“Brilliant!” I cried, looking down at my son gleefully. “This has got to be the best lightning generator I’ve ever seen!”
The most beautiful bolt leapt across the sky like a startled deer, before splitting into a cascade of electric tributaries. It silhouetted the daunting manor on the horizon in a way that could only have been perfected by one man. Well, monster.
“Dracula has really nailed it this year! You wait until we get inside Ludwig, this party is gonna blow your brains out! He’s invited every single monster in Transylvania!”
My son grinned and his adorably horrific teeth reflected another flash across the sky. As we loped through the cemetery’s winding path, which led up to a pair of wrought iron gates in front of the manor, he excitedly pointed out every fascinating vehicle the guests had arrived in.
“Look dad, that carriage has bat wings! That must mean they flew here!” He ran over to a rickety wooden shelter with a sign that was dripping with ‘Broomstick shed’. “Wow, there must be witches! Can we go home on one of these broomsticks? Pleease.”
“We’ll see. Maybe if one of the witches doesn’t make it out alive.” I winked at him.
The looming iron gates arose before us, tall, dark sentinels of twisted metal ready to contest our worthiness. There was no one here to open them, but I strode up confidently; I’d received the password two nights ago by carrier rat. “Ghoul droppings”.
For a moment, silence filled the air. It felt as stale and long as the kiss of death. I was just starting to get nervous when a groan arose from the bowels of the earth beneath us. The lock mechanism gave a grating screech before *click* and the gates began to open eerily of their own accord.
Relieved, we hurried along to the manor and Ludwig had to revert to all fours to keep up with my long stride. I was conscious I could see the last guests entering inside and there was not a soul on the path behind us. As we drew up to the huge entrance-way a small, winged figure with large pointy ears and leathery skin stood there motioning to us.
“You’re late!” the imp hissed from its thin, wide mouth. “Dracula is about to give his speech, get inside! Typical werewolves…”
I stepped inside and my senses were bombarded by the delightful stench of the undead. Hundreds of bodies and not-bodies filled up the grand entrance hall, the thrill of the year’s most anticipated event causing them to chatter excitedly. And what an entrance hall it was! Two ornate black marble staircases curved upwards on either side of the vast room, caressed by golden handrails. They met at a long landing; a balcony looking down the floor below. This was where the eyes of every guest kept being drawn to, glancing there every few seconds as if struck by an irresistible tick.
CRASH. I spun around, eyes wide and teeth bared. Ludwig gave a high-pitched yelp and all the other guests had simultaneously jumped at the deafening noise that assaulted our ears as the gigantic wooden doors had slammed shut behind us.
“Satan’s beard, that made me jump out of my skin!” I said to the shocked looking ghost who was floating next to me. She laughed nervously, but her face remained in an open scream. I realised that was just how she’d looked when she died.
AIIIIIIIIIIIIIEE! A blood-curdling cry caused me, and everyone else, to jump back around and frantically search for the source of the shriek. A cloud of black smoke billowed out from the centre of the balcony above us, a flash of blinding light scorched what remained of our eyes and a deep, maniacal laugh emerged from the midst of it all.
“Welcome!” boomed Dracula as he stepped from the fading smoke into view. “Welcome one and all to your worst nightmare!”
Gasps and cheers erupted and transformed into thunderous applause. I had been to several events here before, but tonight he was hitting new highs. What a showman! His black cloak flew back and forth as he strode across the balcony.
“Tonight you are joined by every foul creature from the darkest corners of the world to celebrate your greatest fears and re-live your worst memories! I have put together a spectacular array of morsels to keep the hunger at bay, and entertainment beyond the likes of any in the afterlife.”
He paused in the centre of the balcony, rested his elbows on the opulent banister, leaned forward and clasped his long, thin hands.
“But before we begin, I’m afraid I must impress upon you a most… er, pressing matter. As you have no doubt felt these past years the fear on which we feed and thrive has been in decline. And you surely have wondered what is causing this.” A murmur agreement went through the crowd. He spread his arms wide.
“Modern society, my friends! Modern society is to blame! I have been trying to come up with solutions to increase the fear humans have for us, but nothing seems to be working. And with such a gathering here tonight I beseech any of you who have ideas to come forward! But I don’t wish to bore you any longer. My hideous guests, enjoy! I hope tonight will be a night you remember for the rest of your miserable lives!” He gave a swift bow and began to make his way down the stairs to mingle.
There had been so much excitement since we’d arrived that I realised I was only now getting a chance to take in my surroundings. A band had just struck up in the centre of the room to wild cheers. Two zombies were grinding on electric guitars, a chorus of toads sung into a cavernous empty cauldron and a giant spider was going wild on the skull-drums. To the sides of the room were long tables floating a couple of inches off the floor, piles of food balanced precariously all over them. Ludwig made for one of them.
“Yum, beetle juice!” He said, licking his lips at goblets of bubbling purple liquid. He picked up handfuls of shiny, sugared scarabs and stags and began munching on them. A group of ghouls that were hovering around the table next to Ludwig began yip-yapping as they were shoved out the way by an enormous, amorphous pink blob, which leant over the piles of pumpkin cakes and vacuumed them into its black hole of a mouth.
As I caught up with my son, a short, hunch-backed man sporting a large, knobbly nose hobbled over. He flicked his thin, greasy black hair from his face.
“Teddy!” He roared. “Get over ‘ere!”
“Igor! Good to see you buddy, it’s been too long!” I replied. I took a big step, put my arm around his hunch and gave him a pat on the back.
“This is my son, Ludwig.” I pulled Ludwig in front of me, his teeth were stained with beetle juice as he grinned. “It’s his first time at a Dracula party.”
“Bet he’s never seen anythin’ like it!” said Igor. He had a strange way of widening his eyes every time he talked. “I tell ya kiddo, you wanna explore the dungeon in the west wing, they playing some wicked games down there!” He rubbed his hands together gleefully.
Ludwig looked at Igor curiously. “Are.. are you a human?” He squeaked.
Igor chuckled, an odd, wheezing noise. “Yes ma boy, I sure am. Probably the only one ever been invited ‘ere too I reckon!”
“But why doesn’t anyone eat you?”
“You’re a sharp boy aren’t ya?” Igor leaned closer to Ludwig. “Do I look tasty to you? The humans never thought so. Treated me like a monster ever since I was born, so I been living with monsters ever since. And, since I got no fear of monsters, they don’t bother tasting me! Like Dracula was sayin’ who wants to eat a human with no fear in ‘em? But I tell ya, there’s nothin’ that would give me more happiness than becoming just like you, joining my friends in the ranks, ya know?”
I gave Igor a sympathetic smile. “It was a curious speech wasn’t it. But you probably have more insight than most Igor, what do you think we can do to make the humans scared again?”
“It’s the horror movies they’re watching these days!” A plump witch injected. “Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing. The humans are creating more and more gory movies and it’s causing them to be desensitised when we reveal ourselves to them! They think we are just one of their own in a costume, it’s so sad.”
A tall vampire with white tufts of hair at the sides of his balding head came over. “Not to mention these pesky new smartphones. When I was younger, they would have to use a mirror to check round corners when we were on the hunt. But now they can see us before we jump out on them!”
“Then we have to keep up with the pace.” I suggested. “If they are coming up with scarier movies, and better technology, we just have to get scarier even faster.”
“But how?” said the witch. “I gave myself extra warts this year, I made my toads larger and it made almost no difference.”
The vampire nodded. “Yes, I refined my fangs so they were extra sharp and when I bared them on a human girl last week, she just sprayed me in the face with a most painful substance and told me I was a creep!”
Igor piped up. “Ya know I mightn’t look it, but I do have some idea how humans think.”
The vampire looked down his pale, thin nose at Igor disdainfully. “Oh it’s you… I’m not sure you should even be here, never approved of the Count inviting you.”
Igor started to reply, but the colossal entrance doors had just opened again with an ear-splitting bang as they collided with the walls of the manor.
“Dracula! My Lord!!” The little imp had run in yelling at the top of his voice. “The lightning generator is malfunctioning!”
The band stopped playing and the hall suddenly filled with silence. The crowd stood still, until several bodies were jostled out the way as Dracula made his way to the front.
“What? How can it be malfunctioning? You told me there were plenty of souls left to power it for the party!” His face was warped with displeasure.
“I…er… must have miscalculated, my lord.” The imp appeared to shrink into himself. No wait, I thought, he was literally getting smaller with fright.
“Imbecile!” Dracula yelled and stamped his foot down on the shrunken imp who disappeared in a puff of red smoke. “Everyone, this is a serious situation. I must ask you to step outside, the lightning generator is in the basement and if it ever runs out of souls it will likely explode. I will head down there to check it and be back shortly.”
A chorus of panic shot through the room and I scooped up Ludwig in my thick, hairy arms so he couldn’t be swept away with the crowd. I got in the mix and began pushing my way to the exit. The ghosts were out first, having the advantage of not worrying about crowds, but as a generally civilised collection of monsters, it wasn’t long before everyone was standing on the manor lawn, shivering and talking feverishly.
“It wouldn’t be a Dracula party without a fright!” I laughed hollowly. Inwardly, I was gutted for my son; he was missing the festivities of the best night of the year. Lightning bolts were now coursing through the sky at a tremendous speed, one after the other, transforming the dark of the night into a tormented daylight.
“Why can’t they get more souls for the generator dad?” Ludwig asked.
“It’s tricky.” I said, frowning. “Souls come from humans you see, and I imagine Dracula was having a tough time with his supplies, what with their lack of fear these days. I bet that’s another reason why he’s asked us for help tonight.”
A large bat fluttered out of the open manor doors. It screeched before repulsively swelling in size, its limbs elongated and cracked, the fur on its skin receded, and its wings developed into a black satin cloak. Dracula was standing in front of them.
“Attention!” He looked paler than usual, if that was possible. “It’s worse than I feared. This new generator uses up souls much faster than any I’ve seen before. The last soul is almost drained from the machine. I am sorry my friends, but we have only minutes until the generator explodes. I think I must call off the party.”
A collective intake of breath, and then sobs and cries of outrage. I turned around and saw the enormous pink blob with a tear rolling down its blubbery body.
“No!” Came a call from the crowd. “In all my forty-two years there’s not once been a party called off at this manor!” Igor busted his way through to the front. “And it ain’t starting now! Dracula, you know I got a soul within me…somewhere. How long would mine buy ya? Enough to keep the party going while you look for more souls?”
“Igor...” the Count replied. “No… you are my friend. I know, you’ve asked this of me before, but I will tell you again; if you give up your soul you will become one of us, a never-ending fate I would not bestow on someone I care about.”
“I’m already one of you Dracula. Always ‘av been. Now, tell me, will it buy ya enough time?”
“It should.” Came the clipped response.
“Then do it. Come on, I’m not afraid, let’s get on with it.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had known Igor for over ten years and he was going to die here and now?
“Wait!” I pulled him by the arm. “Are you sure, Igor? You know you might not remember anything when your soul leaves you?”
“Tha’s true Teddy…in that case I should tell you before I go, ya know? What humans will fear.” He leant forward and whispered into my ear. A sharp, toothy grin slowly emerged on my face.
“Cunning! If you don’t remember on the other side, I’ll make sure to spread the word. Good luck buddy.” I pressed my forehead to his and let him go.
He started to walk with Dracula towards the manor. A large number of the guests had long been averse to his presence at these events, but now, unanimously, they began to chant his name. It rose in a slow crescendo, from a low tremor to an earth-shaking call. “Igor! Igor!”
“Igor!” I shouted, before he was out of ear-shot. “What will you come back as?”
He motioned to the vampire beside him. “Think I’ll make ‘im bite me!” He winked and they disappeared inside the doors.
“It’s ok, he’ll be alright.” I said to my son, but I think also to myself.
“What did he say to you, dad? When he whispered?” Ludwig asked.
“Ah.” I smiled. “He said ‘The witch was right; they have become desensitised to monsters. So bigger fangs and frogs ain’t gonna help. What ya need is less. Imagine they think you’re human. Imagine you gain their trust. And only when it’s too late do they see their death in your eyes. See, it’s the secret monster that’ll scare ‘em. The monster they see in themselves.’”