"And I tell you, Conrad, your argument is utterly preposterous." The Count struck a match and began to draw on his well-worn pipe, slowly rekindling the dying flame. The corners of his eyes betrayed a flicker of amusement as he measured his companion over the stirring embers. "I mean really, I thought they taught you more than that in Vienna." "At university," Conrad replied with some coolness, "they taught us to keep an open mind." The Count waved a finger at the gentleman sipping his brandy. "Oh, come now, I only meant that the very idea defies logic and reason." "But that's just it," Conrad replied, leaning forward. "You yourself know that the world we live in is filled with things mankind does not understand or accept." "True," the Count nodded, exhaling a rich plume of aromatic smoke. "But that is no basis for a scientific argument." "That all depends on how you view the issue." The Count threw up his hands in a great pretense of dismay. Both leaned back in their comfortable chairs as the cold night wind howled outside with a vengeance. The warm fire crackled softly in the fireplace, a gentle light flickering in the quiet twilight of the Count's study. At times the wind disturbed the measured conversation as it raged past the ancient shutters. "But this business of yours," the Count continued distastefully. "I mean really, Conrad, one can not imagine how you, a man of education and breeding, could seriously consider the idea." "I should think someone of your background would find the idea intriguing." The Count rose and crossed to the liquor cabinet to refill his glass, leaving the pipe to flicker and die. His guest waived aside the unspoken offer, and the Count paused a moment to admire the fragrant aroma. "But ghosts?" he demanded. "I simply can not seriously conceive of the notion. It is just too ridiculous for words." "Why?" Conrad countered. "The spiritual world has a firm basis in modern scientific fact." "Rubbish!" the Count laughed, returning to his chair. "Utter nonsense!" "My dear Count," Conrad began persuasively, "do you acknowledge there are vast areas of knowledge that mankind does not understand or accept?" "Of course," the Count nodded. "The more one learns, the more one realizes how much one has yet to unearth." As the Count sipped the well-aged brandy, he casually indicated the vast collection of books that surrounded himself and his guest. He clearly enjoyed baiting Conrad in an intellectual discourse. Conrad knew this, of course, but he could not resist locking horns with the Count. "Then how can you automatically reject the concept of ghosts when you yourself have no real knowledge of the subject?" "Your logic is valid," conceded the Count. "But you are ignoring one vital aspect. You, or I--or anyone, for that matter--can never conclusively prove that ghosts do not exist. They are like sea serpents, flying saucers . . . simply not finding them does not prove they do not exist. This is your convenient way out of any argument. You must admit, that is hardly a basis for scientific discourse." A strong gust chose that moment to rage past the stone masonry around the study window. The silent embers in the fireplace glowed a deep crimson, casting vague flickering shadows about the room. "And all of your so-called scientific data can be completely written off as hearsay, imagination, or old wives' tales--if not outright fabrications. Believe me, Conrad, I know of what I speak." Conrad delayed the inevitable by sipping the brandy. "Yes," he sighed grudgingly. "I should have known better than to try out-reasoning you. Still, you must admit it is a fascinating subject, worthy of some form of investigation." "Granted," the Count acknowledged graciously. "Indeed, Conrad, I would be the last to stifle independent thought. It is, after all, the backbone of modern scientific development." The wind suddenly calmed outside the thick walls of the castle. The sudden quiet was unexpected, yet strangely welcome. The glowing embers in the fireplace slowly died out. Fragile moonlight shone through the window and formed the only real light in the room. Conrad finally broke the stillness. "It will be full soon." The Count closed his eyes, drinking in the calmness of his study. "Yes," he sighed. Conrad continued gazing out the window, a quiet smile touching his lips. Even in the thin cold moonlight, his slender fangs showed plainly as he smiled. The Count chuckled softly, the pale glow highlighting his delicate features. He gently shook his head, an ancient smile lurking playfully about his lips. "Preposterous," he laughed, and drained off the last of his brandy.
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