How do you pronounce the eldest Marx Brother's name?
I switch back and forth
I've never given it a moment's thought
It's also time for Chapter Two of this novel I'm writing. Remember that thing? This part took me a damn long time because of all the research. I hope you will read and enjoy it.
In the spring of 1765 a man named Johannes Chrysostom Engelhardt left his native city of Berlin, the capital of Prussia, in a rented carriage otherwise occupied by a man named Kimmel and a large traveling trunk. The trunk contained a few personal effects, but for the most part it held books. We know this because one of the books was his journal, and because he was obliging enough to include, on the very first page of that journal, an inventory. In addition to a Bible, Books Seven through Eleven of Pliny's Natural History, various saints' lives, a Latin dictionary, a volume of Plato, and two flintlock pistols, his inventory lists about forty books with names like Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Anges, des Démons et des Esprits and Relation de ce qui s'est passé a Sant-Erini Isle de l'Archipel. These were books about vampires -- which is to say, about dead people who, like Peter Plogojowitz, didn't stay dead. Engelhardt was very interested in this topic. Even his Bible, if you picked it up, would fall open to the page where the Witch of Endor raises Samuel's ghost.
The books were packed in waxed bags, and the trunk fastened shut with leather straps, but even so Engelhardt would not suffer it to ride on top of the carriage. He had to have it where he could see it, which might explain the first line after the inventory: "Kimmel thinks I am being foolish; possibly he thinks I am mad." We do not know who Kimmel is, or what his relation to Engelhardt might have been; he is mentioned only twice, and the second time is to note his departure from the carriage on the outskirts of Berlin. Engelhardt and the books went on to Silesia.
We don't know much about Engelhardt either, beyond a few things that he mentions in passing in the journal. We know, for example, that he was in Paris in 1759, and that he disapproved of many of the things he found there, particularly the romantic vagaries of Sir John Threshpool, an Englishman staying at the same hotel. (Sir John was in love with a fickle French opera singer. Why he chose to tell Engelhardt about it is a mystery, but one night he cried out that she was une vampire, draining his life, and it happened that Engelhardt had never heard the term before.) We know that his dental plate had been made for him by a highly esteemed craftsman named Klapproth. We know that he considered the Balkans to be populated almost entirely by buffoons and Mohammedans, and that in his estimation Mohammedans were even worse than Jews. Furthermore, he must have had some practical experience with corpses, though the exact nature of that experience is unclear.
Trexler says that he was about fifty years old, that he wore a jacket from which the ruffles of his shirt showed briefly at the breast and the cuffs, and that his hair was curled at the temples and tied back with ribbon, as if it were a wig. He chewed pork with those false teeth, and spoke German to uncomprehending peasants with them, down through Prussia and across the Habsburg Monarchy, headed for the Ottoman Empire. Every so often, when the roads were particularly bad, he would have to get out of the carriage and vomit.
This, ladies and gentlemen, was the vampire hunter. We don't think he set out to be one, but that's what he turned into.
In my experience the dead do not dislike the living, though I have seen plenty of evidence that the reverse is true. It's not enough to lock us in boxes, bury us, weight us down with stones; nor to cut us open and remove our organs, replace our blood with formaldehyde, fill our mouths with stones and prayerbooks so we won't gnaw our shrouds; burial facedown, burial with a nail driven between the eyes, burial bound, impaled, strewn with thorns -- none of that will satisfy you sick bastards; then you have to go dig us up again, immolate us, behead us, boil our hearts in wine.
As he rolled through Silesia, Engelhardt collected this information. The familiar words began to appear in his journal: decapitate, excoriate, dismember, impale, immolate, but also murder, suicide, suffocation, bloodletting, and that same delicate phrase, "wild signs." "The narratives bear a marked similarity," he wrote. "Some man or woman, made suspicious through conduct in life or manner of death, is buried but does not rest. By means that can only be guessed at, about which it may not even have occurred to the narrator to speculate, the deceased is translated from the grave. He compels others to follow him to death, generally through strangling them or drinking their blood; these visitations generally occur at night, and most often to people exhausted from toil. The vampire's victims, found by others in their last extremity, manage to accuse him before succumbing. After enough incidents of this kind, the impetus is finally gathered to exhume the suspected vampire, whereupon he is invariably found as fresh as in life. Often too he is bloated with the blood of his victims, if he is of the blood-drinking genus of vampire. The nails and hair are often observed to have continued to grow since death.
"As Dom Calmet notes, Evagrius Ponticus and Johannes Moschus both relate the story of one Thomas, an anchorite who, dying in Antioch, and having no one to claim him, was buried in a great cemetery among beggars and the impoverished, only to be found the next day lying near a great mausoleum in one of the finest sections of that same cemetery; nor could he be reinterred with different results. Indeed, many writers tell us of the dead being compelled by the power of God to speak or to move. The stories of St. Macarius of Egypt, of Injurieux and Scholastica, of the Poor Clare St. Catherine of Bologna, are but a few examples. That the dead may act I doubt not; but can they be animated by a force that is not holy? Can Tertullian's adage, diabola simia Dei, be true even in such instances? My informants seem to be fumbling toward such an idea when they tell me that it is the people who were foulest in life who return from the grave, as though unwilling to allow even death to put a stop to their wicked careers. They do not speak of the translated saints; they speak only of murderers, suicides, the godless and perverted.
"One such narrative was offered to me today, by a group of youths who had had the story of their parents, and swore to me that it was true. A man named Srekovich had ruined his family through his addictions to drink and gambling, and found that the only way to save himself was to procure an advantageous marriage for his sister, a girl of seventeen. The sister, a girl of no common piety, had been determined from a child to enter holy orders; therefore she defied her brother's will, and in a fit of rage he struck her dead. Not long afterward the murderer himself died, and Satan might have been expected to claim him; but on the contrary, he was soon seen by night in the same low surroundings he had frequented in life. Many a fellow profligate, at his last breath, and perhaps feeling at last the blast of the abyss that was to swallow him evermore, swore that it was this Srekovich who had caused his death by gashing his chest and drinking his blood. Finally the murderer was exhumed, and found plump and ruddy as he had never been in life, his habits having wasted his strength. A stake was driven into the monster's heart, whereupon quantites of blood, yet fresh, ran from the nose and mouth, and it uttered a horrifying scream."
Engelhardt's coach was held up twice between Prussia and the Ottoman Empire, but this was to be expected and he records it mostly to note that he had been prepared for worse. His pistols remained under his jacket and his sword at his hip, and his books, the only possessions he cared much about, went unmolested. The first truly interesting thing to occur on his journey came when he arrived in Paczków, a tiny Silesian town encircled for some reason by enormous stone walls. Here there were a town square, a cemetery, and a Gothic church built like a fortress. The day after he arrived, Engelhardt was invited to the exhumation of a vampire.
Her name was Haneczka, he was told, and she had died three weeks before, of a fever brought on by childbirth. Some people had heard her smacking her lips in the grave, always a bad sign, and shortly before Engelhardt's arrival several perfectly healthy people had died. One of them was Haneczka's baby, two were young girls not yet married, and one was a shoemaker. Except for the baby they all lingered for a few days before dying, and the shoemaker said, while lingering, that Haneczka had come to him in the night and throttled him. Since then her ghost had raved throughout the town, jumping on rooftops in the middle of the night, breaking windows, and doing whatever else Silesian peasants thought angry ghosts did. The priest's intervention had done no good. In a panic, the people of the town were eating clods of earth from her grave. Clearly more strenuous measures were necessary.
The convenient timing of this episode did not escape Engelhardt, who sometimes paid for news of the undead, and he would have suspected a setup if the man telling him the story hadn't appeared so anxious. He was Haneczka's brother, and everyone knew that vampires came first for those closest to them in life. He told Engelhardt that the priest and the town council were reluctant to exhume her, but the people of Paczków were not, and planned to do it that day. Engelhardt was a learned man, and a rich one; he came from Prussia, and everyone knew how important a place Prussia was; surely he would bear witness to Haneczka's disinterment, and write down everything that happened, and explain to anyone who objected how necessary the proceedings were? Engelhardt said he would.
"The cemetery stands in the shadow of the church, a medieval structure patterned after a fort and named for St. John the Evangelist." That's how Engelhardt describes the scene. Like most of his descriptions, this is inadequate. The Church of St. John the Evangelist, of which I have seen pictures, is an enormous brick box with stained-glass windows slit in its sides and crenellations shaped like human molars on top. "The weather was mild and two men, working with spades, soon reached the coffin in the soft earth. This they might have chosen to uncover at once, but given the general consternation that had seized the people of the town, it is not surprising that they instead secured it with ropes and, with the help of some other men, hoisted it to the lip of the grave. It was not they but the man who had been presented to me as Tazio, brother of Haneczka, who removed the lid.
"Several hundred people were assembled -- a substantial portion of the population of Patschkau -- and it was some moments before I could make my way to the front of the crowd. The Silesians, ignorant of such matters, were exclaiming over the soundness of the body, the plumpness and flexibility of the limbs, the freshness of the skin, and its florid color, which they attributed to its having drunk the blood of its victims, though until that moment there had been no mention of blood-drinking. All this was relayed to me by Tazio, who seemed to feel it important that I be kept well informed of the proceedings, as if I represented or were capable of conferring the approval of my government; or perhaps he merely hoped, by acting as my interpreter, to be excused from any of the more unpleasant proceedings that followed. When I told him that the condition of the body did not appear to me extraordinary, he seemed to think he had misunderstood me. To his mind, as to those of the others, it was impossible that a normal body should be so sound after three weeks' interment.
"I took the liberty of examining the body, which was indeed florid and plump. In vain I explained to Tazio that this was the result of gases that had accumulated since burial in the limbs and cavities, and that the 'new skin' on the corpse's hands was merely the dermal layer, the epidermal having sloughed off. Even if he had been more willing to listen, the crowd was clamoring for the dismemberment of Haneczka's remains, and I was obliged to move off to make room for the butcher. There in the shadow of the church, with many in the pious crowd uttering prayers and invocations to God, Haneczka's body was deprived of its head and hands, and its back hacked open so that the heart might be removed. Meanwhile several men -- perhaps the same ones who had hoisted the coffin from the pit -- fetched a great deal of wood and pitch with which to cremate the body.
"When the butcher removed the heart, and held it aloft, I believe I was the only one of the crowd who did not make the sign of the cross. (I need hardly mention that by this time the stench from the violated corpse was very noticeable. Many of the crowd held cloths before their faces, and I believe I should have been ill if I had not done the same.) The body in its component parts was thereafter quickly loaded onto the pyre and immolated, much to the satisfaction of all assembled. All this having been done, I was told, surely Haneczka did not have it in her power to molest the people of Patschkau further."
Didn't I tell you, James would cry, supposing he were reading this narrative to you, didn't I tell you people were superstitious idiots? This sort of story delights him. I think he likes the idea that he cannot possibly exist. At the same time he likes the idea that he is capable of all sorts of nonsensical mischief -- that it is his nature not only to kill people without feeling remorse, but to smash their windows, jump on their roofs, kill their cattle, and generally inconvenience them. He would like to be the sort of creature who commits murder and vandalism with equal gusto.
In Bohemia Engelhardt learned that the dead sometimes call out to the living, thereby causing their deaths; dismissing this as ridiculous he went on to Moravia, where he learned that the dead will go so far as to show up uninvited at parties. By the time he got to Vienna, grateful as he was for civilization, he was beginning to lose his patience with the undead in general. They were everywhere, responsible for everything, but he had yet to meet one. In Wallachia he went so far as to feign the symptoms of vampire molestation, beginning with a calculated swoon over a plate of pork knees in the dining room of his inn, but it didn't work. The Wallachians either didn't understand him when he said (in German) that he was being followed by a white spectre, or -- and this was Engelhardt's own belief -- pretended not to. In a Teutonic huff he packed up his trunk and proceeded to Bulgaria.
Of course there were serial killers in the eighteenth century, just as there have been in every century, and no one can say for certain that Engelhardt wasn't one of them. I like to imagine him that way, wreathed as he was in morose Catholic imagery -- holding bloody instruments of torture, dishes with human organs in them, that kind of thing. If that idea pleases you, by all means keep it in mind as we continue.
Bulgaria itself was everything Engelhardt detested most about the Balkans. A word he employs frequently in this section is barbarisch, which strictly translated of course means "barbaric," but in this particular instance seems to mean something more specific and complicated, broadly "of, like, or pertaining to an uncultured mass of humanity choked with barnyard animals and lorded over by Turks." Trexler, who was there at the same time, is capable of rhapsodizing at length on the beauty of the forested slopes, the waterfalls, the limpid pools, but stuff like that can be hard to appreciate when you're vomiting. In such an environment Sofia, the capital city, came as a surprise -- a welcome one, because the roads were paved, but not as welcome as you might imagine, because of the gilded carriages and the marble bathhouses stuffed with preening courtesans. Engelhardt disapproved, which was what he did best. "Perhaps here I have at last found vampires," he writes. "Their spirits departed, their bodies continue to feed on men by night. Perhaps the dead also eat, and wipe their mouths, and say, 'I have done no wickedness.'"
For a while he could make himself understood only by gesturing, which didn't work very well, or by finding people who spoke Greek and speaking Greek to them -- while gesturing, because theirs was contemporary and his was Attic. This worked a little better but was more complicated, because there wasn't always a Greek speaker handy. He did know the word for "vampire," but he found that people only looked at him funny if he asked about vroucolacas. They assumed he was trying to say something about swimming.
After a few days Engelhardt acquired the services of an interpreter, a man named Kirov who had learned German in Vienna. Before he shows up you should know that the journal from which all this information is derived has been translated a few times -- once into French, once into Bulgarian, and once into English. This latter translation was made in around 1870, by an undead Englishman named Rountree, which brings us back to Kirov: Rountree's solution to the problem of his rusty Viennese German was to render it as rusty English in a working-class dialect, like The Pickwick Papers only with fangs. The first thing Kirov says, approaching Engelhardt in the dining room of his inn, is "Beg your honor's pardon, but's my belief you're wanting a man can talk German."
Engelhardt did want such a man, very badly, but he was not impressed with this one at first glance. He was emaciated and twitchy, and his face was marred by a raised pinkish rash. "Order coffee," Engelhardt told him, and Kirov obeyed, slapping his lambskin hat on the table and calling out in a loud voice. He came from a village on the other side of the country, he said, but he had spent three years working in a textile factory in Vienna. At the end of the conversation they had agreed on a fee of two bits a day, one quarter of a Spanish dollar. They rose to go. Watching Kirov lurch toward the door, Engelhardt -- who had spent his life in the great capitals of Europe, amid the painted whores -- realized that his interpreter was dying of syphilis. It was eating his brain and the sheath of his spine. Very probably he would soon go mad, if he wasn't mad already.
Engelhardt, that expert in the mechanics of human corruption, knew the symptoms so well that he barely mentions them, except to say that anyway the part of Kirov's brain that knew German had not yet been affected. The question was whether he ought to give money to a syphilitic, knowing that his condition was doubtless a punishment visited on him by God for the sin of lust. If Engelhardt did not first insist that Kirov repent of his sin, then his money merely paved Kirov's way to Hell -- and his own, for by abetting the sin he became a party to it, and Engelhardt emphatically did not want to be a party to the act that had given Kirov syphilis. Steeped as the city was in Oriental decadence, there was no telling to what depths of sexual depravity even an ordinary man might sink.
"In the prelapsarian state there was neither sickness nor death," he writes, and ends two pages later by deciding that Kirov is a filthy sinner whom it would be likewise a sin to give money that he would just turn around and spend on mercury to rub into his sores. "Yet Elisha cured Naaman, who was a Syrian and an enemy of the Israelites, of leprosy, the punishment he had inflicted for their disloyalty on Gehazi and on Miriam; the Philistines themselves were healed of their plague when they made a trespass offering of gold unto the Lord, whom they had offended; and in the Book of Matthew Jesus Himself commands the disciples to heal the sick and cleanse the lepers. Can it be a sin to do as Jesus commanded the disciples to do?"
In the end he gave Kirov the two bits -- that day, and for many days afterward. He gave him as well a pound of the tobacco he had bought in Austria, and his own, that is to say Engelhardt's own, snuffbox of blue Battersea enamel. "These I presented to him quite as if I had been the King of France, and he some visiting dignitary; and he accepted them likewise with a gravity that would have been altogether fitting in that circumstance. I told him that physicians in my country, as well as in France and England, recommended the taking of snuff for illnesses such as his, and that it could regulate the circulation of the blood and even assist in discharging its impurities. At this mention of his condition he appeared uneasy, as indeed my allusion to it was not very delicate, but he heaped thanks on me as prettily as his knowledge of German permitted, calling me his friend and benefactor and addressing me by a number of official appellations to which I am not at all entitled; indeed I believe he would made me the equal of Friedrich the Great had I not interrupted him.
"'Kirov,' I said, 'You must know you have invited this misfortune through the evil of your conduct, and that God has spared you that you may seek redemption through Him before it is too late. All that medicines can do is prolong your days of sin on this earth; they cannot save you from death, or give you that abundant life gained only through the Redeemer.' Kirov is not, to judge from what he has told me, descended from those many Bulgarians whom the Turks forcibly converted to their religion; in fact he shows little inclination to religious observance of any kind. But it was he who had told me of the terrible slaughter the Mohammedans had on more than one occasion visited upon those martyrs who refused to relinquish the faith of Jesus, and it was he who had told me of the cave his people call the Devil's Throat, where in ancient times Orpheus was said to have decended to the underworld in search of Eurydice, and where many centuries later these martyrs had been thrown to their deaths by the heathens. It is said that anything that enters the Devil's Throat will never emerge. In short, I hoped to appeal to some sense dormant in Kirov of the burning faith to which so many of his countrymen had sacrificed all. He swore to go that very day to a church and repent of his sins. I put little stock in this vow, but nevertheless my influence may be of some use to him, and it may be followed by others more sincere."
Matters having been settled as to the state of his mortal soul, Kirov smeared himself with mercury, and sweated profusely, and spat at least ten times an hour, "to rid himself of the contamination," as Engelhardt explains it. The twitching and the staggering did not diminish, but the rash cleared up, to be replaced by the new odious personal quality of a nose perpetually running from all that snuff. (Surprisingly, the journal betrays no squeamishness about all the evacuation of bodily fluids Kirov was doing. Perhaps every human body, to Engelhardt, was equally a body of death, none more repulsive than any other.)
Depending on whom they asked, the creature Engelhardt called Vampir could be upir, obour, upior, or ubour. That was simple enough. There was also a creature called mara, a kind of succubus that Engelhardt knew from Germanic legend. His prior knowledge of this entity rendered it uninteresting to him, but I imagine it was comforting in a way to find a familiar monster among the barbarisch terrors of the Balkans. He had never before, to name one example of Barbarismus, encountered people so obsessed with dead babies. The farther from Sofia he ranged, the deeper into the forests and higher up the slopes, the more he heard about them.
"It's called an ustrel, she says, it dies before it gets" -- and Kirov stammered and gestured until Engelhardt, in a sudden access of intuition, suggested the word baptized. "That's it! And it digs it right out again arter nine days and goes for the cows." What did it look like? "Sort of toothy, like an ugly dog. But you can't always see it, sometimes it ain't but a shadow, like she says a thick place in the air." Did it ever attack people? "Only when there ain't no cows or sheep. She says to kill it you got to get it when it's stuck to one, because then it don't ever let go. You light a fire at the" -- Engelhardt was so familiar by this time with the customary apotropaics that he instantly supplied the word crossroads -- "and drive the cow in with the thing stuck to it." Had she ever witnessed this procedure? "No, but her ma did." The mother of course was dead, Engelhardt notes in the margin.
Dead babies, when they did not stay decently dead, were liable to reserve their worst havoc for newborns and their mothers, or for women in childbed. This tended to result in more dead babies, which compounded the problem. "Since the time of creation no peasants have lived more intimately than these with the stark things of this world, its filth and suffering; and yet, as if this world, though constantly present to them and almost as constantly painful, were still neither present nor painful enough, they borrow objects of terror from the spirit world, carpeting the ground with children's bodies, lodging vengeful demons between the horns of their cattle, and hearing in the cry of any bird the voice of a dead infant demanding baptism." Doubtless this is something of an exaggeration. The same can be said of Trexler's suspiciously rosy memories of the same time and place, in which, to hear him tell it, Bulgarian peasants spent most of their time playing the gadulka and weaving fanciful belts. They took time out during the day to herd sheep, and at night to consider the problem of dead babies eating their livestock, but neither of these occupations troubled them seriously or took up too much of their time. As for forced conversion at the point of a scimitar, that hardly ever happened.
"It must have been loveliest during the day," he told me, "the white sheep massed on the green hills, don't you think? and the sunlight, the dust in the sunlight, like powdered gold, I used to imagine. And the violets, violetka. You've never lived without electricity, so you don't know how hard it was to see enough color. I'd like to go back with a flashlight one day and look at them. They must be very colorful flowers, violets, to have a name like that."
If you ask him what he was doing in Bulgaria Trexler will tell you that he was being Turkish because he looked the part and because being Turkish was a pretty sweet gig in the Balkans in 1767. The good times were about to end, though. Pretty soon the Bulgarians were going to get the same idea about their oppressors that the French were getting about theirs at the other side of Europe, and what Trexler calls the times of trouble were going to begin, making Turks, and vampires pretending to be Turks, much less comfortable. Beautiful Sofia, brave with marble and gilding, concubines and slaves, was going to be reduced to a wide place in the road with a fort in it -- a shame, he thinks, though he's glad the Bulgarians gained their independence from people like him, and even gladder that he wasn't around when it happened.
Engelhardt, on the other hand, expresses a wish that the Turks would oppress the Bulgarians a little more efficiently, so that better roads might be built, for instance. There were any number of perfectly able-bodied men lying dead drunk in huts when they might have been sowing wheat or mending something, though he is unclear on the specifics. But surely something could be done to confine the livestock overflowing the yards, and everything could have used a thorough scrubbing, most particularly the peasants themselves, "who seem to regard bathing as a risible waste of time, if not, under certain circumstances, an active invitation to ill luck, and who do not change their garments above four times in a year, as they should wear out: this was divulged to me by Kirov, who explains the customs of his rural countrymen with an apologetic condescension suited to such a man of the world; though I had already suspected as much myself, the odor of the Bulgarian peasant at close quarters being quite as noxious as that of any rotted corpse he should accuse of vampirism."
They rode through the forest on horseback, Engelhardt in front and Kirov behind providing a running tally of Bulgarian customs for his edification. Engelhardt should not say anything complimentary about a young child, lest evil spirits take this as an invitation to mischief. (Englehardt notes privately that the same belief is found in Italy, though the Bulgarians do not recommend the Italian counter-charm of spitting in the child's face, for which he is grateful, as it was also bad luck in Bulgaria to wash a child under the age of seven. Furthermore, "Although spitting is advisable generally to one with his affliction, no good could come of Kirov's spitting in such a manner as the Italian custom dictates, and I had no wish to introduce the idea to him.") It was bad luck to draw water after dark. When one did draw water, one should slosh a bit out in case any spirits were floating like oil on the surface of the bucket.
"Spirits!" cried Engelhardt. "Is there no square meter of this country not contaminated with them? I was told, Kirov, that your country has been a Christian one for nearly a thousand years; yet this perpetual pagan nonsense makes me question whether it has ever been Christian at all."
"Sir!" cried Kirov -- cried is Rountree's translation of the word Engelhardt uses here -- "It ain't fair you saying them things. Have you forgot all I told Your Honor about the Devil's Throat, and the men died there? Weren't that Christian? And the churches, the manastiri--"
The word sounded enough like Greek for Engelhardt to venture Klöster as the German equivalent.
"--That the Turks would tear down, and the people built 'em up again? Weren't they as good Christians as anyone in Prussia?"
Engelhardt conceded that this was possible, though he wondered if the Bulgarians would have clung so tenaciously to their faith had the hated Turks not tried to take it from them. He writes, "If only they could be made to believe that industry and sobriety were an inconvenience to their conquerors, I believe they would shortly become a shining example to all nations; as the Turk hates inebriation, however, the Bulgarian loves it all the more, and the character of both man and nation fall out accordingly."
That night he watched with distaste as his hosts drank wine communally from a jug, crossing themselves before each draught to keep the Devil from entering their bodies. He and Kirov, who had gone too far into the mountains to make it back to Sofia before dark, sat on mats before the fire in what they had been assured was the best house in the village. A loaf was baking on the hearth. Kirov was being questioned simultaneously by every member of the household about Engelhardt's clothing, his pistols, his wealth, and his personal history, and between questions refreshing himself with the wine jug.
"You engage in the same ignorant practice of crossing yourself before you drink, for all your talk of monasteries," Engelhardt said.
"O' course," said Kirov, whose eyes were beginning to glitter rather manically in the firelight. "These's simple folk, Your Honor, and us had better do like them so long as we're here. Certain it can't hurt to cross myself, can it?" And Engelhardt, who was by no means certain that the peasants would not murder them both in their sleep for his money and guns, or for Kirov's snuffbox, admitted to himself that it was among the least of their problems.
Engelhardt decided it would be wise to raise the subject of vampires before either his interpreter or the subjects of his interview got too drunk to be of any use. Accordingly Kirov crossed himself, took a drink, wiped his mouth, and addressed the group around the hearth, which by then included several neighbors. He was rewarded with a cacophony of responses from everyone in the hut, including the women, who up to this point had lurked silently in the corner.
"What are they saying?" demanded Engelhardt.
"Seems they had a vampire a few years ago, but I can scarce twig 'em," replied Kirov. From his traveling bag Engelhardt produced the journal and a stick of graphite wrapped in leather. The man of the house, having shouted everyone else down, related the story to Kirov, who related it to Engelhardt, who copied it down as faithfully as he could.
"If a vampire lives long enough, he says, it gets to look like any other man, and lives like a man, and can marry and work, that was the kind of vampire they had here. That kind of vampire, he says, it's hard to spot 'em: you only know acos the cattle start to take and die. They would get sick and then one morning they'd find 'em dead. And there was a man come to the village before it started, so they asked his wife, but she said it weren't him. And the cattle kept dying so they asked her again and finally she let on as how he would disappear at night and she didn't know to where, and that's how they knowed it were him was the upior, the Vampir I mean, sucking the life out o' the animals each night."
"And what did they do then?"
"Says they caught him and looked at him to see if they could tell he was a vampire, and sure enough his tongue came to a point."
"His tongue? Is that how you tell a vampire?" asked Engelhardt.
"That's how they knowed he weren't really a man."
"And then what?"
Kirov put the question. After a moment he replied, "They tied him up and burned him alive."
Engelhardt reports that it was not until he copied this down that its full significance struck him. "Alive?"
Kirov's eyes still had their manic glitter, but his expression was horrified. "They tied him up and threw him in," he said. "Herr Engelhardt, how he must have screamed!"
"Calm yourself," said Engelhardt. "Ask if the cure worked."
It had, they were told; some cows that were sickly even got better once the vampire was dead. The man of the house, their narrator, crossed himself and drank; the others rushed to supply details.
"His name was Panayot, she says…it happened three years ago…these fools!" said Kirov. "This one says it weren't only his tongue, says there were something queer about his pinky fingers, too. Pah! Murderers!"
"Would he not have been served the same in your village?"
"No fear! You'd have to be touched to think a vampire could look so much like a man. And get married? Lie with a woman that way? Where I'm from you'd not hear such stuff. But the screaming, oh! Imagine it!" Kirov shuddered, and clasped his arms to his chest, as if he were cold.
"Calm yourself," Engelhardt said again. "Don't show them your feelings in the matter. I am armed; they will not harm us, even should they wish to."
About supper Engelhardt says only that the main feature was a great deal of very garlicky sauerkraut, and about sleeping that as the guest of honor he was given the luxury of a knot of rags to use as a pillow as he lay fully clothed on the floor. He considered arranging it with Kirov to sleep in shifts, but decided that the fancies his interpreter's diseased brain was likely to produce over the course of four hours awake in the dark would actually increase the odds of their both ending up in shallow graves. He slept with a gun in each hand, both hands thrust under his jacket so his hosts wouldn't discern that he anticipated being attacked in his sleep.
Describing this -- because he will describe it, though he wasn't there any more than you were, and knows about it only from the same source -- Trexler will appear positively ready to burst into tears. Oh, the frailty of man! And in more practical terms, how uncomfortable it must have been to sleep in that position! Engelhardt must have looked like a mummy, with his arms folded across his breast. And when he did wake up, feeling as stiff as if he had been beaten, it must have been a fraction of a second before he was sure he was still in a mud hut in Bulgaria, and not in Purgatory.
You may have noticed that Trexler spares none of his tender sentiments for Kirov, who spent the night in much the same way, only unarmed. To him Kirov was a plant in its native soil, unkillable, vigorous despite disease and hunger and oppression, and before that the disease and hunger and oppression his ancestors had endured for thousands of years. You couldn't hurt him with sleeping on the floor, he will say, any more than you could a negro or an Armenian. And if you mention that he still could have been hurt with a knife, for example, I am sure Trexler will find a way to wave this notion aside.
"Kirov haggled vigorously with, it seemed, each member of the family in turn, concerning the price to be exacted for our room and board of the night before. In the end the price agreed upon was four pistoles. Kirov was concerned lest we gain a reputation as wealthy men whom to rob would be profitable; therefore he instructed me to produce the money grudgingly, which indeed was not difficult, given the absurdity of the sum when contrasted with the nature of the lodging we had received. The while I did this, he continued to talk to our hosts, doubtless emphasizing the terrible burden this charge of four pistoles was to me. At last we departed, each with a quarter of a loaf, these being also the result of Kirov's negotiations."
Engelhardt was dispirited. I imagine the ruffles drooping at his breast, fraying at his wrists. And so what if he was a serial killer, bloodstained and perfumed with church incense? Serial killers have bad days too. Maybe he had hoped to carve a grand and gory path through this unlettered land, and traveled a thousand miles to do it, only to find himself casually outdone by a people who thought nothing of setting someone on fire in response to suboptimal agricultural conditions. What could a gentleman psychopath, a good Christian, do to make an impression on such people? And on the other hand, if he was simply a law-abiding Prussian vampire hunter, what did vampires matter when the living were so horrible?
One way or another, as night fell he and Kirov arrived at Rilski, a monastery that Kirov claimed was the equal of any in Greece. Probably it had been his idea to go there, to prove to Engelhardt that there really were good Christians in Bulgaria; and probably Engelhardt had gone along with him, too dispirited to object.
"Upiri," said the monk. He and Engelhardt had found themselves to be mutually intelligible in classical Greek, but he used the Slavonic word. "You came all this way for upiri?"
Darkness had fallen completely by this time, and the slashing rain continued that had begun as Engelhardt and Kirov were received at the monastery. The wooden walls of the buildings groaned in the wind. Because there could be no answer to the monk's question that was both brief and truthful, Engelhardt told him about la vampire of Sir John Threshpool, about Dom Calmet and Tertullian, about the translation of Thomas the anchorite and about Haneczka's dead baby suckling at her dead breast. When he got up to the story of unlucky Panayot, and the manner in which they had learned it, Kirov interjected several times in Bulgarian. Engelhardt was not surprised to hear the monk say, "He says the poor man must have screamed very much."
"My interpreter is prone to such flights of imagination."
"And yet it is true, the man must have screamed."
"You are not impressed with what you have seen of Bulgaria so far, Herr Engelhardt. For this I cannot blame you. Superstition and ignorance are powerful here still. When a nation is enslaved, it is difficult for its people to reason as free men would."
Engelhardt was transcribing this conversation as it took place. Here, in the margin, is a later addendum in his handwriting: "They blame the Turks for everything."
"We have produced our share of blasphemies. As recently as two hundred years ago there thrived the belief that Satan was the creator of this world and God's equal in power. Believe me, the Church had much to do to overthrow it. That is why your peasants crossed themselves before drinking, and why, as you say, fancied terrors have more power to move them than the real terrors of hunger and poverty. The blasphemy is dead, but still Satan has an immediacy here that he does not have in other countries. Your upir is a footsoldier in his army."
I think there was a long pause then. I think the flames guttered in the lamps. Engelhardt had taken off his cloak and it hung somewhere, dripping.
"Doubtless you are right," he said at last. If he said anything else, he didn't write it down.
The room in which they slept was long and narrow, a kind of dormitory with beds on either side. Kirov and Engelhardt were the sole occupants. Presumably they had been given something to eat, but Engelhardt's descriptions of his physical circumstances, inadequate as they are to begin with, dwindle almost to nothing when he is depressed. Having come all this way for upiri he had found nothing but whores, which were plentiful everywhere, and degenerate devil-worshipers, who were evidently more likely to kill him than the other way around.
He didn't know how long he had been asleep when he was awakened by a scream. In the blackness he groped for his pistols and slipped out of bed. For a moment there was no further sound except the drumming of the rain, then two voices in high-pitched Bulgarian, and at last Kirov in German: "It's all right, Herr Engelhardt, it's only Brother Ivan, though he pretty near frit the life out o' me."
The monk uncovered his lamp. In the enormous darkness of the dormitory Englehardt could barely see his face between the trailing black lappets of his veil.
"I have not told you everything," he said.
"He came like you, after vespers. At first we did not know if we should admit him. The woods here are remote but not unoccupied, and we have been attacked before. He called out to us in the name of Christ, begging that we not turn him away. We let him in at last, but we brought our guns. This happened seven years ago.
"In his appearance he was a man like any other, perhaps twenty years of age, and dressed in the Turkish fashion, which explains some of our initial reluctance to open to him. He was not a Turk, however, but a Bulgar. Perhaps your guide has explained to you that bandits sometimes affect Turkish dress and call each other by Turkish names in order to make themselves harder to identify. This man knew that we knew this: he said at once that he was what he seemed, a common highwayman, but that he had seen something that was uncommon. Before this we had asked him his name, and he told us he was called Mehmed. 'I am a Christian, but I dare not tell you my true name, not even here,' he said. 'I have not spoken it tonight, even to the one I met in the forest.'
"He was as pale as death, but he was not wounded, though we found blood on his clothing. Yet he was mad with fear. His eyes roved constantly, always returning to the doors and windows. He had barely the strength to sit upright in a chair. 'What frightened you?' we asked. We offered him food and drink but he choked on the smallest morsel.
"Finally he said, 'I am afraid because I have spoken with the Devil.'
"Perhaps you can understand now why I did not tell you this at once, Mr. Engelhardt. Our church does not endorse such beliefs as this man had. They savor of other beliefs that we have worked hard to overthrow. I would not be telling you this at all, if it were not for the events that followed.
"The man who called himself Mehmed told us that he and his band had attacked a group of travelers, though he was not sure whether this had happened that day or the day before it. During the attack he received an injury. One of the travelers, he said, thrust a knife into his belly."
"But you said he was uninjured," said Engelhardt.
"And so he was, and so we protested, but he silenced us. He had been stabbed, he said, and there he fell. When he awoke it was night. There was a moon, and by its light he saw the Devil. He did not know at first that it was the Devil, only that it was a man barefoot and bareheaded, with wild flowers stuck in his hair. This man said to him, 'You were half dead when I found you, but if you listen carefully you will never die.' At that moment, Mehmed told us, he realized he was standing, and that the wound from the knife thrust was gone. 'What is your name?' the man asked him, and laughed at the reply. 'You are no more a Turk than I am! But it doesn't matter. Now pay attention, Mehmed, because from now on there are only four things that can kill you: a nail in your skull, a stake in your heart, your head chopped off, and the light of the sun. Understand?'
"Of course he did not understand, but he was too awed to speak. 'The rest you will learn in time. Remember, the sun must never touch you again.' Then he vanished, and Mehmed ran until he reached our gates."
"You said there was blood on his clothing," said Engelhardt. "Did it look as if a man wearing it had been stabbed?"
"And what then? Did you allow him to stay?"
"At first we could think of nothing else to do. He had not lied when he told us he was a Christian. His behavior was devout but strange. He ate very little, and then only in private, in the cell we had given him for his own use. He remained there during the day. He was present every evening at vespers and the other evening services, but at none of the daytime services. In the evenings, when not at worship, he assisted in the infirmary or at menial chores. We often heard him praying as he worked, but he looked no less haunted by fear than he had when he first came to us. And when, after several days, one of the monks died, he seemed to become very much worse.
"The death was unexpected, but not violent. Stefan was often troubled by pains in his head. On the previous evening he had taken a draught to help him sleep. It was a preparation he had taken many times before on like occasions. In the morning he was dead." Engelhardt asked him how Stefan had died. "We could not be sure. He seemed to have had some kind of hemorrhage as he slept."
"Then there was…there was blood?"
"Yes," said Ivan. "There was blood on his chest and face, but no wound. It must have come from his nose or his mouth."
Another addendum in the margin tells us that here Kirov crossed himself with such urgency he nearly fell out of his chair.
Happy Teethmas to everyone!