Ian knew it was serious because she’d phoned him instead of texting. Ada never phoned him, and she sounded awful – like the life was being drained out of her. He was on his feet and reaching under the coffee table for his shoes before he had even asked her where she was, “Is your mum there? Are you at home?”
“I’m lying down. Mum’s at work. I feel so bad. I don’t know what’s wrong. ” She was close to tears and sounded exhausted. He imagined her in her bedroom, languishing on the bed, surrounded by empty pill bottles, looking pale and struggling with the idea of cutting her arms.
“Have you taken anything?” he asked, trying not to make it sound like an accusation.
“No. I don’t have a head ache or anything. I just feel really, really ill. Like I’m fainting -
“Stay on the phone. I’m coming to you.”
Ian found himself leaving his half eaten pie and going into the kitchen to rummage for his car keys. Scruff, his border terrier followed at his feet expectantly. Ian had never been subtle and his son’s death last year had made him even less so. There was no point in not saying what you thought. Time was short and if you didn’t say things, there was a very real danger that they would forever go unsaid. So he blurted straight out,
“Have you hurt yourself, Ada? Have you cut your arms again?”
There was a pause before Ada’s reply, “No.”
She didn’t sound angry or offended, just shattered. She supposed he had a right to ask, since Ian had been the one to pick up the pieces and help her when Michael died. Ian was Michael’s dad but, in the absence of her own father, he had started to seem to Ada the way she suppose a father might. Even her mother would ask, “Have you asked Ian? or What does Ian say?” whenever she tried to talk to her.
Ian knew she worked occasional shifts at the pub, because that’s where she’d met his son, but he had no idea really about when or how often.
“Did you have a drink at work? Might someone spiked it?”
Ian couldn’t quite hear Ada’s replies now because he was locking the door and trying to put his mobile on speaker without accidentally switching it off. Scruff had assumed he was coming along for the ride and had started to dance around Ian’s legs when he’d picked up the keys. Now he trotted to the van and waited by the driver’s door to be allowed to jump in.
Ian somehow understood that the situation was serious and it was partly because he hadn’t felt any of the twinges of annoyance that Ada so often generated in him. He liked her well enough, and she had been the love of Michael’s short life, but her approach to her loss and grief somehow struck him as a criticism of his own attempts to come to terms with the tragedy.
When Michael’s mother had left him holding the baby – quite literally – Ian had learnt to just get on. Keep busy. Take small steps and don’t over think stuff. This approach had worked then: he’d raised a good lad – everyone said as much – so it was the approach he took now, when Michael was gone.
Perhaps it was because Ada reminded him of his loss that he sometimes felt annoyed with her, or perhaps it was the way she seemed to buy into all this whole goth thing – the death fairground – that seemed to him to make a circus of the past, and pain, and its horrors.
Both Ian and his son had lived in Whitby all their lives and while he could see the monetary benefit of Dracula to the tourist trade, he couldn’t understand Ada’s interest in all things gothic. She was not one of the day trippers who came to dress up and then went back to regular lives, but she was one of a wave of incomers who were in love with the place for its imagined past. Some dressed like Victorian dandies or horror movie extras and while it was all harmless showing off and good for the bed and breakfasts, it seemed to Ian to be a self-
Perhaps he resented their importance to the local economy.
Perhaps he resented their youth and willingness to play and explore different aspects of themselves.
He didn’t know, but he knew he didn’t understand it and in the early days after his Michael’s death their frock coats and hearses had seemed like an assault on his son’s memory.
“I’ve put you on speaker. Keep talking to me. I’m bringing Scruff to cheer you up.”
Scruff sat on the passenger’s seat with the phone beside him and cocked his head at the mention of his name.
“I went into college this morning, and I was fine,” Ada said.
“Keep talking. We’re at the four lane ends roundabout. Tell me about your day.”
“It was weird -
Ian knew she meant the second hand bookshop. He had visited its cluttered, cramped rooms a couple of times and once bumped into Ada in the local interest section.
She went on,“I was reading this book, just dipping into it, when this old woman said something to me. Something about Handal Williams. I’d no idea what she was talking about and sort of smiled and nodded. “
He was worried that Ada was running out of strength so he asked, “Who was she?”
“I don’t know. She was really old, and tiny, like a little old witch or something.”
Ada attempted a little laugh but it sounded only like a gasp for breath. “She had a shawl, like one of those fisher women in the old photos – Sutcliffe’s. She didn’t say her name and I didn’t ask. She was sort of ugly, had a bit of a beard thing going on, but her eyes were sharp and kind. Like she’d seen a bit, you know?”
“Does she work there?”
“No, I don’t think so. She just started talking to me out of no-
“Care in the community?!”
“Yes, crazy -
Ian was frustrated by the traffic. He had twice been stopped at amber lights when he thought the car in front could have gone. A bit of speed was in order. His own pulse was racing, but the car was obedient to the traffic laws and scruff lay down to keep from being buffeted again by any more unexpected braking.
“Handal Williams, Go on what about him?”
“Well, back in the day. There was one of those heavy fogs we get in Whitby, you know, the sort that lands and doesn’t go out with the tide. Then it starts to rain and at first everyone is glad of the break in the weather, because the wind gets up and the clouds lift enough for it to pour it down.
But then it doesn’t stop. It just goes on getting worse and worse; a massive storm; the full works; thunder and lightning.
Boats were unable to set to sea and, in harbour, waves were pitching them against the harbour walls. So that when night falls everyone senses there’s bound to be a disaster. The whole of Whitby is flinching at rattling windows and startled by coal fires being blown out by back draft down the chimneys.
Then the word goes out.
It’s impossible to say from where it started but soon boys big enough to be allowed out in such a gale are running the streets calling news of a wreck not far out from the bay.”
“And at this point in telling me the story the old woman put her bony hand on my arm, as if it was really important that I listened, but by now I was listening anyway because it sounded like the opening of Dracula – the story. They part where there’s a ship wreck, or a ghost ship is steered ashore by a big dog that turns out to be Dracula.”
“Go on what happened? Keep talking to me, I’m not far off now.”
Ada went on, “She said. No sooner had the news of the Dmitry reached the shore than there began a strange howling.”
Scruff sat up and looked out of the window at the sound of the beached ship’s name.
“It was as if all the town’s dogs were of one mind and voice – everyone – and no-
Scruff was growing restless and turned on the seat as if trying to find a place of comfort, and Ian glanced down to make sure he wouldn’t knock the phone.
“When she told me,” Ada continued, “I thought I could hear it too, the cries of a hundred dogs, all strangely afraid and desperate to make a big din: all throwing their yelps and howls into the dark corners of their houses. “
Scruff was laying down again now growling to himself.
“While the general throng fought the winds to find their ways down to the harbour, I suppose some with the hope of looting if the ship broke, one solitary walker headed up the steps towards the Abbey.
It was the Unitarian minister Handal Williams – a man in his middle years – a man of singular attitudes whose fierce defence of the poor and stubborn rectitude had left him acquainted with the insides of a prison cell on more than one occasion. His John Bull hat and the tap of his amber tipped cane were familiar to those going about their carpet beating or kipper smoking.
A regular walker by twilight, Handal Williams had hoped that the full moon might light his way despite the battering storm.
He had thought the Abbey cliff might provide a vantage point from which to view the proceedings, but he had not travelled far up Donkey Lane before the spouts of gushing rain water drove him to the Abbey steps as an alternative route. The gale whipped his fastened coat flapping it about his legs and wearing the hat became impossible – a pragmatist – he must carry it and expose his head to feel what wretches feel.
Once at height, the shouts and the cries of the men grew distant, which is the effect he had hoped for, but he had not anticipated the dreadful howling. Indeed, no-
Without further ado he turned on his heels to head back home and it was then that he saw it.
A movement of deeper darkness within the shifting wet shadows.
It was on all fours and climbed the stair towards him. Instinctively, Handal Williams put his cane firmer to the ground to steady himself.
Then he saw the eyes – red – blood red eyes flashed out of the darkness and then vanished. He would have thought they were a dog’s eyes, but the creature was too tall.
Again! Now there was no mistaking it.
The terrible hound stood before him: black as jet and wet as the hellish night.
Handal Williams knew it immediately.
Its eyes, burning coals, shone out from a head the size of a man’s. The jaws parted and two sharp fangs dripped what was unmistakably blood. It lowered its head and its maned shoulders grew larger as it produced an unearthly growl lower and more menacing than Handal Williams would have thought possible.”
Ian had parked up outside Ada’s house and Scruff, normally fearless, had needed coaxing from the car. Ada’s voice now sounded so strange, so very unlike her, that Ian was filled with panic. She seemed possessed with a fierce energy and not entirely herself. Ian let himself in and instinctively headed upstairs.
“Boom! Boom! Boom!”
He had followed Ada’s voice and arrived inside her bedroom to see her standing before the imperfect vintage mirror in her sweat soaked nightdress.
As she shouted the words she made the gesture of Handal Williams banging his amber -
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The amber caught the moonlight and it glinted back at the hound.
“Pass me now and be gone by morning. Pass me now. I am not afraid of you.”
Scruff crouched low and was growling transfixed at the mirror on Ada’s chest of drawers. Ian too looked into the mirror’s dark surface where Ada’s fevered eyes shone back at herself.
“Rest at the Abbey if you must, but be gone by morning.”
There was such power, such threat, in that command. Ian found himself reaching out to put a hand to Ada’s shoulder, but it was unclear whether he sought to steady her or himself.
“Be gone by morning.”
Ada stepped to one side and then her arms seemed to fall limp. Her breathing calmed and her posture was suddenly relaxed. She pushed her damp hair back from her forehead and smiled at Ian in the mirror.
Ian stood wrapped. If pushed he would have sworn that he saw a dark figure pass from the mirror -
Scruff ran from behind him to dance for Ada’s attention and Ian looked down at the dog before Ada could notice the wet rim of his salty eyes.
Manusripts ( two foolscap sheets) found during a chapel clear out sometime in the 1930s. The handwriting is clearly not Haydn Williams. The paper however dates clearly from the 1880s. It is uncertain if a John Taverner was ever employed by the chapel during the period concerned, however chapel accounts from this time are more than a little sketchy.
The person from Porlock was an unwelcome visitor to Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his composition of the poem Kubla Khan in 1797. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (possibly an opium-
Ferenc Dávid (a former Calvinist bishop, who had begun preaching the new doctrine in 1566). The term "Unitarian" first appeared as unitaria religio in a document of the Diet of Lécfalva, Transylvania, on 25 October 1600, though it was not widely used in Transylvania until 1638, when the formal recepta Unitaria Religio was published.
“Fictions” is a page given over to occasional imaginative responses to the life of Francis Haydn Williams and the fictional Count Dracula. Haydn Williams lived and worked in Whitby at the time of the fictional arrival in Whitby harbour of the famed count. The Bram Stoker gothic tale “Dracula” posits itself as a series of fragmented accounts by various narrators of the “doings” of his anti-