8FOLD/HCC: Journey Into # 16, "The Dracula's Castle"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Fri Oct 25 19:17:45 PDT 2013

//////// a high concept adventure
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  //  //  / ///// ///// NUMBER SIXTEEN
 //  / ///   //  // //  "THE DRACULA'S
//  /  //   //  /////    CASTLE"

Tonight, O Best Beloved, I will tell you the story of the dracula's castle. It is an in-between story: it happened after Santa and his wife Arielle found and kept the Teardrop Princess, but before Arielle died and Rachel left her father's domain to make her own way in the world. I'm not sure if it happened before Santa visited the land of the ghosts and discovered he was allergic to them, or after (though I'm reasonably certain it didn't happen at the same time), but that doesn't matter too much because there are no ghosts in this story, only a dracula.
   The dracula's name was Simon. Just as there are good boys and girls and bad boys and girls (though mostly boys are bad), there are good draculas and bad draculas. I'm sorry to say that most draculas are bad, and that Simon was a bad dracula.
   Simon liked to travel the world in his magic castle and kick puppies. Perhaps I forgot to tell you that Simon had a magic castle that let him go anywhere in the world. Well, he did. And wherever he went, he would kick puppies if he could find them. There are other bad things he did, but that's quite enough for a story.
   In his travels, Simon came across the dark elf Whistletuft, whom Santa had cast out of the North Pole long before he married Arielle. Santa didn't think too often about Whistletuft. In fact he only did when he smoked his pipe in the late evening by his fireplace, which he didn't do very often anymore as Arielle disapproved of the habit. Whistletuft, it must be said, spent an awful lot of his time thinking about Santa, and plotting schemes to take his vengeance on kindly old Father Christmas. In fact, Whistletuft spent every moment thinking about this, from the time he woke up until the time he went to sleep, and then he went on dreaming about it. Elves as you know are like thoughtless children. Their hearts are too small to care too much about others. But in Whistletuft's tiny heart, everything was pushed out except his hatred and his anger, until that became all that he was or would be. Simon, like I said, was a bad dracula, but he wasn't the worst dracula (her name was Jennifer), and even the worst dracula was not half as bad as the dark elf.
   Anyway, when Whistletuft met Simon, and found out about his magic castle, his brain naturally turned towards how he could use the dracula and his castle to get back to the North Pole. And so the wicked elf set to work turning Simon against Santa.
   "Christmas is but a fortnight away. What kind of presents do you usually get from Santa?" asked Whistletuft.
   "Why, I don't get any," said Simon, it never having occurred to him that he should get presents at Christmas in the first place.
   "That's strange," said Whistletuft. "Santa gives presents to all the human children."
   "To the good children," said Simon. He had heard about that before.
   "Does he give presents to good draculas?"
   "I don't know," said Simon. "I don't think so. But I don't know if there are any good draculas." (Now, of course, as I've told you, there were good draculas, but not very many, and Simon had never met one.)
   "That's not really your fault then, is it?" said Whistletuft. "That's just the way you are. How unfair it is that you don't get any presents."
   "Yes," said Simon, now fully convinced. "Yes, terribly unfair!"
   "Why," said Whistletuft, "if only we had a magic castle that could take us wherever on the earth we wanted to go. Then we could go visit Santa, and give him a piece of our mind."
   "Why, Whistletuft," said Simon, "but I have a magic castle that can take us wherever on the earth we want to go."
   "Do you? Oh, yes. I had quite forgotten."
   "Yes," said Simon. "Let's do it! Let's go! To the North Pole! To Fort Santa!"
   And just like that, Simon's castle whisked them away.

Santa was relaxing in his study, or at any rate, he was trying to relax: Elbowsong the elf was there with him, and kept pestering the great man with questions-- why does the sun have to go down, why can't it be afternoon all the time, what's a migraine and can I have one too, why do you always want to play the quiet game I never win that one.
   Simon and Whistletuft entered the study.
   "Whistletuft!" exclaimed Santa. "And a dracula!"
   "I have a name," said Simon. "But you wouldn't know that, would you? You never give presents to draculas!"
   "That isn't so," said Santa. "I give presents to good draculas."
   "He's lying!" said Whistletuft. "Trying to confuse you!"
   Simon didn't know that Santa never lies, so he believed the dark elf.
   "We shall make him our prisoner!" said Whistletuft. "Quickly, Simon!"
   Simon turned into mist and flew behind Santa; then with his otherworldly strength, he pinned Santa's arms behind his back. Santa tried to use a judo throw to free himself, for as of late he had been a keen student of the art, but Simon proved too strong for him. Quickly the two villains shoved him into a magic bag.
   Whistletuft stared at Elbowsong. "I'll be back," he snarled. Then Whistletuft, Simon, and Santa went to the magic castle.

Much later, Rachel, the Teardrop Princess, poked her head into Santa's study. "I'm looking for my father, Elbowsong. Supper is nearly ready. Have you seen him?"
   "Yes," said Elbowsong, putting the finishing touches on an absolutely ferocious turquoise-with-stripes tyrannosaurus. "Whistletuft and a dracula came by and kidnapped him."
   "Oh," said Rachel. "How long ago did that happen?"
   "About three hours ago," said Elbowsong.
   "And you didn't think to come tell me or my mother about it?"
   "Should I have?" said Elbowsong. "Santa didn't ask me to."
   "It might've slipped his mind as he was being kidnapped," said Rachel.
   "I suppose so," said Elbowsong. "I don't think he ever told me before to do that. I remember 'Elbowsong, don't draw on the walls' and 'Elbowsong, don't chew with your mouth open' and 'Elbowsong, it's not polite to discuss going to the bathroom with foreign dignitaries'. But I don't remember 'Elbowsong, if Whistletuft and a dracula kidnap me, you should tell Rachel or Lady Claus'." He thought hard for a moment. "No, no one ever told me that before. Gosh. Do you think your mother might be cross with me?"
   "Perhaps a little," said Rachel. What she should have done, of course, is go to her mother. Then her mother would hatch a responsible and well-thought out scheme to rescue Santa. But Rachel had been wanting an adventure of her own for quite some time, and so she decided not to tell her mother about it. "But she doesn't need to know. You and I will rescue my father, Elbowsong."
   "Will I have to do much work?" asked Elbowsong. Elves are not especially fond of work.
   "No," said Rachel. "You'll just be my backup. Come on!"

Quickly the two of them found the dracula's castle parked outside Fort Santa.
   "The drawbridge is up," observed Rachel. "And I don't think they're likely to lower it for us."
   "We could ask," said Elbowsong.
   "No," said Rachel, "I don't think so. Let's just look for another way in."
   They walked around the entire castle, which isn't so exhausting as it sounds, as the magic castle was seven hundred stories tall but not much wider than a cottage. The windows didn't start until the eighth floor, though, so they couldn't climb in, and there were no doors besides the drawbridge at the front.
   "I guess we'll just have to ask," said Elbowsong. "Hey, Whistletuft!"
   "Ssh!" said Rachel. "We don't want him to know that we're here. Oh, look!" She points to a small quarter inch vent at the back of the castle.
   "Must be for the dryer," said Elbowsong. "For laundry."
   "That's my way in," said Rachel.
   "Awfully small," said Elbowsong.
   "I'll just need a funnel," said Rachel, and by the magic of the North Pole, she found one buried in the snow. She brushed it off and handed it to Elbowsong. "Point this into the dryer vent."
   Elbowsong did so.
   "The other way around," said Rachel.
   Elbowsong flipped the funnel.
   The Teardrop Princess threw herself up into the air, and poured herself into the funnel. Then, the castle disappeared. Elbowsong blinked for a moment, disconcerted, then decided to look for some snowberries.

Inside the magic castle, Rachel emerged from the clothes dryer, her pretty pink dress made of tissue having passed through the whole process unscathed. Immediately in front of her was a badger in a butler's uniform.
   "Oh!" exclaimed Rachel.
   "Oh right back at you," said the badger gentleman, whose name was Lansing St. Stripe. He seemed to Rachel a bit gruff, though he was quite personable as far as badgers go. "What are you doing here?"
   "I'm... the laundry girl. The new laundry girl." It was a lie, and Rachel generally abstained from the practice, but it's okay to fib just a little bit when you're sneaking into a dracula's castle. (If, on the other hand, you were to sneak into a wolfman's bungalow, in that situation it's not okay to fib.)
   "Laundry girl?" said Lansing St. Stripe, pawing at his chin. "I don't recall a laundry girl in the castle."
   "And that's just why you needed a new one," said Rachel. "Which is why I'm here." She did a little curtsey, which seemed to calm the badger gentleman's suspicions.
   Rachel pressed her luck a little further. "You know, on my way in, I spotted the master from afar and he seemed to be carrying a large sack with a jolly old man tied up inside. And it seemed to me, in my professional experience, that the bag could do with a good wash."
   "Initiative!" cried the badger. "So few in our employ display it. It's always, 'that's not my job', 'I'd prefer not to', 'it can wait', 'I haven't had food or water for three weeks', 'I don't enjoy being stabbed', and other such rubbish."
   "The sack?" said Rachel.
   "Yes, the sack," said Lansing St. Stripe. "I suspect the master still has it with him."
   "And where is he, exactly? Remember, I'm new."
   "In his crypt, on the seven hundredth floor. Up those seven hundred flights of stairs."
   "Why is the crypt on the seven hundredth floor?" wondered Rachel. "Why not in the basement? Isn't that where a crypt is usually found?"
   "If the crypt was in the basement, there'd be no laundry room," said the badger gentleman. "And there'd be no you, come to think of it."
   "You're the new laundry girl."
   "Yes, yes I am, yes I see," said Rachel. "Seven hundred flights of stairs?"
   "Indeed. Sprightly, now!" cheered on the badger.
   Rachel started up the stairs.

Ascending seven hundred flights of stairs is a little like ordering dinner on a completely empty stomach. At first, you think, "It is perfectly reasonable of me to think I can eat twelve tacos." Then, you start to eat them, and it begins to dawn on you that twelve tacos is an awful lot of tacos. About half-way through, you wonder how on earth you thought you could eat that many tacos. And then you just feel miserable and dumb for the rest of the day.
   Ascending seven hundred flights of stairs is a little like that. "Yes," thought Rachel as she took her first steps, "it is perfectly reasonable of me to think that I can ascend seven hundred flights of stairs." And this remained reasonable until she was faced with the fourth flight of stairs, at which point her wobbly watery knees started to ache and she thought to herself, "Seven hundred flights of stairs really is an awful lot of stairs."
   Still, she struggled on. After scaling the tenth flight, she decided that she had earned a little rest, and so she sat down for a few minutes. Not too long, of course. She had to save Santa, after all. So she got right back up and started up the eleventh flight of stairs.
   By the thirteenth, her legs were starting to ache again. More than that, they were itching like crazy, and unless you're a little girl made out of teardrops, which I don't suspect you are, you can't really appreciate how difficult it is to scratch itchy water satisfactorily. So, she decided she should give herself another rest, and that this would be the last one, absolutely.
   This rest was a little longer than the first one, but not as long as the next, which came after the fourteenth flight of stairs. But that was absolutely the last one, really, or at least it was until the fifteenth flight of stairs.
   (Now, don't judge Rachel too harshly, dear one: after all, fifteen flights of stairs is an awful lot of stairs, to say nothing of seven hundred.)
   On the landing separating the seventeenth and eighteenth flight of stairs, Rachel saw seven pussies that had been separated from their grimalkin. Naturally, she asked them where their mother was (perhaps I forgot to mention that while Rachel cannot speak the mysterious language of the wind or the complex language of the reindeer like her parents, she had mastered the elegant speech used by kittens).
   "Up on the twenty-two-th floor," said one of the pussies. "But we're so tiny and tired and sleepy that we can't go another step!"
   "I'll carry you," said Rachel, and she did. With the mewing, crawling pussies squirming about her arms and getting their claws stuck and unstuck in her pretty pink tissue dress, she trudged up the next five flights of stairs. Each step was an agony, and she found herself getting awfully tired and awfully sore.
   But she got the pussies to their mother. I would like to tell you that the pussies said thank you, but there are no words for it in their speech. Rachel didn't mind; she had already fallen asleep.
   When she awoke several hours later, she found that she had let herself puddle a bit while she slept. Also, one of the pussies had tried eating her left arm, and another had tried to cover her with a floor mat before the entire clowder moved on to wherever they were going. So, she first took a moment to collect herself before starting up the twenty-third flight of stairs.
   (You might wonder why the pussies or the grimalkin didn't pull or carry or otherwise contrive to move the sleeping girl further up the stairs, in thanks for the good deed she had done. But pussies, like elves, don't really think of others very much. And it did not even occur to Rachel to think that she would be rewarded. Whether this was because she was simply the kind of person who would help someone without thinking of how it might benefit her, or whether it was because she was extremely familiar with felis catus, I cannot say.)
   Anyway, Rachel climbed the stairs. As I told you before, seven hundred flights of stairs is an awful lot of stairs, and it took her an awfully long time. She tried not to rest too often, and tried very hard not to fall asleep, but she was very tired and sore, not to mention hungry and lonesome.
   She awoke from another nap somewhere around the ninetieth floor. She hadn't seen or spoke to anyone since the twenty-second floor.
   "Oh!" she cried. "I wish I would meet another clowder of pussies, or perhaps another badger gentleman, or some other living soul, so that I could have someone to speak to. It's awfully lonely and cold here, and I wouldn't feel half as frightened in this old dark castle. Certainly this isn't what I expected when I decided to go on an adventure of my own." But sometimes an adventure of one's own is mostly being alone and frightened and tired and more than a little bored.
   She was hoping that by wishing for it out loud that perhaps it would come true, as often happened at the North Pole. But the magic of a dracula's castle is of a sinister and far less accommodating kind. And so she pressed on.
   By the end of the sixth day, Rachel found herself on the six-hundred ninety-ninth floor, and faced with the seven hundredth flight of stairs. Each flight of stairs had been worst then the ones before it: colder, lonelier, scarier, harder to climb, harder not to nap. After the first step, Rachel had to stop and take a rest. Then, stumbling a bit, she crawled up to the next step. There, she stopped and took another rest. She felt dizzy after the third step, and had to rest there, as well; and so it went, with each step sapping more and more of her strength.
   By the time she got to the top of the stairs, and to the old wooden door that blocked the way into the dracula's crypt, the Teardrop Princess could no longer stand. She reached her arm up as far as it could reach, trying to grab hold of the ring on the door so she could pull it open. But her fingers were too weak. So instead, she slid herself under the door.
   Looking like a puddle with a pretty pink tissue dress and eyes floating amorphously within, she flowed across the dusty damp floor of the crypt.
   "I want to eat him." (Rachel thought it sounded like the dracula. She had never heard a dracula before, but he sounded the way she thought they might sound.)
   "You can't," said an elf. Rachel had heard elves before, and realized with a ripple that this must be Whistletuft. "Not yet. Your magic protects you, this close to Christmas, Father Christmas, doesn't it?"
   "As you know full well." That was her father for sure, though he didn't sound jolly. Rachel pushed her eyes towards the edge of her puddle, and trickled around the corner. She saw her father's head and beard and red pointy hat sticking out of a magic bag. Around him stood the dracula and Whistletuft.
   "But your castle is magic, too, isn't it, Simon?" asked Whistletuft. It must've been a rhetorical question, because he didn't give the dracula the chance to answer. "Yes, it keeps your most powerful magic at bay, Father Christmas. You have no mastery of time here. Come Christmas Eve, you can't slow or stop the hours to wiggle your way out of this. You won't be able to make yours rounds, and then, come the morning, all your sacred magic will be broken."
   "And then I can eat him," said Simon.
   "Yes," said Whistletuft. "And then I shall rule over the elves, as has always been my right and my destiny."
   "But more importantly, I can eat him," said Simon.
   "Yes, yes," said Whistletuft. "You draculas are very single-minded."
   "I'm hungry, is all," said Simon, a little hurt. "I haven't eaten in days. I don't know how I'm going to wait a whole 'nother week. You sure his magic won't let me have just a nibble? Just a little sip?"
   "I wish you could," smiled Whistletuft. "I'd love to see the fat man bleed. But it is unfortunately quite impossible; his protective magicks are strongest during Advent."
   At that moment, the Teardrop Princess had an absolutely wicked idea. It was not very much like her, but I think she can be forgiven as spending six days mostly alone and exhausted in a dracula's castle can put someone under a lot of stress.
   "You should just eat the elf," she said.
   "Who said that?!" demanded Whistletuft.
   "Just the wind," said Santa. "I don't think you should listen to it, Simon. It's very naughty."
   "Oh, I don't think so," said Rachel, still quite hidden. "Whistletuft probably deserves it, he's a very naughty elf."
   "Show yourself!" said Whistletuft shrilly.
   "No one deserves it," said Santa. "And it's very naughty of the wind to say such a thing!"
   Whistletuft pointed at Santa. "This is one of your tricks, isn't it?"
   "You know me, Whistletuft," said Santa, "as surely as I know you. And you know that I have no tricks. That I wish no one harm, not even you, not even Simon the dracula."
   "You don't?" said Simon.
   "No, I don't," said Santa.
   "Stop talking to him, Simon!" said Whistletuft. "He's going to fill you up with lies!"
   "Lies," lied Rachel, "and cholesterol! Look how fat he is (sorry papa). So unhealthy, so bad for your heart!"
   "Rachel, stop it," said Santa.
   "Who's Rachel?" snarled Whistletuft.
   "Elves are much more nutritious!" said the little puddle girl.
   "I have been watching my figure," said Simon. "And I am very hungry."
   "No! No! No!" cried Whistletuft. But it was too late.
   "Well," said Simon, "I'm not going to eat you, Santa. Not with all those carbs." Santa didn't have any carbs, but draculas are not particularly well-informed. "I might as well return you to the North Pole."

The castle shimmered and then found itself once more parked outside Fort Santa. Simon turned into a bat and flew out the window with the magic bag. As fast as she could, Rachel flowed back through the crypt, underneath the door, and down all seven-hundred flights of stairs faster than you could say pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Back in the dryer she went, and out through the dryer vent, just before the castle disappeared once more.
   Rachel collected herself back into the shape of a girl, her pretty pink tissue dress now looking rather less pretty and rather more dusty, and soon found herself face-to-face with her father. He had a stern expression on his face, and carried the dracula's magic bag over his shoulder.
   "That was very naughty, Rachel," said Santa.
   "Why, Father, I don't know what you mean," said Rachel. "I've just been out here in the snow looking for you for the last six days. I'm quite certain your supper is cold by now."
   Santa stared at her.
   "Well, I couldn't let him let the dracula eat you," said Rachel. "I couldn't let him break the Christmas magic and enslave all the elves. You couldn't do anything about it, so I did."
   "Your mother would have done the same," said Santa. (For, as you may recall, Rachel was formed from a part of her mother's soul, and so had the same memories and personality.) "So would he, though." And Rachel knew that her father was speaking of the dark elf.
   "He was chief amongst the elves in my affections, for it seemed that in him all their faults were magnified. Elves, my dear, seem to only have faults, and are charming because of it. But in truth they have one virtue-- for while their selfishness is absolute and they never think of helping others, neither can they ever think of harming another. This alone makes them sacred. And while Whistletuft was the most elf-like of them all, this one thing he lacked-- though I realized it much too late, to great sorrow."
   Rachel nodded as if she understood, but being a child, she did not have the wisdom to understand. Perhaps you do not either, my darling, but ask me to tell the story again when you are older.
   "We'll not tell your mother of this adventure, or of its conclusion," said Santa. "For I think it would do her heart no good."
   "Yes, father. Father?"
   "What's in the magic bag that the dracula gave you?"
   "It is the remains of the dark elf," said Santa. "I mean to travel tomorrow to the land of his fathers, so that he may rest and be wicked no more."
   And if the bashful shoe doesn't kick in the bathroom door so it can ask the faucet to tell the comely toothbrush it has a crush on her, I'll tell you next of the story of the Dark Elf's Grave.


When faced with this particular high concept challenge-- a "missing adventure" taking place between two stories already completed, with the caveat that the story depend upon some status quo element that was no longer around-- I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. The things I write for the LNH tend not to have much "plot", ergo there's never a whole lot of changes to the status quo.

As far as my Eightfold stuff, I wanted to stay away from JOLT CITY for a variety of reasons, and my new series ORPHANS OF MARS hasn't had many status quo shake-ups (yet, bwahahaha). The remainder of my Eightfold output tends towards stand-alone one-off stories. I'd love to revisit the old west of the bounty hunter Silke and his boy Righteous, but there was only one story there. Ditto for the Grey Gelding and his boundless optimism. In fact, the only time I seem to have both told a "series" of stories with status quo shake-ups *and* said stories were something I was actually interesting in revisiting was the sequence of Santa Claus stories in the JOURNEY INTO ANNUAL. So, here we are.

Like most of the stories in that sequence, this one is a children's story of sorts. It is also a sort of a pastiche. I opened it with a little callout to Kipling's Just-So Stories, but really I'm stealing huge chunks of style from Howard Garis. Garis wrote a lot of books and stories, in a lot of different styles (including most of the early Tom Swift books), but I'm referring specifically to the insanely popular stories he wrote about Uncle Wiggily Longears, the bunny gentlemen with the red white and blue striped rheumatism crutch who lives in a hollow stump bungalow with his muskrat housekeeper, Nurse Jane Fuzzy-Wuzzy. The stories are slender when it comes to characterization, theme, or incident, but they're heavy on charm and exude a sort of playful formalism that highlights the act and art of storytelling.

I drew quite heavily from his bag of tricks here-in, though the end result is much longer, darker, melancholy, and stranger than anything Mr. Longears sniffed at with his pink twinkling nose. So I wouldn't call it, and didn't intend it to be, a true pastiche-- more just that the story is heavily influenced by Garis's style. I guess what I'm saying is that I think this story is quite its own thing, but that I'm pleased to tip my tall, silk hat in Mr. Garis's direction. 


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