Knowledge is power.
That’s what my old man would tell me, right before he went off to fight. To claim back “what was taken”. To push back against evil. It was the last thing he told me, right before he never returned.
Knowledge is power?
What a load of crap.
Knowledge isn’t power.
Just because you know those lights at the end of the tunnel are a train doesn’t mean you’ll be saved. Knowledge isn’t power.
There are things in this world coming for you. Things that are nearly impossible to stop. Knowledge just lets you know. Makes you understand exactly how much fear you should have.
“I hear you’re one of them.”
I know what he’s talking about.
Of course, I know.
But I don’t acknowledge it. I just keep moving. Pick up my pieces of wood and walk away from the chopping block. Head back toward my cabin.
I wish he’d leave already.
“I’m talking to you!”
I sigh heavily. “I know. Unfortunate. Don’t you think?”
“I know you’re one of them,” he repeats, ignoring my remark. “I know you’re a Helsing.”
I stop in my tracks.
The boy stops too. Surprised at my reaction.
I bite it back.
Swallow it down.
All the fear and reluctance and pain the name brings. All the harsh words I’d like to hurl. Every shadow that has ever stalked me, and every moon-filled night that has brought terror down on my head.
I swallow it all down.
Take a deep breath.
Calmer, I reply.
“Firstly, it’s Van Helsing. Van, hear me? And, secondly, I might be a Van Helsing, but I’m not the Van Helsing. That fool died long, long ago. Before I was ever a thought, actually.”
“Yeah, but you carry the name, you carry the cause. Isn’t that the saying?”
“Sayings are just sayings boy. Sticks and stones is another one, too. But words can shatter your soul much more effectively than sticks and stones. Just because it’s a saying, doesn’t mean that it’s true,” I reply, taking up my walk again.
I need to hurry. The night will set in soon, and I have quite a bit more I’d like to do before it shows its ugly head.
Night is the worst.
The boy is still following me, still arguing.
“But, you can slay them, can’t you? You’re a hunter. A Van Helsing. A vampi—”
I drop the wood so fast. Turn. Spin. Cover his mouth.
His eyes are wide, and I’m sure mine are too. When it come to supernatural words, I have much to fear.
Even speaking the name—Van Helsing—is a danger. Might bring them flying.
I shake my head at the boy.
“Listen here kid, you don’t know what it is that they are—what you’re asking of me. Just speaking their name is dangerous. Those things are vicious, dangerous. I’d fight in a hundred wars, if it meant never having to face one of those again. Do you hear me? Their speed and their strength and their cunning is unmatchable. They are the fiercest creatures on this planet, and I wouldn’t dare try to kill one. Understand me?”
His eyes narrow as my speech draws on. As I finish, I remove my hand from his mouth and, finally, he tells me why he’s so disgusted by me.
“You’re a coward.”
“I’m a what?” I growl, angry now.
But the boy doesn’t back down. Instead, he nods. “You’re a coward Van Helsing. That’s why you won’t go out there. You know they’re strong and smart and fast—everyone knows that though. What they don’t know is: how to kill them. That’s something only a Van Helsing knows. And, here you are, hiding. Instead of using what you know to help people, you’re cowering in a shack in the woods. Pretending like you don’t know.”
“OI!” I shout.
I’ve grabbed his arm. He looks a bit scared now.
“I know how to kill them, but that doesn’t mean that I can. Just because you know putting a bullet into the king’s brain will free us of his reign, doesn’t mean it’s easy to do so. Going after them—even having the knowledge to kill them—is threatening to them. Menacing. Once you start killing them, you won’t be allowed to stop. Because, if you do, they’ll still come for you. It’s a never-ending battle boy. A fight that no man can finish.”
I drop his arm, step back. He looks mad still, so I give him a little more. A little taste of what it means to be a Van Helsing.
“My father started a fight that he couldn’t finish. With a clan of werewolves. They hunted my whole family down. Killed all of them, except me. I watched them slaughter my mother—rip her to pieces— before I escaped. I ran off before they could get to me, and since that night, I’ve been hiding. Hoping that they don’t find me,” I tell him. Shaking my head, I gather up my wood again. “I never started being a Van Helsing because I knew it would never end. The blood and monsters and fighting. I knew being a Van Helsing was more of a curse than anything else.”
“A curse for you, yes, but a blessing to others.”
He sounds indignant.
“Why should I curse myself for the sake of strangers? Why not let the beasts be as they were before there was ever such a thing as a ‘Van Helsing’? Humanity survives, doesn’t it? Even with the beasts among us?”
He’s persistent, this kid. He shakes his head and follow, hesitantly, after me.
“It’s not about survival. It’s about living. About doing what we can, when we can, because we can. Doctors don’t keep their knowledge to themselves, do they? Should kings ignore their subjects just because they have more than the peasants do? What about farmers? Should they eat all of their own crop?”
So very, very tired.
“Boy, you don’t know what you’re asking me to do.”
With a very serious, very grave look, he tells me.
“I’m not asking you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I’m just asking you to use what you know. To save my family. To do what you would’ve had done for yourself, if it were in your power. And I’m not asking you to go alone. I’d be more than happy to help.”
I laugh once. “You’d just be in the way.” Again, the boy seems hurt. But he doesn’t understand.
He still doesn’t understand.
“Good day to you boy,” I say, and then shut myself inside the cabin.
He leaves after a few minutes. Convinced that I’m set like stone.
I used to be.
What kind of man would I be? If I ignored a need so similar to my own?
Who would I be if I cower my whole life? Hide? Ignore the needs of others? Ignore needs that only I can fill?
Certainly, not a Van Helsing.
Definitely, not a Van Helsing.
Above all else, my father taught me that Van Helsings were kind. Clever, strong, fast, but still.
It wars within me. All these words, and all this knowledge.
That night, under the gaze of the fire, I sigh. Defeated.
Knowledge is not power. Not really. Anyone can have knowledge and sit on it. Put it on a shelf, or ignore it.
I suppose that’s the real difference, isn’t it?
My father… he wasn’t really wrong.
Knowledge can be power, depending on what you do with it.
I’m still uneasy. Still afraid. Because I still know:
They’re so much bigger than I am.
At least I know exactly how to defeat them. And, in that way, I have something they don’t.
I know of them.
And they know nothing of me. The one thing that my cowardice has given me. A small advantage in the form of stealth.
The last Van Helsing still lives. Still remembers the way of the slayers, the hunters. Still has his father’s stride.
A Van Helsing still lives.
And he will rise.