DREAMS OF THE DARK
©1999 by Stephen Mark
Rainey & Elizabeth Massie, HarperCollins Publishers
To his right, the deepening blue above had begun to smother the Atlantic
horizon, destroying the demarcation between sky and sea; to his left,
the last rays of sunlight lanced the train windows, prickling the
exposed skin of his hands and face. Now and again the windows went dark
as the train passed through pools of shadow cast by the Appalachians
rising to the west. In nearby compartments, some of his fellow
passengers were having their evening meals, reminding him how long it
had been since he had fed. How many days since he’d boarded the train in
Atlanta? Two? Three? He was somewhere in the state of Maine, running out
of distance to cover, still uncertain where the steel rails were leading
him, still unsure why he was here.
The low thunder of the heavy wheels on the track had a lulling effect,
especially now that his strength had begun to noticeably wane. He rather
enjoyed the muted rumble-clacking music of the train, for it
reminded him of many pleasurable occasions from days long past. In spite
of the more advanced means of transportation so readily available, he
preferred the slower, more scenic pathway of the railroad, even now not
so different than when he had ridden the rails as a youngster, when
signs of human habitation were fewer and farther between. But he had
never ventured this far into northern territory before, and the new
experience pleased him, despite the uncertainty of his destination and
As the train roared over a bridge, he looked down and could see a stream
of gunmetal-tinted water far below, pouring out of the western shadows
and widening into a lethargic estuary before merging with the ocean.
Shortly, the trees pressed close on either side of the train, blurring
into the growing darkness that again reminded him of the hunger pangs
that could soon become gnawing.
Rathburn removed his sunglasses and pocketed them, then took off his
western hat and laid it on the empty seat beside him, grateful that the
blazing light had taken its leave for another day. Casual onlookers
might think him odd for wearing the shades and hat and the duster all
day, every day, even here in the relative gloom of the train car; they
might, had he not willed virtual invisibility, making himself
inconspicuous to those with whom he had no desire to interact. As he
grew weaker, however, his ability to protect himself diminished
He could not deny his need any longer.
Rising from his seat, he glanced into the corridor, knowing that if she
remained true to form, his wait for her appearance would be brief. He
had noticed her soon after he had boarded the train: a lovely young
thing, probably thirty years old; a businesswoman on her way to see
family, perhaps. She was traveling alone, and seemed to have had little
contact with others during her journey. From his reading of her, she was
certainly not anticipating any romantic encounter, but would hardly
refuse his advances. To her discriminating eye, he would appear
attractive, his tall body, finely engraved features and thick, sienna
hair pleasing to her taste. She would want him.
At the end of the corridor, the door between cars opened and a blonde
figure emerged, on her way to the restaurant car. She wore a simple,
gray knit dress and matching blazer, classy-looking but comfortable for
traveling. Rathburn slid back his compartment door and stepped out,
blocking her path without appearing threatening. He put on a somewhat
abashed expression, his catlike, green eyes gazing deeply into hers of
cool sea blue. “Excuse me,” he said softly.
“May I help you?” Her voice was a refined, bell-like chime.
“Good evening. My name is Thomas Rathburn. I couldn’t help but notice
you were alone. Since you and I are both about to have dinner, I was
hoping I might convince you to join me.”
Her wide eyes flickered between flattered amusement and wariness. “You
knew I was going to dinner. You’ve been watching me.”
Rathburn shrugged. “What is your name?”
“Just Michelle.” She smiled cautiously.
Rathburn grinned, showing her he understood the game. “Just Michelle, I
suspect you don’t usually have strangers on a train asking you to have
dinner with them. Want to give it a try and see how you like it?”
Her smile broadened. “You’re not shy, are you?”
“Only when I need to be.”
For a moment, her eyes tried to resist his, testing his will. When she
found she could not turn hers away, her lips parted slightly in
surprise. He lifted his hand, expecting her to place her hand in his. A
moment later, she did.
“Step inside with me, please.”
As he backed into the compartment, she followed, her gaze never
wavering. Once they were both inside, he closed the door and slowly drew
the shades facing the corridor. He could feel her rising fear and
anticipation, and drank in the sensation with relish. With a gentle
hand, he brushed a streamer of silvery-blonde hair from her slim neck,
saw the faint pulsing of her jugular vein, which increased its rhythm
with every passing second.
He slid his arms around her and pulled her slowly into his embrace. Her
resistance amounted to only a slight shaking of her head, for even
though she was aware of her will having been conquered, she half-desired
the thrill of danger, the uncertainty of what was about to happen to
her. He lowered his face to hers, touched her lips with his, imparting
comfort to her, sparking her own carnal desire. He briefly drank in her
breath, scenting the fear and excitement that blazed through her body.
Then his lips moved to her throat.
When he penetrated her, her back arched in his arms. Her breath escaped
her lips with a sigh that tickled his ear like hummingbird wings. Her
blood flowed in a sweet rush into his mouth, and he swallowed it
eagerly, wrapping his arms tighter around her body and drawing from her
a soft moan of sheer terror and ecstasy. He drank for several long
moments, until the burning of his hunger finally began to cool. Only
when he paused to savor the taste of her essence did he look back into
her eyes. Her sea blue irises had receded to narrow rings around dilated
pupils, and her expression was one of disbelief and yearning, of horror
and pure joy.
He must take no more.
He released her from his embrace, holding her steady with one hand on
her arm. She swayed slightly, tilted her head back and closed her eyes,
drawing in a deep, steadying breath. He could feel her throbbing pulse
beneath his fingertips beginning to diminish along with the excitement
of the moment.
He needed more.
But, somehow, he forced down his desire. His hunger could wait. He had
waited far, far longer before, and probably would wait so again. In the
close confines of the train, draining her completely posed too great a
threat. If her disappearance were noticed before either of them reached
their final destinations, he might be faced with uncomfortable questions
or delays. He had not thrived in society by acting foolishly or
impulsively. Her blood should sustain him for at least the rest of the
night — he hoped — but his hunger was hardly sated, only whetted.
He touched the wound on her neck and the oozing of blood ceased. He
wiped away the crimson streaks and lifted his fingers to his lips for a
final taste. Dazedly, Michelle watched him, her eyes wishing he would
take her again. He shook his head, leaning close to her and whispering
in her ear, “You will remember nothing. You will go back to your
compartment and sleep. Sleep. And when you wake, you will feel refreshed
and contented. Do you understand?” She nodded slowly. “Now,” he said in
a stronger voice, his tone mocking, “Go in peace, and may your God go
The blonde woman turned, offering him one more longing gaze. His green
eyes sparkled, forcing his will upon her yet again. She slowly opened
the door and stepped out, swaying down the corridor in the direction she
had come with the dreamy stagger of one who had tested one glass of wine
Rathburn watched her disappear through the door to her train car, then
closed himself back in his compartment. A single drop of blood dotted
the floor at his foot. He knelt and wiped it away, studying the crimson
spot on his fingertip. This time, he passed his thumb over his finger
and the spot vanished as if it had never existed.
He sat down, peering out the window at the dark landscape passing beyond
the glass. The temptation to call her back and finish her was strong.
The risk factor was not insurmountable. He frequently overcame far more
complex risks; such was the reality of his existence. Still, he thought,
better to allow the woman to survive, and merely ruminate wistfully on
having denied himself the pleasure of ending the life of another
Such a familiar regret. In Atlanta he could move freely, taking victims
more or less at his leisure. But because he preferred to prey on a
higher class of woman than the typical streetwalker, he usually left
them only temporarily weakened and dazed, with no memory of what had
befallen them, as he had with Michelle. It had been a long time — too
long — since he had killed his prey; it was simply not necessary, for
nourishment could be taken nightly and in relatively small quantity. But
the satisfaction of killing rarely justified the potential dire
And dear God, no, he never brought them over. He had forsworn such
practices long ago, knowing that new initiates to his breed tended to
harm rather than strengthen its chances of a prosperous longevity. This
age’s humans were stupid, arrogant, pathetic things that brought most of
their baggage with them when they changed. Virtually all the members of
the breed under a hundred years old had been destroyed, usually by their
own folly, most in the course of the last decade or two.
On the rare occasion when one of his kind sought to stake a claim in his
territory, Rathburn drove him out, and at least once had even destroyed
the intruder. He would abide no trespasser on his ground, not when that
trespasser represented a threat to his own security. Of the small number
of undead individuals that walked the earth, most of them knew of
Rathburn and respected him. Though some of them were older than he, few
had the resources to pit themselves against him, if confrontation they
Like only a scant few of his kindred, Rathburn enjoyed a special
advantage over almost any adversary, living or undead: the ability to
move about in daylight. Though painstakingly developed over the years by
his own determination, he suspected the trait had actually been
transferred to him by the one who originally turned him from human to
Vampire. He still required some protection from the sun, or he could be
burned or blinded beyond his ability to heal; hence the protective
clothing he wore. But unlike most of his breed, he hardly needed to
sleep in a coffin by day. In fact, being able to show himself in full
daylight allowed him to maintain a lifestyle that placed him virtually
above suspicion in those rare cases where the most broadminded among
mortals might cast an eye toward the paranormal to explain certain
evidence unavoidably left behind.
To maintain his mundane pretense, he had, over the years, acquired a
respectable degree of wealth, through various enterprises in which he’d
had the foresight to involve himself. Shortly after his Rebirth, he had
settled in Atlanta, at first subsisting off whatever financial spoils
could be won from his victims; before long, he had begun to invest in
numerous ventures that would grow on their own. He began, naturally
enough, overseeing cotton plantations, which in the First World War
provided him with riches undreamed of by most ordinary men. As time went
by, he began to participate in industries — virtually always as an
absentee partner — that promised future prosperity, such as telephones,
electronics and now mass media publications. He always saw to it that
any caretakers of his accounts were entirely loyal and trustworthy; to
this day, only one had attempted to embezzle any of his fortune. That
man had quietly disappeared many years ago, now forgotten by anyone
He lived, not in some dark, forbidding manse, but in an opulent suite,
designed to suit his own special needs, in one of Atlanta’s premier
downtown hotels — of which he was part owner. Out of necessity, he
occasionally changed his residence, as his immunity to the passage of
years could not help but make him stand out in familiar environs. To
this end, legal records would show that he was the sixth in a line of
Rathburns bearing the name Thomas; with wry humor, he could claim to be
his own father — and grandfather, and great grandfather before that.
From his position of wealth and power, Rathburn had lived and flourished
for nearly the last century and a half.
Outside the train windows, darkness had fallen complete. His eyes,
however, could see distant points of light, warm auras, subtle nuances
of shadow that no mortal eye could ever discern. A town lay not far
ahead, he knew, and something in his blood began to warm, to insinuate
that his journey might be drawing to an end. Suddenly, as had happened
so many times over the course of the last few days, his vision changed,
and in a rapid-fire burst of intermingled images, he saw:
A dark-haired, willowy young woman standing in the midst of tall
trees bearing the red leaves of autumn.
A sprawling mansion atop cliffs that overlooked a raging, storm-racked
A faceless man in a cape, holding a cane with a silver handle in the
shape of a wolf’s head.
And, then, strangely, he caught the scent of lilac, like a sweet
perfume; a distinctly feminine fragrance, obviously not from within the
train car, but from somewhere out there.
From the same source as the visions themselves?
The frequent recurrence of these images, along with a wholly
irresistible compulsion to follow an unclear path northward, had led him
to board the train in Atlanta and begin this journey into the unknown.
As his eyes again registered only the dimly lit interior of his
compartment, he felt oddly rejuvenated, much as had happened on prior
occurrences. An almost sexual thrill accompanied the revival of his
energy, an excitement of passion without any apparent source.
In his many years of existence, he had experienced nothing like this
before. It both excited and troubled him. Surely, these images were
being deliberately transmitted to him. But by whom? From where?
And then, against his will, old memories suddenly began to surface;
memories he had put away long ago, now creeping forth to stab at him
from the darkest pits of his psyche, where they belonged.
His beautiful young wife, Elaine, screaming in terror as a trio of
blue-coated figures burst through the door of her home, each wielding
muskets or machetes. Their two-year-old son, Michael, running and
screaming in terror as the men grabbed his mother and threw her brutally
against a wall, knocking her senseless.
No, these were not memories. Rathburn had not been there to witness the
events as they had happened, only the aftermath. Yet these images were
as clear and vivid as if he were observing the obscene attack through
the eyes of another, someone there in the room.
He saw one of the officers — a lieutenant, from the uniform — raise a
pistol, aim at the fleeing boy, and fire. The impact of the lead ball
threw Michael forward, onto his face, his little arms flailing
helplessly as he tumbled like a broken doll. Within seconds, he lay
motionless, a vast pool of red spreading from the wound in his back and
seeping into the aged hardwood. Then the child-killer turned his pistol
on Elaine, holding it to her head while the others stripped her of her
clothes, then in turn removed their own trousers...each having his way
with her as the others watched with demented smiles on their sweating,
Rathburn’s stomach heaved as one by one, the marauders wantonly emptied
their seed into her. And finally, when the last was spent, one of them —
young, no more than eighteen — produced a bayonet and waved it slowly
and gleefully before Elaine’s semiconscious eyes. Then, with an almost
kindly look of reassurance, that no, he would not really harm her, he
pierced her chest with the tip of the blade. Elaine gasped in sudden
shock, her eyes widening with realization. And slowly, with utmost
cruelty, the young man forced the bayonet forward until its point
pierced her heart. Her eyes rolled upward and glazed over as she
breathed her last and her life’s blood gushed from the horrible breach
in her flesh, its hot vitality pouring over the hand that still grasped
the handle of the bayonet.
The young soldier looked at the death he had so mercilessly wrought with
a kind of detached appraisal, clicked his tongue and stood, finally
giving his partners a harsh, mindless chuckle.
Rabid dog. Son of a bitch.
The trio then turned their attention from Rathburn’s dead beloved, and
haphazardly went through the house searching for anything of value. His
father’s gold pocket watch. A silver vase — a gift from Elaine’s mother.
And then — God, no — the gold wedding band from Elaine’s dead finger.
Into the kitchen, looking for food. Some dried meat, a few ears of corn
soaking in salt water. And then their madness seemingly passed, each
gazing with calm satisfaction upon their handiwork before marching out,
the last slamming the door closed behind him, allowing it to bang back
and forth on its broken hinges.
As the vision faded, a swirl of sound seemed to rise in Rathburn’s ears:
a low whisper at first, rising until it became a chorus of screams, an
inhuman, hellish cacophony that dizzied him. As the sound faded,
lingering after it came the whisper of a name, repeated over and over,
but which held no significance for him. None whatsoever. At least not
What did it mean? Why had these images come to him, so cruel and
terrible in their vividness? Why now?
On that awful date, he had come home only a few hours too late, his
discovery of those evil deeds sending him screaming from his own home in
fury and despair.
God, he despised them. Detested all their kind. He quickly rose to his
feet, leaned into the corridor of the train car and focused on the
shadowy figures he could glimpse through the windows of the other
compartments. What he would give to rampage through the train, take
these wretched beings and snap their puny necks, tearing their flesh
with his fangs, tossing each lifeless body into a heap and letting the
blood flow and flow until it flooded the very train car itself.
All of you. Monstrous. God, I hate you.
And these creatures, what few might have an inkling of the existence of
his breed, they dared to apply the label “monster” to the Vampire.
The insanity of them. It sickened him.
Sometimes he had to marvel at his own restraint. That he had developed
the control, the patience over his long lifespan to suffer the existence
of these creatures he must live among lest he jeopardize his own
existence. How interesting it would be, he thought: to meet with the
descendants of that depraved trio of Union soldiers who had perhaps run
into one battle too many. He had sought long and hard — and failed — to
find the guilty parties. Even with the heightened senses of his new
existence, he had been unable to pick up the trail of the perpetrators,
then long gone. There was simply too much blood. Too much blood on the
As the wave of anger passed, Rathburn felt his energy slowly beginning
to seep away, forcing him to sit back down, drained and exhausted.
Somehow, those events from long ago were being relayed to him by an
intelligence, of this he was certain. Intuitively, he felt that the
answers lay somewhere ahead, that whatever power had beckoned him
northward would reveal some long-hidden truth to him.
He could feel the train engine decelerating, the rumble of the wheels on
the tracks growing deeper and heavier. Through the window, he could see
lights ahead, and there, around a bend to the right, a train station. As
the long metal snake slowed and finally hissed to a stop, the station
sign appeared outside of Rathburn’s window, and his weary eyes widened
with renewed exhilaration at the sight of the town’s name:
Intriguing. If “Collins,” the name whispered to him by some disembodied
spirit, turned out to be one borne by any of the dogs who had slain his
family, and any of their progeny resided in this obscure Maine village,
then the wrath that would pour down upon them would be unlike any since
the days recounted by the Holy Book of God.
Rathburn rose, took his one bag of belongings from the nook above his
seat and stepped into the corridor, finding that only a scant few
passengers — Michelle not among them — appeared to be disembarking at
this particular port of call. Excellent. Though he could maintain a low
profile of his own devising, he preferred as few potential witnesses as
possible seeing him leave the train. As long as he did not know what he
faced, he intended to gain any small advantage that might work in his
What he knew he faced most immediately, and with sudden urgency, was his
need for blood. Damn it. His feeding had not been sufficient to sustain
him, and had only catalyzed his hunger. With some concern, he realized
that in a place as small as Collinsport, he might find it considerably
more difficult to procure prey and remain inconspicuous than in his own
familiar territory. But as he moved slowly through the station, noting
the pair of bleary-eyed, listless-looking attendants on duty, the tiny
handful of passengers coming and going, his mind shifted into hunting
mode, his senses becoming attuned to the local auras, the scents, the
sounds, any of which might lead him to appropriate quarry.
As he set foot onto the street outside the train station, he found
himself facing a crumbling block of a quaint New England village. The
small buildings were mostly dark and weathered shanties, but farther up
the road he could see a line of Colonial houses that looked to have been
made into offices of sorts. From somewhere far behind him, he could hear
the low susurrus of breakers, the horns of a few distant boats. The main
part of town apparently lay several blocks up this avenue, but off to
the right, he saw two of the most welcome sights he could imagine at the
A large wooden building with white panel siding, apparently well kept
and brightly lit, displaying a sign in the shape of a carriage that read
“Collinsport Inn.” At least here he could secure his belongings and
acquire reasonably private quarters in which to spend the daylight
hours. And just past it, on a small lane that apparently led to the
waterfront: a low building with several neon beer signs burning in its
windows. A barely visible placard identified it as the “Blue Whale
Wherever there were taverns, there would be drunken mortals, often
seeking companionship for the evening.
Wherever mortals sought companionship for an evening, there lay blood
for the taking.
* * * * * *