Castle Dracula by Daylight

June 3

I should have prayed for rain—for heaving clouds, hysterical winds, homicidal lightning, and Thor’s own thunder. Instead I have a smirking sun and mockingly blue skies. Catastrophic weather for a venture to Castle Dracula, or Bran Castle, as it is called on maps. The castle’s claim to the vampire’s legacy is already dubious. History’s Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, never holed up here, and in Bram Stoker’s day, Bran was home to a spick-and-span family of Romanian aristocrats who didn’t leave any scandalous gossip for us to chew. The castle’s claim is more an accident of geography and geology: an equation accounting for the distance to Bistritz and the height of the cliffs suggests Bran is as close as mortals can come to Stoker’s Castle Dracula. If the weather contributed stage effects, the castle would make a more convincing case.

Bran is best at keeping people out (or, if you happen to be a vampire, to keep your meal from scampering away). The fortress has only one door. Escapees and the uninvited will have to go Dracula-style, spidering across the sheer stone walls. Once inside, you may never find the door again, for the castle is a puzzle-box of secret stairways, tiny doors, and dead ends. Because the castle balances on a steep ridge, there is no Cartesian logic to its insides. I can’t count floors in a castle that keeps changing its mind about which one I’m on.

“Let me advise you, my dear young friend—nay, let me warn you with all seriousness, that should you leave these rooms you will not by any chance go to sleep in any other part of the castle. It is old, and has many memories, and there are bad dreams for those who sleep unwisely. Be warned!” so Dracula counsels Jonathan Harker in Chapter Three. This is a castle that breeds bad dreams. With its many-sided chambers and unexplained nooks, it has far more dark corners than any castle should. The windows are narrow and miserly, set so deep in the walls that they hoard all the light for themselves, leaving the chambers in anxious twilight. The ceilings are low and braced with dark beams that seem to sink as I watch them, giving the impression that the room will soon crush me in its jaws. At least the floorboards are reassuringly creaky. Nothing can sneak up on me in a castle with a built-in burglar alarm.

Meanwhile, the suits of armor are doing a very amateur job of pretending to be inanimate. With their finely articulated joints, agile knuckles, and tense shoulders, they betray their sentience. I am certain one of them is about to reach out his hand. To visitors jostling through the armory, he looks immobile, but I’ve modeled in art studios—I know how to play statue. Though I’ve never tried a twenty-minute pose in full plate armor. The visors concentrate the suits’ stares, narrowing them to focused beams I can feel on my bare arms. Even the bear-skin rug can’t stare like this. He just looks exasperated. If this turns into a horror film, the suits, the bear, and I will be the ragtag crew who makes it out alive.

Through the miserly, mullioned windows, I look out over the courtyard. The towers are all tiled in shingles shaped like spearheads. I can tell the castle hasn’t hosted any nightmares lately because the birds have come back. And yet, there’s something frantic in their wheezing cries. Like klaxons, they spread alarm amongst the towers as they pelt by. Already the clouds are mustering their forces. The weather is taking a side.

As I explore the last chambers, I suspect the beds of harboring bad dreams. The velvet quilts look too luscious to be healthy. I have slept so little in the last few days that I know I am keeping nightmares waiting. They will tackle me if given half a chance.

“There are bad dreams for those who sleep unwisely. Be warned!” Dracula reminds me. I am an unwise sleeper. I have been warned. But if I were afraid of nightmares, I never would have come to Castle Dracula, even by daylight.

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