Sep 11 2013 4:00pm
Check out Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard, available September 17th from Titan Books!
What if Dracula had survived his encounters with Bram Stoker’s Dr. John Seward and enslaved Victorian England?
Fallen from grace and driven from the British Empire in previous instalments, Dracula seems long gone. A relic of the past. Yet, when vampire boy Johnny Alucard descends upon America, stalking the streets of New York and Hollywood, haunting the lives of the rich and famous, from Sid and Nancy to Andy Warhol, Orson Welles, and Francis Ford Coppola, sinking his fangs ever deeper into the zeitgeist of 1980s America, it seems the past might not be dead after all.
“Gee, who is that boy?” asked Andy, evenly. “He is fantastic.”
Penelope was used to the expression. It was one of Andy’s few adjectives. Everyone and everything was either “fantastic” or “a bore” or something similar, always with an elongated vowel early on. All television was “fa-antastic”; World War II was “a bo-ore.” Vintage cookie tins were “si-imply wonderful”; income taxes were “ra-ather old.” Famous people were “ve-ery interesting”; living daylight was “pra-actically forgotten.”
She turned to look down on the dance floor. They were sitting up on the balcony, above the churning masses, glasses of chilled blood on the table between them, at once shadowed enough to be mysterious and visible enough to be recognisable. There was no point in coming to Studio 54 unless it was to be seen, to be noticed. At tomorrow’s sunset, when they both rose from their day’s sleep, it would be Penny’s duty to go through the columns, reading out any mentions of their appearances, so Andy could cluck and crow over what was said about him, and lament that so much was left out.
It took her a moment to spot the object of Andy’s attention.
For once, he was right. The dancer in the white suit was fantastic. Fa-antastic, even. She knew at once that the boy was like Andy and her, nosferatu. His style was American, but she scented a whiff of European grave-mould. This was no new-born, no nouveau, but an experienced creature, practised in his dark skills. Only a vampire with many nights behind him could seem so young.
It had to happen. She was not the first to come here. She had known an invasion was inevitable. America could not hold out forever. She had not come here to be unique, but to be away from her kind, from her former lives. Though she had inevitably hooked up with Andy, she did not want to be sucked back into the world of the undead. But what she wanted meant very little any more, which was as it should be. Whatever came, she would accept. It was her duty, her burden.
She looked back at Andy. An American vampire icon. He’d died in 1968, shot by the demented Valerie Solanas … but rallied in hospital, mysteriously infused with new blood, and come out of his coma as a walking, thirsty ghost.
It took sharp senses indeed to distinguish his real enthusiasms from his feigned ones. He had worked hard—and it did not do to underestimate this languid scarecrow’s capacity for hard work—to become as inexpressive as he was, to cultivate what passed in America for a lack of accent. His chalk-dusted cheeks and cold mouth gave nothing away. His wig was silver tonight, thick and stiff as a knot of fox-tails. His suit was quiet, dark and Italian, worn with a plain tie.
They both wore goggle-like black glasses to shield their eyes from the club’s frequent strobes. But, unlike some of his earlier familiars, Penny made no real attempt to look like him.
She watched the dancer spin, hip-cocked, arm raised in a disco heil, white jacket flaring to show scarlet lining, a snarl of concentration on his cold lovely face.
How could Andy not be interested in another of the undead? Especially one like this.
At least the dancing boy meant the night wasn’t a complete wash-out. It had been pretty standard so far: two openings, three parties and a reception. One big disappointment: Andy had hoped to bring Miz Lillian, the President’s mama, to the reception for Princess Ashraf, twin sister of the Shah of Iran, but the White House got wind and scuttled the plan. Andy’s fall-back date, Lucie Arnaz, was hardly a substitute, and Penny was forced to make long conversation with the poor girl—of whom she had never heard—while Andy did the silent act most people thought of as deliberate mystification but which was actually simple sulking. The Princess, sharp ornament of one of the few surviving vampire ruling houses, was not exactly on her finest fettle, either—preoccupied by the troubles of her absolutist brother, who was currently back home surrounded by Mohammedan fanatics screaming for his impalement.
In the car between Bianca Jagger’s party at the Tea Rooms and L.B. Jeffries’s opening at the Photographers” Gallery, Paloma Picasso rather boringly went on about the tonic properties of human blood as face cream. Penny would have told the warm twit how stupid she was being about matters of which she plainly knew nothing, but Andy was frozen enough already without his faithful vampire companion teeing off someone so famous—Penny wasn’t sure what exactly the painter’s daughter was famous for—she was sure to get his name in Vanity Fair. At Bianca’s, Andy thought he’d spotted David Bowie with Catherine Deneuve, but it turned out to be a far less interesting couple. Another disappointment.
Bob Colacello, editor of Inter/VIEW and Andy’s connection with the Princess, wittered on about how well she was bearing up, and how she was trying to sell Andy on committing to an exhibition in the new museum of modern art the Shah had endowed in Teheran. Penny could tell Andy was chilling on the idea, sensing—quite rightly—that it would not do well to throw in with someone on the point of losing everything. Andy elaborately ignored Bob, and that meant everyone else did too. He had been delighted to learn from Penny what “sent to Coventry” meant and redoubled his use of that ancient schoolboy torture. There was a hurt desperation in Bob’s chatter, but it was all his own fault and she didn’t feel a bit sorry for him.
At the Photographers’, surrounded by huge blow-ups of war orphans and devastated Asian villages, Andy got on one of his curiosity jags and started quizzing her about Oscar Wilde. What had he been like, had he really been amusing all the time, had he been frightened when the wolves gathered, how much had he earned, how famous had he really been, would he have been recognised everywhere he went? After nearly a hundred years, she remembered Wilde less well than many others she had known in the ’80s. Like her, the poet was one of the first modern generation of new-born vampires. He was one of those who turned but didn’t last more than a decade, eaten up by disease carried over from warm life. She didn’t like to think of contemporaries she had outlived. But Andy insisted, nagging, and she dutifully coughed up anecdotes and aphorisms to keep him contented. She told Andy that he reminded her of Oscar, which was certainly true in some ways. Penny dreaded being recategorised from “fascinating” to “a bore,” with the consequent casting into the outer darkness.
All her life, all her afterlife, had been spent by her own choice in the shadows cast by a succession of tyrants. She supposed she was punishing herself for her sins. Even Andy had noticed; in the Factory, she was called “Penny Penance” or “Penny Penitent.” However, besotted with titles and honours, he usually introduced her to outsiders as “Penelope Churchward, Lady Godalming.” She had never been married to Lord Godalming (or, indeed, anyone), but Arthur Holmwood had been her father-in-darkness, and some vampire aristos did indeed pass on titles to their get.
She was not the first English rose in Andy’s entourage. She had been told she resembled the model Jane Forth, who had been in Andy’s movies. Penny knew she had only become Andy’s Girl of the Year after Catherine Guinness left the Factory to become Lady Neidpath. She had an advantage over Andy’s earlier debs, though: she was never going to get old. As Girl of the Year, it was her duty to be Andy’s companion of the night and to handle much of the organisational and social business of the Factory, of Andy Warhol Enterprises, Incorporated. It was something she was used to, from her Victorian years as an “Angel in the Home” to her nights as last governess of the House of Dracula. She could even keep track of the money.
She sipped her blood, decanted from some bar worker who was “really” an actor or a model. Andy left his drink untouched, as usual. He didn’t trust blood that showed up in a glass. Nobody ever saw him feeding. Penny wondered if he was an abstainer. Just now, the red pinpoints in his dark glasses were fixed. He was still watching the dancer.
The vampire in the white suit hooked her attention too.
For a moment, she was sure it was him, come back yet again, young and lethal, intent on murderous revenge.
She breathed the name, “Dracula.”
Andy’s sharp ears picked it up, even through the dreadful guff that passed for music these days. It was one of the few names guaranteed to provoke his interest.
Andy prized her for her connection to the late King Vampire. Penny had been at the Palazzo Otranto at the end. She was one of the few who knew the truth about the last hours of il principe, though she jealously kept that anecdote to herself. So far as she knew, only Katie Reed and the Dieudonné chit shared the story. The three of them had earned scars that wouldn’t show on their pale vampire skins, the lash-marks of Vlad Bloody Dracula, dastard and dictator, and stalwart, dauntless, forgiving, gone-and-not-coming-back Charles Bloody Beauregard.
“The boy looks like him,” she said. “He might be the Count’s get, or of his bloodline. Most vampires Dracula made came to look like him. He spread his doppelgangers throughout the world.”
Andy nodded, liking the idea.
The dancer had Dracula’s red eyes, his aquiline nose, his full mouth. But he was clean-shaven and had a bouffant of teased black hair, like a Broadway actor or a teenage idol. His features were as Roman as Romanian.
Penny had understood on their first meeting that Andy Warhol didn’t want to be just a vampire. He wanted to be the vampire, Dracula. Even before his death and resurrection, his coven had called him “Drella’: half Dracula, half Cinderella. It was meant to be cruel: he was the Count of the night hours, but at dawn he changed back into the girl who cleared away the ashes.
“Find out who he is, Penny,” Andy said. “We should meet him. He’s going to be famous.”
She had no doubt of that.
Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard © Kim Newman, 2013