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Immortal: Dracula's Return

Author's Note: Every author of vampire fiction is keenly conscious of the long shadow cast by Stoker's character Dracula. Whether they acknowledge it or not, anyone who takes up a pen in this genre is contending with the immortal Count, either by redefining their vampires in order to set them apart from Stoker's work or by re-interpreting vampirism in some kind of homage. Few ignore him completely, and even those who try can't really dodge the comparison. So it should come as no surprise that I have indulgently played with the figure of Dracula. Not in a novel, precisely, but in a screenplay, because Dracula really is more comfortable on the stage. The story came to me in a dream and the screenplay poured out of me in the space of a couple of weeks. It's serious and comical by turns, and in my head it's not high budget, but it's fun. It is a B Movie, no more, no less. As much as I've tried to rewrite it in novel format, it resists and stubbornly continues as a screenplay. The beginning of it appears below. If you find yourself intrigued, the whole thing is available in electronic format here: Immortal.

Additional Note: This work has the single highest incidence of profanity of anything I think I've written. Be prepared for some F-bombs.

Immortal: Dracula's Return

Act I Scene I

(The Carpathians. An archaeological dig in progress. A little distance from the tents, it is possible to see the remnants of a castle or fortification. All that is left is the outline of the foundation. A Jeep pulls up to the dig. Dr. Marica Antonescu, an elegant Eastern European woman in her late thirties, gets out. She surveys the surroundings wit an air of distaste. Most of the folks involved in the dig are in the main tent, huddled around a new find. They are led by Dr. Morgan, a fit and tanned American in his mid-fifties. Alex, Dr. Morgan’s fiery young assistant, is among the people in the tent. Dr. Morgan notices Marica standing outside in the afternoon sun. He quickly removes his hat, goes out to greet her.)

Morgan: Dr. Antonescu. Good to see you. I’m Dr. William Morgan. Welcome to my dig.

(He extends his hand. She takes it, grudgingly.)

Marica: Dr. Morgan. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to visit the site. At the University, when we hear that another American is looking for the burial place of Dracula, we grow a little skeptical.

Morgan: If you read my proposal, then you know we’re serious historians here.

Marica: Well, you cannot blame us for our hesitation. To you, Dracula was a story-book monster. To us, he was a national hero. It is tiring, hearing about vampires all the time.

(Dr. Morgan guides Marica over to an open part of the dig. The foundation has been exposed, and several objects are marked in the exposed dirt. They walk together as Morgan describes the site.)

Morgan: Last winter I was headed up to the resort in the Fargaras Mountains. I do a bit of skiing now and then and that’s just a perfect place. It was purely by chance that I looked down from the plane when I did. Passing over, I could see a pattern here in the snow, and I was certain that what I was looking at was an old foundation. But such a big one – as you can see for yourself. At that moment, I knew it had to be a castle of some sort, something lost over the years.

Marica: And you are convinced that this was the final resting place of our Wallachian prince?

Morgan: To the tourists, that will always be Snagov Monastery, but you and I both know that when the body there was exhumed in the thirties, it was shown to be nothing more than some richly dressed animal bones. The correspondence they found between Vlad and Stefan Bathory a few years ago seems to suggest that he had a private chapel and thus a private tomb. I believe we will find both of them here.

Marica: And not the ruined palace in Targovist?

Morgan: No, not at all. Your Vlad was a warlord, a master-strategist.  He liked to mislead his enemies, often using their expectations against them. I can’t see a man like Vlad spending much time in the palace at Targovist – it was too much of a target. I’m suggesting a private residence, well-defended, central to his most crucial lands. His citadel at Brasov is little more than thirty miles away. I believe that this site is where the man really lived and this is where he was buried.

(Morgan gets down into an excavated part of the dig, and offers his hand to help Marica. She declines. We can see portions of a stone wall exposed here and further along, a tarp covers parts of the dig that start to go underground.)

Marica: I’m still very skeptical of all this, and frankly, so is the University. Vlad Tepes was a hero of the Romanian people. Don’t you think we would have found such a place, assuming it was there to be found?

Morgan: Dr. Antonescu, this was hidden in plain sight. And not only was it a secret residence, its existence was actively obscured. Look at the evidence around you! This castle was not lost. It was destroyed. If you look at the striations here, and here, you can see that it was carried away stone by stone. Someone intentionally dismantled it. In my report, I demonstrated that the striations are all weathered equally – so this was not a case of local peasants carrying away a stone here and there. This was an organized project, probably carried out in under a year. That fact alone makes this site unique.

Marica: And you are quite certain you are not looking for vampires, Dr. Morgan? Because I would be heartily disappointed to learn that you are merely another American publicity-seeker.

(Alex runs up excitedly.)

Alex: Dr. Morgan, we have some more information on the book!

Marica: Book? Your report said nothing about a book.

(Dr. Morgan does not meet Marica’s eyes. Alex looks uncomfortable.. With a shrug of his shoulders, Morgan makes a decision. He starts to climb back out of the dig, again offering Marica his hand. This time she takes it. They speak as they start heading back to the main tent.)

Morgan: A little while ago, my workers exposed the first subterranean chamber of note. A lot of them have been empty, and of course all show signs of weathering and collapse from when the castle was dismantled.

Marica: And there was a book?

Morgan: Dr. Antonescu, believe me when I say that like you, I do not want this dig connected in any way to the occult.

Marica (suspicious now): But … ?

Morgan: But we found a library. Or what was left of one. Most of the texts were decayed beyond any hope of salvage.

(They arrive in the main tent. Dr. Morgan waves people away from the object they’ve been studying.)

Morgan: And then, we found this.

(The book is a collection of metal plates loosely bound together in the style of an ancient tome. The binding itself it rotting and worn. The plates are in excellent condition. The first page is surmounted by the symbol of a crescent moon over a lemniscate, the symbol of eternity. The rest of the raised symbols could be letters, but of no recognizable alphabet. Marica peers down at the book with genuine interest.)

Marica: What is the metal?

Thompson: Bronze, Dr. Antonescu. That’s what we called Dr. Morgan in for.

(Thompson, a young African American man, has been sitting at a computer located next to the book. He rotates in his chair to face Dr. Morgan.)

Thompson: I sent some images of one of the plates to my sister. She’s a professor of art history atBrownUniversity. Before you yell at me, I didn’t tell her where I got it or what it was. I just wanted to know her opinion on how it was made.

Morgan: I told you to give me a date on that script, not –

Thompson: Don’t blow your top, Dr. Morgan, just listen. I had to wonder why anyone would make a book of bronze plates, especially in Vlad Tepes’ time when it was a whole lot easier to just produce a regular manuscript. So I was curious. And I had a hunch. My sister confirmed it.

(Thompson carefully flips one of the “pages” to the reverse side. He points at the obverse impression of the “letters” with a probe.)

Thompson: You see these marks here? And here? They’re cut marks. Chisel-marks, actually. These plates were made using a method called the lost wax technique. My sister says it’s very common for producing sculpture in bronze.

Marica: Yes, the original is carved of wax, and then a mold is made. The hot bronze melts the wax and takes its shape.

Thompson: Exactly. Now, typically the wax image is an original, some piece of artwork someone has carved. The wax here, it was an impression.

Morgan: So what exactly does that mean, Mr. Thompson?

Thompson: It means that the plates are reproductions of a pre-existing work. Judging by the cut marks preserved in the bronze, my sister thinks the first copy was a stone carving.

Alex: So there’s no telling how old that script really is.

Thompson: We can still date the plates, but all that’s going to tell us is when this copy was made.

Morgan: I’m still going with my original assessment. That language is proto-Sumerian. This explains how it could have made it all the way to the Carpathians.

Marica: You Americans! Why does anything old have to come from the Middle East? You are aware, are you not, that there was evidence of a script similar to this unearthed right here inRomania?

Thompson: With all due respect, Dr. Antonescu, most scholars don’t even accept that as a real script. It’s just too old. And the symbol on the first plate, that doesn’t look like anything that’s turned up here in the Carpathians. It almost looks Egyptian.

Marica: Egypt. Sumeria. The sacred canon of ancient civilizations! Because of course civilized things like writing could never have started here in primitive Europe. Because we were all Neanderthals freezing in glaciers!

(Anders, a digger, comes pelting up to the tent)

Anders: Dr. Morgan! We’ve found another room!

Morgan: You haven’t touched anything yet, I hope?

Anders: No. The entrance is all bricked up. Very Cask of Amontillado. We’re waiting for you to break through.

Alex: Oh, cool. Let’s go!

(Morgan frowns and picks up a packet of papers and samples, shoves this into Alex’s hands)

Morgan: These need to go into town immediately. I want you to find the public offices and have them notarized, then store them in my safe deposit box.

Alex: But –

Morgan: No buts. Since Mr. Thompson here took it upon himself to leak our find, we need to take every measure to protect our rights. I need you to do this now. No delays.

Alex: But Doctor!

Morgan: Now, Miss Richards. Here are my keys. Take one of the Jeeps into town. Now, Marica, would you like to join me in unveiling this new find?

Marica: Very well. Let’s go.

(Alex, frowns & shoves Thompson unhappily, then reluctantly heads over to the waiting Jeep. Dr. Morgan, Marica, and the digger exit the tent and head over to the dig.)

Act I Scene II

(The underground works of the dig. Dr. Morgan, Dr. Antonescu are huddled near a plain stone facing at the end of a hall. Two workers flank them, holding lights. The space is tight, dark and cramped.)

Anders: As you know, we’ve been clearing out this hallway for the better part of a week. According to all expectations, it should end in another room. It was a few hours ago when Kyle’s shovel hit stone.

Kyle: If you look here, and here, they’re two different types of stone. As we exposed more of the facing, it became obvious that someone had bricked the doorway in.

Marica: They did that to the Blood Countess, bricked her into her room.

Anders: It wasn’t an uncommon punishment, and we’re fairly certain we’re near the dungeons. No telling what we’ll find on the other side.

Kyle: Well, we know there’s a room. We’ve made all the preparations to break through – we’re just waiting for your go ahead.

Morgan: You have the camera? I want this documented every step of the way.

(Anders reaches down into a pack and produces a digital camera. He takes a couple pictures of the bricked-in door, then puts the strap around his neck and leaves the camera dangling against his chest.)

Morgan: All right. Let’s do it.

Kyle: Stand back and watch your heads. The ceiling’s a bit loose.

(Kyle heaves back the shovel and breaks a hole in the stones. Dust and small chunks of dirt filter down from the ceiling. Stale air rushes out. Anders snaps a few more photos with the camera. Kyle grabs his light and shines it around the interior of the chamber. The light first falls upon a statue standing against the far wall. It looks as if there’s a person standing there in the gloom. Marica lets out a startled yelp.)

Kyle: Just a saint. (he whistles) Look at the workmanship!

(They shine the lights around the rest of the room. Nearly life-sized statues of saints stand in niches located centrally in all four walls. They are all facing the center of the room.)

Morgan: Very nice. Wait – What’s that?

(Anders guides the light to the center of the room. We see a large stone sarcophagus wrapped in thick, rusted chains. An ornate Orthodox cross, all enamel and precious stones, is wrapped upon the top of the sarcophagus.)

Marica: Give me that. (she takes a light and shines it on the sarcophagus) Is this some kind of joke?

Morgan: I swear Dr. Antonescu, this chamber was unopened until just a moment ago. I’m as surprised by its contents as you.

(Anders goes to take more digital photos. Marica puts her hand over the camera lens.)

Marica: No photos!

(Anders looks to Dr. Morgan)

Morgan: Do as she says, Anders -- for the moment. Get this clear so we can go have a closer look.

(Kyle and Anders knock the rest of the bricks out of the doorway. When the dust clears, the party moves forward cautiously. Morgan is first to reach the sarcophagus. There is writing etched into the side. Morgan produces a brush and cleans off the dust and cobwebs.)

Morgan: (reading) The heroic Vlad Tepes, son of the Dragon. May God watch over his restless soul.

(He looks up at Marica and the others)

Marica: I don’t believe it.

Morgan: See for yourself. Do you recognize the dialect?

(Marica picks her way over, frowning. Gingerly, she runs her hand over the ornate Eastern Orthodox cross that is held against the lid with heavy chains.)

Marica: If this gets out …

Morgan: (standing, authoritative) Kyle, Anders, I want this open.

Workers: Sure thing, Dr. Morgan.

(Anders raises his shovel to strike at the chains. Dr. Morgan stops him)

Morgan: Not like that! Don’t damage the sarcophagus!

Kyle: Ever hear of bolt-cutters, Anders? I’ll be right back.

(Kyle sets his light down and retrieves the bolt-cutters. Everyone stands back as he goes to work on the chains. The cross remains on the lid of the sarcophagus)

Kyle: You got that crowbar?

Anders: Sure.

Kyle: Then give me a hand here.

(They wrestle with the lid. The cross, which is not affixed directly to the lid totters and threatens to slide off.)

Marica: Careful!

Kyle: It’s not as heavy as it looks. Grab the other end.

(Morgan and Marica crane their necks, getting closer and closer. With the sound of stone grating against stone, the lid slides open, causing the cross to totter even more.)

Kyle (scrambling out of the way): Shit!

(The lid overbalances and falls heavily to the ground. The cross slides to the stone floor, enamel shattering.)

Anders: Fucker! That was almost my foot.

(Kyle grabs his light and shines it into the coffin. He’s shaking from the strain of moving the lid, so he fumbles with it, getting a corner here, a corner there. Then the light falls full on a person’s face. Long dark hair, a heavy goatee, a chiseled face with prominent cheekbones, it is the traditional woodcut of Vlad Tepes in the flesh.)

Kyle: (jumping back) Jesus Christ!

(He drops the light and it shatters.)

Morgan: What? What did you see?

(something unseen emits an animal growl)

Anders: (leans in with his light then recoils) Oh fuck!

(A hand reaches out of the coffin, knocking the light out and Anders’ hand. Anders is screaming and the camera at his neck starts going off. In the flashes, we see a series of images:

a partial face, close-up, male with a goatee

the hand crushing Anders’ throat, long nails drawing blood

a close-up of a mouth, opening, with fangs

Kyle screaming

Morgan screaming, hands thrown up to defend himself

Marica, blood on her face, pleading for her life in Romanian.

Anders’ camera goes off one last time; we see it illuminated in the flash just as it drops to the floor and shatters. The strap is shredded and bloody. Darkness and silence follow the final flash.)

--M. Belanger

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