Summary: This is a what-if story for Halloween. Adam’s son loves to read. After reading a forbidden book, he discovers a dark family secret.
Rating – T
Word count – 1949
Young Joseph Benjamin Cartwright was bored and couldn’t sleep. He wanted to read the novel his father had received in the mail a couple of months ago. He had even begged his father to read it to him but he kept hearing his father’s voice saying, “No Joseph, it’s not appropriate for you. I won’t read it to you. You’re too young.” The lad was thirteen years old for goodness sake. His father would read any other novel to him and even encouraged him to read many on his own. One evening, in late October, his father and grandfather went out for the evening. They did that every night since his grandfather had arrived in London from America. Well, it wasn’t too unusual, since his father seemed to have a lot of evening business meetings anyway. His mother was busy with sewing and such so he saw his chance to at least start reading the book. He snuck into his parents’ room and made a familiar beeline to his father’s bookshelves. Scanning the titles, which were alphabetical, he could not find the book. Having checked drawers and other places he thought of one other place it might be. His father kept a few secret items in a trunk in his closet. He had been forbidden to look in the trunk but Joseph was determined to find that book. He found a key in the nightstand and tried it in the lock. After a click he lifted the lid. Inside, the book lay on top of several other items – dark, heavy cloaks, some smaller journals and photographs of people he’d never seen. Grabbing the book he set everything else back as it was and made for his room like a pirate with his treasure.
Once inside, he snuggled under the covers, turned up the lamp and opened the front cover. The title was written in large Gothic letters, Dracula. In a fancy scroll at the bottom of the page someone had written a note to his father, “Adam, Keep this close. It’s the only history we have.” Not understanding the message, he moved on and began reading. So engrossed in the book he was, he’d lost track of time until his mother knocked on the door and told him to put the light out and go to bed. Glancing at the clock he saw it was nearly midnight. Joseph didn’t want to put the book down but after lowering the light his eyes became heavy and soon he was asleep with the book resting opened over his chest.
A loud sound woke Joseph from his slumber. He was a sound sleeper and always slept through his father’s late arrivals home, but this was something different. His room faced the stables and that is where he’d heard the sound from. Slipping from bed and donning pants and boots, Joseph made his way outside.
Nearing the stables he heard the sound again. It sounded like something very heavy had been dropped to the ground, a large box or crate perhaps. He tiptoed toward the doorway and heard voices coming from within. He recognized the voices as those of his grandfather and father but they were frantically whispering. There was a low light coming from the doorway so Joseph stuck his head around the corner and froze with the site his eyes beheld.
In the shadows of the flickering flame Joseph saw his father and grandfather dressed in dark suits with white collars and deep red ties. Some kind of medallion hung from the ties. Cloaks had been draped over one of the half walls to the horse stall. However, it was what the men were doing that frightened young Joseph the most – the box they had apparently dropped had broken open and dirt along with a body had fallen out. It was pasty white and had blood around the neck. Both men were frantically trying to put both the body and the dirt back into the box and nail it shut when Joseph saw them. The conversation he overheard paralyzed him further with fear. Everything that was happening in the stable was what he had read about in the book earlier that evening. He wanted to run back to the house but something kept him rooted outside the door as he waited to see what would happen next. Once the box was finally secured his grandfather straightened up, looked at Adam and spoke in a low tone, “This needs to be buried tonight. We need to make sure your family does not find out what’s going on.”
Adam spoke in reassuring tones, “It’s alright, Pa. Isabel knows. She’ll keep our secret and when Joseph is old enough he will join us all.”
Joseph gasped and ran for the house. Sailing upstairs he threw himself into his bed and under the covers knocking the book to the floor. Terrified of everything he’d seen and heard he had no clue what to do. After a time he had finally drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning the sun danced over the covers of his bed. Joseph yawned and stretched then rolled out of bed to dress for the day. Straightening his room he found his father’s book laying on the floor. Suddenly everything came back to him from the night before so he ran to his father’s room and quickly put the book back where he found it. Leaving the room he heard laughter coming from down the stairs and recognized his father’s deep chuckles.
Settling in at the table Joseph ate his breakfast but kept a close eye on his father and grandfather. Both seem to have a merriment about them but he noticed a few odd looks being passed back and forth. When he finished eating he was told to go to the stables and begin his chores for the day. Joseph froze but then nodded and left the house.
Out in the stable he found everything as normal as it could be. Nothing was out of place and there was no sign of the large box. He finished his chores and then decided to look around outside. Behind the stable he found some freshly upturned dirt, enough to cover the large box. Joseph started backing away from it and backed right into his father and grandfather. As he started to run his grandfather caught him by the arm and held him tight.
“Well young man, it looks like you found out our little secret. Adam?”
Joseph went white as a sheet and nearly fainted when Adam spoke up. “Son, were you out here last night?”
Joseph couldn’t speak but only looked with fear from his father to his grandfather. Adam knelt down to look Joseph in the eyes. “Son did you read that book last night, the one about Dracula?”
Knowing he’d been found out Joseph slowly nodded. “I’m sorry. I was so curious. I put it back. I won’t finish it I promise. What’s going to happen to me now?”
Adam looked up to his father and gave a sad look to him that Joseph did not see, then he turned back to his son and gave him a more serious look. “Well we’ll just have to see how things go tonight. You go on back to the house and let your grandfather and I do some talking.”
Joseph didn’t wait to be told a second time. Inside the house he ran to his room, locked the door and sat on his bed with his knees pulled to his chin. His mother had other chores for him to do so he was forced to spend the rest of the day working for her and doing his lessons. However when evening came he was requested to join his father and grandfather out in the stables.
“Son, it’s time for you to meet the rest of the family. But first, I have some clothes for you to put on. These are quite old so please be careful with them.”
Joseph did as he was told and slipped on the white shirt and black suit, and tied a red tie around his neck, he noticed he didn’t have a medallion like his grandfather and father did. Next he was handed a cloak like the others but it was just his size. Once he was dressed his father and grandfather nodded their approval then escorted him to the carriage waiting in the front yard.
Adam placed his hand on Joseph’s shoulder and looked at him with something like pride in his eyes, “I hadn’t realized just how much you’re growing up and I think your participation in the activities tonight will show that you are closer to being a man than I thought.”
Joseph swallowed his fear, nodded to his father and waited by the carriage with his grandfather while his father went to the house to retrieve his mother. When they came out he saw his mother was also dressed in very old-style clothing.
The family entered the carriage and drove into the city. They stopped at a large house that was lit with candles in each window. Upon entering they were greeted by a very old man dressed as a butler. He held a tray containing goblets filled with dark red liquid. Adam, Ben, and Isabel each took the goblet. Joseph reached for one but Adam placed his hand on Joseph and slightly shook his head. “No son, not yet.”
As they entered further into the house Joseph noticed that there was a party going on. He relaxed a bit realizing that this must be a costume party and suddenly realized that it must be to celebrate Halloween. Later that evening Adam took Joseph outside and showed him a special place at the back of the house. It was a small graveyard, and Joseph wasn’t sure what to think when Adam showed him gravestone after gravestone with the name of Cartwright on it.
“Father, who are all these people?”
“These are family members who succumbed to mortality, son.”
Just then, Joseph heard a howl in the distance and the wind began to blow hard. His father was standing behind him and he felt his father’s hands rest gently on his shoulders. That was the last thing he remembered.
The next morning young Joseph Benjamin Cartwright awoke and found he felt different but realized he had had a wonderful time at the party and seemed to be no longer afraid of his father and grandfather. He rose and dressed. As he moved past his mirror on the way to the door he suddenly realised something was wrong. Backing up he took a look in the mirror and noticed his image did not seem to be as clear as it had been before and he noticed a strange red mark on his neck. Grabbing his neck he screamed and ran downstairs only to find his father waiting calmly for him. Joseph was too frightened to say what was in his mind and he started to run to the door. His father called him back with his deep calm voice, “Joseph.”
Joseph couldn’t help but to turnaround and when he saw the pride in his father’s eyes he knew he had been joined with the others in the family. Joseph went to the table and his father handed him a goblet containing a deep red liquid. Joseph hesitated but with his father’s nod of approval and a raise of his father’s goblet, Joseph took his first drink of blood.
* Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, was published in 1897.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Gothic Horror
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