Beyond The Borgo Pass: The Van Helsing Papers

I, like most of the world, always understood Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be a work of fiction. Seminal in the horror genre, surely, but entirely the product of Stoker’s imagination. I stopped believing this in or around the summer of 1997, when, between jobs and trying to make the rent on a two‐bedroom apartment on Carmen Avenue in Uptown Chicago, I answered a classified ad placed by the University of Chicago in The Chicago Reader for a seasonal position.

This wasn’t academic work, but a reorganizational project of the reference stacks at the university’s Regenstein Library. This still makes it sound overly important though. In effect, I and about ten other part‐timers were carrying boxes to and from the basement under the direction of a perennially bored student intern. It was backbreaking work, and tedious, but ultimately not without its reward.

The Joseph Regenstein Library

In the course of the job, in one of the Reg’s two basements, I happened across a dust‐covered box of unopened packets postmarked from Purfleet, dated 1936, and addressed to the head of the archaeology department.

The label on the box had it earmarked for the library’s Ravenwood Collection, but it had somehow been physically separated and omitted from the catalog. It had sat forgotten on the back of a shelf of totally unrelated material for at least half a century.

I have a curious nature when it comes to old things, and a knack for staying out of the way of supervisors, which was easy in the maze of the Reg with only a disinterested intern to answer to. Though I knew it could possibly cost me my job, I managed to pop one of the manila packets open with my apartment key and shimmy the old yellow papers out for a look on my lunch break, a ritual I would repeat without fail innumerable times on that job.

What I read shook me to my core. I say this without exaggeration.

Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, that stalwart vampire hunter I had seen depicted in countless films and comic books, portrayed by everybody from Peter Cushing to Mel Brooks, was real.

It was like finding the logbook of the Pequod written in Ahab’s hand, or reading Joseph of Bethlehem’s name on a Roman census roll from the Augustan Age.

But the figure that emerged while studying these papers (and from fact checking later among the Reg’s microfilm collections and via long years of independent research), was no two dimensional crossbow wielding, fanatical monster hunter, but a substantial man of letters, a serious academic, a contemporary and associate of Flinders Petrie, T. E. Lawrence, Dr. Martin Hesselius, Madame Blavatsky, Max Muller, and a host of other scholars I (as a woefully undereducated liberal arts student) would only come to know later as I studied the man himself. He pitted his learning against the supernatural not by choice, but by chance,

though his name has become inseparable from that pseudo‐scientific offshoot, that embarrassing cousin of natural science now thought of as ‘paranormal investigation.’

Not only was Van Helsing real, but so was Dr. John Seward, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Arthur Holmwood, and Quincey P. Morris (whose brother’s grave I once visited at the old Fairview Cemetery during a research trip to Bastrop, and whose Bowie knife, the very same one he sank into Count Dracula’s heart, was anonymously donated to, and is still innocuously displayed at, the Autry Museum here in Los Angeles).

It’s hard to prove this, of course, outside of the papers, as most of the major participants in the Dracula affair faded into intentional obscurity, with the exception of Quincey Morris (who died) and Van Helsing himself, whose total eradication from academic record is almost Egyptian in its totality.

But he did live. One of my prized possessions is a 1907 Dutch edition of Arminius Vembrey’s Western Cultures in Eastern Lands, one of Van Helsing’s rare translations, which I unfortunately can’t even read.

If I can confirm the existence of Van Helsing with a little research, then what about the things Van Helsing claimed to have encountered in his travels? Vampires. Werewolves. Ghosts. There are things Van Helsing says he tangled with which would make cryptozoologists and theologians alike faint dead away.

Now you see why I say I was shaken up.

But, you might say, the man spent time in a lunatic asylum. Who’s to say he didn’t write all his memoirs as some kind of therapy while convalescing?

Well, mainly because of the corroborative writings by outside parties. The papers collected with Van Helsing’s journal entries (newspaper clippings, personal diaries, correspondences), some provided by the professor, some by Seward, and some gleaned from my own personal research into primary source documents, bear him out every time. It’s unlikely that Van Helsing’s writings are entirely fictional when they are substantiated by so many people from so many diverse backgrounds and stations.

For me, the world became an exponentially bigger place in 1997, squinting in the dim light at old typeface with the musty smell of antiquity in my nostrils.

I knew I had to continue Dr. Seward’s work, see his ambition fulfilled, and tell the world about Van Helsing. As the forward to this book points out, Abraham Van Helsing’s longtime friend and colleague Seward first intended the initial volume of the late professor’s writing to see the light of day in 1935, seventy seven years ago.

For whatever reason (Seward suggests active resistance by the academic community, though by this time he was himself embittered toward the establishment), he failed to secure a publisher, possibly in the eleventh hour.

Seward continued to pursue the book’s publication for the next five years, soliciting literary agents on both sides of the pond and mailing facsimiles to many of Van Helsing’s former academic associates in the hopes of gaining professional support.

Battersea Park Railway Crash 1937

A succession of personal tragedies hindered his efforts, however. His wife of thirty‐five years was sadly killed in the Battersea Park railway crash of 1937. Then, in 1938, the asylum in Purfleet he had co-founded and administered for close to fifty years closed its

doors, forcing him into a retirement he had long resisted.

You have to admire the dedication of Dr. Seward, who from his writings and personal correspondences seemed to really feel he owed Van Helsing a debt. Seward was one of the parties who willingly provided personal records (in his case, phonographic recordings, mostly pertaining to his patient, R.M. Renfield) to Bram Stoker, which Stoker then used in the publication of his ‘novel’ Dracula in 1897.

Excerpts from Van Helsing’s personal journal were included in that book (translated from Dutch, as are the ones that appear in these papers, by Seward), but among the descendants of Lord Godalming, there is still some question as to whether these pages were obtained with the professor’s consent, or at least with his full understanding that they would be made public. Holmwood himself believed the account compiled by Stoker under the direction of the Harkers was solely intended for the edification of their young son Quincey.

 The Holmwood family, in point of fact, assert that the fragments from Van Helsing’s journal of the 1890 period are believed by them to have been copied by Seward himself during the professor’s stay at Purfleet Asylum, or else by one of Seward’s staff. The reason for this, the Holmwoods claim, was monetary. It is known that the asylum was in dire straits financially at the outset, and that it experienced a substantial economic turnaround in 1898, a year after the publication of Dracula.

As Seward wrote, Van Helsing had been ostracized by the academic world for appearing in Dracula. Even some colleagues who had previously shared in his adventures turned their backs on him publicly when their own reputations were endangered.

Everyone suffered a small degree of embarrassment at the hands of Stoker, of course. Lord Godalming was branded an eccentric, which was sort of inconsequential to an English lord. The Harkers were a private people, not well known in the first place. Being that publication was mainly their idea, and they shared in Stoker’s profits and raised their son comfortably on residuals (under a new surname, legally petitioned for by Jonathan), it was little to them. Dr. Seward, by his own admission, deflected any criticism from his peers by pointing out the fact that Dracula was labeled as fiction, and claimed in private circles at the time to have nominally participated in it as a favor to Stoker, or as a lark. He wasn’t known much outside the psychiatric community, and not well regarded outside of London, at that.

But Abraham Van Helsing, when confronted by his detractors, out of personal honor or perhaps naivety, denied nothing (note these events will be better understood and brought to light in a subsequent collection).

And that wasn’t the end of his exploits, nor even, as I found, the beginning.

Van Helsing, by his own assertion (records are scant), was born in 1834 in Natal, South Africa to Voortrekker Arjen Van Helsing and his German wife, Konstanze Gottschalk. He died in Holysloot, North Holland in 1934 (This can be confirmed. I’ve seen his death certificate.)

In between that time he was a seminarian, a husband and father, a Boer farmer, a scientist, a field scout and interpreter, a medical doctor, a philosopher, an amateur archaeologist, a mystic, a respected lecturer, instructor, and a world traveler.

It took me nearly thirteen years of fact checking and emailing, meeting and compiling (to say nothing of legal wrangling over the authenticity and ownership of the papers themselves) to release the first installment of the Van Helsing papers in accordance with the late professor’s initial wishes.

In the end I was reluctant to do so. My own career after all, has been in novels, and in doing this I risk consigning the professor’s true history to the realm of speculative fiction, just as Bram Stoker did (albeit unwittingly – Stoker believed the papers he transcribed and polished to be works of amateur fiction).

Yet I can only humbly submit the first collection of these documents and ask that the reader overlook the presenter and see the truth within. We are obliged to put out the stories that come to us.

Dr. John Seward’s own efforts at vindicating his friend were cut short on September 7, 1940, when the German Luftwaffe initiated operation Loge and he was killed in the first strike of the London Blitz.

It is my hope that I, in accidentally uncovering these documents and laboring to continue Seward’s work, have been passed his torch, and that in publishing them, I have at last done right by both men.

Terovolas, culled from The Van Helsing Papers (1891) will be out from JournalStone Publishing November 16th. You can get the ebook version right now. An excerpt can be read here.

The book can be purchased on Amazon or directly from the publisher here.

http://journal-store.com/fiction/terovolas/

A FINAL NOTE: I’d like to apologize to readers, but due to an unfortunate mishap on my part, paperback editions of Terovolas will be shipped without a footnote which explains a recurring reference Van Helsing makes to Lucy Westenra’s having wed Arthur Holmwood a day before her death. This in itself, is not a mistake. Yet to be published accounts among Van Helsing’s papers do in fact bear this out, though the event was deliberately excised from Bram Stoker’s novel, for reasons which will become clear when the relevant papers see the light of day.  The blame lies solely with myself, a fiction writer’s first foray into non-fiction.

Mea culpa,

EME

An Excerpt From Terovolas

Following the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and his killing of the nefarious count’s vampiric wives, Professor Abraham Van Helsing commits himself to Dr. John Seward’s Purfleet Asylum, suffering from violent recurring fantasies, where he is diagnosed with melancholic lycanthropia.

Upon his discharge, seeking a relaxing holiday, Van Helsing volunteers to transport the remains and earthly effects of Quincey P. Morris back to the Morris family ranch in Sorefoot, Texas. But when he arrives, he finds Quincey’s brother Cole embroiled in escalating tensions with a neighboring outfit of Norwegian cattle ranchers led by the enigmatic Sig Skoll.

Men and animals start turning up dead and dismembered. Van Helsing suspects a preternatural culprit, but is a shapechanger really loose on the Texas plains, a murderous cult, or are the delusions of his previously disordered mind returning? He must decide soon, for the life of a woman may hang in the balance…

Here’s an excerpt –

From The Journal Of Professor Abraham Van Helsing(translated from the original Dutch)

5 July.

Thank God I am sane.

            Those were the last words I wrote concerning my previous expedition to the Carpathian Mountains. How much has happened since I wrote those words, and in such a short time! Eight whole months have passed. Where to begin?

I will tell of how I came to be diagnosed with lycanthropy.

Following the series of events which took me away from my teaching at the University in Amsterdam to London, and at last to the mountainous region of Wallachia, I deemed it necessary that I should submit myself to the observation and care of my old friend Dr. John Seward in his asylum in Purfleet. The particulars of my stay I will not here recount. If John has learned anything from his old mentor it is the value of copious notation, and thus it would be mundane to relate here what has probably been more thoroughly documented on his phonographic records.

I know now that the specific reasons behind my decision were conceived in certain deeds which I was forced to commit in my pursuit of Count Dracula. In particular, I believe that the seed of my instability was planted by his wives – those three beauteous ladies with whom I dealt so harshly whilst they lay in their ghastly repose. I do not know how much of my current mental state is the product of whatever preternatural bewitchment almost stayed my hand in their execution, and how much is the perfectly logical after-effect of prolonged mental stress and fatigue.

Whichever, not long after the funeral for our heroic Mr. Quincey Morris, I privately confided in John that I had begun to harbor some very unsettling, violent phantasies centering around our beloved Mrs.Mina Harker.

I was possessed of an unusually keen paranoia concerning her safety. I could not sleep for wont of assurance that she was at all times secure. I was at the Harkers’ nearly every day, and I am sorry to say I made quite a nuisance of myself. When at last Jonathan spoke frankly to me about my peculiar habit, I took to visiting the Harker home unannounced by night, watching from the silent shadows of the courtyard until the last lamps in the house were extinguished.

      I would find myself passing cemeteries, which were not on my usual route. A ghoulish compulsion began to grow within me, that I should inter the graves within and subject the innocent corpses to the same maschalimos treatments I had prescribed for the vampires. I took to carrying my implements with me—my mallet and stakes, vials of blessed water, and garlic cloves. I knew the bodies in those plots were not the creatures that my imagination was telling me they were, and yet I was overwhelmed with a desire to do them violence.

I also had terrible nightmares in which I would pry open the tomb of Miss Lucy Westenra-Holmwood, thinking to find Dracula’s favored bride there—the very lovely, dark haired one whose coffin had commanded such a special place in his ossuary. When I flung aside the sarcophagus however, it was always Miss Mina who would leap from the casket, slavering and hungry for my blood. Sometimes these terrors ended with my death. Quite a peculiar thing, for is it not speculated that those who die in dreams die in life? Other times, they ended with her’s—and if it was her’s, it was always a prolonged, bloody end, and my phantasmic alter ego would perform acts of lustful malice upon her too vile even to recount here.

In a moment of clarity I saw that it would not be long before I was apprehended in the midst of some atrocity that would bring myself and my loved ones much shame. It was with no small relief that I surrendered the care of my body and mind to my friend John.

I have been on extended leave from my teaching for far too long, but I am grateful to the understanding of my colleagues, who have written me with assurances that I can return whenever I am able. It is good to feel needed.

I also take comfort now that I am once again the man that I was, and am pursuing an active role in my emotional convalescence. I feel that my return to these notes, which are evolving into a kind of journal, is somehow a part of it. John tells me that there was a time when I would place this book within a circle of holy water and bury it in sprigs of fresh cut roses, and cower in the corner of my room, not daring to look at it, fearing the entries scrawled within. I have no memory of this, and it seems humorous to me now that I should have been so foolish. I hope that John will share his documentation of my case with his grateful patient one day, if only to amuse an old man.

Image courtesy of JssXIII….find more of his art here – https://www.facebook.com/JSSXIIIART

It was John who diagnosed me with melancholic lycanthropia. I was of course already familiar with the condition. It has been in the physician’s lexicon since the fifth century, though with the advent of modern medicine and the eradication of humoral theory, the melancholic has been mostly done away with, leaving the lycanthropy (the Greek lykos –‘wolf’ and anthropos–‘man’) alone intact.

In folklore of course, it is the name given to the werewolf—the man or woman who assumes the shape of a wolf, usually by night. The means by which this is achieved are numerous, and include everything from wolf-hide belts and imaginatively composed unguents, to the ubiquitous pact with Satan.

In psychiatric terms, lycanthropy refers to the belief of the patient that he or she assumes the form and characteristics of a wolf or other beast. This belief often translates itself into violent and in the extreme, even cannibalistic acts. While it was never in my mind (I do not think) that I should become a beast and eat the flesh of the living (or the dead), I do believe that the acts which I was contemplating were of a potentially bestial nature.

When John first brought his theory to me, I was reminded of the case of the soldier Bertrand, who in 1849 in France began his horrific career by strolling through cemeteries at night just as I had. Bertrand took to digging up and mutilating the bodies of young women and girls. It took a spring gun trap set into a freshly buried coffin to end his diabolical career at last. I did not want my ailment to progress so far as had Bertrand’s.

But these things are behind me now. The nightmares have ceased, and the barely controlled instincts have abated.

It is most ironic however, to have written this and now to have to tell that I am on a passenger steamer with only the remains of poor Quincey Morris for company.

But I must explain.

Having born the body of our dear Mr. Morris back to London after the end of our travails, it was mutually agreed that as our American friend had made no preparations for his sudden and regrettable departure from this earth, we should let Arthur Holmwood Lord Godalming, who was his eldest and closest friend, decide what should be done with him.

“He was a man at home in so many places, and yet…it seems to me that he should want to rest at home, in Texas. He spoke very fondly of his family’s ranch there. Yes. Texas, I should think.”

This was the proclamation I heard Lord Godalming give prior to my illness, and so far as I knew, it was carried out when I entered John’s care.

Yet when I emerged again, Mr. Morris was still in London, reposing in an urn on Lord Godalming’s mantle.

During my recuperation much had occurred in the life of Arthur Holmwood that did not allow sufficient time for a voyage to America. There were many decisions to be made regarding his late father’s estate. Not only were there a good deal of unforseen settlements to be arranged with his father’s creditors, but there was also the managing of the will and the mediation of rival inheritors who were not at all disposed in their shameful avarice to allot to the executor and chief heir time enough to mourn for both a fiancé and a best friend.  A miser’s patience is truly as short as his compassion.

With John’s encouragement (he seemed to see in the hiatus some therapeutic value), I offered and was then granted the task of bearing the remains and worldly remembrances of Quincey P. Morris home to his native land, which lay in the Callahan County of Texas, United States American.

Pick up Terovolas here –

http://www.amazon.com/Terovolas-Edward-M-Erdelac/dp/1936564548/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432321186&sr=8-1&keywords=terovolas

And here’s the unexpurgated cover art from the very talented Wayne Miller, which I think deserves a look…

Van Helsing In Texas Places Third In JournalStone’s $2,000 Advance Contest

http://journalstone.com/contest/journalstones-2000-advance-in-2012/

Van Helsing In Texas has placed third in the JournalStone Advance Contest for 2012, which means you’ll likely see it coming your way by the end of the year.

The premise is based around a series of found historical documents, personal papers written by Professor Abraham Van Helsing himself.

Following the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Professor Van Helsing checks himself into Jack Seward’s aslyum in Purfleet, suffering from violent recurring phantasies centering around his destruction of the Count’s vampiric brides and involving Mina Harker.  Seward diagnoses the professor with melancholic lycanthropea and treats him. Upon his release, Van Helsing visits with Arthur Holmwood and learns the cremated remains and personal affects of Quincey P. Morris (who died at the hand of Dracula’s gypsies) have not yet been returned to his family ranch in Sorefoot, Texas. He immediately volunteers to do so, thinking a holiday will do him good.

In Texas he finds Quincey’s brother Coleman embroiled in an escalating land dispute with a neighboring outfit of Norwegian cattlemen led by the enigmatic Sig Skoll.  To exacerbate things, a rabid mountain lion is slaughtering livestock. When the sheriff and one of Cole’s hired hands turns up murdered, Van Helsing suspects a supernatural culprit.

Is as real life shapechanger on the loose? Or a bizarre murder cult? Or are these signs but the product of Van Helsing’s own previously disordered mind? The professor must sort out the truth soon, for the life of Skoll’s beauteous new bride may be in danger….

Look for it in November from JournalStone….