Chapter Six – Legends In Blood
David L. Anthony
The mind of the common man contains a sense of fear that can only be described as “primal.” This instinctive fear generates an uncontrollable response to fight or flee, along with a deep trembling feeling of anxiety. One never forgets this feeling when faced with fright and panic. You don’t think straight, and the instinct to survive overtakes your every thought. You either fight, run away, or DIE; there aren’t any other choices.
Oddly enough, sometimes we don’t even know when or where this basic instinct will arise. Something as simple as a box of dirt can conjure up images of horror if one knows the background and the trepidation that accompanies it.
A fall buying trip to the eastern part of the United States landed Douglas Stacy in the tiny hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, New York. Of course, the legendary ghost story of the Headless Horseman dominated the area. Although this yarn produced lots of so-called related artifacts that the locals wanted to sell him, he passed on all of them. His reputation rests on his ability to locate those unique items of rarity that most have never seen.
He rarely bought items from other dealers or markets. Instead, he sought out those items harbored in attics or hidden away due to the stigma associated with them. That is how he ended up at the home of Heinrich Busendorf, who immigrated from Austria to the states several years ago. While enjoying an evening drink at the local pub, Douglas quizzed several locals about where he might find some oddities for his shop, and he was directed to speak with Heinrich.
The colossal door knocker, in the shape of a dragon, banged with a deep tone on the oak door. It opened slowly and with only a small crack. The aging man was far from welcoming and wasn’t inclined to even speak to his uninvited visitor. He spoke broken English with a strong Austrian accent.
“Vat is it that you vant? Zis is not boarding house, go avay.”
A foot literally placed in the doorway allowed for a quick explanation by Douglas. He presented his business card and explained that he was searching for some unusual items that he heard may be stowed at this location.
Heinrich stood back and sized up his visitor. Well dressed, well-mannered, and articulate, this wasn’t the usual visitor to this part of the world. The conversation centered around a legend of terror that few would understand. The duo sat down in the parlor and shared a drink.
“Zis discussion vould have been better told by my grandpapa, for it vas he who unearthed this dark secret from ze old country.”
“Mein Gott,” which means (My God in English), some questions shouldn’t be asked because you may not be prepared for the answer. This only stirred the desire to learn more, and Douglas leaned forward towards his host and pleaded to hear more about this mystery.
Heinrich’s grandfather, Dr. Van Helsing, led a crusade to rid the earth of this primal fear. The lands of Transylvania held many tales of blood lust that evolved from one Vlad Dracula. The leader of a fierce ancient army that intimidated its opponents with unspeakable horror on the battlefield. As the opposing forces reached the crest of the hill, they came upon the horror of seeing their fellow compatriots impaled vertically on spikes and left in the sun to die a slow and horrible death. Such was the notoriety of “Vlad the Impaler.” But now, it seemed that a resurrection of an ancestor produced another form of evil, and Dr. Van Helsing took up the quest to unearth and purge the world of this embodiment of Vlad. It seemed that lore of Count Dracula was very real and still struck fear in the hearts of those that believed.
Just who was Dr. Van Helsing, Douglas asked? So, the lesson began by describing a seemingly arbitrary man who knew what he was talking about better than anyone else. He was a philosopher and metaphysician and one of the most advanced scientists of his day with an open mind. A man of iron nerve, a temper of the ice-brook, and indomitable resolution, self-command, and toleration exalted from virtues to blessings. The kindliest and most faithful of heart, these formed the equipment for the noble work he was doing for humanity, in theory, and practice, for his views were as wide as his all-embracing sympathy.
His friends described him “as a man of medium height, strongly built, with his shoulders set back over a broad, deep chest and a neck well balanced on the trunk as the head is on the neck. The poise of the head strikes me at once as indicative of thought and power. The head is noble, well-sized, broad, and large behind the ears. The face, clean-shaven, shows a hard, square chin, a large resolute, mobile mouth, a good-sized nose, rather straight, but with quick, sensitive nostrils that seem to broaden as the big bushy brows come down and the mouth tightens. The forehead is broad and fine, rising at first almost straight and then sloping back above two bumps or ridges wide apart, such a forehead that the reddish hair cannot possibly tumble over it, but falls naturally back and to the sides. Big, dark blue eyes are set widely apart and are quick and tender or stern with the man’s moods.”
The story unfolded as Heinrich came down from the attic with two wooden boxes. He commented that it was fortuitous that Douglas would arrive at this time of the year. Halloween was just a few days away and held a special meaning to the family. He pontificated that Halloween was the product of Samhain’s ancient Celtic harvest festival known as the spiritual observance of “All Hallows Eve.” It came via the Scottish and Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s, who celebrated with elaborate house parties. Dressing up in costumes like witches, ghosts, bats, and the devil was commonplace. During Victorian times the house would be decorated with numerous candles and Jack-o-Lanterns to set the spooky mood. Jack-o-Lanterns named in honor of an Irish trickster caught between Heaven and Hell after offending both the Devil and God.
At this time, people were fascinated by spiritualism and the supernatural. Seances, Ouija boards, and telling ghost stories were popular forms of entertainment year-round, especially during Halloween. Young women also enjoyed playing variations of the “magic mirror” game, where they stood in front of a mirror at midnight. If the spirits were pleased, their future husband’s reflection would appear in the looking glass. However, some supernatural beings can not cast a mirror image.
Heinrich dusted off the first wooden box, elaborately decorated with a cross and other gothic carvings. Douglas thought the box itself was worthy of his attention, let alone what might be inside. As the lid slowly opened, it revealed a plethora of tools that only one who was enlightened to the mystery of Dracula would understand. The small chest held crucifixes, holy water, a wooden stake and mallet, rosary beads, a gothic bible, brass candlesticks, matching pistols, a brass powder flask, and a large hand-forged Grand Daddy Barlow knife. Of no surprise to Douglas, it had a coffin-style handle on the bottom. Being an expert in cutlery, Douglas carefully examined the knife and admired the fit and finish letting it snap shut to hear the melodic walk and talk of the unusual piece of cutlery. What was this odd collection of accouterments? It seemed that what was before them was a Victorian vampire hunting kit. Each item is essential to the demise of one of the earth’s most feared inhabitants.
Heinrich explained that his grandfather first learned of the vampire from an 1819 publication of John Polidori’s, entitled “The Vampyre.” This kit belonged to his grandfather personally, and traveled across the ocean to now reside in New England. Douglas was enamored with the box and couldn’t believe his luck finding such a treasure. The stories that it could tell would be enough to frighten even the most incorrigible optimist. But now, his attention drew towards the other box. He thought it would be challenging to top this historical treasure.
The next box proved to be even more interesting as it had a fantastic story associated with it. Dr. Van Helsing had made it his life’s work to rid the earth of this scourge. After numerous attempts to destroy Dracula in the depths of his Transylvania castle, the battle moved to a different field. London, England became the focus of the melee, and it took some unique tactics on the part of Dracula to ensure his continued conquest of the British Isles. One lesser-known ploy was the need for him to bring boxes of his native soil from where he was born, each strategically placed to protect him from the sun during the day. Extensive travel made it difficult to rely on just one container, given the various locations he visited.
These boxes of consecrated loam, in which Dracula could regenerate his powers, held particular Transylvanian dirt that allowed him to be connected to his homeland. It wasn’t possible to regenerate on British soil, as there would be no connection between the rudimentary English dirt and the extraordinary Transylvanian variety. Dracula was Transylvanian, and it held special powers. When descending into the soil, he was an ancient-looking monster, but upon sleeping in it, he would rise up as a young man again, sort of a rebirth. The consecrated dirt acted like a potion of immortality for his body. Dracula had 50 boxes of earth stashed in various locations to allow for multiple haunts in the vicinity of London. Dr. Van Helsing used these hideouts to try and destroy Dracula, preventing the further spread of evil. He raided each of these locations and placed sacramental bread in the containers of the earth to effectively “sterilized” them, preventing Dracula from implementing his evil scheme.
Van Helsing’s devotion to the church and Catholicism tied him to an old world of established rituals. However, he respected ancient traditions and believed in superstition and folk remedies. He often applied more modern tactics to his quest. Others just couldn’t see past the limits of contemporary science, but with his open-minded belief in more mysterious ways, he was able to realize what needed to be done. Most people in what he called the ”scientific, matter-of-fact nineteenth century” found it challenging to accept the existence of vampires. Without Van Helsing’s knowledge and willingness to go beyond the avant-garde and rational, the world would never understand what evil lurked around them.
As he searched for Dracula, he surmised the following after a gruesome discovery. “All men are mad in some way or the other, and inasmuch as you deal discreetly with your madmen, so deal with God’s madmen too, the rest of the world. Dracula is immensely strong, for he is more like a wild beast than a man. I never saw a lunatic in such a paroxysm of rage before, and I hope I shall not again.”
Early one morning, he came upon the remains of a large dog, a half-bred mastiff that belonged to a coal merchant. It was found dead in the roadway opposite its owner’s yard. It had been fighting an apparently savage opponent, for its throat was torn away, and its belly was slit open as if its attacker had a savage claw. A sure sign that a demented monster had slain the unknowing creature.
On Halloween day, Douglas had returned back home to Ironton, Ohio. Opting not to attend any festivities, he decided to retire early that evening after a long but successful trip to the northeast. This particular October evening was warm; a full moon showed through his bedroom window, and a dense fog rolled in from the cooler waters of the nearby river. He had just found sleep when a knock came at his door. Dawning his robe, he went to the door expecting someone wanting to play a Halloween prank on him. He did enjoy a good hoax. The visitor held her head up high and asked very politely for one Douglas Stacy. His guest, dressed in traditional Victorian clothes, had a unique accent that Douglas couldn’t quite place.
Nevertheless, he invited her in and quickly changed into more appropriate attire for his charming visitor. Her Victorian dress was very elegant and lavishly trimmed with all manners of lace frills, braid, fringes, and full gathers. Supported on a rigid frame called a crinoline, the elongated V-shaped bodice stopping at the natural waistline with sleeves that were tight at the top but wider from the elbow to the wrist and finished off with dark pink full-length evening gloves. This was a woman of wealth and history.
She introduced herself as Elizabeth Bathory; a name Douglas recalled hearing before. He looked at her with a questioning eye, asking if she was related to the woman from the 1600s. She replied that he must be speaking of the countess. Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed was a Hungarian noblewoman and convicted serial killer from the family of Báthory, who owned land in the Kingdom of Hungary. Four of her servants were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and women between 1590 and 1610. Her history of bathing in the blood of young girls led many to believe her to be a vampire. History documented her lust for blood. She commented that they were very closely related, and she let out with a small, odd laugh. Well, this alone shocked Douglas, but he nodded slightly that this was the name he recalled. She reached out a frail, bony hand towards him, and he grasped it, feeling that it was very cool to the touch. Her pale skin had minimal color, and her eyes looked mysteriously into his. A chill ran down his back, but he chose to ignore it and blamed the cool evening air.
He shook his head in an attempt to regain his composure. He quickly realized this woman was not part of any lame attempt to unnerve Douglas. He asked just what it was that she wanted of him. First, she apologized for the late visitation to the Bronze Lantern. Then, after some idle chit-chat, she revealed the actual reason for her unsocial call. She mentioned that he had recently purchased a box in upstate New York, which she had a great interest in. Without hesitation, she told him she wanted to buy it and would pay three times the amount he paid for it. Of course, this intrigued Douglas, and he asked her why she had such an interest in the container. He brought the two items he had purchased from the Austrian and set them in front of her. The vampire hunting kit is of no interest to me, she said. You can take that away. She acted very odd about it and actually leaned away as it passed by her. You could tell she wanted nothing to do with this oddity. Funny, he thought, how did she know what was in that box before he even opened it?
Now the box with soil was a completely different response. As Douglas opened the box, she quickly removed an evening glove from her right hand, laid it on the vampire kit, and then placed her fingers in the soil. She let out with a small gasp but soon changed her demeanor when she saw a piece of aged, dried bread in the corner of the box. She requested Douglas to remove the bread so she could more closely examine the soil. He responded that this was part of the legend. Elizabeth told him she was quite familiar with the legend and just thought it silly for it to remain in the box.
Douglas decided to do the deal. To her delight, she paid in cash, and Douglas offered to wrap the box for her return trip. He asked just where home was. She stared at him and replied that, of course, she was from Hungary. She told him there was no need to wrap the box. Instead, she would have her assistant oversee the transportation. Oddly, Douglas hadn’t seen anyone else with her, and in fact, there had been no car or even a carriage outside since her arrival. You could tell she was slightly uncomfortable with his questions and asked if she could leave now as she needed to catch a steamboat to travel to her next destination.
He escorted his patron to the door and bid her farewell. She thanked him and slowly started walking away. Upon his return, Douglas noticed that her glove was still on the vampire kit. Oddly some fumes appeared to be coming off the clothing. He grabbed it and ran for the door, but his visitor was nowhere in sight. He called out her name but no response. He even tried calling the name of some of his prankster friends, still thinking they might have been behind the whole thing, but once again, nothing but fog and dead silence.
The next day Douglas decided to clean the glove and send it to Hungary. As he washed it, he noticed how the glove was actually white and not dark pink. He decided to check something out. In 1903, Kastle–Meyer invented a presumptive test in which the chemical indicator phenolphthalein was used to detect the possible presence of hemoglobin. The experiment resulted in a positive result for blood on the glove. It wasn’t pink; it was dyed in human blood. Douglas placed the garment in the vampire kit and stowed the box under his bed for safekeeping. He told no one about his visitor, only you.