The nonstop pitter-patter of the cold rain against my bedroom window, set the mood. I found myself rubbing my eyes unable to follow the now swaying lines. My book was a jumbled mess of dyslexic text. I spent another minute trying to decipher the words, but my suddenly exhausted state of mind could not put meaning to them. I folded the top right corner of the page and gingerly placed Bram Stoker’s, Dracula, back on the windowsill.
I must’ve dosed off at some point because I found myself dreaming. Eyes. Red eyes the size of saucer plates peered into the depths of my soul. No matter how hard I tried to look away, I could not break the gaze. I felt as if I was staring into the abyss itself, a black hole pulling me into its inky embrace. That peculiar dream held me captive for God only knows how long.
I was wakened by the first shy glimpses of sunlight peeking from behind the rumbling clouds. The fear was overwhelming. It held me fast, like quicksand I found myself descending into the blackness. It was the first rays of light that finally broke my standstill, as if my body was frozen solid and the warmth of the sun was slowly dethawing my bones. I remained sitting in my armchair for a moment, letting the effects of the queer dream wash over me.
Finally, my mind began to return to a semblance of normality. I glanced outside to see the sun dancing happily in the orange and yellow of the fall leaves. My heart leapt at this sight. Shortly with the resilience of youth, I found myself forgetting entirely about the uncanny daydream. With a shout of glee, I found myself barreling down the staircase three at a time. No longer a care in the world, rushing towards blind adventure.
In school we had been reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Treasure Island, and I had been convinced there was buried treasure somewhere in my backyard. My first hole was a five-foot deep pit. Buried treasure wasn’t found, but I did succeed in severing our sprinkler system. The hole was shortly filled with water, and my parents put a stop to my digging efforts. At least it put a stop to my digging in the yard. I was too stubborn to give up on my dreams of finding pirate treasure to entirely stop. I just became more selective of the location of my digs.
I went into my dad’s shop, pilfered a flat head shovel and trekked down the trail where I could resume my search without my parents’ oversight. Looking for the tell-tale signs of pirate interference, I found myself wandering off the beaten path. That is when I saw it. It was the largest oak tree I’ve ever seen. Massive, barren branches loomed over me like the hands of a twisted god. For some odd reason, that daydream came back to the forefront of my mind. I became frightened again.
With the clarity of scared eyes, I saw it. An old rickety cross held together by ancient twine fraying at the ends. A spark of excitement burned away all my concerns. Quickly, I clambered down the hill to the base of that giant oak to get a better look at the marker. At closer inspection, I saw one name carved into the base of the cross. It said, “Victor P. Alexandre.” It didn’t sound like a pirate’s name, but still it was worth investigating. After all, one place was as good as another.
That first day, I shoveled loose dirt and clay for nearly 8 hours. The hole was larger and deeper than I had ever managed in the past. Even still, I found nothing. No buried treasure. No time capsule. Nothing of interest whatsoever. I was reaching my breaking point, when my shovel suddenly hit with a clink. Uncaring, I threw my shovel aside and slowly began to sift through the loose dirt. To my utter shock, my hands felt a smooth surface.
Using the water from my water bottle I washed the dirt away scrubbing it clean with my hands. The surface was white as bone, yet it was flat. At closer glance, I realized it was smooth marble. My heart was beating fast. If this wasn’t hidden treasure, God only knew what else it could be. That second day, I dug like my life depended on it. The marble slab was bigger than I had expected, already I had exposed nearly four feet of it. The day was growing short and the shadows had been growing longer, yet even still, I found myself scouring that slab.
Right before the day turned to night, my hand ran across a large padlock. One of those old-fashioned, cast-iron locks. The heavy ones. It was rusted and the metal was beginning to flake, but still, I couldn’t break it. I tried to smash it off with the pointed end of the shovel, yet it resisted my attempts. It was in this moment I heard my mother’s voice calling to me.
I went scurrying towards the sound of her voice, doing my best to brush clean the dirt off my arms and legs. I mustn’t have done a good job, because as her suspicious eyes fell upon me, I saw disappointment flash in them.
She looked me up in down and said, “You cut anymore sprinkler lines this time?”
With a sheepish grin I responded, “No ma’am.”
She gestured towards the bathroom and said, “wash up before your father sees.”
Immediately I obeyed, not wanting to push my luck. The rest of the night was uneventful. I slept like a babe. It was the last full night’s sleep I’ve had since. The last night not invaded by the nightmares.
I woke at first daylight. The excitement of my find, robbing me of my ability to sleep in. It was a Saturday morning and not a cloud was in sight. The wind was blowing in playful gusts tugging at my hair and the folds of my clothes. It was the sort of morning I’d dedicate to the flying of kites, yet today something else had my full attention. My mind raced at 100 miles per hour, fantasizing of all the possibilities. What lies under the marble floor? It must be something of great value to be buried so deep and guarded by such a lock. I thought that perhaps it was a treasure cove, hidden by conquistadors. Maybe it was secret entrance to a hidden civilization. The possibilities were endless.
My idea was simple If I couldn’t break it off with brute force, then I’d cut it off with a grinder in my dad’s shed. To my great amusement I had seen him cut off the heavy lock I used for my bike when I lost the key a year prior. Luck was on my side that day, or perhaps it was misfortune. With a hollow thump, I leapt carelessly down into the hole. Those eyes flashed feverishly bright into my mind. The sudden feeling of fear almost made me clamber back the way I came. As suddenly as it came, it passed.
The curiosity of a ten-year-old was too great for any reservations I might have had. With in moments, I found myself cutting away. The grinder cut through the metal as if it was butter, showering the pearly white marble with orange sparks. A thunder clap brought me back to my senses. With a start, I nearly dropped the still spinning grinder. I looked up to see thick, black clouds beginning to roll its’ way towards me. It wasn’t supposed to rain today. Yet, the inky blackness barreled towards me blocking the sun’s brilliant rays.
The light all around me seemed to dim. It felt as if time itself fast forwarded, stranding me in dusk. It was eerie, and a little shiver erupted all over my body. The storm seemed to be triggered by the cutting of the lock, but that’s not possible. It can’t be possible. Yet even so, I couldn’t dissever my mind from this line of thought. It was preposterous, however, there was no storm before and now there was.
I heard a grinding, crunching noise and felt the slab beneath my feet begin to slide open. To my horror, I felt the ground give way, and then I was sliding into pitch darkness. I rolled a couple of feet and ended up sprawled on my back. The darkness down there was almost complete, except a single ray of light that peeked through the opening of the marble slab. I saw nothing down there, but I couldn’t shake the feeling as if I was being watched. It felt as if the darkness had eyes peering at me from all sides.
I didn’t remain down there long. I couldn’t take the silence anymore. I kept imagining Dracula staring at me from the comfort of the shadows, his heart remaining eternally still. No need, when one is already dead. I clambered up the steep incline as if my life depended on it, for all I know it did. I didn’t stop running until I was safely in my room under my bed. I know it was silly, but I couldn’t shake the feeling as if I narrowly escaped death.
I determined that tomorrow morning I would refill the whole and never look at that marble slab again. Now with a plan of action set into place, my fear began to lessen. When my parents finally made it back home to fix supper, I had forgotten about my near-death experience. I ate my meatloaf and broccoli and had a large bowl of ice cream, while I watched SpongeBob on the tv.
When bedtime came, I didn’t even argue with my parents to stay up later. I did something that night that I had never done before. I grabbed my mom’s hand pulling her down to me and kissed her directly on the forehead, then I walked to my dad and repeated the sentiment. Then I looked each of them in their eyes and said, “You guys are the best parents a child could ask for. I love y’all very much.” Tears welled up in my mom’s eyes and even my dad looked close to waterworks. Something happened in the silence that preceded. Our relationship matured. I had seen them and accepted them as the individuals they were, not as the parents who exist for my wellbeing. We had looked into each other’s eyes and acknowledged one another.
I think fondly of this memory and I thank God that I had this one final moment to make known all that my childish mind thought, but didn’t have the ability to put into words. It was a tender moment, and it was the last time I saw my parents breathing.
I fell asleep almost the moment my head hit the pillow. It was a deep sleep, the kind in which there are no dreams. The kind that leaves you well rested and excited for the next day. But it wasn’t the morning when I woke. This watch of the night goes by many names; the dead of night, the witching hour, midnight, the time the moon goes to rest. They all mean the same thing; it’s the period in which the night is darkest, and the hope of morning is nearly nonexistent. This is the time owned by the nightmares, where the boogey man walks freely.
It was a gentle tapping on my window that awoke me. My body became stiff and I couldn’t move. Fear paralyzed me and I laid in my bed, senses hyper alert. I remained there hoping it was a branch against the window, but knowing better. The window in my room was directly above my head. With very little effort I could be certain of the cause of the sound. I didn’t want to be certain. I’d rather lay trying my best to convince myself it was caused by some ordinary means, than look and see the glowing red eyes of Dracula.
And in one way or another, I knew it was him. I was certain I’d look up and see his pale face shining as pristine as the marble slab that must be his resting place. As the night crawled along, the scratching only got louder until it was nearly deafening. It was then that my curiosity got the best of me. I couldn’t fight the urge any longer. It was like a scratch your mom told you not to itch; the more you thought about it, the harder it was to ignore. My eyes flung wide and I looked up.
I could hardly believe my eyes. There on the other side of the glass was my old kite, the red and blue one that came loose and flew away a few weeks ago. I thought my fear would ease learning the source of the awful sound, but there I remained unable to get those red eyes out of my mind. The kite didn’t help persuade me of the silliness of my fears, in fact, it solidified them, as if it gave some sort of credence.
My alarm clock on my nightstand ticked slowly, and I watched as the digital numbers changed. Each minute seemed to take hours. Slowly the night’s grasp yielded to the onslaught of the coming day. The darkness faded leaving pockets of thick shadow casted by the steady rising of the orange sliver on the horizon. Even these strongholds of the night were unable to stand in the face of such an overwhelming adversary, and shortly I was left in the shining light of morning.
I had made a decision while I was warring with my fear. I was going to tell my parents about the marble slab and what I had done. They would know what to do. In fact, they would probably tease me for letting it get me so scared, but at that point I didn’t care. Actually, I would’ve welcomed the lighthearted jokes made at my expense. It would mean my fears weren’t reasonable ones. All would go back to normal and I’d just be another kid who had a silly nightmare.
The nightmare began in my parents’ bedroom. I barged into their room hoping to receive the comfort I so needed. I found everything but comfort there. The room was entirely normal, except it lacked the presence of my sleeping parents. They were gone. I went into their bathroom thinking they might’ve gotten up early. It was empty. As I made my way back into the room, I noticed the window nearest their bed was open. Lying on the windowsill was one enormous droplet of blood.
My heart dropped and I knew exactly where they’d be. Dracula hadn’t intended to get me; he wanted my parents. The kite was a distraction, a way to settle my rational mind. I was right to fear, if only I had feared enough to run straight to my parents’ room. Would things be different now? I think they might. In my book, belief was the only way to combat the vampires, and children have a knack for it. He must’ve known I’d never let him in my room. But tonight, he can come freely for me.
My parents. I failed them. No, I killed them. I never should’ve opened that door. I should’ve buried the hatch closed the moment I saw it. Of course, it was a grave. It had the marker above it and all. I’m an idiot, a God’s damned fool. The marker. What did it say on it? “Victor P. Alexandre.” So, this isn’t Dracula after all, but in a way he still is. He can be killed the same way. Yes, that is what I must do.
It took me the remainder of the day to gather the required materials. I found garlic cloves in the spice cabinet, my family are catholic so it was not difficult to find a cross, the thing that took me the longest was making the wooden stakes. In the end, I used the legs of one of our kitchen tables filed down to a nasty point. As an afterthought, I grabbed the massive padlock my dad used on his shed sometimes. It never hurts to have a backup.
I followed the blood droplets of my parents to the hole I dug. I remained staring down at the marble slab, now drenched in my family’s life blood, unable to move from the spot. I watched in horror as the sun slowly began to make its descent, knowing that my chance was slipping between my fingers. A thought occurred to me. What if my parents are down there? Will I be able to look them in the face while I slide a stake through their heart?
Call it what you want, but a few minutes before the sun sank behind the horizon, a metallic glint caught my eyes. At closer examination, it was the little silver cross necklace my mom always wore. This spurred me into action, as if someone poked me with a red-hot brand. It burned my fears away, and left me with a numb sense of responsibility.
Without a second thought I launched myself down into the hole scooping up my mom’s pendant and ignited the flashlight. I didn’t have much time; the sun was falling. The shadows were lengthening. My heart beat a steady staccato against the inner walls of my chest. I was scared my damn heartbeat would wake the creatures giving me away. But I didn’t have time to worry, so I didn’t. In a clarity unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since, I made my way through the opening of the sepulcher.
As I moved forward, I couldn’t help but think that I had been swallowed alive by some mythic monster. The darkness closed in on me and the faint glow casted by my flashlight only went about 4 feet in front of me. It looked as if I was in a catacomb. Urns and vases lined the walls on each side of me. Every few feet or so was a nook that held an empty casket. I began to panic after my first turn and the door was no longer in sight. What if he’s behind me or hiding in one of those alcoves? I was afraid to breathe or make any sudden noises. Thoughts of waking him and having to face him upright nearly stopped me in my tracks.
It was the sound of my parents’ voices that pushed me forward. They gave me the resolve to see this thing through. I heard my mom tell me, “If not you, then who?” and the strong voice of my father admonishing me, “Do the right thing, even if it’s hard.” And so, I kept moving one step at a time, my footsteps being muffled by the suffocating blackness. Before I knew it, I was there looking at three closed caskets.
There was a grand coffin against the back wall, the others were near the two side walls. I knew immediately which one would contain Viktor. I walked straight to it, then hesitated and opened the one against the right wall. My mom was in it. She looked to be sleeping, nothing out of the ordinary besides two small puncture marks on the side of her throat. Against the left one was my dad. Tears filled my eyes, and I knew they had been turned. I stood there a stake in my hand, not quite able to plunge it deep into the heart of the woman who gave birth to me.
I closed the casket, making my way to the coffin of the monster who took my parents. I looked forward to shoving a stake through his heart and as I opened the casket a wicked smile was plastered on my face. The smile died away, when I looked down and saw that it was empty. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I heard rich laughter coming from directly behind me.
“I must admit, you’ve surprised me. I’ve had fools rush in here before to try to kill me, but usually they are glory seekers. This is a first for me. I’ve never come across a child brave enough to face me,” said Viktor.
Maybe it was the anger, maybe it was my body unable to process the fear; regardless, my voice came out strong and confident, when I said, “And that’s why I ‘ll succeed.”
Viktor began laughing and wiping at the tears in his eyes, “I’ll tell you what because you’ve made me laugh harder than I have in centuries, I’ll let you go if you leave right now.”
“Oh, sounds like someone is scared. You’ve been hiding in this tomb so long; I’m surprised you haven’t staked yourself out of pure boredom,” I replied.
“I wasn’t hiding you fool; I was locked in here by foes much cleverer than yourself. They weren’t stupid enough to think they could take me on their own. They locked the entrance and buried my whole sepulcher, until you haphazardly released me,” said the vampire.
I gulped knowing that he was at least partially correct. I had released him and my parents are the ones who paid the price. Without warning I lobbed a whole clove of garlic directly at his face. The creature ungodly fast swatted it away with one hand, hissing as it made direct contact with his skin. I saw a nasty burn appear suddenly on the flesh of that hand. I had time for a moment of triumphant, before the creature blurred towards me.
He struck me with the back of his hand sending me sprawling into the coffin that held my mom. I heard a bone crack in my ribs when I made contact against the wall. Pain filled my body and I cried out. This seemed to please the vampire as he slowly stalked towards me, my backpack filled with supplies held in his left hand. The stake I had been holding flew out of my hand when he hit me and I was left with nothing to stop his advance.
He knew this too; I saw it in the smug smile he wore across his face. It was done, my parents died because of me. I couldn’t even get revenge on their killer. I had failed them. And now, this creature was going to rip me apart slowly, enjoying every moment of it.
My mom’s voice cut through all my fears, and I heard her say, “I gave you my necklace, now kill this motherfucker.”
My hand reached to my neck and I felt the comfort of the cold silver against my skin. With one smooth motion I pulled it off, concealing it in my left hand. I knew I’d have to time it right. I would get only one chance at this, I had to make it count. The element of surprise was working in my favor, but even still the creature was fast as hell. I’d have to let him get close, painfully close before I struck.
I gave him what he desired most, I plead for my life. “Please, I didn’t mean it. Have mercy on me. I’ll serve you. I’ll do anything you need me to. I let you out, didn’t I?”
Viktor smiled a smile filled with pointed teeth. I shuttered; it wasn’t hard to act. I truly was terrified. This seemed to please him. He laid his well-manicured hands on my shoulder, holding me like a father holds his son.
“You have been very helpful to me; I can think of one way you can be even more useful to me,” said Viktor.
He leaned in almost as if he was going to kiss me, then at the last minute he bent his head back as if he was a snake preparing to strike. I expected him to do this, and with one fluid motion I shoved the crucifix directly down the throat of the creature. His sharp teeth cut my hand into ribbons, but the moment the silver touched his throat it erupted in blue flames. I watched in fascination as the vampire’s head began to melt, then disintegrate. Within about thirty seconds the entire body of the vampire was reduced to ashes.
My mom’s necklace remained sitting on top of the pile of ash. I reached down and pocketed it. I breathed a sigh of relief, then I looked at the other two caskets. Tears made my vision swim. This is impossible. How am I supposed to kill the people who raised me?
I opened my mom’s casket again; she looked so beautiful laying in perfect peace. They looked happier than they had in years. The wrinkles beginning to form under her eyes were gone, smooth skin replaced it. Bottle that formula and sell it. For one low price of drinking a vampire’s blood, you too can have skin that shines bright in the moonlight.
Something caught my eye. I looked down to the now torn backpack and saw the massive padlock I had taken from my dad’s shed. An idea sprung into my mind. Maybe I don’t have to kill them. I can lock them up and re-bury them. The night was nearly here and a decision needed to be made. In a moment of weakness, I chose.
It was well past midnight when I finished packing the rest of the loose dirt back into the hole. Shortly after I started, I could hear a clawing noise coming from within. I didn’t so much as stop for a water break. When the hole was half filled, I couldn’t hear the cries of my parents anymore. Although I do hear them in my dreams sometimes.
The moon was hidden behind rain clouds, making it difficult to see. In my mad scramble out of the catacombs, I had dropped my flashlight. I began my long trek back home, no longer fearing what lies in the dark.
I met the devil and came out ahead.
Credit: John Westrick
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