grubby, ink-stained hands. Hutter entered, dusting off his boots, and climbed the rickety stair upward to the landing where the huge, heavy, dusty law books and other worm-eaten old volumes were kept.

"Ah, if only walls could speak!" thought Johnathan, merrily. "What would such walls say?"

He didn't truly know. But he apprised his superior Knock with a wary, if not particularly prejudiced eye. "After all," Jonathan was always saying to himself, "a man may have his eccentricities, but that doesn't neccessarily, make him a bad man!"

Sunlight gleamed in through the window, sending up eddies and swirling moats of dust in the air.

The demented, fly-eating servant of Orlok--Herr Knock (Alexander Granach)

Knock said, "Here is an important letter from Transylvania. Count Orlok wishes to buy a house in our city. It's a good opportunity for you, Hutter. The Count is rich and free with his money. You will have a marvelous journey. And, young as you are, what matter if it costs you some pain--or even a little blood? The house facing yours, that should suit him. Leave at once, my young friend. And don't be frightened if people speak of Transylvania as the land of phantoms!"

The land of phantoms! thought Johnathan, with a slight tremor in his bones. Did such a place actually exist? He thought of Transylvania as an exotic storybook land, a place bordering the world of the Turk, a gateway wherein Europe, and the Orient met and blended. Land of phantoms, indeed!

That night, Hutter was attempting to console Ellen as to the fact that he had a long, arduous journey to make.

"I may be away for several weeks, Ellen," Johnathan said, eating his dinner while Ellen, absently, played with the cat.

"Knock is sending me to some lost corner of the Carpathians."

At hearing this, she seemed troubled.

"Oh, Johnathan, why must you go? I become so worried when Knock sends you on these long excursions. You know how lonely I get when we are forced to be apart, how I long for your face when I am gone!"

"I will be fine! We will see each other again soon enough! Now, settle down, you will be fine staying with the Hardings while I am away."

Ellen pleaded, "Oh, Jonathan, must you go?"

Hutter tried to be understanding of her fear, but felt a little as if he were losing his patience, nonetheless.

"Yes, of course, I must! It's my livelihood! We must have a dependable income upon which to live. Why an opportunity like this could really advance my career! Now, let us finish dinner; relax and forget all about it for tonight! I will leave in the morning."

But, he knew she could not forget. And, truthfully, neither could he.

That next morning, he helped Ellen mount the back of his horse, and together they rode to the home of the Hardings.

The Hardings were old friends of Ellen. Very well-to-do they were, a prominent family, and they had loved Ellen since she was but a young girl. Annie and Ellen had always been such close friends, and now, with Ellen married, it became more and more difficult for the two women to conspire to spend time together. Except, of course, for the odd tea or luncheon.

Hutter was not long in conversing, but Mister Harding took him aside and said, "Ellen tells us you are going far, Johnathan. To the wilds of the Carpathians, in fact. I tell you: that is a very mysterious and even dangerous country. You must be cautious. Here--"

And Mr. Harding held forth an old flintlock pistol. But Hutter wouldn't hear of it.

"Oh, I shall not be needing that old thing! I mean, I thank you kindly, but, I'm certain I'll be safe enough aboard the stagecoach."

Mr. Harding looked a little embarrassed, or downcast, perhaps, but asked, "Where is it you are going?"

"To Transylvania," replied Hutter, cheerily enough. "To meet Graff Orlok. He wants to buy a house in Bremen."

Mr. Harding said, "Take it with you anyway, my friend!" And so Johnathan did, although he was not even certain a gun so old would still fire.

It was not very long before Johnathan was ready to ride out. Ellen, who had been lurking in the yard, rushed out to meet him.

She clasped him in her arms, as Annie watched from the doorway, dabbing her eyes with a silk kerchief.

"Oh, Johnathan!" cried Ellen. 'I'll miss you so much! Do be safe, and come home soon. Write to me!"

"I will, Ellen! I promise!" And, with that, Johnathan Hutter rode away, into the rising sun.

T R A N S Y L V A N I A

Transylvania seemed a wild, mountainous country when seen from the dusty, rattling coach; a place of the rocky precipice, deep, black forest, and gulf-like ravines that seemed to dip through the dark nightshade specter of Hades. Above, the star-strewn sky saw it all with wonder.

Along the road, rotting barns that must have been ancient before Johnathan's great-great-grandmother was born, abutted weed-choked fields, shared terrain with the rocky ruins of old keeps. Along the way, picturesque peasants in huge pants, white shirts, and black, nail-studded boots, with belts of red stripe and hungry, lean, weather-stained faces, led carts pulled by loafing oxen and skeletal nag.

"It's like a scene from a storybook!" said Hutter to the driver, in almost wonder. Predictably, the driver said nothing.

It was not long before they disembarked at a little village Inn.

"Driver," said Hutter. "No need to take my bags down. I'm going on to Borgo Pass. In the morning."

The driver looked down from his seat as if to say, "You are a madman, my friend! Or a fool. Or both." But did as he was told. Johnathan, famished from his long journey, went into the Inn.

The inside was dark and dank and smelled of must and spilled beer, pipe smoke, and greasy food. Except for a few old villagers playing cards at a table, the place seemed deserted.

He waited and waited. There was, seemingly, no one to wait on him. Finally, he slapped the table with his open palm.

"Dinner, quickly! I should already be at Count Orlok's castle!"

Worried faces bobbed at the end of withered old necks. Beady eyes seemed to look troubled, furtive glances at him. The fat man, the innkeeper, came out from the kitchen, finally, wiping his hands on his apron.

"Where," he asked, "did you specifically say you were going, sir?"

"Why," answered Hutter, curiously, "to Count Orlok's castle in the mountains. I have important business there."

At this, the innkeeper seemed to be aghast.

"You must not leave now! The evil spirits become all-powerful after dark!" the man said, with a raised hand of trepidation.

Johnathan merely laughed.

"Why, nonsense," he said, dismissively. "Why, that's just silly old superstitious nonsense, my friend!"

But the innkeeper was firm in his disapproval.

"Do you know what tonight is, sir? The night of all nights--Walpurgisnacht!"

Hutter, certain that he had never before heard such a curious word, tilted his head quizzically and said: "Walpurgisnacht? Why, what on earth does that mean?"

To which the innkeeper replied, "It is the most evil of nights, the most unholy night of the year! It is a night when the Devil and his children walk the earth in human form. And there are witches, and vampires, too!"

Hutter felt quite certain the man was mad. But, he said to himself, these old peasant folk were steeped in superstitious nonsense.

He said, "Why, my good man, this is the Nineteenth Century, surely you don't mean to tell me you believe in all that sort of rubbish?"

Then the man's wife came forward. She took a crucifix from around her neck, and, muttering a prayer in her native tongue, placed it around Hutter's neck, kissing it first.

She tried to speak a few words of German, but all he could make out was, "For your Mama."

And then she said five words that he clearly DID understand:

"Denn die Toten rieten shnell."

("For the dead travel fast.")

For the dead travel fast.

Now, what on earth did she mean by that?

***

Having finally dined (on a curious few dishes, one some sort of chicken with paprika, which made him very thirsty), Hutter went to his room, made a hasty toilet, and was about to crawl into bed when he saw a huge old book left on the bedside table. Unaccountably, it was in German.

The title was: The Book of the Vampires. Or, some such nonsense. Becoming curious, he opened it up and began to read.

"...and it was in 1443 that the first Nosferatu was born. That name rings like the cry of a bird of prey. Never speak it aloud... Men do not always recognize the dangers that beasts can sense at certain times."

He read for a bit more, smiling, shushing away his creeping anxiety (sure, after all, it was simply the result of sleeping in a strange bed, in a strange room, in an even stranger country); and, telling himself that it was all, after all, a "good lot of rubbish," he put the book down, put out the candle, and settled down to try and sleep. He had a big day tomorrow.

Outside, unbeknownst to him, the mean and creeping things of the night slithered and crawled beneath his window, and a hyena howled in the dark, startling the horses, as old wives cowered behind bolted doors, holding their crucifixes and rosaries and muttering older, pagan incantations against the evils in the gathering gloom.

***

The drive through the mountains was dusty and dirty and long, and seemed treacherous, passing on roads leading up over dangerous cliffs that fell, far below, to crushing rocky depths.

Hutter looked with a growing sense of unease out the window of the coach as the scenery, the deep, limitless forests of trees, swept by in the twilight of this weird, forgotten land. Already, long shafts of deep sundown penetrated the trees, and Hutter could feel the spectral touch of a forgotten world invade his soul like the cold, lonely chill of death. He shuddered.

Beside him, a passenger who was dressed in a shabby suit, who may have been some middling government bureaucrat Johnathan guessed, leaned from the coach window and snapped at the driver, "Hurry! The sun will soon be setting."

Indeed, thought Hutter, again having the feeling of uneasiness, of feeling as if, somehow, he was in danger of being "lost." He hoped and prayed there would be a hearty repast, also, when he finally arrived at the castle. He was now famished.

And good drink as well, he thought. I could use a snifter of brandy.

It was at a place called the Borgo Pass where the driver stopped, reigning in the horses.

Bending down to peer in at his passengers, he stated, "We will go no further, sir! Not for a fortune! We will go no further. Here begins the land of the phantoms."

And, quite abruptly, he threw down Hutter's luggage.

It landed in the dirt, and Hutter, much perturbed, dove forward to pick it up.

"Well, so I see this is how they treat foreigners in this strange, godforsaken backwater!"

But, as the coach drove away, madly, Hutter could see that calling this place a "backwater" could hardly be assessed as an accurate description. This was no little rural burg; this was a mountainous wilderness.

Ahead, the pathway ran into a wooden bridge. Hutter walked to it, crossed, not liking the creak of rotting wood beneath his boots. The whole thing might come to pieces at any time.

He knew the Count had promised to send his coach on the old road leading through Borgo Pass. Where, in God's name, was the driver? He began to feel fear--real, true fear--at the idea of being abandoned on a rocky mountainous crag, in a wilderness teeming with predators, to freeze to death, or be devoured in the night by wolves. The panic began to grip his heart, and he thought only of his own dear, sweet Ellen, so far away, in the warmth and comfort of their home.

Act 2.

"And When He Had Crossed the Bridge, the Phantoms Came to Meet Him!"

He felt like weeping, began to pray. "Oh Lord," he said, "please let me live to return home so that I might hold my dear, sweet Ellen in my arms once more." He fell to dark, troubling thoughts of what she would do if something should happen to him. Would she, herself, survive the burden of grief? He didn't know. Then, suddenly--

Yes! It was the rattle and clatter of a coach and horses! He put his hand across his brow, to block out the sun. Coming, as if driven by hellish fury, was a coach. Undoubtedly this was Count Orlok's coach! He had kept his promise! Hutter breathed a sigh of relief, felt his fears grow diminished.

The coach pulled up beside him. The driver, a man in a peaked cap and huge coat, the collar pulled around his face, the face hidden by the pointed brim (the cap seemed an old-fashioned thing, with the plume of a feather in the bill. In fact, the driver seemed to be dressed as if he had stepped from, perhaps, a century back), pointed forward, his whip hand shooting straight; indicating, without words, that they were driving forward to the castle. Hutter quickly grabbed his bags, and, with some difficulty, placed them inside. Then, he ascended himself into the coach. And, like lightning, they were away.

It was a ride through the wildest country he had yet seen, going up rocky mountain roads, past beetling precipices, perched over yawning canyons that seemed to lead into Hell itself. And the sun was setting.

Around him, he could hear the howl of wolves, see the weird, firey glow emitted like phosphoresence from deep within the black well of the ancient trees.

"That glow. Driver? What causes that strange glow?" Hutter looked into the night at what seemed to be a weird, dancing circle of flame.

The driver did not answer, but, instead stopped the coach along the mountain pass. Then, flying into the forest beyond, he was gone for what seemed an interminable time. Hutter began to be worried again; but, just then, the strange, silent figure returned, illuminated by the light of a pale, unholy moon, and returned to his perch atop the coach.

Hutter was puzzled by the whole thing. But, it was not many moments later that the most frightening event yet transpired.

Hutter was shaken from a half-dreaming state by the crack of the whip, the startled sound of the horses rearing back, and the curses, in Hungarian, of the driver.

Hutter looked from the coach, his blood suddenly running cold. Black, dog-like shapes, with burning eyes, were circling in the midst of the forest pathway. Hutter could see that they were wolves.

And even by the light of the moon, he could see their deadly white jaws slavering, drooling, and he knew how dangerously hungry they were.

Hutter felt his heart leap to his throat. He could hear the driver snarl and curse. The whip cracked, the horses neighed; Hutter wished, quite badly, for this whole ordeal to end.

Simply getting to the castle had been a nightmare thus far! he thought madly. What else can happen? Now, he thought, it is as if we are done for!

But, just then, an unaccountable thing occurred. The vicious, slavering wolf pack seemed to whimper and retreat, slowly, then disappeared with great rapidity into the trees. The coachman cracked his whip at the horses, and the slow, rattling vehicle began to creep forward, finally plunging ahead again at the same breakneck speed.

I would not have believed it possible! Hutter thought to himself. But he realized that the coachman must have been used to such occurrences, and he felt he could relax a little, as he was in capable hands.

Then, after having been lulled asleep by the incessant rocking motion and his own bone-deep weariness, Hutter came awake when the coachman finally barked, "We are almost there, young master!"

Hutter sat up. Out the window, gleaming in the spectral moonlight, Hutter got his first glimpse of Castle Orlok.

It was a monstrous, ruined, jagged tooth, set in the rotting gums of jutting rock and sparse tree surrounding it. Vast, with dark eyeless windows and ruined battlements, it was the very picture of desolation and gloom. Was it a ruin?

How thought Hutter, could anyone possibly live here?

The coach drove up the winding road toward the drawbridge. Hutter hoped they could cross the rotting thing without falling through.

They clattered over the creaking boards, and then into the mouth of a courtyard, the horses clomping over the cobbles. A single torch burned at an arched entrance.

"Now, you may get out." said the driver. Hutter did so, reaching in to claim his bags.

The coach drove off quickly, disappearing into what appeared to be a tunnel beneath the wall. Hutter found himself alone, lost; afraid again. The long entryway was pitch dark. He could see nothing, but he went forward slowly.

Then, a yellowish gleam in the dark. Someone was indeed coming forward in the black! Was it the Count?

Indeed it was.

But, from the first time Hutter laid eyes upon this strange personage, he regretted ever having set foot upon the soil of that accursed land, as the figure he saw seemed to be a cadaverous phantom, come straight from the bowels of some dark, horrible dream.

The figure that came forward in the black was exceedingly tall, and cadaverously thin as if he was a figure that had been deliberately starved to skin and bones. His long arms and long, thin, skeletal fingers ended in talons; nails that, seemingly, had never been clipped, and looked like the claws of some wild animal. The skin was a leprous, unhealthy pallor, looking more like the waxen skin of some dead man.

The head was bald, the face exceedingly long and thin and narrow, with high cheekbones ending at a pointed chin, and a simply enormous, sloping nose that curved downward over a cruel, disfigured, rat-like mouth, bearing two razor-sharp front teeth that jutted over thick, pouting lips.

The brows were bushy punctuations. But it was the eyes that were worst of all, hideous twin orbs of emptiness that seemed to project phantom rays upon whatever object they fell. Altogether, Hutter was certain he had never before seen such a ghastly, nightmarish character in all of his born days. It was like an ogre from a storybook, come to life.

Even more peculiar, the Count's clothing seemed long out of date, the coat being something a boyar might have worn a century back.

The Count approached him, and Hutter found himself instinctively reeling back.

Count Orlok said, "You are late, young man. It is almost midnight. My servants have all retired."

Hutter had no reply to this, so simply nodded, his eyes going wide to peer at the Count. The Count simply flicked one of his immensely long, talon-like nails, and Hutter, understanding, followed him with growing anxiety into the mouth of the dark entryway. For the time being, he was "home."

The Count lead Hutter through the ruined corridors of his ancient, crumbling keep, past the huge central staircase, which was completely covered in front by a massive web, and down a darkened hall, where, at a decrepit wooden door, the Count stopped, extracted a pair of rattling iron keys, and, unlocking the rusted lock, invited Hutter to enter and seat himself by the fire.

"Enter freely, of your own will," said Count Orlok, "and leave some of the happiness you bring!"

Hutter did just that, taking off his hat and going to the table. Upon it stood a silver tray, a loaf, cheese, a bottle of rare wine and a silver goblet. A warm, inviting fire burned in the massive grate.

Hutter took the lid from the tray. A massive flank of beef, sitting amid a swamp of potatoes and other vegetables, wafted a rare and delicious aroma up to his nostrils. Famished, he fell to eating.

Picking up the loaf, he began to slice. Suddenly--

"Ouch!"

He managed to cut his thumb, somehow, on the blade.

The Count, who had been hovering over the table with a weird, vulpine, frozen smile, instantly seemed to grow fiercely intense, looking as if his eyes were aflame.

His long, skinny, claw-like fingers froze, like gnarled, living branches before him, and he hissed between his rat-like little teeth, "Blood! Your precious blood!"

Hutter found the Count's behavior rather unnerving. He shrank back a little, though still seated; and, inadvertently, the beaded rosary necklace the old woman at the Village Inn had given him fell out from around his collar. Exposed, the Count seemingly did not like to see it.

He turned his skeletal face to the wall, hissing again, his eyes narrowing to angry slits. Hutter felt a moment of confused panic; he did not know if he was going to have the nerve to stay with this strange man the entire night.

Count Orlok said, "Let us chat together a moment, my friend. There are still several hours until dawn, and I have the whole day...to sleep."

Hutter ate the remainder of his food, but more slowly now; reflectively. He felt his appetite had slipped a little.

The Count spent much of the night regaling Hutter with tales of his ancestral homeland, the derring-do, bloody battles, and adventures of his forebears, their struggle fending off the advances of the Turks into Christian Europe. Of battles fought and won with cruel sadism, torture, and even living impalements.

"What witch or devil was ever so powerful as Attila, whose blood flows through these veins? Ah, but the victories of my ancestors are now but a tale to be told."

The Count seemed when he spoke thus, far away as if his mind were somehow actually reliving events he was merely separated from by the gulf of time.

It is not as if he is remembering stories, thought Hutter, but recalling events as if he had actually been there and lived them. Most curious.

Hutter found himself finally giving way to slumber, after having fought to stay awake, even as Graff Orlok's voice droned on and on.

***

It was many hours later, with the sun pouring in through the window, the fire in the huge stone fireplace having gone out, that Hutter roused himself from a night of uneasy, half-remembered dreams.

It had all been blood and pain, battles, and carrion dogs chasing death across a war-torn, ancient landscape. And, at the center of it all, Hutter had seen a face, looking curiously like that of Graff Orlok, and having two burning, wolf-like, demonic eyes.

He got up slowly from the seat, his body aching, his head swimming with tales of bloody battles and half-forgotten bad dreams, and began to look around the room. Going to a wardrobe and throwing it open, he found that his clothing had all been brushed and hung very neatly for him. His belongings had been laid on the end table beside the sprawling bed with care. No doubt, Hutter at first thought, that the servants had been in while he slept in the chair. Then another thought began to trouble him.

He had actually seen no servants since he had been here. Count Orlok had greeted Hutter by himself at the door, and the only other man he had seen since departing the carriage at the Borgo Pass was the Count's weird driver; and he had really not got a good look at that man, who had his collar and his pointed, peaked cap covering much of his face.

Hutter felt a shiver steal up his spine. He felt a little watery in his guts, a little lonely, and anxious.

He went out, managing to find his way to a great door, pulling it open and exiting into the bright, glaring sunlight, going out into the court, his boots echoing against the cracked cobbles. The bridge was down, apparently so that a few carts could pass onto the grounds. Hutter peered closely, using his hand to cover his eyes. Were those a band of gypsies driving those carts? He was uncertain. If so, what could Count Orlok possibly want with them? Were they being utilized for manual labor? It seemed weirdly unlikely.

Hutter continued to explore the grounds, walking into the garden, which was in as much decay and disrepair as everywhere else in the Castle. The ground was choked with weeds, the herbage a weird mutation of ugly growth and putrefaction.

Into the dark of the trees Hutter went, and down the hill to the river below. Overlooking it, an ancient gazebo with a tottering roof seemed to offer an inviting view. It was here, too, where he could write his letter.

He sat, and taking out a scrap of paper and pencil, composed:

"Ellen, my beloved-

Don't be unhappy. Though I am far away, I love you. This is a strange country. After my first night in the castle, I found two large bites on my neck. From mosquitoes? From spiders? I don't know. I have had some frightful dreams, but they were only dreams. You mustn't worry about me. I am leaving immediately to return to Bremen--and to you."

He sat up from his exertion. Before him, the river rushed on, glistening in the dying sunlight, smelling of the wet and rot of fish, the murk of the water. The wind blew, like the breath of a child, through the trees. He suddenly wondered: How, on earth, am I to mail this?

He thrust the letter into his pocket. He proceeded from the gazebo, down the path, and back through the trees, going down the sloping side of the hill, back toward the gated garden entrance.

Just then, he spied a man with a pack coming up the pathway toward him, a walking stick in his hand. Evidently, an explorer.

As Hutter got close, he realized that the man, who wore bright, colorful clothing, and whose skin had a sun-blasted look, was indeed, a gypsy.

Hutter waved toward the man and hurried toward him, waving his letter in his hand.

Approaching him, he could see that the man smiled, was missing a few teeth, but seemed, beneath his great mustache, pleasant enough. He spoke very poor German, and Hutter for a few moments was at a loss as to how to communicate with him what he desired.

Finally, he seemed to make him understand that he wished for him to mail his letter to Ellen when next he was in town.

"Ah! Mail your letter. Yes sir! On my honor!"

Finally, feeling somewhat mollified (but still realizing there was a chance Ellen would never see it), Hutter returned through the garden gate to the castle, a little lighter of step, but still, for all of that, feeling the gathering gloom of his life.

Going through the ancient corridors, Hutter reflected:

Once, not long ago, in the streets of Wisborg, an old man stopped me to shake my hand. He told me, "Not so fast, young man! You cannot escape your fate!"

You cannot escape your fate.

Now, what did he mean by that?

Hutter gradually felt the creeping gloom turn into cold anxiety. He walked back through the desolate, crumbling halls, past the moth-eaten tapestries and faded portraits, to his room. Where was the Count?

"I have all day to sleep. Like the dead." he had told Hutter.

He felt an icy claw grip his spine.

***

As twilight came on, the castle became alive with menacing shadows.

Quite a satisfactory dinner had been laid out before him on the table. Roast chicken done up some way that was very good but made him thirsty.

"Paprika," he said to himself. "The thing is cooked in paprika."

There was also some dish with corn, like pudding, and bread, wine and cheese. A hearty salad topped it off.

Finally, there was also coffee and biscuits.

He skipped the biscuits, but the coffee was very rich and good. "Much appreciated, my dear Count," he laughed to himself, and, stretching back on a couch, decided to read a little. It was from the Book of the Vampires, of course, which he had absconded with before leaving the little village Inn.

My, it seems as if that was long ago, instead of just the other night!

Hutter picked the dusty old volume up, opened at random, began, again, to read:

"...Nosferatu drinks the blood of the young, the blood necessary to his own existence. One can recognize the mark of the vampire by the trace of his fangs on the victim's throat."

It was ghastly, chilling stuff. Gradually, Hutter got the feeling that he was not alone. He got up from the couch, went to the door of the bedroom, opened it.

It took his eyes a few moments to make out the figure of Count Orlok in the gloomy corridor outside, but, when he did, he found the image of the man was still startling. The long, cadaverous form came toward him in the gloom.

"I thought," began the long, rat-like face, hissing out from between his pointed, sharp little teeth, "that we might...go over...the details of my new home."

"Why yes," Hutter said, although just a little hesitantly. "Certainly, Count. That would be a pleasure."

Secretly, Hutter thought, Yes, and the sooner I can get this over with, and be on my way home, the better!

Hutter sat with Count Orlok at the table where he had just eaten.

"Oh, forgive me,"the Count began. "But, my servants have already...retired...for the evening. They will...be in...to clear away these dishes...in the morning. While you are still...asleep."

Hutter smiled nervously. "Yes, well, I don't believe I've caught hide nor hair of them since I first arrived yesterday. You must keep them...awfully busy, Count. Although," he reflected, not sure if he should tell the Count about the man he had handed over his letter to Ellen to earlier, "I did meet a man, a gypsy I think, while out this morning, taking the breeze."

The Count smiled a hideous, icy smile, his eyes blazing. He said, "Yes, Herr Hutter. The gypsies have been...very useful to me. As help on the grounds and these old buildings...which often need...repair. Now,"

And the Count grabbed up the title deed to his new home in Wisborg, examining the document with his blazing, piercing and somehow frightening gaze, using his immensely long nails to trace every written line.

After this, he noticed that Hutter had left a locket open upon the table. Inside, was a picture of Ellen. The Count seemed to take a special delight in this, his lean face cracking into a more terrible grin than any Hutter had yet seen.

"Is this your wife? What a lovely throat! That old mansion seems quite satisfactory. We shall be neighbors."

A menacing shadow in a classic scene.

Oh wonderful, thought Hutter. Just the thing I've always wanted! Ellen, I'm certain, shall be thrilled!

Then he thought, How strangely he put that! What a lovely throat? What could he mean by that?

Again, he found himself filled with uneasiness.

***

Far away, across the wild mountains of Transylvania, in little, quaint, quiet and darkened Wisborg, Ellen, Hutter's wife, stirred in her sleep.

The moonlight poured in through the sash on her milk-white face, which was now contorted in terror. Annie, dear, sweet Annie, slept beside her.

In her dreaming mind, Ellen could see Johnathan, writhing in terror, while a long dark shadow with thin arms and claw-like horrid fingers, crept up a stair.

Oh! Hutter awoke with a start, his face twisting into a look of shocked terror, as his arms flew above his head, striking the wall behind the bed. Then she saw the dark shadow, the horrid form of the face of It.

It was hideous! Like a long, lean, dead man come back to life! A maniacal, mad, wolf-like gaze, sharp little teeth, and burning eyes. The long, pointed ears of a rat.

And a hellish, demoniacal spell cast from the cursed, blazing sockets of its deep, black orbs!

A word:

Nosfer...nosfer...nosfera...

Her trembling lips mouthed these accursed syllables, while she tossed and turned in her nightmarish fear. Soon Annie was awakened. Turning over, she saw, with horror, that Ellen had bit her lip.

She tried to shake her writhing friend awake. But Ellen seemed to be almost insensate as if she were in a death-like trance.

She mouthed the name, Johnathan! Oh, Johnathan. It was then that Ellen did the thing that Annie most had feared.

She arose from the bed they shared and began to sleepwalk across the room. Annie, knowing that it could be dangerous to wake her at this point (she had slept in the same bed with Ellen before, when she had also sleepwalked and had been warned when still a girl never to wake her friend), got up and followed on tiptoes.

The servant was in the hall, holding a candelabrum up.

When she saw what was happening, she said, in a whisper, "The Master is awake! He is in his study with the Doctor! I shall go and fetch him."

"Yes," whispered Annie back. "Please do so!"

And so she did. In a short amount of time, Ruth's father and Dr Bulwer had both assembled in the hall, and, whispering to each other, and exchanging glances, had commenced following Ellen as she made her way out to the terrace.

Walking along the edge, the three followers feared she might fall far, a frightening prospect of her hurting herself.

Above, Annie gasped to see Ellen framed against the moonlit clouds, her hands thrust out in front of her. Her dainty, white feet slipped along the cold, marble edge of the terrace balustrade. Mr. Harding could see that she was about to fall.

For a terrible moment, the men did not know which way the slipping Ellen would fall, either into their arms or, quite possibly...to her death in the garden below.

He and Dr. Bulwer raced forward, just in time to catch her in their grasps. Of course, this was after Mr. Harding reached up with one of his great hands, like a bear claw made of scuffed leather, and grabbed Ellen by her robe.

She was saved from herself. For the time being.

Annie had started to scream when she saw Ellen slip, but the scream had caught in her throat. The men took Ellen back to their room. Dr. Bulwer pronounced that it must have been due to a "sudden fever."

***

Doctor Bulwer would later write:

"Since then I have learned that she had sensed the menace of Nosferatu that very night. And Hutter, far away, had heard her cries of warning."

Far away, through the wild and dark forests of the Carpathians, in a wretched, crumbling castle perched atop a beetling precipice, Hutter had reared back on his bed, throwing his hands above his head in terror, as a pale, deathly skull-like face with burning eyes glared down upon him. The face bore the unmistakable look of ravenous hunger, an insensible, almost idiotic madness. But those fiery eyes, beneath the bushy, long brows--those eyes froze his blood with hypnotic fear.

The being bent low, his long, talon-like nails creating icy rivulets of fear where they touched Hutter's flesh; the searing pain of a bite on the neck rendered Hutter a limp, broken thing, fainting in the deep well of darkness as he lost consciousness.

The lean, skeletal figure, no longer hungry, turned and, slowly, with the legs of a man returned from the grave, exited the room for the night. The door closed behind him as he went.

***

Slowly, the next morning, the world came back to focus for Hutter. His hands at first went to his head, which felt as if it was big with drink, or that he had been, perhaps, beaten around the temples the night before.

It was throbbing. Then, his hand went to the side of his neck. Ouch--

More bites, he knew. His mind remembered a burning, skull-like visage, a tall, skeletal, human rodent, with Satanic eyes. Orlok.

Hutter stumbled from the couch whereon he reposed, and proceded out the door, stumbling down the darkened corridor. One thing he knew for certain: Graff Orlok would be asleep. The man himself said he slept by day, had he not?

Feeling some inner compulsion, Hutter made his slow, painful, but increasingly quickening way down the dark hall, to the door wherein he had made an exit to the courtyard and outside, yesterday.

He went out into the light, suddenly feeling dizzy, nauseous. No matter, he must continue. He had a strange, dream-like feeling about him, almost as if he were in a trance. He began to explore the court, coming to various doors. Where, he wondered, was the chapel?

He finally found a door marked by an ancient symbol, but not one he recognized. Ah! he felt this must be a place of importance.

He put his hand out to touch the door. He felt a bolt of electricity move through his arm, as he swung it open to descend a short flight of stone steps.

What, was this some sort of crypt? He wondered. He pulled the heavy webs covering the entrance down, choked a bit at the clouds of dust. The smells down here were of trapped air, mold, and turned earth and...decay? It was an awful smell, and, as Hutter descended the steps the rest of the way, looking at the dark, massed boxes below, just able to see them by the trickling light pouring in from above, he knew that, yes, indeed, this WAS the Orlok family crypt.

Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is menaced by orlok (MAx Shreck) in Nosferatu (1922)

He continued down, still feeling as if he were simply having a dream. Before him, he saw a coffin that looked as if the top half of it would pull back to reveal the body within.

He went forward. He hesitated a moment, before leaping to action, his mind seeming detached from the movements of his physical form. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the vision within, to see it, and to, truly, believe what he was seeing.

"No," he said to himself, "it can't be! Why it isn't possible!"

Hutter clutched his heaving chest, falling backward as an icy bolt of shock left him reeling. He began to retreat backward, not able to take his eyes off the coffin and its lone occupant.

No mistaking it: the thin, pointed chin, sharp little teeth, bald pate, hellish eyes beneath shaggy brows; the long, sloping nose, the deathly, almost grey pallor.

Orlok.

"Graff Orlok. Why the man is..."

But Hutter found himself reeling backward in terror from that accursed face.

***

Taking himself back to his room, he threw himself upon the bed in nervous exhaustion. Despite his feeling of fear and terror, he found that exhaustion overwhelmed him; that, with his face buried in the pillow, he could not help but yield to the sweet, soothing nepenthe in sleep, the "balm in Gilead."

But, when he awakened, he found that it was a mistake to let himself go to sleep, to be off guard in the presence of such a fiend. He should have predicted, he chastised himself.

For, now, he was locked in his room, a prisoner in the castle.

***

Going to the window, peering outside, in the court, he could hear the voices of men moving heavy boxes. The Count's gypsies.

They piled the oblong boxes--coffins, Hutter reminded himself--atop a flatbed, and then, drove off slowly. Hutter realized this was how the Count was traveling to the new home in Wisborg that Hutter himself had secured for him.

"Going to plague my fellow countrymen!" Hutter cursed the Count and cursed himself for helping him to escape this undead tomb.

Nosferatu. Yes, that was what the count, indeed, was. Nosferatu! A...A...

VAMPIRE.

Hutter knew the idea to be absurd. Vampires were supposed to only exist in old legends, in books of fable--not in the real world of solid, living men, of business commerce and cold, hard scientific reality. Yet, he had seem the Count, with his own eyes, sleeping in a coffin, looking, for all the world, like a corpse that had been stripped of animation and life. It had to be true. Must be true!

And Count Graff Orlok, the hateful demon that he was, was in route to Hutter's hometown. A pang of fear seized his heart, and a cold sweat poured forth. He saw a gentle, beautiful, sweet face swim up in his mind, playing with a kitten, a ball of yarn.

Ellen. What if he went for Ellen?

Hutter knew that if he tarried long, he would starve, locked away in that grim, crumbling, forboding keep, just as certainly as if it had been a dungeon. What to do? What to do?

He paced frantically, wanting to rip his hair out. The castle room in which he was a prisoner was high up--if a man fell from this height, he would break every bone in his body. Below was a cobbled court.

Still, he must try something, anything. If he remained here, he was as good as dead anyway.

He then spied the sheets of his bed. He went to the bed, began to frantically tear apart the sheets, fashioning them into a rope.

***

Meanwhile, headed downriver, a large raft, manned by dusty gypsy men, made its way to the city of Sigusura, not twenty leagues distant. Upon the raft, those large boxes of earth from Orlok's castle were being transported.

***

It was only later, loading the Count's boxes on board the ship, that Hutter saw a vision of the hellish thing as it commenced.

He had come through the thickets of the forest, exhausted, trembling. He had been damned lucky he had not slipped from the side of the wall and plummeted below, breaking his neck. In desperation, he had tied the end of the rope made of sheets to the stout headboard of the heavy, ancient bed, had finally decided he must go out the window. And so, swallowing his fear, knowing that one false misstep or accident meant his doom, he had descended over the uneven, crumbling surface of the castle wall, holding tight to his homemade rope, careful to avoid the cobbled court that yawned below, beneath the sickening drop.

Finally, hanging from his outstretched arms, he had dared to let go, still too far from the ground to safely fall. But, he knew he had no choice.

Plummet he did, landing precariously on his boots, feeling the stones slam into his heels and send him reeling back, to fall heavily on his back, shielded only by his coat.

Had he broken anything? He could still, amazingly, move. He got up, dusting himself off. His breathing was heavy, fear was driving him forward. Could he survive a trek through this dark forest? What of wolves? Where could he possibly find help?

Unthinkingly, he began to run, his aching, but thankfully unbroken feet stumbling over the rough, uneven cobbles. He would follow the river. Of course, he might be eaten by wolves.

But, anything was better than dying locked inside Count Orlok's terrible crypt.

***

Hours later, as the sun dipped behind the trees, sending slanting beams of deep, fiery light cascading down, the majesty of the sunset only obscured by rocky, beetling precipice, Hutter, soaked in sweat and filth, exhausted, put his head up at the low, distant rumble of thunder. The sweet, soothing balm of nature, the rain, began to pour down softly upon the carpet of earth below, at first slowly, then, as the evening darkened, in ever-increasing great drops.

Before him, his weary eyes thought he could see, through the murk and rain...Yes! A glimmer of hope.

A house, a stone dwelling bearing the sign of the cross, which Hutter realized the Count must hate, was there in the black. And, mercy! It seemed there were lights burning within.

Hutter, slipping and sliding in the mud, ran forward, grabbing fistfuls of the soaked, muddy ground as the hill inclined sharply upward, dead leaves and wet grass slipping through his fingers along with the sodden clods.

Finally, he made it to the door of this place, fell to his knees, began to hammer and beat the rotting wood, which was carved with ornate gargoyles and images of Christ and the Apostles.

It seemed an interminably long period before the door was swung wide, and a single, solitary old crone, a nun, Hutter presumed, opened the door cautiously, holding a lantern.

Hutter put out his hands.

"Help me!" he intoned, before falling over in a faint, in the mud and murk at the doorway.

The sister crossed herself but went to call the other members of her order to help get this lost, wayward unfortunate indoors and out of the rain before he caught his death.

***

It was only that morning that the sick, coughing and wheezing Hutter, being spoon-fed broth by one of the sisters nursing him back to health, saw the vision of the boxes.

"Filled with earth! Boxes! The dirt of the grave! The dirt of the grave he sleeps in!"

Hutter raved in his delirium, the fever of exhaustion burning his brain. The sisters assumed it was only the fever making him rave so, discounting all that he said.

***

In a shipyard, many miles distant, preparing to embark on the short leg of a voyage to Wisborg Harbor, stout, sullen men unloaded boxes of "experimental earth" from the cart the old Gypsy man had driven up with.

"It's some sort of damned freight bound for a university I take it. Here--"

The men loaded the boxes onto a wheeled cart for easier transport. They were heavy, though, and, one slipped as they proceeded up the ramp to the cargo hold, the lid, which was not hammered together well, popping off,

The filthy, ghastly contents within came spilling out onto the dock.

"Here, look what you've done now," said one of the dockworkers. "It'll be our hides for this!"

But, just then, what he saw coming out from inside the crate stopped his voice in his throat. For, spilling out of the top of the box, along with the earth, were dozens of large furry horrors.

Gigantic brown vermin.

Hundreds of RATS.

"What do we do about that, then?" asked the dockworker, the cigar he was chomping falling from his lips. The other man shrugged his shoulders, said, "How on earth should I know? Just keep loading them, I suppose. After all, I guess every old tub has a few rats aboard. Stowaways."

***

At the same time, at the Medical University in Wisborg, Dr. Bulwer was giving a short course to a group of fascinated students.

"Ah, yes, gentleman. The most fascinating and strange species of life exist as co-habitants on this weird planet with us. Things fierce and cunning, even deadly. Many of them have cruel, sickening appetites. Some of them even subsist on...blood!"

And Dr. Bulwer bent over, a fly caught in the tweezers he held in his hand, moving sluggishly, perhaps realizing that the end of its tiny, insignificant life drew near.

Before the assembled students, a Venus Flytrap opened up its weird pseudo-face, its teeth-like ridged mouth taking the still-living fly in its jaws, devouring its sustenance greedily.

"Astonishing, isn't it, gentlemen? That plant is the vampire of the vegetable kingdom!"

***

In another part of town, enclosed behind wrought-iron gates, brooded the sanitarium of Dr. Sievers, who watched over the lunatic asylum--and also lived within, in reasonably comfortable quarters.

Sitting at his desk, going over business accounts, he was interrupted as an attendant came racing into the room, exclaiming, "That patient who was brought in yesterday has gone out of his mind!"

Dr. Sievers looked up from his paperwork, asked, "Really? How so?"

The attendant swallowed, looked a little queasy, and said, "Why, the fellow is capturing spiders and flies and the like!"

Dr. Sievers commented, "Really, is that all?"

To which the attendant replied, "No, sir, you don't understand. It isn't that he just captures them. Why he eats them! While they are still alive!"

Hm, considered Dr. Sievers. A zoophagous lunatic! Well, I suppose it was inevitable that one should eventually come our way.

Getting up, Dr. Sievers buttoned his coat, and said, "Well, I suppose I shall have to have a look at this man in person. Shall we?"

***

Herr Knock had undergone a radical transformation recently.

His once neat and tidy home, his office and study, became sordid dens of squalor, beyond even the housekeeper's ability to keep clean. He began to mumble to himself one day, then to rave to himself when he thought no one was listening. He seldom went into work anymore, and he took to wandering the streets at all hours, mumbling to himself when not cursing others, or raving about his "master."

"Oh, the Master is coming, oh yes. He is on his way here now. And he has promised me, oh yes! Lives! Small lives; juicy little things. But, lives nonetheless! And then we shall see who has the last laugh, my dear friends and neighbors! Oh yes indeed, we shall see!"

His white hair grew wild and unkempt, he did not bathe, and seldom changed his dirty, threadbare, worn clothing. People began to avoid him on the street; children chased after him, threw stones, began taunting him as a madman. But, that was not the worst of it.

He refused all normal food, began eating the refuse of the gutters. Then...he progressed to flies, and spiders (which ate the flies). Finally, he was stopped by a manservant in the act of trying to devour a living rat.

"Mein Gott!" confessed the man later. "The thing would have chewed its way out of his stomach if he had even been able to get it down!"

Indeed.

It was then that the trip to Dr. Sievers's sanitarium seemed in order. Herr Knock, most knew, was now hopelessly mad, and would, most likely, never see the outside of the place again. Indeed, with his habit of devouring small, living animals, it was feared that, eventually, he might proceed to capture even larger prey.

"What," one person wondered, "will happen if he progresses to kidnapping infants?"

To forestall that, Herr Knock was locked away.

Now, Dr. Sievers stood before the man, and said, "Guten Tag, Herr Knock. Might we have a word with you?"

As if in answer, the weird, crouched figure on the old bunk, with the wild, flaming eyes and the shock of white hair fringing his bald pate, answered, "Blood! Blood!"

For a moment, Sievers found it hard to comprehend exactly what the round little madman was doing. He kept snapping at what seemed to be empty air. Then, the attendant said: "He does that all day, sir! Catches them flies and eats 'em right up. Why it's the most disgusting thing I ever saw! It's enough to put you off your food!"

It was just then that the weird, crouching little figure, who had been attempting to capture flies buzzing around his filthy, unkempt hair, bounded forward with a screech, grabbing at Dr. Sievers while the attendant rushed forward to grapple with the man and pull him off.

"Otto, hold him tightly! He will have to be placed in restraints!"

This of course meant the straightjacket; which, as the attendant knew, was more likely to drive a mad man madder. He reasoned to himself later, though: there's probably no help for it.

Elsewhere, Dr. Bulwer bent low over his microscope, surrounded by students. He said, "And now, gentlemen, here is another type of vampire: a polyp with claws...transparent, without substance, almost a phantom."

His assembled students did not know, but Bulwer was more than just a specialist on obscure diseases of the blood. He had studied much in the lore and legendry of the occult, and he was convinced that there existed a species of human quite, quite apart from the ordinary, living breed of men. This accursed species, he knew, roamed in churchyards and cemeteries, under the dark of night, the moon their unearthly mistress. They could take the form of wolf or bat, or even mist, to disguise themselves--and they thirsted, eternally, for LIVING BLOOD.

Neither dead nor living, they were sanguisuga in the ancient tongue--undead monsters who preyed on living men.

"And, one day, I shall find one," swore Dr. Bulwer to himself, often striding around his office in the dark of night. "Oh yes, I swear it, one day I SHALL."

***

Day after lonesome day, Ellen sat amid the dunes, the sandy beach that ran down towards the water's edge. Here and there, crazly leaning old headstones still poked from the scrabbling, sandy surface, the ruins of a forgotten burying ground. The water looked as still and placid as a painted ocean, she knew. Oh, where was her husband? Why, she wondered, had he not written to her?

It was not many days, though, before she was delivered a message from the still-trembling hand of her friend, Annie.

"Oh, Ellen," she said, nearly to the point of tears, knowing how important this missive was to her dear, sweet friend. "Is it not wonderful? You have finally heard from Jonathan! Now, I know he shall be returning soon from his long journey, and will come back to you!"

Ellen read the letter herself, crumpling it in eager hands. But, having then read it, she found herself still troubled.

Annie asked, "Ellen, what is the matter? You still look so concerned!"

Ellen paused, uncertain of herself, before she replied, "The letter seems very strange! It is not at all like him! It, it's as if he is trying to tell me something, but does not have the words to do so. Oh, Annie, I am so afraid! So very, very afraid!"

And she collapsed into Annie's arms, sitting on the bench, weeping in frustration and fear.

***

Ellen did not know it, but far away, in the wild forests of the Carpathians, Johnathan Hutter was preparing to depart for home.

He was much thinner, and looked weary from his great troubles, but, as he groomed himself in front of the full-length mirror, he realized he was, finally, coming back to some semblance of himself.

One of the sisters brought him in a tray, and said, "Our driver...can take you... as far as Bukovina. From there...you can... book passage back home." Hutter noted her poor grasp of German. She stood behind him in the doorway.

Yes, he said to himself. And, thankfully, I can see her reflection in the mirror!

She took her rosary and crucifix from around her throat, came forward as he adjusted his tie. He turned, staring down into her old, seamed face at the wizened, black eyes.

She put the rosary around his neck.

And then she said:

"Denn die Toten rieten Shnell."

("For the dead travel fast.")

Before, he might have wondered at that silly phrase.

Not now.

***

Knock awoke in his cell, his miserable bones still aching from the hated, implacable grasp of the straitjacket. The attendants had made certain to come in at intervals, per the doctor's orders, to pour water from a pitcher across the thing; so that, as the jacket dried, the canvas became tighter and tighter, until it squeezed him in a torturous, death-like grip. This was said to be "therapeutic."

Finally, though, they had relented, and let him free. He could do little more, though, than crawl about like a worm on his hands and knees. From his dirty straw mattress to the slot in the door, wherein an attendant had slipped a tray of food. He went to it slowly, painfully, picked up the tray, and was surprised to find that a paper had been left beneath it. Excitedly, his weary eyes took in the headline, scanned the print.

He read:

NEW PLAGUE BAFFLES SCIENCE

"A mysterious epidemic of the plague has broken out in eastern Europe in the port cities of the Black Sea, attacking principally the young and vigorous. Cause of the two bloody marks on the neck of each victim baffles the medical profession...."

Knock began to laugh, first in a small tittering fashion, then throwing back his great, white shaggy head, and letting go uproariously.

"The Master is coming! He is coming, soon! All will pay! Yes, all will pay!"

The little madman then considered.

"And I will be one that shall benefit greatly from his generosity."

***

The captain was tending to a sick man. His crew was slowly dying, right and left, and their bodies were then tossed overboard. This man, too, would surely soon be dead. The captain peered closely at his throat.

The man had the same curious two little bite-marks on the throat. "The bite of some diseased vermin!" the captain thought. Suddenly, in the shadows out of the corner of his eye, he saw a strange thing shift in the gloom.

It looked like a tall, cadaverous man, dressed entirely in black. The head was bald, the fingers long and claw-like, face a deathly pallor, and the black eyes seemed to blaze.

The captain caught all of this in a moment, and it chilled his blood.

He climbed the ladder back to the deck of the ship, his legs feeling as if they were made of rubber.

It was not long after that he and his first mate, having sewed the last crew member into a canvas shroud, tossed the body of the man overboard. The captain turned to the first mate, said, "We are doomed, you and I. But, I am not going to cease struggling until the very last."

And then the first mate, a huge, hulking man that looked, for all the world, as if he could have been a medieval peasant, said, "I am going to go below, and have a look in the hold."

He climbed the ladder below. He made his way to the cargo hold wherein the boxes of "experimental earth" were being stored. Grabbing an ax, he began to chop furiously at the lid of one, spilling out black dirt as the wood splintered. Also, come from the thing, like a crawling mass of living cells, were hundreds of furry, writhing rats. The first mate let his breath stop in his lungs.

Soon he heard movement, as of the scraping of a wooden lid being pulled back. Then, like a streak of deathly white luminescense in the deep blackness of the hold, the stark white cadaver of a man seemed to stand straight up from his wooden casket, without even bending to rise. It was if he was pushed from behind by invisible fingers.

The first mate felt his wonder and awe give way, suddenly, to a brutal pang of terror. It stabbed his heart, reeled in his brain as he staggered back to the ladder, leading up through the trap. He climbed furiously up in a panic of terror.

He raced to the foredeck. He threw himself over the side. Death seemed preferable to him. Better death than being on this accursed ship with such a hellish fiend.

The captain, seeing the fate of his first mate, and knowing himself, now, to be the sole survivor, lashed himself to the wheel. In his hands, he gripped his rosary. God may have mercy on his soul, as he would go down with his ship.

The noxious breath of the phantasm blew, and the ship sailed on toward Wisborg.

***

Ellen awakens from one of her nightmares.

Ellen was tossing and turning in another of her fits, and Annie looked on at her, in worry and fear. The silly girl had heard all the superstitious nonsense about sleepwalkers, about how "dangerous" it was to wake them. Was any of that true? She had no idea; Ellen had always been the brave one, if not touched, at times by a bit of melancholy. Annie, dear Annie, felt she had always been the fearful child.

Outside, the moon shone down with a preternatural brightness, illuminating the white walls of the boudoir, painting it in a glowing, eerie light that sent long shadows floating like the messages sent back from an alternate world. Slowly, Ellen pulled the covers from her body, and, her arms outstretched before her, began to slide out of bed, across the slick cold surface of the floor, shuffling in the darkness. Annie threw back her own covers, slipped out behind her.

Where was she going? Back out to the terrace, as she had before? Annie shivered, the cold night air freezing her bones, even as she pulled the nightgown around her shoulders. She wondered if she should awake one of the servants. But, surely, there was no time!

The moonlight shown through the filmy drapes, reflected through the French doors as Ellen, pulling them open feebly, went out onto the terrace. Again, the arms outstretched before her, she began to walk. Annie felt her breath catch in her throat. She raced forward in fear, all at once shaking off the frightened girl she had always been.

She grabbed Ellen by the hem of her gown, pulling her back. The figure on the terrace edge was perched over a height that, though it may not kill her, would certainly injure her very badly.

Ellen wobbled unsteadily. "He's coming!" she cried suddenly. "He's coming, and I must go to him!"

Then, as if by the grace of Providence, Ellen fell back into Annie's arms, her nightgown ripped, her thin, shivering form taking warmth and solace, finally coming awake from the strange state. She shivered in Ruth's arms.

Oh Annie, she said to herself, You've always been such a frightened little girl. Ellen has always been the brave one, the strong one since we were little girls. But, tonight, you've changed all that!

She bent to kiss her sleeping friend.

***

A fog began to creep across the face of Wisborg Harbor, as the old creaking ship, burdened with its cargo of death, its creeping, pestilential curse, slid into port as if guided by invisible hands. Slowly, oh so slowly, it came to rest gently, as if by a miracle.

Aboard, a hideous, rat-like thing with burning eyes waited and brooded below. Around him, his legion of verminous helpers climbed in sickening furry clumps across the wooden floors, squeaking and tittering in the darkness, climbing in hundreds in and out of their filthy dwelling space. It was the "Pest" come home, after centuries away.

In the Siever's Sanitarium, a crouching, insane man, the demented Knock, looked from the hated bars of his accursed cell at the moonlight above. He pulled at the bars, feeling them, finally, pull loose, after his many, secret nights of filing at them with a piece of metal he had secured.

Suddenly, he felt the metal come free, and there was an opening he could egress.

Spittle drooling from the bottom of his chin, Knock managed to hoist himself, miraculously, to the window opening, crawling out onto the ledge.

Holding his arms out at length, his hair blowing in the wind, his eyes blazing, he cried, "He is coming! He is coming! The master is coming!"

And then he was free.

***

From Dr. Bulwer's Diary:

"I have long tried to understand why Nosferatu travelled with the earth-filled coffins. Recently I discovered that to preserve their diabolic power, vampires must sleep during the day in the same unhallowed ground in which they had been buried."

***

The sun drained his strength, but, his huge boxes of earth tucked beneath his arm, the long, cadaverous figure of a rat-like man stole quietly through the empty streets of Wisborg, encountering few people along the way, sticking to the alleyways and back streets, crossing deserted courtyards overlooked by slum lodgings.

At last, he found his way to his gloomy new home. Stealing into the musty murk, he could feel his damned soul soar within. This place was old, full of shadow and crumbling, decrepit time; age, rats, and moldering earth beneath the creaking, groaning floorboards. Here, he would feel as if he had some semblance of peace. Here, he could be home.

He set down his box of earth, and stealing back through the doorway, careful to manipulate the rusted key into the lock, he turned the mechanism with one flick of his thin, skeletal wrist. The rusted working squealed in pain.

He cursed the balmy air, the thin but undeniably hellish sunlight. Then, he stole down a nearby alleyway across the court, into the shadows he loved, once more.

***

Not very far away, Hutter rode his horse down the pathway through the front door of the Harding residence.

He pulled tightly on the reigns, stopping the beast. Shocked, he saw a pale, wan figure come slowly from the door as he ascended the front steps. He had to look twice to assure himself it was Ellen, as she was so thin, so white.

"Johnathan! Thank God you are safe! Now I feel that I too have been saved!"

And with that, her frail body fell, weeping convulsively in his arms.

***

Original movie poster (1922).

The clomp of heavy boots could be heard that night, walking the creaking boards of the pier in Wisborg Harbor, wherein the ghost ship (some already called it a "Death Ship"), the Empusa had come in, mysteriously missing all her crew. That is, save for the captain.

His dead body was tied to the wheel. His rosary was still clutched in his teeth.

Dockworkers were already muttering the lore of ghost ships and curses. One man walked the gangplank to the deck of the ship, followed by his compatriots.

Soon, they brought out one of the curious boxes of experimental earth. Taking a crowbar to it, they pried open the lid.

A furry, crawling horror festered amid the choking dust and dirt inside.

RATS.

Dozens of them began to pour forth from the broken lid of the box, as the men instinctively retreated. One man uttered an oath, and they looked at each other with loathing and a new sense of dread in their gaze.

Rats could mean one thing, and one thing only: PLAGUE. Is that why the Empusa's crew had deserted?

Later, still shaken, drinking grog in the Inspector's office, the men discussed what to do.

One man said, "We couldn't find a single living soul on board!"

Another intoned, "If it was fear and terror of the plague, they chose a watery grave to the sufferings of those damned by the pox!"

Orlok (Max Shreck) menacing the ship's crew in a classic scene.

And a third said, "Yes! But we did find the ship's log. Here, listen: '

Varna to Bremen

24 April 1838. Passed the Dardanelles - East wind - Carrying 5 passengers, mate, crew of 7, and myself, the Captain.

6 May 1838

Rounded Cape of Inatagran - One of my men, the strongest, is sick - Crew is restless, uneasy."

"Sick, eh," said the Burgomaster, pulling on his pipe. "In time, so we may all be."

The man reading continued:

"7 May 1838. Mate reported stowaway hiding below decks - Will investigate.

18 May 1838 Passed Gibraltar - Panic onboard - Three men dead already - Mate out of his mind - Rats in the hold..."

And then, his eyes growing wide with a frightened, knowing look, he finished:

"...I fear the plague."

There was a pause of a few moments time, the ticking of the clock loud in the ears of everyone assembled. Suddenly, the Burgomaster, taking his pipe from his mouth, leapt, as quickly as his considerable bulk would allow him, from his seat, running out the door and into the silent, quiet, night- time street.

"The Plague is here! Stay in your homes!"

He grabbed the bell by the side of the door, began to ring it frantically. Slowly, questioning heads began to be thrust from window shutters, and a general murmur of fear could be heard, long into the night.

***

Drawing a cross on the door, for fear of the plague.

Before dawn, the town crier was standing in the village square, proclaiming loudly the burgomaster's decree:

"To halt the spread of the plague,

the Burgomaster of Wisborg forbids

the citizens of this city to bring

their sick to the hospitals

until further notice!"

***

Ellen had promised Johnathan that she would never open and read from the Book of the Vampires. However, the accursed thing lay before her on the armoire, dark and dusty and worm-eaten; yet, nevertheless, full of sinister secrets. She crept to it, getting out of bed despite her illness and fatigue and creeping toward it. She could feel her heart beating, feel her blood coursing through her veins as she picked the thing up, thrust open its cover to one of the strange, medieval-seeming illustrations.

My! she thought. This thing is hundreds of years old.

She began to turn the pages, aghast at more illustrations, illustrations depicting the burning of heretics and witches, their imprisonment and torture; no, not witches. These looked as if they were already dead.

Some drawings (woodcuts from long, long ago) depicted men transforming into wolves. Some seemed to suggest grave robbing, or exhuming those already in their graves. What? To kill them again? Did these strange peasant folk actually believe in vampires?

One woodcut depicted, much to her horror, what seemed to be a ruler or count (Voivode in their parlance, she knew), sitting at a table outdoors, eating a merry feast.

He was surrounded by men dying, pierced through the gut by huge stakes thrust upward from the earth.

Nauseous, she continued to flip pages out of curiosity.

She found strange symbols. Symbols of alchemy, perhaps. Or black magic. One, in particular, seemed a variation of the star that the Jews wore as their symbol. But this was all wrong, turned upside down and with intersecting lines. She counted five points. In the center was a weird, menacing image; it seemed to be the head of a goat.

"One can recognize the mark of the vampire by the trace of his fangs on the victim's throat. Only a woman can break his frightful spell--a woman pure in heart--who will offer her blood freely to Nosferatu and will keep the vampire by her side until after the cock has crowed."

Ellen felt her own hand stray to the curious wounds on her throat. Doctor Bulwer told her they were very serious. They were not insect bites, as Herr Harding had thought. No. They were...

"The kiss of the vampire..." She said to herself. Just then, she heard Johnathan enter the room.

When he saw what she was reading, he grew angry.

"Ellen," he said, "I told you not to make yourself frightened by looking through that book. Oh, I should have put it away where you couldn't find it!"

But Ellen, a look of terror crossing her face, drew away from him, and drew the book away, and, her face a mask of hypnotized fear, pointed out the bedroom window to the upper story of the curious house across the street.

"Look, my husband! He is there, every night! In front of me! He is simply waiting! Biding his time!"

Hutter's eyes trailed from the long, thin nail of his beloved wife, to the darkened window. Beyond, in the window of the house opposite, it seemed he saw a tall, skeletal, brooding shadow. It was a thing with long fingers. It seemed restless to him; hungry.

Hutter threw himself against the sash, closing the curtains.

He turned.

"I will go and fetch Professor Bulwer. For I think the fiend is here. You wait in bed. This crucifix will protect you while I am gone."

And Ellen, ever an obedient wife, did as she was instructed. Hutter, bending over her, put the crucifix the old Transylvanian innkeeper's wife had given him, what seemed an eternity ago now, around her lovely throat.

And he kissed her cool, dry forehead, saying,

"For the dead travel fast, Ellen, my love. The dead travel fast."

And he was gone.

***

All night, the clatter of the funeral carts and the cries of the mourners echoed throughout the streets of Wisborg. The wailings and the grief-stricken lamentations of mothers resounded; they who, their children swept into the dark, sepulchral embrace of the churchyard too soon, beat their breasts in woe, sending up curses, pleas, and imprecations to God. And the dour, droning voice of the priest, the ringing of the bell, was like the creaking music of a tomb whose door would never close.

Ellen went to the window, threw open the curtains, and drew back the filmy sash. She could see them down there, in the trickling, pale moon, their torches and caskets and stricken bodies throwing ghastly, long shadows across the cobbles. Curse them, and curse the plague! She should never get to sleep tonight, she thought.

Her eyes cast upward, to the window of the old house of Carfax, beyond.

Her breath drew inward. She repeated, by memory, the lines she had read from the Book of the Vampires:

"'Only a woman can break his frightful spell- a woman pure in heart--who will offer her blood freely to Nosferatu and will keep the vampire by her side until after the cock has crowed!"

She realized she was merely speaking to herself, her voice echoing eerily in the empty dark.

Outside of Dr. Sievers' Sanitorium, two of the old ward maids were speaking of Knock, who was still on the lam. One of them was chewing a cud of tobacco, black dribble spilling down her chin like blood.

"They saw him escape, they did. Strangle his keeper. Blimey! What an odd duck, him and his flies!"

She turned, her seamed, dusty old face crinkling up into a snarl as she spat a streamer of tobacco juice onto the green garden walk.

"They'll nab the rascal again, mind you! And bring him back here to rave and rant, and catch flies, and act the looney he is. As sure as my name's Isabella Pfefferkorn Smythe!"

And with that, both women went back into the thick gloom of the madhouse, to finish their shift.

***

Ellen fell to uneasy slumber.

Scritch-scratch. Scritch-scratch.

She peeps a single eye open. She thinks she is dreaming. The scene before her we can imagine thusly:

A thin finger, like a single talon, is thrust through the filmy sash. The windowpane creaks slowly open. A tall, thin, cadaverous being steals as if surfing upon the moonlight, through the window, his dark boot hitting the carpet with a soft shush.

The window was opened; someone has made his job easy for him.

The room is bathed in shadow, but the pale moonlight illuminates well the surroundings. His piercing, supernatural gaze settles upon the figure lying in bed, the milk-white skin of the young woman whom his passion wishes to devour, to love. But, he knows he can never again love as mortal man.

His burning, rat-like eye drinks in the beautiful, sleeping face, the full lips, the lustrous black hair was thrown back carelessly on the silken pillow. He can sense her life, flowering and flowing in her breast; though, she was, most assuredly, disturbed within her soul. No matter. Tonight that heart was his. It would pump with desire for him, delivering to him her essence, her spirit...her precious blood. Each pump of its four chambers would bring him closer, closer still, to the madness of ecstasy. Moreover, it would join them forever, in the dance of love and death, in the comingling of destinies and desires; in bloody union, in Heaven and Hell, forever and ever.

"For the dead travel fast," he says to himself. "For the dead..."

Bending, placing his rodent-like pointed fangs against her silken throat, he begins to feed.

***

Dissolving at dawn: The death of Graff orlok.

Meanwhile, Knock, his disciple, was busily climbing the side of a house. One false move, he knew, and he would plummet to his death on the cobbles below. Below, an enraged crowd were sending up a volley of stones and rotten fruit. They had shovels and clubs and what weapons as they could find, and a few dogs snarled in the square below. It was like something out of the middle ages.

Angry shouts and yells, curses and exhortations to "Get him! Get that murderer! He killed his keeper, he did!" were flung up at him, along with a volley of stones, and ghastly, rotten tomatoes that splatted against the side of the wall. Still he climbed upward, his bleeding fingers finding purchase against the rough, uneven surface.

Finally, he managed to pull his heaving, sweating bulk up to the roof. It was a slanting surface, but he could see that, on the other side of this house, lay a long stretch of a country field, a road. Freedom.

Giggling madly, imploring his master to wait for him, Knoch began the ascent of the slanted surface of the roof, past the chimney, and across to the other side.

"Master! Master, I'm coming for you, Master! So we can be together, as you promised! So you can give me...eternal life!"

He managed to make it to the other side, his feet slipping on the shingles; but, my, it was quite a drop down! Could he climb the way down, as he had scaled his mad way up, without killing himself?

***

He did so. But close to the ground, his strength finally ebbed, gave way altogether, and he fell, twisting his ankle badly. No matter. The pain was as nothing. He made for the road.

It was not long before the mob went round the house and through the gate, then across the field, where they spied the tiny, hobbling figure, kicking up dust as he limped along. They began the chase anew.

***

It was not long before he was captured. Which was no surprise; but, what was astonishing was that the angry, plague-terrorized mob didn't lynch him on the spot.

"I say we string him up for what he's done. Why he's no better than a bleedin' animal, he is!"

To which a cooler head proclaimed, "What! He's a lunatic, man! Not responsible for his acts! String him up, and you'll liable to swing for the act yourself. No--"

And Knock, struggling on the ground at their feet, bound securely with strong rope, began to cry out, "Master! Master! Beware! They're coming, Master! They know! They've got me, and now I shall, oh, never have the eternal life you promised! Oh take pity on me, Master, I implore you! Take pity!"

One man said, "Quiet you loon!"

And another spit in his general direction. But Cool Head was accorded his victory, and the men all agreed Knock should be taken in the back of their carriage, to Siever's Sanitorium.

***

DAWN.

Creeping slowly across the face of the mourning world of Wisborg, the cock began to crow.

Orlok had paced in exultation around the sleeping form of his ravished, living repast, his long fingers splayed out before him, his lean, cadaverous frame suddenly exposed in the creeping light of dawn.

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

It was silly. It was a children's fairy tale sound. Yet, with all the love burning in his great, black, dead heart, Count Graff Orlok knew that the spell had seized him. This pure, virtuous girl had bewitched him, enchanted him until dawn. He had drunk at her throat; yet, it was HIS life she would drain to the dregs.

The sunlight. The burning! The flame!

The Hutters' boudoir was filled with thick, choking smoke. Orlok had vanished in a puff of sulfurous gas, a noxious cloud. Johnathan Hutter and Dr. Bulwer were outside the door.

"Ellen, my love! You can rest easy now! The nightmare is over! The fiend is dead!"

Grasping him tightly in her soft embrace, she planted kisses on his face.

"Oh Johnathan, I love you. Forever and ever, and forever!"

***

Back in his cell, Knock twisted and curled his tongue, and spat and writhed in his straitjacket upon the floor.

"Master!" he exclaimed. "Master, oh, Master is DEAD! Oh, no, Master is DEAD! They have killed you, Master! They have killed you! And now, now, I shall never have eternal life!

"But," he considered, "At least I still have my flies!" And as one dotted on his nose, he stuck out his tongue in a doomed attempt to gobble it whole.

And in the history of Wisborg written by Johann Cavallius , it is written:

"And at that moment, as if by a miracle, the sick no longer died, and the stifling shadow of the vampire vanished with the morning sun."

The End

***

a fterword

What you have just read is an adaptation of a screenplay, for a movie that can be considered as nothing less, at this late day and age, as obscurity; an antique. It is, however, as seemingly as old and deathless as the hideous, rat-like revenant it portrays.

Initially, it was banned due to a copyright claim made against it by Mrs. Bram Stoker. Murnau, et al., was forced to destroy the copies of their film, and for decades afterward, it was thought to be another "lost" artifact from the silent film era.

Yet, as if it had been imbued with the magic powers of the undead, the cursed thing lurked, like some seething, supernatural serpent, beneath the tidal waves of time, remaining hidden until such time as the stars deemed it necessary to bring it out into the daylight, shrieking its bleak, sepulchral, banshee-like wail of silence; to haunt the dreams and nightmares of the world, once more.

The curse of Nosferatu is a matter of speculation and legendry, and we won't go into here subjects others have already plumed. The curse, if there is one, (call it, perhaps, "Stoker's Revenge") saw F.W. Murnau killed in an auto accident while living in America. With him was his Asian houseboy.

Decades later, interestingly enough, Murnau, much like Graff Orlok, would NOT be left to rest in peace. Instead, vandals or hooligans or cultists or someone, some odious persons, broke into his tomb and stole his skull...

How do you like that for irony?; considering, of course, that Murnau directed what is, perhaps, the most realistic and well-loved silent horror film in history. German police said the grave robbers had left signs of a "ritualistic" nature. None other an occult authority than the late Anton Szandor LaVey suggested that Nosferatu was a Weimar-era celluloid incantation, a film whose arcane power transcended the realm of mere movie fantasy.

Be that as it may, the episode did inspire, in this writer, a rather bizarre dream.

In the dream, I had broken into the crypt of a castle. I don't know who I was with, but, whoever it was, we set up an old-fashioned movie projector (like the ones they use to use in schoolrooms). We sat back in the must and murk and watched...Nosferatu.

I understand now it was Murnau's crypt.

Life is an illusion. One day you will die, and all of this will disappear, forever. We are illusions, then, making illusions of illusions. There's something about that in the play The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance. It's a comic little scene wherein Joseph Merrick discusses with Frederick Treves the idea that Plato put forth, that we are all simply imitations of forms God has crafted in Heaven. Merrick intones, sarcastically, that in his case, God, "Should have used both hands." (The scene begins with this suggestion, visitors marveling that Merrick creates his models, "With just one hand"; i.e. the one that is not deformed. Of course, there is a sly, vulgar double-entendre here, as a certain lewd act is also performed, "with just one hand." But, I digress.)

In the dream, watching those flickering images, I realized that, indeed, we are illusions; imitations of "forms in Heaven" (to borrow a title from Clive Barker).

The actors and creators, writer and set designer, and ALL and everybody responsible for making Nosferatu are long since dead. But, Nosferatu, the Undead Revenant, the rat-like fiend who lives forever on human blood, is still alive, as are his vicitms, in the flickering images captured forever and ever, as flame-flickering images on a screen; and on the movie screen of the mind, which will collect them, process them, and bury them, like the unquiet dead, in the churning maelstrom; in the unplumbed depths of our subconscious brains.

There they will fester, like a gangrenous wound, and visit us in our dreamscape nightmares.

Anyone who has ever been really drunk knows the sense of losing "depth perception"; i.e. everything begins to seem as a flat image projected on a screen. It is in these moments when we begin to realize that reality, such as it is, is simply an illusion of the mind. Whose illusion, precisely, we cannot say.

Well, God, of course, answers the theist. The atheist just as assuredly answers in the negative concerning that particular philosophic proposition. The rest of us are simply doomed to speculate, and fear.

So we are illusions; ALL is an illusion born of our nerve endings, decoding electrical impulses, deciphering the empty spaces filled by molecules of atoms...which are themselves, mostly, empty space.

But we dream. Illusions. Imitations. Forms of Heaven.

We film our dreams, so that, even after all the actresses and actors, the director and producer and screenwriter have long been, as it were, shoveled under, we can replay those dreams, again and again, ad infinitum, into eternity; an illusion watching an illusion, of an illusion.

(And people say that I am mad?)

And Nosferatu is a very, very dark dream, indeed.

Until we meet again.

--C Augustine.

November 3rd, 2019.

fiction

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis , Indiana Ghost Folklore, , Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest : http://tombakerbooks.weebly.com

Read next: Australian Nightmare

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