The Replacement

Welcome to this year’s Halloween special! Earlier this month, I had you vote on what kind of content you wanted to see, and you chose an “In-Universe Spooky Story,” which worked out perfectly with this month’s theme of framing structures and horror! You can read last year’s Laoche drabbles here. Chronologically, this short takes place before the events of Runaways. If you want to learn more about the story, you can visit its WIP page, and if you want to read another short story in the same universe, you can sign up for my mailing list here to read “Jack of Fables”. Shameless self promotion aside, I hope you enjoy this story! Have a very Happy Halloween!

“Ma! We’re ready to come in now! Can you put on the water for hot cocoa?”

Hannah stomps the snow off her boots in the garage and props her sled against the wall. Cecelia trails in after her, but groans upon seeing the empty wood rack, already knowing what comes next. Their mother emerges from the kitchen, wearing an apron and holding a half-peeled apple.

“You never got wood,” she observes.

“Do we have to? I’m freezing, and I already started getting undressed.”

“Your father comes home any minute, and we need to stoke the fire. I’ve been making apple butter all day, and lost track of time. There are only ashes left. Why didn’t you do your chores before you played?”

“But Ma, it’s almost dark!”

“It will take you twenty minutes to fetch the wheelbarrow from the shed and fill the rack. Only three loads. I’ll let you finish the job tomorrow, but work until sunset.”

“It’s snowing, the wood will get wet,” Hannah wheedles.

“It won’t turn green between the stack and the house. Stop making excuses.”

“We’re all wet. We could catch hypothermia and die.”

“If you didn’t die in the four hours you were out sledding and stuffing snow down each other’s coats, then you won’t die from twenty minutes of stacking wood. Might even warm you up.”

Hannah gives a long-suffering groan, but their mother budges as much as a sturdy oak. 

“Get on with you. The sooner you finish, the sooner you can have cocoa and apple butter bread. Many hands make light work. Stop whining and be a good example for your little sister,” she instructs.

She flips the switch to turn on the outdoor light, and tosses Hannah the keys to the shed, then disappears into the kitchen. Hannah begrudgingly pulls back on her sopping gloves and hat. Cecelia sighs and stomps behind in her footsteps.

“You know that arguing with Ma is no use,” she chides as Hannah’s frozen fingers fumble with the lock on the shed.

“You could have helped persuade her. She listens to you more than me, cause you’re the youngest.”

“She listens to you more because you’re the oldest, but not when you’re complaining so much about something you brought on yourself.”

We,” Hannah corrects. She pulls the wheelbarrow free, pushes it towards the back of the shed where their family put their big wood stacks and covered them with tarps. They use the oldest seasoned logs first, and bring them inside the garage where they’re conveniently within reach, without having to get dressed in snow gear. Another chore to add to her list of duties in the winter, and one that Hannah loathes. The heavy tarps dump water on her if she isn’t careful, and her toes are numb. “We wanted to play in the new snow, and you didn’t remind me when I forgot.”

Cecelia concedes the point with a nod as she moves the stones off the tarp and pulls it back to expose the stacked logs. She clambers up onto the pallet and starts handing them to Hannah, who dumps them in the wheelbarrow.

“Why don’t you complain?” Hannah asks, hefting an unwieldy stump onto the pile. “This is the worst job.”

Cecelia throws her the last of the logs and they ferry the wheelbarrow into the garage, where they re-stack the supply of wood on the rack, and return for another load. Then, she answers Hannah’s question:

Once upon a time, there lived a nag. She had a lovely house–a cottage on the edge of the woods, the perfect size for her family. They owned a field that gave them harvest a plenty, and they never wanted for meat or milk or eggs. Money came enough for her to afford treats on the feast days. Her husband loved her dearly, and her young son adored her. Yet she was not happy.

Everything beneath her supervision measured against her standards fell short. The front door squeaked, and the ceiling hung with spices and dried fruit, stooped too low for her liking. Her neighbor’s field gave a finer harvest than hers, and the animals snapped too much when she gathered their daily supply. The money was never enough, and she sighed after the rich silks that the mayor’s wife wore on Sundays. Her husband, though he tried to remedy her wants, never completed his endless tasks to a satisfactory requirement. The boy never slept through the night, and she could never escape his dirty diapers and puke-covered clothes.

Beyond that, she was bored. Her feet grew restless, her chest filled with wanderlust. She longed to see what laid beyond the woods, to visit the city, to swim in the sea. She did not remember how she trapped herself in this life. What spark of love still possessed her husband evaded her. She bore no fondness for her son. Once she’d been so excited to be a mother and a wife, she knew she chose this path, but she cursed the past self who settled for such mundanity. She needed an escape.

One blustery October night, the insatiable craving grew too much to bear, and the woman ran. She flung herself from her bed and pulled on her boots even as her husband beckoned her back to the warm covers. She snatched only a shawl and carried only the ring on her finger, as she fled the cottage. Past the field, past the pasture, past the edge of the woods, into the storm she ran, until she reached a tree.

It stood alone in the center of a glade ringed by toadstools. Untouched by the driving winds and whipping rain, serene leaves of gold barely fluttered as if in a spring breeze. She hesitated only a second before rushing across the threshold and jumping into its hollow trunk. Underside, she discovered a world of wonders and whimsy, of revelries and radiance. She danced with pixies and drunk with dwarves until her head grew dizzy and light.

Then she approached the monarchs. The King and Queen asked her reasons for running away, but her answer held no honor. Their disappointment struck the woman like a kick to the gut, and she groveled before their thrones, begging to stay and live amongst the fantastic delights of their land. They offered a position as a caretaker in the royal nursery, or as a gardener, or whatever job she should wish, but she scorned their offers, forgetting that life requires work. To return to that drudgery? The thought was unbearable.

With wounded pride and rejection eating her stomach from the inside out, the woman ran. Into the woods again. Fear and brambles choked her path and her tears fell as hard as the rain. What if her family should miss her and search the woods? What if they found her and dragged her back to the suffocating little cottage and smothered her with their attentions and requests? But what if she froze or starved in these woods? What if a wolf or bear attacked her at her most vulnerable? She sunk to the ground in despair, and at this moment, he appeared.

A pale face smiled at her in the darkness, with indistinguishable features and a shifting form as his clothing blended with the forest. He offered freedom, and a changeling who would take her place. He promised they would not miss her while she went on grand adventures and earned true glory.

She didn’t hesitate. They sealed the bargain with her wedding band.

A mirrored face sneered at her in the darkness, with identical features and a solid form that took her clothing and gave her the garb of the forest. The imposter slunk towards the cottage. The fae beckoned her to a feast where he played pipes for a court of monsters. She danced with phantoms and drunk with devils, and felt no remorse for her decision.

Her triumph lasted until morn, when her liberators became her captors. The Piper gave her to the Queen as a slave. A different Queen—one who spoke of both seelie and servants with contempt. The woman worked through the hangover to scour the banquet hall clean. They awarded her with a stone bed. This labor stole her sanity and ate years of her life. She toiled long and hard for others, not for love, nor duty, but for fear. The adventure died as soon as it lived.

The food kept her from running away from her troubles yet again. Enchanted delights seldom came, but she hungered for each morsel with a smoldering desperation she could not quench. The euphoric crumbs did not satisfy her for long, but she answered to their bitter and repulsive demands for the hope of meeting that fleeting joy again.

After years of earning her place, they pressed an icy blade into her hand and drilled her until it warmed with slick wet blood. She was too numb to care. At long last, she earned the glory she sought at the cost of her soul and her heart. She never won satisfaction, and passed the evenings away with gambling and drink to forget her troubles, to drown out the voices of her ghosts. She never thought to return or rise to a higher purpose until her debts caught up to her. When faced with nowhere left to retreat, she resorted to the home she abandoned. She needed an escape.

One blustery October night, the dread grew too much to bear, so she ran. She flung herself from her litter and pulled on her boots even as her mates pulled her back to the bar. She snatched only a shawl, not even carrying the lost ring on her finger, as she fled the unseelie court. Into the storm she ran, past the edge of the woods, past the pasture, past the field, until she reached a small cottage. She charged the front door and seized the changeling, to the horrified screams of her husband and child. His hair now white, her boy now grown, the changeling weathered with wrinkles, while she didn’t look a day changed. That didn’t matter.

She demanded the changeling give up her place and pay her debts. No apology. No explanation. The creature acted as her scapegoat once before, and it must fill its role now.

Return.

The changeling refused.

Her husband refused. Her son refused. They might have been hers, once. They were not anymore. Who fed the animals and coaxed good grain from the ground? Which one kept soup boiling over the hearth? Which was the kind smile at the door, the steady hand during turmoil, the warm hug on a miserable day? Which laughed, whistled to birds, rejoiced for flowers, and loved every joy of the mundane?

Not her.

The family ousted the selfish stranger from their home. She fled into the night. Loss, fury, pain, and fear drove her on to more desperate speeds. The keening of pipes, screeching of rats, and howling of dogs chased her wild run through the forest. The wind bit into her skin, and when the next gust hit, her body fell, and she flew, swept up by the other lost souls in their eternal charge across the night. What better home for her but the eternal wild hunt? A ghost is many things: love lost, unfinished business, wishes, dreams, guilt, memories, broken promises, searches, fights, forgotten familiarity, a voiceless thing shouting “I Am Here” to no avail. Her formless spirit batters against the windows when the night winds wail, desperate to reclaim her life from the replacement she wanted.

Hannah shudders, suddenly aware of the howling wind and the gathering dark. A sharp crack pierces through the snow, and both girls jump with surprise as a branch crashes and ice shatters in the forest. Cecelia climbs down from the woodpile. They worked as she told the story and filled up their last load as the sun slipped behind the mountain.

“Let’s go inside,” Cecelia whispers, “before it’s too late.”

Author Interview: Hyba Ouazzani & Apartment

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my good writing friend and inspiration, Hyba! I’ve mentioned her before on this blog: specifically to promote her podcast in my writing resources post, and to leave a glowing review of her novel, Apartment, in my last goals recap. I’m thrilled to have her on the blog to talk about how she developed her book, and I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

Etta: Can you start by telling us about yourself and what you write?

Hyba: My name is Hyba Ouazzani, and I’m a Muslim author, podcaster, and blogger based somewhere on the vast continent that is Africa.

I enjoy writing in a range of genres. Apartment is my psychological thriller, and I’m currently working on a murder mystery called Marie/Elise, a high fantasy novel called The Pirates of Sissa, a futuristic sci-fi called Neon Vape: A Vaporwave Odyssey, a horror novel called An Entity in Your Midst, a GameLit serial fiction called The Beast of Ildenwood, an epistolary Gothic tale called Letters to Adam, and many, many more! Sometimes, I write poetry and short stories. In short, I enjoy writing in all kinds of formats and genres. If the story and concept idea are good enough for me, then that’s all that matters.

That being said, I am most interested in writing pieces that make certain statements about society and humanity at large. Pieces like Apartment are meant to challenge the reader, make them ask questions about the darker aspects of human nature and the world we live in. The Pirates of Sissa deals with justice, conflict resolution, and the lasting effects of imperialism. Neon Vape takes a hard look at the extent to which companies are willing to go to make a profit and be market leaders—in other words, the dark side of capitalism. I’m working on a short story that challenges the impossible beauty perceptions and other expectations pushed upon women. Anywhere there’s a good discussion to be had is where I want my books to be!

Etta: That’s a wonderful variety, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your works! I recently finished Apartment, so I wanted to know, what gave you the idea for that story?

Hyba: Apartment came out of the blue as I was sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce on my bed. I had the urge to write something, and I started writing it—though I wasn’t even certain what I was writing at that time. There was just the apartment building, huge and ugly and empty. And there were just the two inhabitants—two in the midst of this great, big beast of a building. Those first words that the book starts off with are the first words that I wrote for Apartment (though they’ve undergone a bit of editing ever since, especially when it comes to keeping track of the numbers!). I chose a place to anchor my ship and got to work.

It was weird, messy, and entirely unexpected. But somehow it worked together in such a way that I began to see it take some kind of form. These characters that went about their mundane everyday lives but were just a little off. That sticky suspense that clung to their skin like sweat. The cold, isolated, hollow building set in that sprawling hot desert. All of it came together, and as I started weaving all of these elements into a picture that made sense, I knew that this was an intriguing project.

I wanted it to mean more than what I was putting on paper, so I took a lot of care to craft the story in such a way that it could be analyzed, read and re-read. The story unfolded, the characters came to life, and even when I got to that muddy middle, I somehow found a way to trudge through and see the whole book to the end. It was the first book I’d ever finished.

Etta: This story is labeled as ‘magical realism.’ How did you choose which aspects of the story to make fantastical and which to keep grounded in our world?

Hyba: I knew that the fates of certain characters needed to be metaphorical and symbolic of wider themes—for example, James and Eli have very fantastical ends as characters. In other areas of the book, I chose to insert magical or fantastical elements to highlight key points about the plot, characters, settings, or themes—and almost always signal to readers that “This means something deeper!”

In other words, the fantastical aspects are almost never added just to be there. Most, if not all, convey specific messages and invite readers to think about what these strange and unexpected events and characteristics actually mean about the characters, the settings, or the themes found within the story.

Etta: Do you think horror and suspense stories based on speculative fears (demons, supernatural, ghosts etc.) or real world fears (stalkers, serial killers, natural disasters, etc.) are more effective? Or do you think it depends on the particular story?

Hyba: Not only do I think it depends on the story and its execution, but I also think that it depends greatly on the reader and what they believe in. For some readers, the supernatural is a very real thing, and is therefore a very real fear, but others scoff at the supernatural and find pure entertainment within the pages of such horror. For some, fear of the unknown is stronger than fear of the known, while the opposite is true for others. An unstoppable event, like a natural disaster, may be much more frightening for some readers than something that could potentially be stopped, like a stalker. And yet, there are also some that will find a natural disaster much less horrifying than a malicious, evil human being.

I think it boils down to the psychology and beliefs of the reader. We all have those little things that really make us tick—that make us smack those pages closed and check to make sure our doors are locked and the windows are closed and the bathroom light is on before we fall asleep. At the end of the day, any kind of horror will find its intended audience, and that audience will appreciate it as a horror that is true to them and, in some ways, very real.

Etta: Psychology plays a large role in the story: how did you develop the characters with such specific neuroses that play off each other so dramatically?

Hyba: The characters’ psychologies are based on real-world issues, arguably magnified (and arguably not). I think when you get a cast that has such a diverse set of vices, opportunities for these vices to come head-to-head start popping up naturally. While I didn’t set out to have their neuroses play off of each other, I did enjoy pairing together characters that are destined to meet again (ex: Alex and Eli), and characters whose meetings are unexpected (ex: Angela and the Manager).

In fact, my main focus was on their demises. I knew that Eli and Alex’s fates were intertwined, and therefore their final scenes had to be with one another. I also knew that their destructive nature meant that one of them wouldn’t make it out of that final meeting alive. I knew that Angela’s new-found delusions of grandeur would lead her to her downfall, and what better way to do that than at the hands of the Manager, whose own superiority complex and history places him much higher up the abominable “food chain”, as it were? And, I knew that the Manager, for all of his arrogance and self-confessed hunting prowess, needed to be put to a stop in a way that was entirely unspectacular and unimportant—and so his death came at the hands of the driver. And, the driver, for his part, comes to meet his fate as a result of Eli’s death. Some deaths are interlinked in ways that are fantastical, which allows me to paint a broader, more profound picture for the reader.

That being said, I can see how putting two characters together because of their psychological conditions might turn out various intriguing scenarios. Say, for example, a pyromaniac and someone with a pyrophobia being stuck together in a setting rife with flammable items. I can certainly see this playing out into a very tense psychological thriller!

Etta: How fascinating! Thank you for explaining your reasoning! Now, of course, the setting is crucial in any suspense story, and especially in this one. What inspired the aesthetic of Apartment?

Hyba: It was so long ago, I’m not quite sure what first inspired me to create the Apartment aesthetic anymore. I want to point to the concept of the liminal space, and the idea of someone existing in an empty place on their own. I might also point to various architectural styles and buildings, especially the strange not-quite-rightness of brutalist and/or constructivist architecture—especially those huge buildings that seemed to dwarf everything around them. It seemed so alien, so impersonal, so isolating. I think these are a couple of aesthetics that may have inspired Apartment in its early days.

Etta: That makes a lot of sense! Carrying off the last question, what prose choices did you make to help build up the atmosphere such as a certain extended metaphor or motif or symbol?

Hyba: One of the big decisions I made, though it might have happened subconsciously at first, was creating a sense of the mundane in the prose, especially towards the beginning of the novella, to help strange events (hopefully) stick out in stark contrast to the regular everyday goings-on of the characters. For example, you have a scene where James is going about his usual morning ritual until something strange happens, something out of the regular day-to-day, something that stands out in contrast to what he has become used to. And from there, that little thing starts picking at him, again and again, becoming more and more apparent, demanding more and more attention, and ultimately transforming him.

There were many reasons for choosing this kind of narrative technique. Not only did it serve to create contrast, but it also served to pull the reader into an almost sleepy lull—until they come upon a little detail, pass it, recognize that it wasn’t altogether a normal thing, and go back again to double-check. I wanted readers to almost-miss these little threads that begin to unravel at the beginning of the story. In addition, it also created a sense of suffocation. We’re so trapped inside the characters’ heads—stuck with them in their minds, and stuck with them in this building—that it creates a sense of frustration and restlessness, a sense of suffocation. I believe it helps readers understand better why certain characters are so easily led astray once they are given the chance, and why some of them seem to act almost desperately restless, just looking for something to do.

There are quite a lot of other elements in the book—choices that I made for a variety of different reasons as it pertains to prose, symbolism, metaphors, and more—but it would take a long time to write about them. If anyone is interested in learning more, though, I’ve written and released an entire literary companion for Apartment that’s available here (for free). Check it out—but only if you don’t mind spoilers!

Etta: Thank you for sharing that resource! One last question, what was your favorite part about writing Apartment?

Hyba: Writing suspense—building it into my stories—is one of my favourite parts of writing in general.

With Apartment, I felt it was almost all suspense. In fact, that was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much, and possibly one of the reasons that I was able to push through and finish it in a shorter amount of time than any other book I’ve been working on. That slow-burn, rising tension is one of my favourite things to write, especially when laid into the perspective and mind of a character that may or may not be completely alright—or completely reliable.

Up until Apartment, I didn’t think I could write something that was almost purely suspense-driven. I always stumbled upon plot, and how to reconcile suspense with other elements that were—well—not so suspenseful! Apartment was a huge learning experience for me as an author, and I’m very happy with the result, and so happy to know that readers have enjoyed it, too.

Etta: Well, I know I loved the story, and I’m sure others have as well. Where can people find you and your writing?

You can find me over on my blog (hybaiswriting.blogspot.com), where I share short stories and snippets, a range of updates for WIPs, talk about my characters and worlds, and sometimes write advice or research posts related to books and writing. To connect with me on my social media, find me on Twitter (@HybaIsWriting), Instagram (@hybaiswriting), Tumblr (@hyba), and Pinterest (hybaiswriting). Finally, you can also check out my podcast over on Anchor (anchor.fm/hyba) or your go-to podcast app!

Thank you again to Hyba for agreeing to do this interview with me and for leaving such thoughtful and thought-provoking answers! If you enjoyed this, be sure to go check out her other work. Thank you for reading, and until next time, happy writing!

In the Dark – Dracula

Hello my friends, it has been a hot minute since I last shared a reading rec, but what better month to get back into it than October! Today I want to share my personal favorite classic horror novel, and break down what makes it work so well. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the characters of Dracula from pop-culture, but they’re often so far removed from the original context that the concepts lose their teeth (heh). To understand why Dracula became such a ubiquitous icon of the vampire horror genre, we need to revisit why people feared him in the first place. For this article, I’ll be referring to the book with italics, and the character in normal text, to avoid confusion. This will also include spoilers, since I stand by a copyright-spoiler expiration policy. If you want to read the book for free, a copy is available from Project Gutenberg (which is what I used to find my excerpts.)

I’d also like to preface this with a disclaimer that if you’ve read the SparkNotes summary, this article will have a much different analysis. In my opinion, the SparkNotes takes a bad-faith assumption that treats the male characters as sex-motivated repressed Victorians who ignore religion for scientific advancement and fear Strong Women ™. I disagree, but I encourage you to read the book and both analyses to form your own opinion. If you’ve read the book already, leave a comment to start a discussion!

Framing Structure

Dracula is an epistolary novel, told through a series of 1st person journal entries, letters, and newspaper clippings. Bram Stoker introduces us first to Jonathan Harker, who meets Dracula at his Transylvanian castle and experiences the threat first hand, and isolated from the rest of the characters. His diary entries show his desperation and fear as he tries to escape, then cut off, leaving us to wonder if he’s still alive.

The story then cuts to an exchange between Mina Harker and her friend Lucy. Through these letters, we meet the most of the rest of the supporting cast: Dr. Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and Quincey Morris, the three men who propose to Lucy. During this portion of the story, the tension is low, but since it comes after Jonathan’s diary entries, we know that the threat is still out there. Stoker creates a feeling of dread as we wait for the Dracula to reappear. When he does, the characters remain oblivious to the growing horrors that plague their town, as they lack the context of Jonathan’s experience. The dread becomes dramatic irony, as the characters live in ignorance and the reader watches the events unfold, unable to warn them.

This framing sequence throughout the book also maintains a sense of mystery, as the reader still doesn’t know Dracula’s whereabouts or ultimate plan until halfway through the story. We learn more about the true series of events alongside the characters as they collect pieces of evidence and put the full picture together. Once the characters are on the same page (literally, after they transcribe and share notes), the festering slow burn becomes a race against the clock as they try to prevent Dracula from destroying England, and the world, once and for all. The act of transcribing the details of the events immediately after the fact also gives us a view of the scene as the character themself tells the story and reflects on their experience. The way they choose to describe the settings and feelings helps to build up the tone of dread and terror throughout the story.

The Characters

Every character in this book is memorable and lovable in their own way. Through their writing, we gain insight into each personality and how each views the world. Dr. Seward is analytical, Jonathan is straightforward, Lucy is romantic, and Mina is emotional and perceptive. We also get to see how they perceive the others. It’s wholesome to hear Seward and Quincey praising the qualities of Arthur when he gets the girl instead of him, and saying he’s happy that Lucy is happy. Mina’s and Jonathan’s love gives them hope amid the disaster. Whenever one member of the group does something especially brave or clever, we only hear about the event from their friend recounting the glory of the deed. The framing sequence gives us a deeper insight into the group dynamics, and it became one of the sweetest found families I’ve ever read. When adaptations remove the characters from this POV, they also lose this interpersonal element of internal admiration, which the original captures so well. Mina remarks of her new friends:

Dr. Seward went about his work of going his round of the patients; when he had finished, he came back and sat near me, reading, so that I did not feel too lonely whilst I worked. How good and thoughtful he is; the world seems full of good men—even if there are monsters in it.

From Mina Harker’s Journal

By creating these dynamics that invest the reader, Stoker also raises the stakes. Losing any one member of the group would devastate to all the others, and when Dracula attacks Lucy and Mina, it’s not only scary, it’s also tragic. We feel their grief through their personal writings, in a way they don’t always share publically, so we know what they’re suffering when their friends don’t. We also see how they lean on each other for support when it is too much to bear alone, and this combination of dynamics makes the story compelling for more than just the titular character.

The Stakes

This is a Catholic book!

Even if you’re not religious, I believe anyone can still enjoy the story by experiencing the threat through the lens of the characters who wholeheartedly believe in the Christian afterlife. To them, vampires are an affront against God’s holy plan of salvation. Dracula is a murderer and a rapist, but beyond that, he also brings other people into the living hell of immortality against their will. This is a sin paramount to the others, as the Bible condemns leading others into sin: “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” from Luke 17:2.

There are also exponential implications past Dracula’s immediate influence. Each victim that loses their humanity goes onto turn other people and terrorize their local communities with a single-minded blood-thirst. Van Helsing likens this to a plague and insists that they must stop the cycle before it is too late. It leaves you wondering how many people he’s indirectly hurt throughout the years, and how many times this tragic story has played out in the past. From the weeping townsfolk pressing crucifixes into Jonathan’s hand, we can take a guess.

It takes convincing from Helsing for Seward, Quincey, and Arthur to accept the existence of vampires.

My thesis is this: I want you to believe.”

“To believe what?”

“To believe in things that you cannot…Now that you are willing to understand, you have taken the first step to understand.”

Van Helsing and Dr. Seward

As soon as they have the faith to listen, Van Helsing systematically proves what he knows to be true, proving that science and faith rely on each other and the characters value both in their approach to the world. He takes the men to the graveyard that evening and they see first-hand how vampire-Lucy has lost almost every shred of her humanity. At first, Seward (who recounts the event) is still skeptical, but his disbelief is born out of love for Lucy and desperate fear. With the evidence staring him in the face, he doesn’t want it to be true, because that means the only just and merciful solution is to kill the vampire that took the soul of their friend. They decide to let Arthur strike the final blow. As her would-be husband, they know Lucy would want to be laid to rest beside him, and this is the closest she can have. Vampire-Lucy beckons him to join her, but she is selfish and callous, wearing the appearance but completely replacing the kind and generous woman they knew. Arthur still has to kill her, so she will stop killing children, and it is just as much justice for Lucy as it is a tragedy. He considers it an honor to be the one to drive a stake through her heart, and let her have the peaceful death and chance at true eternal life and happiness in heaven that she deserves.

Thematic Inversion

It is also worth noting how Dracula perverts what the heroes see as good and holy for his own means. When he speaks about the vampire ladies in his court, Luca, and Mina, his language is possessive and obsessive. He sees the women as his property, compared to the men who speak with devotion about the ones they love. Jonathan and Helsing exclude Mina at first from the meetings to discuss how to deal with Dracula, a fact they deeply regret later when the Count attacks Mina. Love and a desire to protect motivate their choice, rather than dismissal.

Van Helsing obtains a dispensation to use the Eucharist (God’s body, blood, soul, and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine), to use against the evil. When it touches her, she burns, and in her later diary entries, her grief hurts just as much. As soon as the men realize their failure, they go out of their way to support Mina and respect her input, which ultimately helps them create their final battle plan. But even as they scheme, Jonathan remarks on how the vampire’s influence compromises his position:

To one thing I have made up my mind: if we find out that Mina must be a vampire in the end, then she shall not go into that unknown and terrible land alone. I suppose it is thus that in old times one vampire meant many; just as their hideous bodies could only rest in sacred earth, so the holiest love was the recruiting sergeant for their ghastly ranks.

Jonathan Harker’s Journal

There is also a symbolic perversion of the presence of blood throughout the book. Christians believe that we are saved from sin and eternal death through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross – his blood fulfilling the Moasic covenant from the Passover, where the blood of an unblemished lamb saved Israelite families from the angel of death. Stoker’s inclusion of the Sacred Host throughout the story, treated with the utmost reverence and not simply as a fantastical tool, makes a clear (but oft overlooked in pop culture) parallel between Mina made unclean by the blood of Dracula, but saved through the blood of Christ.

How can writers use Dracula to develop their stories?

  • Using limited or first person POVS and/or unreliable narrators preserves the mystery and fear of the unknown
  • Revealing the twist to the reader but not the character creates dramatic tension and dread
  • If the reader falls in love with your characters, any deaths or threats will hurt more. Likewise, hurting a character’s loved ones is a gut punch. Or worse, forcing your characters to hurt their loved ones for their own good.
  • Ask what your characters have to lose? Is their humanity or free will at stake? What would be a fate worse than death?
  • How does evil warp what the character’s love? Can you twist any symbols or themes into dark mirrors of themselves to create a poignant parallel between the heroes and the villains?
  • What separates a hero from a villain? How close do your characters get to turning? Having them walk the knife’s blade between good and evil can make for excellent drama, especially if they’re conflicted about their state/actions.

I hope you found this analysis interesting and useful! It was fun to revisit this format after so long, just in time for Halloween. Do you agree with what I have to say? Did you learn something new, or use any of the questions to develop your characters? Leave a comment below, and let’s start a discussion. I’m curious to see what you have to tell me. Thank you for reading, and happy writing!