I left home and took an anxious walk down the block. I was about to make my first international interview; It was a natural thing to bite my fingers, worried about something that could eventually go wrong.
I studied the watch I had on my wrist more than a couple of times. I looked for signs of discrepancies, but… It was nonsense and I knew it. The watch, since when it decided to influence directly on the results of the interviews, had shown itself perfect. There was nothing on the hands of the clock or on its outside gears, both small and bigger, that could give evidence of any malfunction. Well, I’m certainly not an expert on the matter. I don’t have enough knowledge to come up with technical reports.
I am talking about a quantum watch which is probably unique – despite my suspicion of the existence of two other ones, whose owners I still do not know – and was given to me by an extremely old watchmaker whose workshop is never in the same place, in time or space.
The quantum watch creates alternate or altered realities. It shouldn’t create more than a dynamic and surprising scenery. It shouldn’t affect directly on the physical and mental health of the interviewer or of the interviewee. It shouldn’t. But its mechanism created scathing realities, where figurants take leading roles and where life is always hanging by a thread.
It wasn’t that hot, but I was sweating nonetheless. My forefinger on the biggest button of the watch – one amongst other four -, unsure whether I should press it or not. The many national interviews had put me through the most bizarre, strange and highly dangerous situations. What could I expect from an international interview? Luckily, the same bizarre stuff. Maybe the same discrepancies. Maybe the same dangers, not bigger or smaller.
I took a deep breath, locked my teeth on such a strong bite that made my jaw hurt and, trembling in anxiety, pressed the button.
I found myself down on my knees, almost squatting, on cold and wet pavement. Dark night. I was enfolded in a dense mist of which vapors brought me back less noble scents – corporal fluids. The narrow bit of street I found myself in looked like an alley. Behind me, there was a high wall.
I could hear the distant sounds of the hitting of the wheels against the hard rock ground, the neighing of one or more horses, faint laughing, grumblings and singing.
I put myself in an upright position, rubbed my naked arms, realizing the cold and the lack of clothes I had come with. I got, suddenly, tense with the overexposition of the watch, which could be easily noticed by anyone. If there was something I really feared, it was to be robbed while in an alternate scenario, losing then, any possibility of returning to my own reality.
I risked on a cautious move forward. I couldn’t stand still indefinitely. I was there to interview Kim Newman and I had to find him.
I admit that walking on unknown territory, with my sight plainly hindered by the mist and full of fears is no easy task. It wasn’t a long alley; it didn’t take me more than 30 short and scared steps to get to a wider space. A street, maybe. A square probably.
I moved forward a little more and stopped, surprised by the clashing of wheels and the agitated breathing of horses in plain run. A coach, yes, there was a coach coming out of nowhere, in the darkness ahead. The coachman was shaking the reins and clearing the mist as he passed through.
It would have run over me if I hadn’t been suddenly snatched. Pulled backwards and thrown against a wall, with no gentleness at all. My neck was firmly gripped, a blade pressed against my jugular. Nervous fingers explored my teeth for any signs of salient canines.
I kept still for long and strenuous seconds. The man who had enthralled me brought his face nearer. Full moustache, glasses and long hair, which came down from his top-hat in cascade. He looked deep into my eyes with a tense expression. He loosened the grip of the blade a little and asked my name.
“Tibor,” I answered with a trembling voice.
It was enough for him to, finally, relax. He sheathed his blade inside the silver handle of an ingenious walking stick and, adjusting his hat, grabbed me in the arm and dragged me out of there.
“When I agreed with this interview, I wasn’t imagining I would be sent into a place like this,” he complained.
“You were aware of the risks,” I stated, while still being conducted.
“I thought you were swaggering. Writer’s talk. Fictious story, only in paper. I could never imagine that…”
“Everyone’s got the same reaction,” I continued, “Nobody believes it until they are inside a more than genuine adventure.”
“I wanna go back!”
“It’s not like that. The interview must be made. The questions must be answered.”
He stopped, staring at me, his face stiffened.
“Have you any Idea of where this crazy watch of yours has put us?”
“Some. Dense mist, paving-stone floor, running coaches… London?”
“Whitechapel. Sometime near the end of the 19th century.”
“Fascinating,” I said with a smile.
“You’ll have your fascination running down your neck in wide flows of blood if you don’t be careful. Or better, if I don’t take care of you. I know this territory very well.”
He started guiding me again, this time less hastily. We were taking long steps down the pavement and, although I could not guess where he was taking me or how he could see anything through that mist, he did it with a surprising certainty and settling. We walked past some distracted passers-by. Some were drunk. Ladies with easy smiles and available looks – on the way, or back from one of the uncountable whorehouses in the city.
Kim grabbed me stronger when we heard a sharp and quickly suppressed scream. It seemed to have come from our backs; a couple of meters from where we had came from.
“Come,” He urged me, forcing me to walk faster.
We pressed on enough so that, in a little while, we were in a pub called The Ten Bells. We exchanged the outside mist for the dense and vicious air caused by the smoke of cigars and cigarettes. Kim took me to a more distant table, hidden in the shadows. We sat calmly and I saw a copper coin roll on the greasy top of the table. A man made it disappear in the pleats of his clothes and in return, he put two full pints of beers in front of us.
I observed the place. Happy and obviously “high” men and some girls behaving in a way that would certainly be condemned by the virtuousness of those times, were they in a less vicious place. They drank and exceeded themselves in the bantering, laughing and vulgarities. No one seemed to pay any attention to us, despite my absolutely uncommon clothing for the time.
“To me, everything seems fine,” I told Kim, taking my pint to my lips and drinking a small evaluative sip of the drink.
“Here, in this reality, nothing, ever, is fine. There is always something to be worried with. An inattentive man is quickly a dead man.”
I put my pint on the table. I found the beer quite weak.
“Kim, Anno Dracula is the first of a series of books. It was followed by The Bloody Red Baron, Dracula Cha Cha Cha and then Johnny Alucard. Asking an author if he considers the sequels to be as striking as the first book might seem silly, but there’s no one better than the author himself to evaluate his work. How do you see these continuations? Did you hitchhike in the success of the first book and took advantage of the wave or produced the follow-ups because you considered the scenery too rich to be shown in a single book?,” I asked.
Kim, who had only played with his pint until that moment, without tasting the drink, looked at me.
“My original conception for the book was vaguely to do a trilogy set between the 1880s and World War I, but – though I had the premise and essentially the world, I didn’t have anything like a plot in mind, or the characters. It was years later when the story fell into place. I wrote Anno Dracula with a sense that I’d probably do a WWI novel to follow up, and that led me eventually to Dracula Cha Cha Cha and other stories.”
He stopped for a moment, observing a couple having fun at a table on the other side of the room, fiddled with his moustache and then moved forward on the table towards me.
“Can you see that couple?,” he asked me with a whisper.
I moved my eyes to the side he was pointing with his chin.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Long Liz and George Lusk. You know who they are, I suppose.”
“Haven’t got the slightest idea.”
Kim shook his head, unconsoled.
“Have you ever read anything about Jack the Ripper?”
“I guess not enough to answer your question.”
“Long Liz, Elizabeth Stride, one of the victims. George Lusk is the president of the Whitechapel committee of vigilance.”
“You are not implying that… George Lusk is…”
“No, of course not! It only surprises me that they were so close. Now pay attention to the woman that is by the counter, leaning and talking to the barman. “
“That is Catherine Eddowes, another victim. Tell me, how similar to the one we know can this alternate reality be?”
“I can’t say,” I answered laconically.
Kim fiddled with his moustache one more time, his gaze lost between the two women and the man who had one of the most important jobs at the time those deaths were being investigated. He drank, finally, a sip of the drink and clicking his tongue, continued with the answer to the first question.
“Having some unnaturally long-lived characters means going back to the series doesn’t mean going back to the same time and place as the first book – which doesn’t quite fit with the Hollywood notion of a sequel, though it’s quite common in fantasy or science fiction. I like all the books, but I went to some trouble to make them each different in tone from the others, though there are elements which recur in all of them. In my work, I’ve often gone back to characters – doing multiple stories about them and even multiple versions of them – as if building a set of interlocking universes; a few writers I like did something similar – Mike Moorcock, PJ Farmer – and the urge to tie everything together into ‘one big meta-series’ – M John Harrison said that – is fairly irresistible.”
We drank, together, from our beers. The couple at the other table was still caressing each other and Kim looked at them insistently.
“In Brazil there is an intense discussion among authors, journalists and critics on the importance of realistic literature and genre literature as possible interchangeable genres. Many defend the idea that the formality of the academic literature, together with the wealthy plots of the genre literature would generate a more appreciable kind of reading. How do you see this matter? Is there any kind of similar discussion in England?,” was my next question.
“English literature has always seemed to privilege realism over fantasy, but realism is a genre too. We certainly have a wealth of great genre literature as well as everything else – it’s not an original observation to me – I think Peter Haining said it – but every great writer in English tends to have at least one ghost or horror story or science fiction satire in their bibliography. There’s a British predisposition to take crime fiction more seriously than, say, science fiction – but there are also many serious, worthy British science fiction writers, a few of whom – Ballard, for instance, even Wells – have cracked the pantheon of accepted greats.”
Kim went suddenly quiet and put his hand on the handle of the stick which was, until then, leaning on the table. His eyes followed the smiling couple who had stood up and was walking towards the door, ready to leave the pub.
“Well, look at that…,” said Kim, to soon after continue with his answer “…personally, I have an odd relationship with genre: as a critic (I write mostly about film) I have a habit of putting things in genre boxes and fixing labels to them; as a fiction writer, I like odd combinations of genre or works which try not to fit in boxes.”
Kim pushed his pint away a few inches. He pulled his stick closer to himself and lifted his face, while the couple disappeared through the door.
“Anno Dracula, for instance, is horror, science fiction, history, crime, fantasy, satire, romance and thriller, plus being in the sub-genres of vampire stories and Jack the Ripper conspiracy theory, with all that literary borrowing and shared world of Victorian famous fictional and real people stuff thrown in. There is no part of the bookshop the book couldn’t be filed in. And the follow-ups add war story, pulp adventure, soap opera, whodunit, Hollywood, superhero and porn, which about covers all the bases.”
“Time to stand up and leave this place”, he said next.
“And where are we going?”
“To follow an interesting couple.”
“Isn’t it dangerous?“
He looked at me, winked and stood up, leaning on his stick.
“We’re already in the rain, let’s get wet.”
We left our pints almost intact. The beer wasn’t good anyway. The haunters didn’t notice our leaving, as well as they had seemed not to notice our arrival. We left the irritating smoke to get back to the cold mist. Kim stopped for a moment, aware of the external sounds. He had a focused look, although I felt he had a more instinctive than objective attention. After a short while he pointed the stick to our left and went on that direction. I followed him, of course.
“The nights have been revealing themselves full of surprises by the end of this century. Loads of agitation. Excess of immigrants, difficulties, protests, racial conflicts. Anything can light the wick of discord. Murders happen frequently, but the ones ascribed to Jack, have gained notoriety.”
“Do you intend to save the lady from the sexual harassment of that George Lusk guy?,” I asked, ironically.
Kim didn’t answer, just kept breaking the mist, tirelessly, in a resolute walk. He stopped all of a sudden, as if his flair indicated him alternate ways. He turned his head slightly to the left. A dark trail followed down the night. He passed his stick from one hand to the other, holding it upright.
“Now carefully and silent,” he said, following the trail.
We walked down a narrow, muddy lane. We ended up on a rocky stairway, which was limy and slippery. We went down trying to make no noise. Easier task for me, wearing a pair of trainers, than to Kim who was wearing heavy boots. It was an illusion to think we were alone. There were people lying on the ground, some drunk, others showing sharp teeth, others ignoring us completely. We went through them without much trouble. The way opened up, leading to what seemed like a park, with reduced dimensions though. We heard stifled laughter and moans of desire.
More couples, other than the one we were looking for. It seemed like a roofless cabaret. We leant on a tree, from where we could only see silhouettes of those given to obscenities.
“Have you got any further questions?,” Kim asked, willing to keep with the interview, even in such a strange and dangerous situation.
“How do you analyze Stephenie Meyer’s literary approach where, in her books, vampires glow in the sunlight? Do you believe that the vampire myth should always obey certain traditional successful archetypes?”
Kim held to the handle of his stick and leant his head to the side, forcing his eyes as if he could, this way, pierce through the dense veil that was created by the mist.
“It’s time,” he said, leaping forward while he made a very sharp and narrow blade slip from the scabbard of the stick. The same that had been pressed against my throat soon after my arrival. I didn’t know what he had seen or what he meant to do, but I discovered myself forced to follow his advances. More out of fear of being left behind than of guts. We ran a few meters.
George Lusk was in the grips of Long Liz. Literally. The woman showed long and frightening teeth. Transformed looks. One of George’s hands still lied under her dress, holding to the object of his desire, but trembled so much that could lead her to an intense and involuntary orgasm. Kim howled, span in the air and, with a firm blow, cut her from top to bottom in her back, opening a dreadful cut on her.
The park was taken by screams, howls and groans. Long Liz fell on herself and was soon back up. She moved upon us, I panicked. A shot made her bow while she put her hands to her stomach. Kim, fast, took advantage of that moment to give her a second blow. The decapitated head put an end to the fight.
We started running, the three of us. My legs flew while my snorting breathing could barely keep my lungs full. We went around the park, through other dark paths, stepped on shit and urine, climbed sudden obstacles, always with the vivid impression of having someone on our backs, following us avidly. We stopped to rest on an apparently more bustling street. George Lusk was still carrying the gun he had used.
“Nice company that one you got yourself,” said Kim, with his breathing hastened.
“She seemed like an ordinary girl. Human, I mean. Things changed a lot around here since he, you know who, arrived.”
Kim looked at me, put his blade into the scabbard – which was his stick at the same time – and, straightening himself up, started to answer my third question.
“I think as long as they drink blood to survive, they’re vampires. In Anno Dracula, I posit lots of different bloodlines of vampire analogous to every single vampire ever imagined in previous folklore, literature and film – down to Wells’ Martians. Eventually, the series will catch up to the present and I’ll have to cope with ‘vampire romance’ – here’s an exclusive, if there’s a fifth book in the series, it will probably be called Vampire Romance – as in Meyer and True Blood. I read Twilight, but not the sequels, and I’ve seen the films: they are not what I’d do, or even what I’d choose to read, but unquestionably interesting, and connect with their audience in a really interesting way.”
“An interview, is it?,” asked George. “What a curious thing to be done during attacks and chasings.”
“And it is the craziest one I have ever participated in, be sure of that,” added Kim.
“What are your most immediate literary projects and what do you plan for a near future?,” I asked, finally, with a sigh. Happy to see the interview ending without more trouble than we had already faced.
“Just now, I’m working on a new edition of Nightmare Movies, a book about modern horror movies I wrote in the 1980s. In addition to the old text, I’m writing a whole new book covering what has happened since then. It’ll be out in the UK from Bloomsbury.”
A howl followed by a powerful groaning interrupted him. We exchanged frightened looks and were already moving away from the wall we were leaning on when we were violently attacked. Besides the contorted expression, we identified Miss Catherine Eddowes, who must have followed us since we left The Ten Bells.
She didn’t seem happy at all. She was actually taken by hatred. With an unerring blow she made George Lusk roll on the ground, his gun lost amidst the mist. Kim tried to unsheathe his blade, but his stick was taken from his hands. Not really certain of what to do, I kicked the woman in the back. She didn’t seem to feel anything. Kim held on to her, punching her a lot of times while trying to dodge from the mouth which tried to bite him at any cost. I heard George’s flustered steps, running away from the place at all haste. “Damned” I thought, disappointed.
“The answer!,” I yelled.
The fight was fierce and I found out that if I didn’t do anything effective, Kim would never be able to give it. I held the vampire on her back, my arm around her neck, choking her. With that, I managed to push her mouth a few inches away from Kim’s neck, which, luckily, hadn’t been bit yet.
“My next work of fiction will be Mysteries of the Diogenes Club, out from MonkeyBrain later this year – it’s one of three – so far – books which run in parallel with the Anno Dracula series…”
Kim pushed the woman away and we fell, both me and her, on the ground. Still clinging, tensely. Catherine fought, trying to escape. She was really strong and I wouldn’t manage to hold her for much longer. She turned her head in impossible angles, trying to bite my face.
“…and feature the main characters of those but in a history which more closely resembles our own.”
Kim’s stick was on the floor. He lifted it calmly, unsheathed the blade and, even showing intense tiredness, put it near the lady’s chest who stopped fighting immediately. She just looked at him, angry, and at the same time begging. Ignoring her supplication, he stuck the blade into her, cutting tissues and bones. He opened a hole in her chest and exposed her cold heart out. I dropped her at that same moment, fearing the blade might cut more than only her flesh.
I saw her ruckle. Tears came down from her now soft, sad eyed and seductive mouthed face. Kim bent down, put his hand inside her chest and pulled her heart out, throwing it away, on the street. I dry swallowed before the rudeness of his actions.
“There are a few ways of killing a vampire. This might be the most repugnant of all, I admit. But it grabs attention.”
“I am also,” he continued while cleaning his blade in his cape, “fiddling with the long-in-the-works Johnny Alucard, and planning a collection of stories in the Lovecraft/Cthulhu mythos vein. I guess that’s it. Is it over or would you like to go back to the pub to finish off our beers?”
“It is done. There are no further questions,” I answered, without being able to look away from the lady, dead and ripped on the pavement – I lost my thirst and any possible appetite.
“I guess, then, we can go back to our own realities. I have more to do. This adventure gave me new ideas. Show up in London one of these days,” and Kim opened up a broad smile.
I nodded, trying to smile without much success. I searched for my watch, which was luckily still on my wrist and, waving goodbye to Kim, who waved back, I pressed the button.