A short story… about Juliette’s travels in Romania.

CASTLE of the DEAD

 

The first flash of lightning lit up the night sky, revealing, for that split second, what appeared to be some kind of castle above the tops of the trees. Through the windscreen, Juliette caught the merest glimpse of high, escutcheoned turrets.
“A hotel?” She wondered.
The ensuing thunder rumbled around the wooded valley and the first drops of rain bounced off the roof of the coughing, labouring, ancient Dacia 1300.
When lightning struck again, Juliette saw the full silhouette of the forbidding, Gothic structure, with its high gables, square towers and,.. did she see gargoyles? She was sure that she did.
The old engine coughed again. The car lurched, backfired, sputtered, lurched again and died.
“Seriously?” Juliette held up her hands in dismay. Several times, she turned the key in the ignition, pumping her foot on the accelerator and banging her hands on the steering wheel. The dashboard dials flickered dimly in useless reply.
Rain began to hammer on the car’s rusty bodywork and St. Elmo’s Fire illuminated the night sky once again. A little further along the road, set back among the dripping pines, Juliette spied a wide gate with a gargoyle-topped pillar at either end.
She reached behind to the back seat, her fumbling hand finding her handbag and then the ‘Handi-brolli’ which came as standard with the hired car. “Strange, but thoughtful,” she had mused at the time. She could only hope that the collapsible umbrella was in better working order than the car.
She opened the car door, held out the ‘Handi-brolli’ and thumbed the catch. With a satisfying ‘whump!’ the brolley unfolded and sprang into shape. Hunching, Juliette got out of the car, shouldered her bag and slammed the door shut. She cowered under the umbrella’s cover as heavy raindrops drummed on the thin nylon.
She focussed on the gates and started to run, her stride shortened by the tightness of her skirt and her shoes clicking out a staccato beat on the wet road. She staggered and almost fell when one of her heels turned under her.
“Oh nooo!” She wailed, lifting her foot behind her to examine the damaged shoe. She tried to break off the heel completely but, with one hand holding firmly onto the ‘Handi-brolli’, she soon gave up and hurled the shoe into the darkness of the woods.
Hobbling on one shoe, she approached the iron gates which swung slowly open with a loud, rusty squeak.
She peered at the gargoyles, wondering if they housed hidden CCTV cameras, and called out “Thank you!” just in case. Lightning flashed and words on a brass plate on the gate shone out: CASTELUL CELOR MORTI.
“Lovely!” Juliette said, passing through the open gates.
Halfway up the driveway, a freak gust of wind snatched the ‘Handi-brolli’ from Juliette’s hand and swept it up and over the dark tree-tops.
“Crap!” Juliette cried. She kicked off her remaining shoe and ran barefoot towards the castle, holding her handbag above her head. Soaking wet, she arrived, panting, at the large, imposing, black door. A burst of white light streaked across the sky and thunder crashed so close that Juliette jumped forward, grabbed the brass door-knocker and hammered on the door. She waited a few moments then hammered again.
“Please!” She shouted. “Please, help me!”
She raised the brass knocker again but let it drop when she heard a heavy bolt sliding across on the inside. Then another bolt, then a third. Keys jangled, rattled in a lock and tumblers clanked open. More rattling in a second lock and, yet again, another.
Juliette stood with one hand on her hip and the other hand still holding up her bag. “Really?” She gasped, incredulous.
Finally, the door creaked open and she took a little step backwards when she saw the twisted, disfigured hunch-back with a swollen, lop-sided face and one bulbous eye which was staring up at her. With some effort, she managed a smile, of sorts.
“Yessh?” the creature enquired, dribbling down his lumpy chin. He eyed the girl on the doorstep: her long, blonde hair was matted around her pretty face; her white blouse, so wet it was almost transparent, clung to her full breasts: her tight skirt had ridden up her shapely thighs. “What ish it?”
“Can you help me?” She asked. “My car has broken down and I need to use your telephone.”
“Don’t all you young people carry mobile phonesh theesh daysh?” He asked.
Juliette stared back at him. “Er… I… um… yesh,.. I mean, yes! It… it’s in my bag.”
The man looked up at the handbag which she was still holding above her head. “Have you been shtupid for long?” He asked.
“Sorry?”
“Have you been walking for long?” He asked again.
“Oh… er, no,” Juliette answered with a little frown, “the car is just down there.” She pointed back the way she had come. “It’s a hired car. It’s broken down.”
The hunch-back leaned against the door frame and stroked his dribbly chin with a hand that possessed just two fat fingers and a thumb. “Sho,” he said, “tell me if I’ve got thish right. You’re driving around Transhylvania on a night like thish, in a car that you hired in a village where the people were probably all hiding. The car breaksh down and you run to the nearesht refuge. Here,” he waved his deformed hand in the air, “to ashk for help?”
“Yes!” Juliette jumped up and down excitedly. “Exactly right!”
“Here?” The man repeated. “Cashtelul Chelor Morti?”
“Yes!” Juliette replied. “Well, I don’t actually speak any Romanian,” the man rolled his eye, “but I guessed that it’s a castle and it belongs to someone called Mortie. Are you Mortie?”
“No,” he replied, “my name ish Igor.” He searched the girl’s face for any sign of recognition before repeating his name very slowly. “EEEEE-GOOOORRR!”
Juliette blinked and smiled. “That’s nice. Is Mortie home?”
With a long-suffering sigh and a shake of his head, Igor stepped aside and ushered the girl in. “Won’t you pleash come in, my dear,” he said, “the Count ish going to love you!”

***

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