Monday, 27 July 2015

Quincey Harker and the Vampires of Time Chapter One: 1917

It's taken me  while to get my mojo back. Work continues apace on something that is entirely my own, and the third episode of Bulldog and Panda is about to appear in Paragon (more on that in my next post). Here, however, is something a little different from me. Some time ago, I adapted Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' as a graphic novel. I also pitched to do an adaptation of HG Wells' 'The Time Machine', which was not taken up - one of many pitches that went nowhere.

It's not new to mash-up characters from different fictions - just see 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' and 'Penny Dreadful', but what always bothered me about those is that they fail to honour the originals and disregard what went before. What I wanted to play around with is a sequel - again, this is nothing new and I don't pretend to do it any better than anyone else. But this one is a sequel to both 'The Time Machine' and 'Dracula'. Sort of. Pulp fiction. Fan fiction? Maybe. Never done that before.

So, I tentatively hand this over to you to read. This is the first chapter. I have an idea that this could appear in print with some illustrations. More news on that as we have it...

‘Quincey Harker and the Vampires of Time’ by Jason Cobley
Based on characters created by Bram Stoker and HG Wells. No copyright infringement intended. But this manuscript is (c) Jason Cobley 2015.

Chapter One: 1917
Quincey Harker’s Journal 2nd March 1917
I was born on the same day that my namesake died. Quincey Morris fought through the flames of supernature and the claws of an evil demon. Battling gipsies in the snow over possession of the demon vampire’s casket, Quincey fell victim to the slicing blade of a wiry gipsy. He fell on the enemy and plunged his bowie knife into his gut, but his own blood was already spilling, red circles on the sparkling snow.
My father, Jonathan Harker, grey-haired from what the vampire had put him and my mother through, prised open the casket. Overcome by resistance from Lord Goldalming and Doctor Seward, the remaining gipsies fled into the hills and trees. The top of the box prised open, the vampire Dracula emerged. Time and again, my father has told me the tale, and remains haunted by that final image of the pale, waxen Count Dracula standing crookedly, facing the blades that sought to end his horrible existence.
Dracula’s eyes glared red, unambiguous vindictive intention burning through the cold air. The sun was beginning to sink. Time was against them. My father opened the monster’s throat with his knife and, with his life ebbing, Quincey Morris plunged his bowie knife deep into Dracula’s heart. The whole body crumbled into dust and was soon swept away on the icy wind. Quincey fell to the ground, and died peacefully and content that he had succeeded in lifting the curse of the vampire from the brow of my mother Mina.
Seven years later, in 1897, I was born on the anniversary of the death of Quincey Morris, a wealthy American adventurer who chose to put the needs of his English friends above his own. His legacy hung over my childhood, not just because I was given his first name as my own. Growing up, my parents were insistent that I would grow up able to defend myself, as if the fear that Dracula might rise again stalked them every day. But the dead stay dead.
Schooled in the skills of marksmanship and combat, as well as the best education that my parents could afford, I was ready to put my name forward when men were needed for the Great War. Now, in 1917, the Trench is my home. My mother held the belief that some of her brave American friend’s spirit would pass into me. As Private Quincey Abraham Harker, I try to face the mud and blood and horror of this war with as much bravery and gallantry as my forebears would expect of me.

The Time Traveller’s Log 802701AD
Weena is dead. Her poor little body left in the forest by the Morlocks, she had lived long enough to see me return from my own time to recover her. I nursed her with the meagre resources at the Eeloi’s disposal, but to little avail. With a short lifespan all that was available to these slight, keening people - more like children than men - it was no great loss to the rest of them. They moved on, but at least I had sparked some resistance to the Morlocks. There must have been other Eeloi tribes and other subterranean clusters of Morlocks preying on them. It was a cycle, a savage interdependency that was beyond my capability to change. I could only speculate, with the Time Machine at my disposal, how I might prevent this future from ever coming to pass. There had to be a way to set mankind on a path more glorious than this cannibalistic ignominy. I recalled how, on my first cautious push through time, I had observed war fall around my ears, mere short decades hence from my origin. This is how I resolved to set the gleaming dials and direct the crystal lever on my machine to the year 1917.

Extracts from The Letters of Private Glyndwr Davies, 3rd March 1917
Dear Mam,
It was raining when I woke in the middle of last night. I thought it was water from the sky, but we were being pelted by gunfire and the spray of grit and mud that fell on the roof of our shelter like a downpour. Through the curtain of rain, flashing silver like needles in the bursts of harsh explosive light, I could see distant men running, falling, splaying. German fire was knocking us down in the middle of the night.
I would like to have told you that I pulled my boots on quickly, but the truth is that we all sleep in our boots, fully clothed. Damp and cold as my toes were inside the socks you sent, we need the warmth and protection always. I have seen rats get to men’s toes quicker than the frostbite ever will. I stumbled out of my bunk, dragging Charlie Evans from his shelf. We had our rifles and headed through the tunnel, ankle deep in running mud.
When Charlie and I got to the ladder, our hands slipping on the muddy rungs, we paused, waiting to hear orders. Were we to go over the top again, or poke our heads out, rifles raised, ready to shoot randomly at whatever figure ran towards us? Amidst the mist and smoke and rain, it is not always easy to tell friend from enemy. There was shouting all around us. One of the voices was Sergeant Mills. I could not hear him properly over the din, but Charlie nudged me and nodded upwards. We had to go.
I took a breath. If I thought it would do any good, I would have said a quick prayer that I would get back safe. But if prayers did any good, we would not have been in this hell in the first place. Something zinged over my head as I climbed over the top of the ladder. By instinct, I ducked down, still looking forward. Charlie was with me, his rifle at shoulder height as he stepped into the open field.
The ground was rutted and torn, brown, black and run with red in places that were soft and sucked on my boots. It was hard going. Ahead of us, the mist was thick with smoke thrown up from shells crashing. It was hard to tell who was who. Our men, my friends, blurred alongside the enemy. I thought I saw limbs colliding, bayonets puncturing torsos, and bodies falling, but the air grew thicker and thicker around them, gradually turning from grey to a sickly yellow.
I scrabbled for my gas mask, tearing open buckles and straps to pull it on. Charlie was too slow, his eyes bulging as his tongue swelled and he fell to the bloody mud, clutching his throat. I am afraid to admit I had no idea what to do. I could not leave Charlie to die, his eyes staring into mine, so gulped as much air as I could and pulled off my mask. I must have thought that he could take in a few lungfuls then I could snatch it back, but as soon as my mask was off my face, the gas was upon me. My eyes fogged, my face burned from the gas or from the effort of holding my breath. I could not know.
The next thing I knew, I was beside Charlie on the ground, mud surging between my fingers, blood or snot or heaven knows what pouring from my nose or mouth or eyes. I could no longer tell. And then something was on my face. Cold. And I could breathe again.
When I awoke, the sun was streaming through a gap in the clouds. I was lying on a stretcher, looking up at the lightening sky. Others were milling about, carrying the dead away and the dying and moaning into tents. A nurse rushed past me, her apron spattered with blood.
Standing over me was another private, same as me, but taller and built like a garden wall. Even in the middle of all this blood and mud and snot, he was cleanly shaven, his hair slicked back, and a freshly lit cigarette dangling from his lips.
“You got another one of them, boy?” I asked.
“Boy? Oh, you're Welsh. I see,” he said, barely regarding me but passing me a cigarette all the same.
“Thank you,” I said, and he struck a match to get me started.
“I thought most of you were farmers and miners. You must have avoided the call-up, surely,” he said.
“Aye, but I wanted to do my bit. Enough of my brothers went down the pit. I signed up so I wouldn't have to go down into the darkness every day of my life,” I said.
“Ironic. You exchanged one hell for another, then, some might say. But in many ways, we make our own,” he said, staring into the distance.
I thought about things for a bit. “What happened last night?” I said at last.
“Gas attack. It seems you tried to help your pal by sharing your mask but both of you nearly copped it instead. Good thing I was there,” he said.
“Well, I'm grateful. Don't think I've seen you before. I know another regiment arrived yesterday,” I said, drawing on my cigarette.
“Private Quincey Harker,” he said, shaking my hand.
“Glyn Davies,” I said, pointing to myself. “Private? No disrespect, but you don't sound like one of us enlisted men. You got the looks and voice of an officer”.
“Well, I decided to sign up. My parents... My father may have wanted me to be an officer. We do not always see eye to eye. Besides, I thought if I am going to be an officer one day, I should start on the ground. See what it's like”.
“One way to see what death is like, that's for sure,” I said, swinging myself into a sitting position. “I don't think I need to ask but I will... did you see what happened to Charlie?”
“Your friend?”
“Aye”.
Harker just looked at me kindly and shook his head.

Quincey Harker’s Journal 3rd March 1917
We were thrown right into it last night. During a gas attack, I rescued a Welsh private named Glyn Davies, about the same age as me, who had pulled off his gas mask to give it to another man who was railing on the ground.
His friend was too far gone but I was relieved that I was able to save him. He was unconscious through the night but when he awoke we smoked and spoke at length. Getting to know these men is edifying and humbling as much as it is frightening to be amongst such horrid, grating death.
The air was clear all morning. We could even hear the birds in the trees that remained. On the far side of the field, the Germans were picking up their dismembered and suffocated dead just as we were, kicking the rats into touch and picking the lice out of hair. It was as if things were over, but we all knew it was just a lull, both sides simply waiting for the word to charge at each other again. That is our entire world here. A world charging each half at the other until one side collapses.
Hewn out of the walls of our earthen tunnels, our little timbered caves at least provided us with some sort of bunk in which to sleep. I collapsed into mine when I was permitted, and slept until it was time to prepare to push forward mindlessly into the gas-filled darkness again.

The Time Traveller’s Log departing 802701AD into Time
1917 was my destination, and the world spun around me, suns rising and falling in a blur; forests growing and burning and growing again; buildings growing younger and people a busy smudge at the edge of my senses. I remained in one place, the earth spinning with me on it but the business of life carrying on around me as, unseen, I traversed the dimension of time.
This was going back, but never back to where I began. There was nothing for me at home until I had assured a better future for mankind. On my furthest foray, I had pushed on to the end of the Earth itself, as far as I dared go, and what I saw on that dull and stale beach I could never contemplate again. There was something malevolent there, something perhaps even intelligent that was reaching out to me. I escaped it but I knew then that, if that was what the Earth would one day become, the beginnings of it lay in the year 802701, when the human race had become split into predator and prey, Morlock and Eloi. And, I surmised, war and the division of society was where it had its roots.
I knew that I would never be able to prevent the war happening at all, but perhaps if I could arrive during that great conflict and reveal what I had learned about the future, perhaps I could affect the thinking of some great minds who may be willing to listen as my friends had over dinner when I related my adventure with the Eloi to them. They were at first sceptical I know, but Filby I know would have convinced them, especially when I did not return.
On my previous journeys into Time, I had been cocooned in the protective field generated by my machine. I sat in the chair, safe from whatever raged around me as I was not physically present for whatever I witnessed as I sped through the years. However, as I moved the lever to slow my progress to my destination, sudden darkness enveloped me. A rush of wind and what felt like a wave in a storm at sea slammed into the side of my machine. I lost my equilibrium and pitched to one side.
Dazed, I peered into the darkness. Depth and distance were impossible to measure in this state where depth and distance have no meaning, but somewhere beyond the edge of the machine, I saw what first seemed to me to be stars. Harsh and white, I soon perceived them to be eyes. How many pairs I was uncertain, but there were figures in the darkness regarding me with an icy coldness.
The machine lurched again, as if shunted by a locomotive, and the impact hurtled me into unconsciousness.
I awoke to the sound of distant explosions. I opened my eyes to the sight of a battlefield unlike any I could ever have envisaged before I began traversing Time. Mud, metal, stone, blood and bone vomited into the air as a shell dropped just beyond a ridge of barbed wire. As I dragged myself from my machine, I saw that the brass frame of its fragile structure was buckled along one side from the impact of whatever invisible force had attacked me in my journey through Time.
My equilibrium scattered, I fell to my knees in the mud.
Looking up, the sounds of muffled choking and shouts of panic filled my ears and a strange, thick, green cloud of gas approached the edges of my vision. As I grasped desperately for air, my vision clouded into green darkness.

Extracts from The Letters of Private Glyndwr Davies, 5th March 1917
Dear Mam,
I think I mentioned in my last letter that I have made a new friend. The trench is in disarray and two regiments have had to bunk together. Quincey Harker and I have shared a lookout duty and have become fast friends. He is a bit quiet about his family but he seems a good man. There is a big difference between a Welsh valley boy like me and Quincey. He comes from a London family. His father is a lawyer, and his mother has been poorly, and they are very acquainted with central Europe. I confess to my ignorance beyond Wales and here in France, so enjoy the informal lessons he is giving me in geography and the tales he tells me of his parents' travels into darkest Transylvania. Quincey himself hopes to travel there someday but first he is here, like me, to do our bit for King and Country, even if his is England and mine is Wales.
This morning, when we visited the medical tent on the back lines, for we had to administer some disgusting mixture on to our burns, we encountered another man who was not from either regiment. We had been lucky; the gas had barely got to us before we were masked, and fortunately I was covered well, but a blister on my neck needed treating.
Lying on a stretcher in the far corner was a man who seemed to me to be twp! He was mad, raving on about a machine and all kinds of madness. He went mostly unheeded, despite his old fashioned clothing. He wore breeches, a waistcoat and a starched collar that, although travel-stained, were decades out of fashion. As I said, he was ignored by most of us until he started muttering about pale figures in the mist, with glowing eyes and teeth that glinted in the darkness. Quincey started at this, and went over to the strange man.
Other duties called me elsewhere, and I left Quincey and our strange traveller together, talking. An hour passed before I saw them again, running through grey rain, sprays of dirt and grit falling through the air as a shell exploded just yards from where the stranger's mysterious machine lay.

Quincey Harker’s Journal 5th March 1917
It is with some incredulity that I record the events of this day. Without the hindsight of knowing the adventures that my namesake and parents undertook in Transylvania so many years, I would dismiss the Time Traveller's story as the ravings of a madman if later I had not seen evidence with my own eyes.
The stranger, a man in his thirties, clad as if he had stepped straight out of the end of the nineteenth century, laid on a stretcher in a medical tent, recovering from a head wound sustained when he fell against a brass balustrade that encircled his vehicle. The machine laid out there in the mud, buckled and sinking by degrees, useless and limp. It was in appearance nothing so much as an elaborate chair with a construction at the rear that spun like a the blades of a crystal windmill. It was quite a beautiful sight, and none of us could account for it.
Officers had spent some time questioning the stranger. Giving up, they had left him under armed guard. As the guard was Archie Perkins, with whom I had shared my cigarette ration when his was eaten by rats, it was no great task to get to speak to him.
“Excuse me, sir,” I began, “but I could not help but overhear what you were saying. The creatures you described...”
“Come to lock me up, have you?” he said.
“No, sir,” I said, taking a seat beside his stretcher. “My name is Quincey Harker. I...”
He looked at me, suddenly more sober and aware. “Harker? Not Harker as in Ven Helsing and...”
“Yes! You are thinking of my father and a dear friend of the family. The stories are well known, but most dismiss them as urban legend or fiction. I, however, am testament to the truth...”
He put his hand up. “You do not have to justify anything to me, young man. I have seen things in the future that lend credence to your parents' claims. This is a bizarre coincidence that our paths should cross here in... in... surely this is still London?”
“No, sir. This is France”.
He looked at me aghast. “But that is not possible,” he said. “My machine can travel in the fourth dimension but not in the other three at the same time. Something has... intervened. Something has moved my machine spatially whilst I travelled in the fourth dimension”.
“I did not think such a thing possible. I had read a paper on the theory in my father's study, but...”
“A paper? Who was the author?”
“I recall... perhaps... would the name be 'Filby'?” I ventured.
Sitting up, the stranger laughed heartily. “Oh, bless him! My great friend Filby, with whom I entrusted my story of future travels before I set off again to find my... friend in the future. He is probably still there, standing guard over my house and my work. Such a friend is rare. You, Private Harker, do not seem surprised at any of these notions”.
“No. Very little surprises me, sir, even at my young age. May I ask, did you find your friend in the future?”
His face darkened and he bent forward to lace his boots. “No. She is lost to me now, but I... sought to change the future”.
“How?”
“By coming here, to this time. I sought to speak my mind in London, bring my knowledge to ministers and generals, to show them the future that this conflict and the divisions in society that it would inevitably lead to in the future, with the rich preying on the poor until revolt leads to the future I saw...”
“What did you see?”
“The Morlocks, a savage and pale race, driven underground, evolved over many generations to prey on the indolent Eeloi above, one race food for the other. I see the beginnings of that here, in the way that we are not heeding the warning signs that will give way to greater inequalities in society”.
“The Morlocks sound like vampires”.
“Perhaps they are what vampires may evolve into. But, with the exception of your Count Dracula, are they not confined to the far past and superstitious enclaves in Eastern Europe?”
“I do not know. What did you see when you were... pushed off course? Where they Morlocks of vampires?”
The stranger stood, straightened his collar, secured the bandage about his head, buttoned his waistcoat purposefully. “I do not know but I propose to find out. My machine is out there, languishing in the mire. Will you accompany me, Private Harker?”
Archie Perkins, instructed as he was to guard the stranger and watch his every move, sighed with reluctance but came anyway, equally reluctant to engage the time traveller. Archie and I took our rifles and led the stranger into No-Man's Land where his machine awaited, pelted by debris and rain.
Rain descended like a sheet of nails, piercing the air and carrying with it the sharpest of stones, grit, dirt and chits of bone thrown up by an explosion a mere few yards away. Beyond the noise, I dimly heard Glyn calling out a belated warning. Having thrown ourselves to the ground, we crawled forward to the machine.
Clouds of smoke billowed toward us, shielding our view from that of our fellows, and indeed the enemy. Cracks of rifle fire and indistinct voices formed a curtain of sound beyond the smoke. The stranger climbed aboard his machine, producing a crystal lever from his waist pocket. He inserted it into a panel facing his chair, and it hummed into life. Its great disc began to turn slowly as he peered at a dial.
“This is not right,” he said. “This has been interfered with”.
I stepped up beside him to inspect his array of controls, none of which made sense to my experience. He seemed to be in a panic, sweating, hands trembling.
I coughed as the smoke drifted over us. Behind me, Archie called out, “Quincey! Germans approaching!” and he discharged his rifle into the smoke.
I turned to see his target. There were at least three figures, wider than any German, their definition threadbare through the veil of smoke. Their eyes glowed, harsh points of light. There was a whiteness through the gauze of smoke, but was it skin or some kind of matted hair? The smoke billowed over us, and my eyes stung with the polluted air.
I clawed for the trigger on my rifle too late, as a hand – or paw – of clammy flesh enclosed my wrist. Its strength wrenched me to the ground. Archie's rifle cracked the air and he screamed. His scream was cut off by a pale fist into his throat. He fell, his head cracking against the machine's brass balustrade. On my knees, I grabbed for him, but his open, staring eyes and lolling mouth told me the worst.
My finger was on the trigger now and I fired into the smoke.

Extracts from The Letters of Private Glyndwr Davies, 5th March 1917 (continued)
I was running towards Quincey and the stranger, but the smoke billowed around them, propelled by wind. A clear view of them was obscured even further by driving rain. I heard a hum that increased in pitch to a whine as the mysterious traveller's machine spun into life. Quincey was firing into the smoke at what I tried to warn him were advancing Germans, but now as I drew closer, they seemed to be something less worldly, something pallid. Quincey's bullets seemed to have no effect and the uncanny, inhuman frames closed in around the machine.
The mechanical whine reached a pitch where it was less of a sound and more of a discomfort, and then it was gone. All that remained was the dissipating smoke amid the steely rain where once there was a machine, two men and things that were not men.

Quincey Harker and the stranger were gone, as were the pale creatures and the machine. It sounds too fantastical to be true, I know, but if it is true, they had vanished into Time.

End of Chapter One.