The Schoolteacher’s diary.
No one had seen him since that night.
What is it?
Is it a mere coincidence or is he a new victim?
I said “victim” but a victim of what?
It has been six months since I’ve picked up this notebook. Everything was quiet, peaceful. My suspicion that there was something strange linking the ‘incidents’, something sinister, left me.
I was even ashamed of myself for giving in to such silly superstitions.
And then yesterday my doubts came back.
Heinrich the hunter had disappeared.
Young, handsome and fearless he is adored by all the girls in the village. Ever cheerful, he is the first villager to join in the dance and the first man to face danger. The folks are saying that he fears nothing, not even the devil himself, yet worships the Holy Virgin, protectress of our village, with outmost devotion, wearing her image around his neck on a green cord.
Heinrich went hunting early on Friday morning, promising to return in time for the Mass.
He still hasn’t returned by either Sunday or Monday.
His sister, Maria fears that he may have been in an accident. She came to us, sat crying in the kitchen and asked for advice.
Wednesday- Heinrich is still missing. The village is already awash with rumours that Heinrich is dead and his body will turn up in the Witches’ Valley sooner or later....
But why should he be there?
Even though Michel, the ironsmith, was found in the Witches’ Valley, it was only because he was dead drunk.
Heinrich doesn’t drink and his rout lies far from the road, in the mountains...”
Karl Ivanovich paused and pushed his glasses on top of his head
“Here a few pages have been torn out”, he said looking at Harry.
“Good, we can have a break and drink one more glass of wine. Hey, Sabo!” Harry shouted cheerfully, “by the way, gentlemen, according to the schedule, tomorrow, after the hunt, we are spending the night at the Hunting Lodge. The lodge is situated on top of the hill, near the entrance to the Witches’ Valley. So, Captain Wright, you will have an opportunity to demonstrate your fearlessness”.
“Right now I have no idea what you are talking about,” mumbled Wright
“You will understand once a witch gets hold of you”
“What is it, the famed Witches Valley?”, asked James.
“The valley is a beautiful place,” interrupted one of the local guests, “yet there are stories that all sorts of unclean spirits gather there and the witches celebrate their ghastly rites in the valley. Anyone, who values his soul’s salvation, should not look at such things”.
“You see, my friends,” continued Harry “Witches’ Valley is a small and beautiful place located at the foot of a mountain, on top of which stands our castle. The mountain is so steep that the access to the castle from the valley is impossible. One side of the valley is framed by a chain of wooded mountains and at the other, you will find a road. At the end lies our Hunting Lodge, and in the valley’s centre you will find a very small lake, completely covered with water lilies, nenufares, the ‘dead roses’ as they are sometimes called. The lakeshore is very swampy and at sunsets mists rise from its waters”
Doctor Weiss snorted:
“It was, of course, this very mist that gave rise to all the legends in my opinion.”
“Don’t listen to him, there isn’t a single drop of poetry in his soul” interrupted Harry “the mist, especially in the moonlight, takes on fantastic forms, often of those of young, beautiful women. They wear wreaths of dead roses on their heads, and thin transparent robes that move slightly in summer’s wind. Their eyes shine like stars and their skin takes on mysterious warm glow...”
“Not too bad” mumbled Wright.
“Yes, and yet few will want that kind of love. The village lore says that everyone who ended up- willingly or not- in the Witches’ Valley on full moon was found dead in the morning, and even if he did survive, he died a month later, at the next full moon. The lake women drink his life with their kisses. The victim will grow weaker, paler until he finally dies”.
“Of course he will die, the lake water is stagnant and rotten and the mist carries only God knows what kind of poisonous gasses,” added doctor
“Watch out, Doc, or you may end up paying for your lack of belief”, said Harry, laughing.
“On the contrary, I do believe that if a drunk makes his way to the swamp he will either drown, or, after spending the night on wet soil, catch a fever and swamp fevers are not something to be laughed at”
“What will you make of small wounds found on the bodies of those who had perished in the Valley? Say, they are very small, and barely noticeable?”
“That’s easy, - a bite of small snake or a leech. You said it yourself that the wounds are barely visible”
Harry smiled pensively:
“Well my friends, there is little point of talking of a long gone things, because, for over thirty years nobody has perished in the Witches’ Valley, and our brave Captain Wright will have no opportunity to distinguish himself. Regretfully, our generation lives in the world where there are no dragons or sleeping beauties or even the most common of bloodsuckers.
All that is left for us are the tales of other’s heroics. All right, gentlemen, one more glass of wine and back to the story!” finished Harry.
The librarian lowered his glasses and continued reading:
“It was only after he regained consciousness that we were able to pry open his fingers and found the medallion of Holy Virgin that he always wore around his neck.
Today Heinrich spoke for the first time. He appeared terrified of something and his words came out in broken sentences. I could barely understand him, but after much thinking, I was able to piece his story together: he must have lost his way, which is very unusual for Heinrich, and by the nightfall found himself in the Witches’ Valley.
Being superstitious like all the common folk, Heinrich was terrified of the lake and chose to run. He found a high rock, too high for the mist to reach, and climbed all the way to the top. Deciding to stay awake, he sat down, and like a good Catholic that he is, recited Ave Maria. Gradually he calmed down and became lost in his thoughts.
The moon was bright and the night air was filled with silvery light. Mist was rising from the lake and the fragrance of the hawthorn flowers gave off a strange intoxicating scent.
“As if the smell was piercing my brain,” said Heinrich.
The night air was humid and Heinrich felt strange, pleasant tiredness.
Suddenly a gust of wind shook the hawthorn bush and a small branch struck Heinrich on the chest. In an instant, a shower of white fragrant flowers covered him.
“I felt as if I were covered by a white veil” said Heinrich.
The moon went dark.
Everything swam before Heinrich’s eyes.
The white veil shone with strange light and in the middle of it, Heinrich saw beautiful female face, pale and wondrous, with huge greenish eyes and pink sensual lips.
“‘It’ kept moving closer to me and I was unable to take my eyes of ‘It’” he told us “I wanted to pray but the words jumbled in my head. I tried to reach for my medallion and, can you imagine my horror, when I couldn’t find it. ‘The demon must have torn it off with its veil!”
“The demon came close to me, kissing my lips and I felt ill. Everything around me started to spin and...I must have lost consciousness, I don’t know”, he added.
Heinrich awoke from the sharp pain in his neck, but before he could open his eyes, he felt sick again as the pungent smell of blood filled his nostrils. His head started to spin as he tried to rise.
“I felt dizzy and I stumbled,” said Heinrich and, while falling, he felt his fingers close around something, which was the last thing that he remembered before loosing consciousness again.
Heinrich is convinced that the Holy Virgin herself descended from heavens to save him from the vampire. He swears that he saw heavenly light shine around her face and heard demonic laughter of the conquered devil. Because the object that he grabbed so desperately turned out to be his precious medallion.
It is improper for me as a schoolteacher and a representative of enlightenment, to believe in vampires.
Besides, if I were to think about Heinrich’s tale in a calm and rational manner then everything will have its logical explanation.
So this is what I believe really happened:
Heinrich went hunting. He lost his way. Saturday night was very dark. Finding himself in the Witches’ Valley, Heinrich, like any other peasant from our village was terrified, and rather than quickly cross the valley and make his way home, he decided to run to the mountains, since the way across the valley would have taken him past the lake and that was above his courage.
Perching himself on the rock, Heinrich fell asleep and saw a dream. While sleeping he must have fallen and hit his head on the stone which caused him to loose consciousness. So far so good.
Only one question remains: why is he so weak?
Our village medic says that this kind of weakness is caused by a massive blood loss.
He has no wounds on his head and the medic thinks that maybe the hot weather and nerves caused him to have a nosebleed. It all makes sense since the front of Heinrich’s shirt was covered in bloodstains. The only thing that surprises him is that, judging by the stains, the loss of blood was very trivial and yet Heinrich, who is so young and strong, appears to be so weakened by it.
Today I went to the Witches’ Valley and found the exact spot where Heinrich fell asleep. It wasn’t difficult, - his rifle was still leaning against the boulder and his hat was on the ground nearby. As I sat down on the boulder, I understood how easily a gust of wind could have pushed the hawthorn bush towards Heinrich, and how it could have torn his medallion off. At the same time, one of the thorns could have caused the wound on his neck... I looked closer and saw something hanging from the bush. It was the green silk cord of Heinrich’s medallion.
I inspected the foot of the rock and found the impressions of Heinrich’s hands and knees on the soil.
As he was falling, he must have grasped his medallion on the ground.
If only I could find traces of blood on the earth, everything would be explained logically.
To my disappointment, I discovered none.
Tired, I sat on the rock for a while, thinking.
Everything around me was peaceful and quiet.
On my way back home, I saw a water lily lying on the ground, little wilted but still beautiful. I wondered how it got there.
Heinrich didn’t mention that he picked a flower, besides he told us that he didn’t go anywhere near the lake.
I took it home with me.
Tonight, as I sit writing, it is standing on my desk in a glass of water. It is so beautiful, fresh again, with petals that appear almost translucent.
Inside the flower, small droplets of water shine like precious gems, no like beautiful, beloved eyes. It is so strange but I feel as if the flower was a living breathing creature.
I can smell the fragrance in the night air.
No. My imagination is playing tricks on me water lilies have no scent.
It is time to go to bed. Thank God, I am finished with vampires, - everything is explained and the case is closed.
For three days I haven’t picked up my pen, there was so much nonsense going on.
After coolly analyzing Heinrich’s adventures, I felt calm and went to bed. I must have fallen asleep straight away.
How much time had passed I cannot say, but eventually I thought myself awake.
The room was filled with silvery light, shimmering and alive.
It wasn’t the cold light of the moon, but strange, full of vibration and desire. Where did the light come from?
It is as if it was born in my room.
Following the silver waves of light, I saw that the glow was coming from my desk. I sat up in my bed.
I saw the flower no longer floating helplessly in its glass of water, but swaying tall and proud on its high stem. I stare at it, transfixed. It shimmers and twists amid the waves of light and soon I see a ghostly woman’s face where the flower had been. The stem transforms into a slim body. Her face is ashen and has sad eyes that look straight at me. The lips are pale pink and her golden hair falls in beautiful waves upon her breasts.
She sways, and with every movement grows bigger and bigger until she is the same size as a normal woman, yet her body stays translucent as if it were woven from silver threads.
She moved away from the desk and the room filled with strange scent and almost inaudible sounds. I cannot see her movements; it is as if she is floating on air.
She comes closer and closer, soon her body is swaying beside my bed. She is whispering something but I cannot make out the words.
She leans over me and I feel cold. She wants to lie down on my chest. The fear gives me strength and I push the ghost aside, shouting.
I hear a crash and sound of breaking glass.
Frightened Mina appears in the room and soon I can make out her complaints:
“Yelling in the middle of the night, what is wrong with you? Why did you push the table over, breaking the decanter, and a new one at that, less than two years old!”
So, it was a dream.
I eye my desk suspiciously. Poor water lily is dying helplessly in its glass.
Only a dream.
I feel ashamed and embarrassed.
The day passed as usual.
By the nightfall, it seemed to me that the water lily was coming to life once again. I undressed and got into my bed with a book and started to read, looking up at the flower from time to time.
At first, I thought that I was seeing things, but after a while, I became certain that the flower was changing its colour, becoming lighter and more translucent as if filled with its own inner glow.
Few minutes more and it started swaying on its high stem.
I sat up in my bed.
I am not asleep.
It is no longer a flower but a woman. I hear strange ringing in the air; I smell pleasant scent once more.....
But she doesn’t come to me; she stares and stares, as if she is begging for something.
What does she want?
It occurred to me that she may be a restless spirit of a suicide, who is asking for a prayer to be said for her soul. I lay very still, watching her.
The ghost moaned and vanished.
I do not remember when I fell asleep.
The flower is almost dead.
Did I dream again?
No, it was not a dream.
I am haunted by the thoughts of her. What did she want? What was she asking for?
Tonight I will ask her.
In the evening, after the supper, I went into my room to look at the nenufar but it was gone.
When I asked Mina about it, she told me that she threw away the dead flower. Pity, I got used to it.
That night, sleep avoided me. I lay awake in my bed, waiting.
But everything was quiet. My desk stood dark and empty. The air felt suffocating and stale.
I waited, but everything was in vain.
Eventually I grew restless, got up off the bed and opened the window.
The moon was bright. Far off in the direction of the Witches Valley I saw coiling clouds of mist. They twisted and turned taking on grotesque shapes. I sensed that that she was there, waiting for me.
What does she want?
I peered into the mist but no matter how hard I tried, I saw nothing. And yet I knew that she was there, waiting.
Should I go there?
What if all those things that the villagers say about the valley are true?
While I was arguing with myself the sun rose and with the first light the mist had vanished taking with it all of my doubts and desires.
Today I will ask the medic for some sleeping drops.
Today I went to the village, complained about a headache and asked the medic for something to calm the nerves.
He laughed: “Don’t tell me that you are also dreaming of beautiful maidens with water lilies in their hair and bodies woven from moonlight, just like Heinrich?”
By the way, Heinrich has become an assistant to the church watchman. He says that he couldn’t stand the sight of blood anymore and that he has to pray for his soul. Of course, the old watchman is encouraging him as much as he can, which is understandable since he is awfully ancient; the villagers claim that he is over hundred years of age.
No wonder he wants a younger helper.
He convinced Heinrich that once a vampire had tasted blood, the victim rarely escapes. And at the church, besides the protection of the Holy Virgin, he offers his own help.
“I know how to deal with these bastards!” he swears.
I drink my drops and sleep soundly. Isn’t it proof enough that the problem was my nerves and not vampires?
Why did I act so cowardly?
I should have observed what would have happened next.
Everything had returned to normal in the village save for Heinrich who spends his days kneeling in the church or ringing the bells up in the tower. I tried asking him a few questions but he was reluctant to talk, admitting only that his wounds are not healing well.
“And they wouldn’t heal, until she bites somebody else” mumbled the old watchman who was eavesdropping nearby.
The old man must have, as they say, ‘a screw loose’. His little room is quite a sight. Above all his windows and door, on the windowsills, doorframes, everywhere he drew a sign of a cross. Every keyhole and crack is filled with dried garlic. He gave the same treatment to Heinrich’s room, adding the wreaths of mistletoe and garlands of garlic above the young man’s bed. The church garden is also full of this foul smelling plant.
I asked him why he bothered with all of this.
“She doesn’t like it” was all I got in reply.
When I tried to explain to him that the science does not recognise existence of vampires, and that the dead cannot rise from their coffins, he gave me a filthy look and mumbled with his toothless gums:
“You are still young. Wait till you get to my age”.
Mina tells me that the old man knew better life. Long time ago he was employed up at the castle and helped to raise one of the young heirs. But the family suffered some sort of misfortune that resulted in the death of nearly all its members. The castle was abandoned and gradually it went to wreck and ruin. There are rumours of distant relatives somewhere in America, but no one knows where they are.”
“Hold on”, interrupted one of the young men, “Harry, could you be that American heir? I’ve heard something to that effect.”
“I think you may be right”, replied Harry “I think the writer is referring to me, or rather, to my maternal uncle. He died, leaving me his cotton plantations and some kind of rights to a castle and a title in Europe. At first, I had no time to think of either the castle or the title. A worldwide crisis had hit the cotton industry, and I needed to rescue the money first.
It was only six months ago that I decided to come to Europe. It turned out that the land and the castle do exist, but everything is in a terrible state. The castle, judging from the outside, is a wreck. I haven’t seen the inside yet, especially since I cannot officially take possession of it, as I am lacking the necessary papers proving death or burial of one of my great-uncles, twice removed. This is why I’ve asked Karl Ivanovich to search in the school and the church archives. He hasn’t found the right document yet but managed to fish out a pile of notes dealing with local vampire lore. To be honest with you, I’ve barely had the time to listen to them all, besides the local priest blames everything on the superstitious folk and the village headman assures me that for over thirty years the village hasn’t had a single instance of mysterious death or murder. Only once a drunken handyman attacked his wife with an axe, but she lived for another year after that.
As you know, I spend last winter in Paris and in the spring, I decided to go hunting, and invited all of you to my, though still unofficial, Carpathian estates. The castle itself looks too depressing and I decided to renovate the Hunting Lodge instead. Karl Ivanovich arrived here before me and has been swallowing archive dust for a while now”.
“If only Mr. Cardie would let me take a look at the Castle’s archives,” said the librarian.
“Of course, in due time. Soon we will all go and take a look at the castle. Friends, lets have one last cigar”, offered the host “please continue, Karl Ivanovich”.