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Half Spent Was the Night

December 29, 1881

Christmas Day has come and gone, the New Year lies ahead. Strange things happen Between the Years, in the days outside of time. Minutes go wild, hours vanish. Idleness becomes a clever thief, stealing the names of the days of the week, muting the steady tick of watches and clocks. These are the hours when angels, ghosts, demons and meddlers ride howling wind and flickering candlelight, keen to stir unguarded hearts and restless minds.

Tonight, the three Witches of New York, swathed in dressing gowns of velvet and silk, are seated on tasseled pillows before a crackling fire.
They’ve set the business of potions, spells and con­sultations aside, in favour of quiet contemplation. The youngest, Beatrice, touchstone of spirits, is curious and bright-eyed. The eldest, Eleanor, keeper of spells, is watchful, regal and wise. Adelaide, seer of fate, sits between them, ever ready to speak her mind. Bellies full of honey cake and hot cider, they seek comfort, warmth, companionship and glimpses of the future.

Beatrice scores a chestnut with a small knife to prepare it for roasting. “My aunt Lydia always said a cracked nut means ‘yes,’ and one that burns without cracking means ‘no.’” The fire hisses and pops. A spark flies into the air and lands on the hearth where it pulses, then dies. After placing her chestnut in a shallow pan, she sets the pan on the fire and waits for an answer.

Eleanor watches with anticipation. So does Perdu, her raven familiar.

The bird is keen for the sweet roasted meat of the nut. Eleanor, for a morsel of truth. She knows Beatrice is keeping a secret.

A faint yessss sounds before the chestnut squeals and its shell blossoms in an attempt to turn itself inside out.

Eleanor stares at her young apprentice. Is she happy, sad or indifferent at these portents?
Tugging at her braid, Beatrice bites her lip, then smiles when she realizes how closely she’s being watched.

“Pleased?” Adelaide asks, fishing for the truth she knows Eleanor wants to uncover.

Beatrice doesn’t answer. Nor does she meet the eyes of her companions.

Distracted or determined, Eleanor wonders. Which is it?
Neither. The girl is mulling over the answer she’s received. Yes, she thinks, but when? For weeks she’s been ravenous with longing for a stranger she’s only seen in her dreams. It isn’t love, exactly. How could it be? It’s more a relent­less curiosity. She would follow the Stranger any­where. And she has, on many nights, chasing his dark figure through dimly lit corridors and graveyards bathed in moonlight. In the morning she wakes exhausted, wishing she could go back
to sleep, desperate to return to the last place she saw him. Even if she could explain her state to her friends, she wouldn’t. She’s afraid that once she gives voice to her vision, the Stranger will disappear from her mind forever. Whenever she attempts to write an account of her dreams, his voice sounds in her head: Don’t break the spell. It leaves her puzzled, intrigued. Are the fay-folk Eleanor so often speaks of the source of these visions? Or do they come from someplace else? The girl has plied herself with many cups of dream tea, offered countless trinkets made of mother-of-pearl and coloured glass in order to persuade the fickle creatures to bring her answers, all to no avail. How long must I continue the chase? At least now (if the humble chestnut is to be believed), she knows she’s des­tined to meet the Stranger in the flesh. Even if I don’t know the how or why of it.
Picking the chestnut from the pan, she deftly peels the shell from the meat. It’s piping hot but she’s not concerned with getting burned. She’s thinking instead of the Stranger, of how soon she can go to sleep and find him in her dreams.

Holding the fleshy heart of the nut in the palm of her hand until it cools, she offers it to Perdu.

“Who’s a good bird?” the raven coos before snatching the treat in his beak.

“What if yes or no isn’t enough?” Eleanor asks. She wants Beatrice to perform another divi­nation. Maybe then she’ll be able to figure out what’s on the girl’s mind.

“If you need to choose between different situ­ations,” Beatrice replies, “you must name each chestnut according to your choices, then kiss them for luck before putting them into the fire. The order in which they burst is either the order in which you must address the issues or the way in which things will ultimately come to pass.”

“Situations, or suitors?” Adelaide teases. She’s noticed Beatrice growing more preoccupied by the day—moving about like a sleepwalker, twirl­ing her hair with absent-minded vigour. She’s convinced the girl is having a secret affair. She knows the blush of lust when she sees it. Good for her, she thinks. If only Eleanor would stop worry­ing and leave Beatrice to it.

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Bram stares at the door.

Sweat trickles down his creased forehead. He brushes his fingers through his damp hair, his temples throbbing with ache.

How long has he been awake? Two days? Three? He doesn't know, each hour blends into the next, a fevered dream from which there is no waking, only sleep, deeper, darker-


There can be no thought of sleep.

He forces his eyes wide. He wills them open, preventing even a single blink, for each blink comes heavier than the last. There can be no rest, no sleep, no safety, no family, no love, no future, no-

The door.

Must watch the door.

Bram stands up from the chair, the only furniture in the room, his eyes locking on the thick oak door. Had it moved? He thought he had seen it shudder, but there had been no sound. Not the slightest of noises betrayed the silence of this place; there was only his own breathing, and the anxious tapping of his foot against the cold stone floor.

The doorknob remains still, the ornate hinges looking as they probably did a hundred years ago, the lock holding firm. Until his arrival at this place, he had never seen such a lock, forged from iron and molded in place. The mechanism itself is one with the door, secured firmly at the center with two large dead bolts branching out to the right and the left and attached to the frame. The key is in his pocket, and it will remain in his pocket.

Bram's fingers tighten around the stock of his Snider-Enfield Mark III rifle, his index finger playing over the trigger guard. In recent hours, he has loaded the weapon and pulled and released the breech lock more times than he can count. His free hand slips over the cold steel, ensuring the bolt is in the proper position. He pulls back the hammer.

This time he sees it-a slight wavering in the dust in the crack between the door and the floor, a puff of air, nothing more, but movement nonetheless.

Noiselessly, Bram sets the rifle down, leaning it against his chair.

He reaches into the straw basket to his left and retrieves a wild white rose, one of seven remaining.

The oil lamp, the only light in the room, flickers with his movement.

With caution, he approaches the door.

The last rose lay in a shriveled heap, the petals brown and black and ripe with death, the stem dry and sickly with thorns appearing larger than they had when the flower still held life. The stench of rot wafts up; the rose has taken on the scent of a corpse flower.

Bram kicks the old rose away with the toe of his boot and gently rests the new bloom in its place against the bottom of the door. "Bless this rose, Father, with Your breath and hand and all things holy. Direct Your angels to watch over it, and guide their touch to hold all evil at bay. Amen."

From the other side of the door comes a bang, the sound of a thousand pounds impacting the old oak. The door buckles, and Bram jumps back to the chair, his hand scooping up the leaning rifle and taking aim as he drops to one knee.

Then all is quiet again.

Bram remains still, the rifle sighted on the door until the weight of the gun causes his aim to falter. He lowers the barrel then, his eyes sweeping the room.

What would one think if one were to walk in and witness such a sight?

He has covered the walls with mirrors, nearly two dozen of them in all shapes and sizes, all he had. His tired face stares back at him a hundredfold as his image bounces from one looking glass to the next. Bram tries to look away, only to find himself peering back into the eyes of his own reflection, each face etched with lines belonging on a man much older than his twenty-one years.

Between the mirrors, he has nailed crosses, nearly fifty of them. Some bear the image of Christ while others are nothing more than fallen branches nailed together and blessed by his own hand. He continued the crosses onto the floor, first with a piece of chalk, then by scraping directly into the stone with the tip of his bowie knife, until no surface remained untouched. Whether or not it is enough, he cannot be sure, but it is all he could do.

He cannot leave.

Most likely, he will never leave.

Bram finds his way back to the chair and settles in.

Outside, a loon cries out as the moon comes and goes behind thick clouds. He retrieves the pocket watch from his coat and curses-he forgot to wind it, and the hands ceased their journey at 4:30. He stuffs it back into his pocket.

Another bang on the door, this one louder than the last.

Bram's breath stills as his eyes play back over the door, just in time to see the dust dance at the floor and settle back down to the stone.

How long can this barrier hold against such an assault?

Bram doesn't know. The door is solid, to be sure, but the onslaught behind it grows angrier with each passing hour, its determination to escape growing as the dawn creeps nearer.

The petals of the rose have already begun to brown, much faster than the last.

What will become of him when it finally does breach the door? He thinks of the rifle and the knife and knows they will be of little use.

He spots his journal on the floor beside the basket of roses; it must have fallen from his coat. Bram picks up the tattered leather-bound volume and thumbs through the pages before returning to the chair, one eye still on the door.

He has very little time.

Plucking a pencil from his breast pocket, he turns to a blank page and begins to write by the quivering light of the oil lamp.


The peculiarities of Ellen Crone. That is, of course, where I should start, for this is as much her story as it is mine, perhaps more so. This woman, this monster, this wraith, this friend, this . . . being.

She was always there for us. My sisters and brothers would tell you as much. But how so, is where inquiries should lie. She was there at my beginning, and will no doubt be there for my end, as I was for hers. This was, and always shall be, our dance.

My lovely Nanna Ellen.

Her hand always reaching out, even as the prick of her nails drew blood.

My beginning, what a horrid affair it was.

From my earliest memories, I was a sickly child, ill and bedridden from birth until my seventh year, when a cure befell me. I will speak of this cure in great length to come, but for now it is important you understand the state in which I spent those early years.

I was born 8 November 1847, to Abraham and Charlotte, in a modest home at 15 Marino Crescent in Clontarf, Ireland, a small seaside town located about four miles from Dublin. Bordered by a park to the east and with views of the harbor to the west, our town gained fame as the site of the Battle of Clontarf, in 1014, in which the armies of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, defeated the Vikings of Dublin and their allies, the Irish of Leinster. This battle is regarded as the end of the Irish-Viking Wars, a bloody conflagration marked by the death of thousands upon the very shore over which my little room looked. In more recent years, Clontarf found itself the destination of Ireland's rich, a holiday setting for those wishing to escape the crowds of Dublin and enjoy fishing and strolls across our beaches.

I romanticize Clontarf, though, and in 1847 it was anything but romantic. This was a period of famine and disease throughout Ireland that had begun two years prior to my birth and did not find relief until 1854. Phytophthora infestans, otherwise known as potato blight, had begun ravaging crops during the 1840s and escalated into an abomination in which Ireland would lose twenty-five percent of its population to emigration or death. When I was a child, this tragedy had reached its peak. Ma and Pa moved us inland in 1849, to escape hunger, disease, and crime; and the fresh air, it was hoped, would avail my poor health, but all it brought was further isolation, the sounds of the harbor sought by my young ears falling more distant. For Pa, the daily walk to his office at Dublin Castle only grew as the world died around us, a damp web of grief lacing over all that was left.

I watched all this transpire from my attic room high atop our home, known as Artane Lodge, as nothing more than a spectator, relying upon the tales of my family to explain everything taking place beyond our walls. I watched the beggars as they ravaged our neighborsÕ gardens of turnips and cabbage, as they plucked the eggs from our chicken coop, in hope of staving off hunger for one more night. I watched as they pulled clothing from the rope-strung laundry of strangers, still damp, in order to dress their children. Despite all this, when they were able, my parents and our neighbors opened their homes and invited these less fortunate inside for a warm meal and shelter from the storm. From my humble birth, the Stoker family motto ÒWhatever is right and honorableÓ was instilled in me and guided all in our home. We were by no means well-off, but our family fared better than most. In the fall of 1854, Pa, a civil servant, was toiling in the chief secretaryÕs office at Dublin Castle, as he had for the thirty-nine years prior, having begun in 1815 at only sixteen years of age. Pa was substantially older than Ma, something that did not resonate with me until I was an adult. The castle was the residence of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and his office handled all correspondence between English governmental agencies and their Irish counterparts. Pa spent his time cataloging these communications, ranging from the mundane day-to-day business of the country to official responses on topics having to do with poverty, famine, disease, epidemics, cattle plagues, hospitals and prisons, political unrest and rebellion. If he wished to ignore the problems vexing our time, he could not; he was deep in the thick of it.

Ma was an associate member of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, a major force in the food drives and relief efforts of Dublin, a post previously reserved only for men. Not a day would pass when she wasn't haggling with a neighbor for milk, only to trade it with another neighbor for cloth. Her efforts kept food on the table for our large family and helped to feed countless others who crossed our threshold in these times of need. She held our family together-and as an adult, I see that now, but my seven-year-old self would have testified otherwise. I would have told you she locked me in my room, trading my happiness for isolation from the world's ailments, not willing to allow even the slightest exposure.

Our house stood off Malahide Road, a street paved with stone extracted from the quarry near Rockfield Cottage. I was confined to the attic, its peaked windows my only escape, but I could see much from such a height-from the farmlands around us to the distant harbor on a clear day-even the crumbling tower of Artane Castle. I watched the world bustle around me, a play for which I alone was the audience, my illness dictating my attendance.

What ailed me, you wonder? That is a question with no real answer, for nobody was able to say for certain. Whatever it was, my affliction found me shortly after birth and clung to me with wretched fingers. On my worst days, it was a feat for me to cross my room; the effort would leave me winded, bordering on unconsciousness. A mere conversation drained what little energy I possessed; after speaking but a few sentences, I often grew pale, and cold to the touch, as sweat crawled from my pores, and I shivered as my moisture met the seaside air. My heart would sometimes beat fiercely in my breast, irregular, as if the organ sought rhythm and could not find it. And the headaches: they would befall me and linger, day upon day, a belt tightening around my head at the leisurely hand of a fiend.

I spent the days and nights in my little attic room, wondering if my last dusk had just passed or if I would wake to see the dewy dawn.

I was not entirely alone in the attic; there were two other rooms. One belonged to my sister Matilda, eight at the time, and the other was occupied by our nanny, Ellen Crone. She shared her room with Baby Richard, my recently born brother and her most pressing charge.

The floor below mine housed the home's only indoor privy as well as my parents' room and a second bedroom occupied by my other two brothers, Thornley and Thomas, nine and five, respectively.

At the ground level could be found the kitchen, a living room, and a dining room with a table large enough to seat the entire household, with the exception of Ellen Crone, who preferred to take meals alone after our repasts came to an end. There was a basement as well, but Ma forbade me from ever descending those steps; our coal was stored down there, and exposure to its dust could consign me to my bed for a week. Behind our house stood an old stone barn. We had three chickens and a pig there, all tended by Matilda from the time she was three years old. In the beginning, she had named the pigs, but around her fifth year she realized someone was switching the larger sows for smaller ones at least twice a year. By her sixth year, she realized those same pigs went to the butcher and found their way onto our supper plates. She stopped naming them then.

Over all of this, Ellen Crone watched.


Where to start? There is so much to tell and precious little time to tell it-but I know when all things changed. By the time one particular week came to a close, I would be healed, our dear Nanna Ellen would be gone, and a family would be dead. It started innocently enough, with a little eavesdropping. We were but children-me, seven; Matilda, eight-and yet that fall season was never to be forgotten. And it began with only two words.

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