- V -
The Dream Gate
We slipped out my bedroom window, Harriet and I. I wondered what my roommates would think when I didn’t come out of my room for a few days. They probably wouldn’t even notice. Maybe after a few weeks they would. Would I be gone for more than a few weeks? Would I ever come back at all?
I felt for the shape of dream key on the key ring in my pocket. Harriet had decided that I should be the bearer of the key. She was afraid that her vampire sire might regain control of her, so it was safer if I kept it. But what good would I be protecting the key against a two-hundred-year-old vampire? I didn’t know, but I’d think of something. I was Jack.
The Volkswagen bus was parked next to the house, and I climbed into the same passenger seat that I had on that fateful day in January. Harriet turned the ignition and the ancient vehicle roared to life, its engine sputtering comically. I watched as the familiar streets of Jamaica Plain passed by, inwardly saying goodbye to the life I knew. I knew nothing would ever be the same again.
Although I was born and raised in Boston, I would never have attempted to drive through the city. Such was the folly of tourists and the dangerously insane. Unlike younger cities, which were planned in some sort of rational manner, Boston’s streets started out as a maze of cow paths that were paved over with cobblestones, and later, asphalt. As a result, there was no discernible rhyme or reason to them, except perhaps to a cow.
And Harriet was able to navigate through the city with no difficulty. I marveled as we wound our way around the Boston Common, up Beacon Hill, and down again into the North End. For some reason an old nursery rhyme sprang into my head:
See saw, sacradown,
Which is the way to Boston town?
One foot up and the other foot down,
And that is the way to Boston town.
Boston town’s changed to a city,
But I’ve no room to change my ditty.
The bus pulled up alongside Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, which looked especially spooky beneath the full moon. Being in the company of a vampire about to meet her two-hundred-year-old sire didn’t hurt either. Harriet led me through the wrought-iron gate into the cemetery, one of the oldest in Boston. It was a famous tourist trap, and was usually full of out-of-towners wearing Hawaiian shirts snapping photos. But at night a serene hush fell over the place. It was truly the domain of the dead.
“Good evening,” came a voice from behind me. I almost jumped out of my skin. I turned around to see a tall black man wearing an ankle-length oilskin coat. He didn’t look at all what I had expected, though really I hadn’t known what to expect. Someone wearing a powdered wig and a tricorne hat, I suppose. But of course a vampire would update his wardrobe to keep with the times. This one looked almost too hip, with teased hair and a nose ring. Far from two hundred, he didn’t look a day over twenty. He smiled ferally, and held out a hand that had a silver ring on each finger.
Without thinking, I reached out to shake his offered hand, and suffered a painful scratch on my palm for my trouble. The vampire lord sniggered. “Sorry. I just sharpened my rings.” Around his middle finger a coiled snake glinted in the moonlight.
“Be nice, Crispin,” Harriet reprimanded him. Taking my hand, she licked the scratch on my palm, and it instantly healed. And that’s not all it did to me.
“I see you have already sampled the merchandise,” Crispin sniffed. “I should have given you instructions to leave him unsullied.”
“But you didn’t,” Harriet rejoindered. “And he was so juicy. I couldn’t resist having a taste.”
I felt a little nervous being talked about as though I were some kind of hors d’oeuvre. But I knew Harriet was playing a part, so I grit my teeth and tried to keep my knees from knocking together.
“No matter, my sweet,” said Crispin, stroking Harriet’s chin like she was some kind of pet. “As long as he has brought me the key, then you may do with the mortal what you will. Consider him a gift for your service.”
“And my freedom?” Harriet said. “Will you release me from your thrall.”
Crispin’s eyes narrowed. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse, my dear. First we must see if the gate opens.”
Harriet inclined her head subserviently. “Of course, my lord.”
Crispin strode up to an obelisk-topped tomb and Harriet and I followed in his wake. His fingers found a hidden catch in the copper plaque affixed to the base of the tomb, and to my astonishment, it squeaked opened like a door, revealing a square aperture large enough to climb into, which is exactly what he did, disappearing into the darkness within. Harriet stole a glance at me and winked, then she too disappeared into the opening.
I considered taking the opportunity to bolt, to run away as fast as I could. But where would I go? These were vampires. I had seen how fast Harriet could move. If I tried to escape, Crispin would probably chase me down like a cat hunting a bug. Scarcely able to believe what I was doing, I climbed into the opening in the tomb, and plunged headlong into the darkness.
But no, it wasn’t total darkness. There was a light. I descended a flight of stone stairs to the bottom, where I found Harriet and Crispin waiting. Crispin was holding a lantern, the source of the light. We were in an underground passageway, a catacomb beneath Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. I followed the two vampires wordlessly through the twisting corridor, which had the faint reek of decay, no doubt from the centuries of death that surrounded us. Crispin seemed in his element. No doubt he frequented this place, and I wondered if all of Boston had underground passages beneath it where creatures of the night burrowed like worms while mortals slept.
My head buzzed with such thoughts until we arrived at our destination. A rectangular door shape was etched into the stone wall, bordered by the strangest of runes. These were not Old English runes, like the ones on my belt, or any kind of symbols I had ever seen. Crispin seemed to know what they meant, however, and his mouth moved involuntarily in a silent prayer as he read them. In the center of the door carving was a keyhole, and I know at once what fit it.
“The key,” Crispin said, his piercing gaze directed at me. “Give it to me. Give me the key and I shall release you and Harriet. I shall give you whatever you desire. Just give it to me.”
Crispin’s voice was hypnotically persuasive. He was so convincing. It was such a small favor he asked. Imagine having a two-hundred-year-old vampire in my debt. Of course I should give it to him.
Then another voice spoke to me inside my head. It was the Appalachian drawl of the old Jack. “Whickedy whack! Now you’re Jack!”
I felt in my pocket for my key ring and pulled it out. The key to my house, the key to my work, the key to my grandmother’s house... I had forgotten about that one. The key to my grandmother’s house was an old-fashioned skeleton key that looked a lot like the dream key. Would it fool Crispin? Why not? He’d never seen it. Without thinking, I pulled the key off the ring and handed it to him.
“At last!” he cried, seizing it. He thoughtlessly handed me the lantern and turned towards the wall, pushing the key into the hole. I only had a few seconds while Crispin’s attention was focused on his task. Only the joy of finally achieving what he had worked towards for two hundred years could distract a vampire enough for a human to get the upper hand. And I was no ordinary human. I was Jack.
“Tantivy!” I cried and opening the lantern, touched the flame to the hem of his oilskin coat. Instantly, the coat went up in flames, and Crispin howled in pain, spinning like a whirling dervish. I whipped out the real dream key and pushed it into the keyhole. Click. The door in the wall swung open. I took Harriet by the hand and hurtled headlong through the dream gate, pulling it shut behind us. Crispin screamed with rage and then there was silence as the dream gate locked behind us. Clack. Two hundred years for nothing. I almost felt sorry for him.
“You did it,” Harriet said, her eyes wide. “You did it! You’re Jack!”
I grinned like a Halloween pumpkin. “Tantivy!” I shouted again. “Tan-fucking-tivy!”
“So, what now, Jack?” Harriet asked. I was really feeling my oats now. I was the leader.
“Let’s see where Crispin was so all-fire eager to get to.” The “all-fire” came out of nowhere. It was a Southern expression. I was Boston born and bred, but somehow saying it seemed natural. Harriet looked at me openmouthed. It was something her grandfather would have said.
Without pausing to think about it, I forged ahead into the darkened passageway ahead of us. The floor, walls and ceiling were smooth slate of the kind used in the gravestones above us. But the cemetery wasn’t above us anymore, was it? We had passed into another realm entirely--another world.
I was still holding the lantern I had used to incinerate Crispin. Burnt him to a crisp. Wasn’t burning one way to kill a vampire, along with putting a stake in his heart and beheading him? I wondered if I had killed him. Jack the vampire-killer. How can you kill someone who’s already dead? Then I stole a glance at Harriet, her impossibly pale skin, and remembered when she had sucked my blood, how good it had felt. Was she also as dead as Crispin?
My thoughts were interrupted as the hall of slate terminated at an arch-shaped black door with a silver knob shaped like an acorn. Harriet shot me a quizzical look, which I interpreted to mean, “Shall we knock?”
I saw that there was a silver keyhole beneath the doorknob, which looked as if the dream key would fit. I was right. It turned easily. Click. I took hold of the doorknob and was about to turn it, when Harriet stayed me by putting her ice-cold hand on top of mine.
“Wait a minute,” she said, gesturing for me to stand aside, which I did. Harriet bowed to the door as if asking it to dance. Then she said:
“Thrice I smite with holy crock,
With this mell I thrice thee knock,
Once for God, once for Wod
And once for Lok.”
Then she knocked. Once. Twice. Thrice. The door snicked and opened of its own accord with a horror-movie squeeeeeak.
Harriet grinned, looking more wolf-like than ever, and said with a cheesy German accent, “Vill you step into my parlor, said ze spider to the fly?”
“Tantivy,” I said, with less enthusiasm than before, but still meaning it. I stepped through the door and found myself in a grand, sprawling bedchamber. Predominating the room was an enormous four-poster bed with a canopy of peach silk, which swirled in the breeze from the open window. Outside the window I saw a crescent moon and a million stars. Hadn’t the moon just been full, earlier tonight?
On the bed, propped up by innumerable pillows of burgundy velvet, was a beautiful young man, his skin milk-white and his hair as black as a raven’s. His lips were pouty and the color of strawberries, and he was fast asleep.
“Who is that?” I asked Harriet, but she shrugged, as puzzled as I was. Then the sleeping man answered me, although he hadn’t spoken. I heard him in my head.
“I am Hypnos,” he said, the voice in my head gentle and lulling, like ocean waves. I was starting to feel sleepy myself. I had been up all night. It would be so nice to lie down on that big bed with him and take a nap myself. There was plenty of room. Harriet must have noticed my drooping eyes, because she pinched my arm. Hard. The pain was enough to shock me wide awake.
The voice in my head spoke again. “Would you enter my domain, or turn back to the waking world?”
Considering going back might mean facing a very pissed off vampire; there wasn’t much of a choice.
“We would enter,” I said, speaking for both of us. Harriet had no objection.
“Then you must answer my riddle,” Hypnos said. “Or offer me a gift. Which do you choose?”
I started to sweat. It would have to be a riddle, I supposed. But what if we couldn’t answer it? What would happen? Suddenly I felt sleepy again and saw the space on Hypnos’s bed. I had an idea what would happen. Then an epiphany jerked me awake again.
“A gift!” I said, unable to suppress a cocky grin. “I want to offer you a gift!” Harriet looked at me like I had two heads. She hadn’t expected that. I pulled the tiny bottle out of my pocket--the one Old Greybeard had given me. The bottle full of magic beans.
Hypnos’s lips quirked into a smile, although he remained sleeping. “Of course you do, Jack,” said the voice in my head. I could hear--well, mentally hear--his amusement. Then--still asleep--Hypnos held his hand out, palm up. I tapped the black beans into his hand, and he closed his hand around them. Then, unexpectedly, he hurled the beans out the window.
The effect was immediate. Within seconds, a colossal emerald-green beanstalk shot into the sky right in front of the window. The beanstalk was composed of braided vines from which heart-shaped leaves sprouted almost as big as I was. Where the branches interlaced were plenty of nooks to slip a foot into, plenty of tendrils to grab a handhold.
“You know what to do,” said Hypnos, laughing gently. I did know what to do. Without a second thought, I climbed out of the window and onto the beanstalk. Hypnos’s bedchamber appeared to be at the top of a soaring tower, which dropped off below me as far as I could see. The top of the beanstalk looked as if it went higher than the moon.
I spared a look back into the tower. Harriet was already at the window, looking at the beanstalk with utter amazement. “I didn’t think anything could surprise me anymore,” she said. “But I guess there are even weirder things than becoming a vampire.”
“Last one up’s a rotten egg!” I challenged her, and started climbing for dear life. It was a threat I lived to regret. Harriet leapt onto the beanstalk with a catlike agility and began to ascend it like a bottle rocket shooting into the air.
I kept climbing at a disappointing human pace, and after about five minutes, I was thoroughly exhausted, wishing I could still curl up on Hypnos’s bed. Harriet sat waiting for me, perched on a branch and grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
“Humpty Dumpty, I presume?”
“Okay, that was a dumb thing to say,” I conceded. “I don’t know what I was thinking. You win.”
Harriet winked. “Come on, I’ll give you a piggyback.”
I was so tired by that point, all pretense to pride had evaporated. Harriet gamely let me climb onto her back like a little boy. Once my hands were safely clasped around her neck and my legs were wrapped around her waist, she began a dizzying ascent upwards. The speed at which she was climbing was unreal, as though she were a cartoon character. I wasn’t even going to chance looking downwards. I couldn’t imagine how far we'd fall if she slipped.
But Harriet didn’t slip, and in a few minutes we had reached the top. I wondered how long it would have taken me to climb this far under my own power. Probably all night, and all the day next.
We found ourselves in a bank of mist so thick I could barely see my own hand in front of my face. My feet connected with terra firma, and Harriet took me by the hand, guiding me forward. No doubt her vampire senses were keener than mine. It seemed that vampires were superior to humans in almost every way. Except for one very important one.
We reached some kind of wall, which we followed to the entrance to a flight of stairs. Hand-in-hand, like Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods, we climbed the stairs to the top and emerged on the cobblestone-paved street of a strange city.
We weren’t in Boston anymore. Then where were we? All the buildings looked very old. On either side of the street were public houses with hand-painted wooden signs swinging from poles sticking out above the doors. A horse-drawn carriage, driven by a man wearing a three-cornered hat and a tattered old coat, went clomping by. It was still night, but the sky was just beginning to flush a faint shade of pink.
“Where are we?” Harriet said.
“Why, this is Henport, of course.” They wheeled around to see a man-sized hare standing on two legs and wearing a wool suit. “You must be the new Jack,” he said. His voice was high-pitched and brittle, and had a distinct English accent. Somewhere in the distance, a clock chimed four times. The hare pulled a silver pocket watch out of his waistcoat pocket, dangling from a silver chain. Consulting the watch, he made a tsk tsk sound and fixed his dewy brown eyes on Harriet, his nose twitching fiercely.
“It will be dawn soon. We must find you shelter. Come.”
Then, without another word, the hare bounded off down the street at a frenetic pace. Harriet and I looked at each other and shrugged. What else could we do? We followed after the hare, practically having to run in order to keep apace.
The sky was growing lighter, and I could see Harriet wincing. The rosy fingers of dawn were anathema to vampires. They arrived at the entrance to a barbershop. The hare stopped and checked his pocket watch again. His ears shot up in alarm.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” he said. “This isn’t right. The inn must have changed ownership since I was here last. By Easter’s green girdle, you earthlies live and die like mayflies.”
“Please,” Harriet croaked, shielding her eyes, though it was still rather dark. “I have to find somewhere protected from the sun soon, or I’m done for.”
Just then, a lantern-jawed gentleman came ambling down the street towards them. He was wearing a black, four-button suit, wing collar and ascot, and was carrying a canvas shopping bag filled with an assortment of leafy vegetables.
“Hi,” I said, acting on impulse. “This sounds crazy, but my friend is a vampire, and if we don’t find somewhere dark before the sun comes up, she’s toast.”
I expected him to run screaming, but instead he replied,
“Well, I suppose we could bring her back to my house. If we draw the curtains, I think we can make the guest room suitably tomblike.”
His accent was unmistakably a Yankee one. He had dropped the “r” from curtain and stuck it on the end of “draw.”
“You’re not from Boston, are you?” I asked. “The South Shore maybe?”
Our new friend arched an eyebrow. “Providence, actually.”
“Guys,” Harriet begged. “Hurry.” The birds were chirping the approach of dawn.
“Come along,” the man said. “My house is just around the corner.”
“Thanks,” I said, as we hurried down the street. “I’m Jack by the way.” I extended a hand, which the man shook courteously.
“Craftwell. Theobald Craftwell, at your service.”
Theobald Craftwell’s house was, like his accent, classic New England, topped with a gambrel roof and a fanlight over the front door. A garret protruded from the side of the roof, sloping like a sleepy eye. Craftwell ushered us inside courteously and showed us to the guest room. Harriet inspected the heavy red velvet curtains covering the windows and deemed them adequate.
I turned to follow our host, who offered to take me to a room of my own, but Harriet asked me to stay. Craftwell raised his eyebrows, but politely refrained from commenting. “I shall bid you good morning then,” he said.
“And I,” added the hare. “I have business to attend. I shall return for you this evening.” And so they left. Craftwell shut the door, leaving me alone with the vampire.
With the door closed, the darkness was near absolute, but I could feel Harriet’s presence next to me. She led me by the hand into bed with her, and snuggled up against the side of my body. It was odd to be so close to someone, and yet be so chilled. My skin was covered with goosebumps, and I shivered as though it were January again.
“Sorry to be so forward,” Harriet whispered into my ear. “But I’m so...hungry. I hate to ask... I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind...”
I didn’t need to answer. My body spoke for me. My head involuntarily tilted to one side, exposing my neck to her. She had become a drug to me. I needed her as much as she needed my blood. Vaguely, the thought crossed my mind that this couldn’t be a good thing. But it was too hard to resist.
She bit into me gently, her needle-sharp fangs penetrating the soft flesh of my neck. I felt a warm trickle of blood flow from the penetration, and her ice-cold tongue licking it up like a cat lapping up milk. In some ways this feeding was more pleasurable than the first time, which had been so wild and ecstatic. In the darkness, I couldn’t tell if I were awake or asleep, just the stark rapture of feeling my life force mingling with Harriet’s. At some point, however, I did sleep. It had been the longest day of my life. If this was the dreamlands, I wondered idly, where would I go when I dreamt?
The answer came quite suddenly. I found myself floating in a black void. There was no sun or moon or stars, no up, down, left, right, forward or back. There didn’t even seem to be any time, and I had no idea how long I floated there. But then I saw someone else floating in the void with me. A girl in a black dress with inky-black hair flowing around her head. Her skin was pale white and glowing, exactly the same color as the moon.
She reached out to me and took my hand. Then she wasn’t a girl anymore. She was a goose. A black goose. I was riding on her back, holding silver reins. It was absurd, but I barely noticed. Dreams have their own logic.
No, I wasn’t riding on a black goose, I was walking down a path in a fragrant garden at night. A full moon shone above me, exactly the same color as the girl’s skin had been, and illuminated the flowers in the garden, which were all white. There were white lilies, white roses, white lilacs and white lotus blossoms, all at full bloom even thought it was night. These flowers fed on the light of the moon, not the sun.
The path threaded a labyrinth of hedges and I followed it inevitably to the garden’s heart, where a sable-haired woman sat on a throne of black onyx. Her skin was glowing moon-white like the goose girl’s had been, but this was no girl. She, like the flowers, was in the full of her bloom.
At the woman’s feet were two black geese, tethered by silver reins that she held in one hand. One of the geese flapped her wings, and honked at me. I knew that this must be the girl who had rescued me from the void.
The woman--no, not a woman, a goddess, surely--gazed languidly into my eyes, and I was as enchanted and in love with her as I had ever been with anyone. Well, maybe not as much as with the white-veiled girl who slept in the thorn.
“Welcome to my domain, Jack. This is the realm of deepest slumber.”
I bowed low and kissed her snow-white hand, which was also as cold as snow. Was she a vampire also? If so, she was the queen of them.
“You have me at a disadvantage, my lady,” I said. Somehow in this dream realm, I had lost all my insecurities, as I was as debonair as I wanted to be. I was fully a Jack.
“I have been known by many names. If it pleases you, you may call me Lily, for this is the flower that I love most.”
I inclined my head courteously. “Lily then. But I am still at a loss as to why you have brought me here.”
“Consider it repayment of a favor. My sister is in great peril. And as her champion once freed me from my bondage, so I shall send mine to free her.”
I frowned, feeling less debonair and more confused. “Your sister?”
“You know her as Mother Goose. But now is not the time for stories. If you free my sister from bondage, then I will grant you a drink from the White Cup.”
I startled awake, and found myself in bed with Harriet again. She was asleep, although she was perfectly still and didn’t breathe. If I didn’t know she was a vampire, I’d have thought she was dead. Actually, I guess she was dead.
I was wide awake now and Harriet showed no signs of stirring. Absently rubbing my neck, I got out of bed and started feeling around for my clothes. I decided to pay a visit to our mysterious benefactor.