It Would Come at Night…

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It would come at night and steal children. It would sneak into our village and into our homes, no matter what we did to prevent it. Somehow, it would always find a way. We sent people to the woods, on a hunt, almost every night. Nothing was ever caught or even seen.

But in the end, every it turns out to be a human.

They dragged our neighbour, Mr Hal, out into the street. He was on the ground, on his knees, making a manic laughing noise. My parents didn’t want to tell me what had happened, but I knew what all the blood meant. His hands were dark red, and they dripped on his clothes. His mouth was red, too. He was it. They caught him. They didn’t let us children enter his home, but I was disgusted nonetheless. I couldn’t help but imagine it all, his teeth tearing apart the body of Mrs Alanna’s baby, and many babies before. A cannibal among us. A baby-eater.

“Where are the bodies of other children?” a man screamed at Mr Hal.

“How did you get into our homes?” another shouted.

They wanted answers. Without them, they felt even more wounded, helpless. Could one of us really be the monster we feared?  Everyone was too disturbed to pay attention to me, so I managed to get closer. Mr Hal laughed at the questions, his eyes darkened by a glow of insanity. How was he able to trick us all, to hide his true face?

“Where are the remains of our children?” a woman cried.

For a moment, Mr Hal’s eyes cleared, his face turned pale.

“I don’t know,” he growled. “I only killed one!”

“You’re lying!” a man kicked him hard and Mr Hal fell to the ground.

The village justice was quick. One of the women who lost a child was the first to throw a stone. Another followed. Mr Hal laughed and laughed, until he stopped – forever.

The night came and we all went to our homes in silence. Nobody wanted to speak about what had happened. The monster was gone but we knew would not be able to sleep. I went to my room, got into the bed, but kept looking through the window. A dark feeling pressed my chest and didn’t let me fall asleep. I looked at the small hills through my window, at the trees and the woods. I looked until it seemed to me that I saw something there…

On top of a little hill, two creatures sat. The larger one smiled, and said:
“And that, my darling daughter, is how they stop hunting you.”

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Six Sentence Story: The Stories of Pain

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We have all met Pain.
It comes to all of us, wearing different disguises.
Sometimes it is hidden in heartbreak, disappointment, abandonment, loneliness.
It can also come abruptly, underneath the mask of loss.
Or it can sneak inside our minds in form of fear; common fears and unusual phobias.
And sometimes, just sometimes, it is the pain of sharp teeth and claws of a monster tearing your body apart.


Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

In Familiar Attire

People fear the unknown. They fear what they don’t understand. Unless it appears in nice attire.

I’ve seen them many times riding horses, ordering the dogs around, and hunting unarmed prey with their guns. That’s all they have against the nature, their guns and houses, dividing them from what they truly are. People are weak -their teeth are blunt, their skin bare. They cannot kill their prey with their hands nor can they survive the winter without their clothes to protect them.

But people can be smart. They are aware of their weaknesses and they think of ways to erase them. It makes them feel superior, not only to other animals but to nature as a whole. It the end, their biggest strength will make them weak. It is never wise to feel too safe.

I see a man on a horse, and a young woman riding behind him, his daughter. Confident they seem. He was not as confident that time when I showed up in front of his horse, only for a glimpse. The horse saw me, but the man couldn’t, blinded by his conceit. The horse decided to run away, as any wise animal would. The man couldn’t control him anymore. He pulled the reins but it only made the horse wilder. The man was lucky. He fell right away and the horse galloped away into the forest. The man broke his arm, but that was better than being trampled with steely hooves.

He feels safe again. He even lets his daughter ride. It was just an accident, and those don’t happen often. People trust horses. Animals are not as treacherous as they are.

So I appear to them as a horse. I am beautiful, white, with silky mane. I come out of the chilly, fresh river and offer them a ride. They are bewitched by me and the nature which is now more and more escaping their reach. They trust me. I carry them to the water and they feel happy. Then I drag them down, and they realize the mistake they have made, but they realize it far too late.

People trust a lovely horse. They think they possess it and that it exists just to serve them. They feel that the nature belongs to them. They are the ones who have the right to swim in lakes, eat their fish, and rest among the green trees. They fought for it with their intellect. But they are still weak.

People trust their possessions and believe they know all about them. They fear the unknown. They fear what they can’t understand. But the unknown sometimes appears in beautiful, familiar attire.

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The Kelpies*, a sculpture in Scotland http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/10478591/The-Kelpies-two-horse-head-sculptures-unveiled-in-Scotland.html

*A kelpie is a water spirit from Scottish mythology, though similar creatures exists elsewhere as well.

Creatures

I was hungry so I headed towards Barry’s Diner.

The streets were lifeless. Almost nobody goes out at night anymore. People know that some kind of evil roams this town, but nobody listens to them. They are all primitive peasants, after all. I thought of them that way as well, but in this case, they seem to be right.

People of this town never liked me. My parents moved here when I was still a boy, but to them I remained a foreigner. A boy from the big city who doesn’t understand their ways. I’m not sure if I was naturally a loner or if they turned me into one, but I’ve never made real friends. I rarely left my home. I grew my own vegetables and earned some money on translations, something I could do from home. I don’t know why I returned here after college. My father was sick so I came to help my mother, but after that, I could’ve left. I didn’t, and apparently now I was trapped here. There was something about this place that made me feel at home, even though I hated the people that lived here. Now, however, I had to feel sorry for them.

I followed the pale streetlights to the only place that was still open. Old Barry didn’t want to change his ways and he kept his diner working as before. People stared at me as I entered. They didn’t expect me there. Ken the Hermit – that was who I was to them. But this night, they had a more important thing on their minds.

There were only men in the diner; men with no families, who always ate out, men who didn’t really spend time with their families, and several drunkards. As always, Bill Brightley was the loudest one.

“What do you want?” asked Sarah, old Barry’s daughter.

She was never nice to the customers and she never smiled, but everybody still liked her. She surely was the nicest face there, to be honest.

I ordered the first meal I thought of. She nodded and left without saying anything.

“I say it’s a vampire or a werewolf!” proclaimed Bill Brightley.

“You can’t really mean that, Bill”, said someone quietly.

“Well, it’s some kind of a creature that eats people. You saw the bodies, the flesh ripped from the bones!”

“It’s some lunatic”, said the third voice.

“Well, who could it be? I’d say the only suspicious one is the Hermit!” said Bill Brigthely jokingly, making sure I could hear him.

I said nothing, pretending not to hear him.

“Anyway, we have to do something. I say we go out and watch. We might spot something.”

“To Hell, Bill! You can’t be serious!”

“We are the men of this town! We are the ones to protect it!”

The men of the town fell silent. Sarah came with my order.

“Sarah, sweety, don’t you think that we should do something about those murders?” Bill yelled after her.

“What would you do?” responded Sarah in monotone.

“Hunt it down, whatever it is!”

“How would you hunt it down if you don’t know what it is?” Sarah crossed her arms.

“We all know what it is! It’s a monster! Our grandmothers always told stories and you all know them. It happened in the past and it’s happening again!”

“Those are just old stories”, said someone.

“Maybe not”, I said.

When I turned to face them, everybody was looking at me in surprise. They didn’t expect me to take part in their conversation.

“So, what do you think?” asked Bill.

“I’ve also heard those stories you speak of. There was this old lady who told them to me. She thought I had to know them if I wanted to be part of this town. She said there were creatures here, not the vampires and werewolves of the horror stories, but real monsters who hunted and ate people and could turn their victims into one of their own. Even now, some of them hide in the woods, she said, and they can hide for centuries if they wish to. They are not mortal. And when they gather their strength, they will come again.”

Everybody was silent for a moment. They seemed to recollect the similar stories they’ve heard when they were children.

“My grandfather told me his little brother was taken from his bed one night”, said one of the men. “Grandfather saw the creature that took him. It was a young, pretty girl, but she was terrifying in an indescribable way. He was so scared he couldn’t move. The little brother was never found again.”

“In my family, there’s this weird story about my great-grandmother”, said another man. “She had a lover. Every night she would go out into the woods to meet him. My great-grandfather found out and, one night, he followed her. The next morning, he returned, his hair completely white. He never spoke a word again.”

“Yes, I also heard…”

“Stop it!” screamed Bill. “We all know that there are many, many stories about those monsters, but this doesn’t help. If we want to fight this time, we need to know where they are and how to defeat them.”

“Crosses!” said one man.

“Cut its head off!” said another.

Bill didn’t seem satisfied with the answers.

“I think I know where to find them”, I said.

“You do?” Bill’s eyes sparkled with interest.

“The old lady said they hide in the ruins, where the old castle used to be. It’s in the woods, but still not that far from the town. And it has many hidden hallways where they can hide. I don’t know if this it true, however. That’s just what I’ve heard.”

“We should burn it down!” yelled one of the men.

“Well, it’s the only clue we’ve got”; said Bill. “We could go there just before dawn, and try to burn it. The stone is moist and doesn’t burn, but we have enough time to plan how to do it.”

“Maybe it’s completely crazy”, I said. “But least we would be doing something.”

“Why are you helping us?” asked Bill.

“Like it or not, I live here. Of course I want the murders to stop”, I said. I got up from the chair, leaving my food untouched.

Bill looked at me with approval and for the first time I felt like a part of the town. I was a comforting feeling.

***

It was still night when we approached the ruins. The stone walls were covered in ivy. Everybody just stood there, uncertain if this was a good idea after all. A little bit of light found its ways through the branches above us, which meant that the dawn is approaching. We had our flashlights pointed to the ground so as not to wake anything that might be hiding nearby.

“We have to burn it from within, there is no other way. The floors have turned to grass I presume, so it shouldn’t be hard. We just have to check it”, said Bill.

Nobody said anything but we still followed him towards the entrance. There was no door there, only ivy and shrubbery. Bill cut through the bushes, trying to make as less sound as possible. And then, we were inside.

The room was pitch-black so we had to use our flashlights. All we could see were the stone walls which surrounded us mercilessly. Everybody stayed silent. Grown men afraid of the dark. Grown men trembling like prey animals.

Bill then motioned towards a single hallway. We knew we had to go that way, wherever it may lead us. We’ve come this far and we couldn’t give up. It must be dawning outside – there was some solace in that.

We walked, wary of everything around us, listening for every sound. We came to a place where hallway led into another room. We looked inside. It seemed empty, but we couldn’t be sure.

“Two of you must stay there to keep watch. We can’t allow them to attack us from the back or, even worse, to surround us”, whispered Bill.

The two men who stayed behind looked almost relieved. The room seemed empty and safe enough. The rest of us proceeded farther into the darkness until the hallway split in two directions.

One way seemed to lead into a room, but it was hard to tell. The other led only into vast darkness.

“We should first go there”, a man showed in the direction which seemed to have an end.

“I think we should go deeper”, Bill responded. “And this time, I don’t think we should split.”

“We should definitely check this way”, insisted the man in a louder voice that would be advised.

“Fine, you cowards. You stay and someone will go on with me. Once you check the room, come after us. If something attacks us you’ll hear the screams”, said Bill sarcastically. “So, who’s going with me?”

Nobody wanted to.

“I’ll go”, I said finally.

Bill looked at me a bit confused, but he wasn’t able to choose.

“Fine”, he said, and everybody did as we’d agreed.

Two flashlights were not enough. Everything was so silent that I could hear Bill’s heartbeat as he walked in front of me. I could hear my stomach grumbling and was certain he could hear it, too. Only then did I realize how alone we were. “This was a very bad plan, Bill”, I thought.

The hallway led us straight into another room. The space distribution was a bit confusing. I don’t think anybody knew where we actually were.

“We passed no windows this entire time. Why are there no windows?” asked Bill.

It was the obvious question to ask but nobody thought about it, blinded by fear.

“You were lured”, I said.

“Wha…?” Bill turned.

I growled and leapt, sinking my teeth at his throat.

I wasn’t hungry anymore.

The Evolution of Vampires – Folkloric Monsters, 19th Century Bloodthirsty Aristocrats and Vampires of Today

Horror fiction has always shown what people fear the most, and so is the case with vampires.

When exploring the character of the literary vampire, it is important to start from the beginning and state some facts that go beyond the borders of written literature: the characters’ folkloric roots. The folk stories about vampires have existed for centuries, and it is hard to explain why they appeared in the first place. Similar stories can be traced all over the world, including China, cultures of Australian Aborigines, ancient Mayans, Africa and many more. (Joshi 369-372) The stories appeared in different forms, and probably held different connotations. Even if we focus only on Eastern European tradition, from which the literature of the 19th century drew most of its inspiration, it is impossible to find all the contexts in which the vampires appeared. In old pagan traditions vampires were even worshipped and offered sacrifices. (Collins Jenkins 189) They were closely connected to pagan beliefs and, according to one of several theories, the words vampir, upir, upyr, upior and other similar forms are derived from Turkish word for witch – uber. The bloodlust, one of the most prominent features of the vampires, is thought to bear connection to pagan blood sacrifices. Accordingly, some linguists argue that the root of the word vampire is the Greek word pi meaning “to drink”. (Collins Jenkins 193)

Due to their large number and different backgrounds, the folk stories did not match and they varied to a great extent. In folklore, the characteristics and even names of creatures such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts and other eerie creatures overlapped, and the way people perceived them was not as specific as it is today. One of the creatures that were often intertwined with the vampire was the werewolf, mostly because sometimes in folklore the werewolves were suspected of becoming vampires after death. (Collins Jenkins 199-200) The words that originated from the Slavic word varkolak meaning “wolf pelt” (such as vurkolak in Turkish, volkudlak in Bulgarian, vurvolak in Albanian and vukodlak in Serbian and Croatian) are now mostly translated as ‘werewolf’, due to the obvious connection to wolves, but they originally denoted “a cosmic monster that caused eclipses by eating the sun or moon before setting back on earth and taking on the additional sense of the devouring dead.” (Collins Jenkins 200) (This description also reminds me of Nordic mythology and Loki’s son, wolf Fenrir.) The exception is the Greek vrykolakas which is usually interpreted as a vampire, though it was originally perceived as the undead spirit that glided through the night with a lantern in its hand, and was not always malicious. (Collins Jenkins 201/204)

The vampires gained their name and a bit more distinguished features in the seventeenth century. What connected all of these stories later on became the foundation on which the vampires gained their recognizable form. Those vampires were reanimated corpses with a thirst for blood. (Joshi 366) The reasons for their rising from the grave and some of their features varied, just as is the case with any other superstition. Even today the vampires change and become reinterpreted times and times again. However, vampires first had to become interesting to people so that their story could be developed further. As an important step, literary vampires adopted some aristocratic features so that they could therefore become a part of society, and get close to everything human. Once put in a story, the vampire was finally sketched in a more detailed way. It gained some of the characteristics we nowadays commonly associate with vampires, probably the most important being its appearance. They kept their roles as dreadful villains, and therefore it is inevitable that they came to represent all of the biggest fears of the contemporary society, including moral decline, and even political issues.

In 19th century literature, vampires rose from their tombs in human form, and came to represent human traits, but namely the bad ones. The first “aristocratic vampire” appeared in John William Polidori’s vampire story “The Vampyre” written in 1819. It was followed by the more popular CarmillaVarney the Vampire series and, of course, Dracula. Those literary vampires developed from the folkloric hideous monsters into more human-like and alluring creatures. What set literary vampires apart from the vampires of folk tales is the fact that they acted like people. Furthermore, their appearance became less repugnant, but this in a way made them even scarier. They could now prey without people even noticing them, and walk freely among them. Once the vampires managed to infiltrate the society, they inevitably acquired their place in it. Moreover, they took the roles of the aristocrats, and that gave them possibilities they would not have as common people. Vampires also started to represent all of high society’s fears – they gained many metaphorical meanings, and the stories in which they appeared became credible and even represented the way 19th century society functioned. First of all, literary vampires embodied the fear of moral decline and represented the primitive part of human nature that is in confrontation with social norms. Accordingly, all of the aforementioned authors dealt with themes of sexuality and emancipation of women which were considered dangerous, but they also show how people can easily get corrupted.

Lord Ruthven form “The Vampyre” represents an immoral, but attractive nobleman who has the power to enchant people, especially the ladies. He awakens their desires and makes them forget all the social rules, and that leads to their downfall. He is also an intriguing character, and demonstrates how easily people become fascinated with everything unfamiliar and obscure. Carmilla also corrupts the young ladies with her charm and good looks. She approaches a young girl named Laura as a friend, and creates a strong bond with her. The moral decline is in both cases connected with sexual desires. Carmilla can also be seen as embodiment the part of human character that is close to nature, closer to an animal than to a human being. She praises the nature, and also acts possessively towards Laura, unable to refrain from her desires.

Count Dracula is different in that aspect. Sexual allusions are mostly connected to Lucy, while Dracula mostly represents another kind of threat – he is a savage foreigner and also stands as a representative of the past, in opposition to contemporary society and technical innovations. Unlike Lord Ruthven and Carmilla, Dracula does not only represent moral “pollution” – the novel implies that the British were afraid of possible “reverse colonisation”, the foreigners overflowing the locals. The fear of foreigners was always present, and sadly, it is still present today, as people still connot escape completely from their prejudice.

Vampires became interesting characters that were not only monstrous villains, but also embodiments of issues that were considered dangerous, and a threat to everything that was considered civilised and human. Therefore, it is not surprising that all of the vampire characters are compared to animals. They also served to reinforce the accepted social behaviour by subtly warning the readers about the consequences of misbehaving. Unquestionably, vampires stepped out of the limitations of Gothic fiction by becoming more realistic and contemporary. Instead of inflicting irrational fear, the literary aristocratic vampires represented the real fears of the contemporary readers. The vampire stories were interesting because they were believable and tackled the issues that readers in the 19th century really thought about. Also, the aristocratic vampires were interesting as representatives of everything forbidden and dangerous, and that is a concept that people have always found attractive. Nowadays, people have still not become bored with vampire characters, which are continuously being adapted to the expectations and thought of the 21st century. The old stories, especially Dracula, are still read today because they depict the 19th century society, but also because the aristocratic vampire represents a creature that is not scary because of its monstrosity, but inflicts fear in an interesting and provoking way.

And what does this mean in the relation to the literary vampires today?  For example, Anne Rice’s novels are the exploration of vampires and what it means to be a bloodthirsty monster. Are they only ruled by their thirst for blood, or are they more similar to us than we thought? People do not accept that something is evil without questioning anymore. Say what you want about “new vampires”, but they show how the society has in some aspects changed for the better. Strict moral rules do not apply, women have fought for their right to be emancipated (and are still fighting), and we know that meeting people from all around the world enriches us.

What we fear the most is ourselves. We have become aware of the problems we have caused, both to our species, but also to the world in general. We see what people are capable of doing. We see that we can be monsters. And that is why fictional vampires (and other monsters) have become more and more human-like. And I think this is a good thing, even though a bit concerning. I may sound a bit too optimistic, but I’ll just say it anyway: it is important to start questioning ourselves and taking responsibility for our actions if we want to make the world a better place.


Bibliography:

Collins Jenkins, Mark. Vampire Forensics. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2010. Print.

Joshi, S. T. Encyclopedia of the Vampire. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood, 2011. Print.