Ellie von Haselnuss was having a tough time at school. There was no way of getting around it. Her parents told her that at ten years old she needed to be making friends, talking to kids her own age. But since they’d moved from the woods to the city she’d found it harder and harder to make a connection with anybody. Ellie loved stories but no one wanted to talk about stories, at least not the stories that Ellie was interested in. They called her Dracula before someone with a slightly higher IQ pointed out that Von Haselnuss sounded a bit like Van Helsing and the name stuck. She would walk home from school alone, trying to understand why things were so different here and why her parents had thought it had been necessary to move. She would lie awake at night and pretend that she could hear the trees rustling outside her window, that she could hear the animals calling to each other in the night. But then she would wake up, and she would be in the exact same sad place.
The only real refuge that Ellie could find was in her books. Her favourites were the grand, swooping Gothic tales that her parents let her read so long as she was careful with them. They were old paperbacks whose spines were coming unglued. With quick but careful little fingers she made fast work of these novels and soon needed fresh supplies.
One day, while taking a different route home from school to avoid three girls who wanted to know what she was staring at, she came across a charity book shop. From the outside it looked more like a home than a shop, with only a small hand-written note in the dirty window letting the casual passer-by know the opening hours. Ellie could smell the books from the street. She was inside within moments, and a little silver bell at the top of the door announced her arrival.
The young man behind the desk barely looked up from his magazine and Ellie didn’t bother to acknowledge him as she made a beeline for the horror section at the back of the shop. Squeezed between Crime and Thrillers and Science Fiction and Fantasy were three small shelves dedicated to Horror and Dark Fantasy. Elle ran her finger along the spines of the books; skimming over the ones she had already read and the ones she had no interest in reading. Then something made her stop and lean closer.
In between a fat book about teenage werewolves and an incorrectly placed Mills and Boon novel was a slim volume with a name that made Ellie gasp.
Von Haselnuss Rides Again by Stefan Rachen.
She took the book and paid for it with the two pound coins she had in her pocket. The young man behind the desk barely bothered to check the amount. Ellie walked home quickly, cradling the fraying paperback and studying the cover. The artist had depicted an impossibly winding road up to an impossibly angular castle that seemed to seep into an impossibly craggy mountain-top. A bolt of white lightning seared across the purple night, and a single yellow window beckoned from what could only have been the castle’s attic.
It took Ellie just two hours to read the book from cover to cover. It was the story of a young, practical German journalist named Theodor at the turn of the 20th century who is told he has inherited his great-uncle’s castle in the mountains. Theodor is a sceptic and dismisses the executor’s stories about his great-uncle as superstitious nonsense, and hurries off to stay the night at his new castle. During the course of that night, he comes to the shocking realisation that he is merely the latest in a series of young men tricked into spending a night trapped in the castle, and that his great-uncle needs the blood of twelve human males to rise from the grave. What’s more, Theodor discovers with horror that he is to be the twelfth and final victim. It was with some satisfaction that Ellie read the gloriously ghoulish finale, in which the arrogant young man fails to escape at the last moment, and loses consciousness as he sees his great-uncle rise, with all the vigour and good looks of youth, from a vast pool of blood in the castle’s crypt.
Having finished the novel, she took it to her parents. She thought they would enjoy the coincidence of the title, if not the book itself, but she couldn’t have anticipated her father’s reaction.
“Von Haselnuss Rides Again?” said her father. “I haven’t read that in years!” He turned to his wife who peered over his shoulder. “You remember Stefan, don’t you?” He started flicking through the pages, smiling as he skimmed a few words here and there. “Stefan was one of my very best friends at school. His parents were German too. My parents used to take me to his house so they could complain about things in their native tongue. Stefan was always dragging me to see these terrible horror films, all blood and guts, the gorier the better. I used to cover my eyes at the worst parts and then he would lean over and whisper descriptions of what I was missing.” He looked up with a wicked grin and waved his finger at his daughter. “You should not be watching any of these films for a long time, preferably never. I want to make that clear.” He laughed again and handed the book back to Ellie.
Later that night, after Ellie had gone to bed, she could hear her father on the telephone talking to Stefan Rachen. She was glad that she had made her father so happy. When she saw the light go out in the hallway, she hopped out of bed and found a pen and a pad of paper. She sat down at her desk, turned on the night-light, and began to write about her forest that was no longer outside her window, and the monsters that still waited there.
This short story title came from David Hayes. I hope he likes what I've done with it. It was going to be more of a horror story at one point, but I have ideas for other titles which involve plenty of that, so I thought I'd try something a bit nicer. There will be time for horror short stories later, but I did have fun summarising the plot of Van Haselnuss Rides Again. I may need to write that at some point!
Please keep the ideas for short story titles coming in, I welcome any ideas. The next story will be "Surprisingly Moving with its Oddness". The title comes from Stacey Siddons.
Otherwise things are going...well they're going. My novel is being uncooperative, so I will be returning to some script editing until I get some more ideas. But enough of my yakkin'! Here's Nat Johnson and her Dirty Rotten Soul!