A girl who has spent years in exile in the wake of an injustice; a priest who returned home to find his beloved city at the mercy of a great fear; a clergyman who vowed vengeance for the loss of a lover. All of them stand in the shadow of a creature whose motivation is as elusive as its identity. What is it, who is it, could it be one of them?
Though told in the classic language of vampire stories, this tale takes the reader to the source, to the origin of one Nosferatu.
December 20th 1807
As the train finally penetrated the forbidding Carpathian Valley, I felt the warm fluid of nostalgia coursing through my veins like lava. I found myself in reminiscence, remembering the pleasant times that were or might have been. However, I also felt the icy hands of fear and abhorrence reaching for me as I recalled the pain that Vatra Dornei had brought me. I had left this place because of it, so why did I come back?
I returned to Vatra Dornei having completed my training and visited Bucharest—feeling no better than I did when I last saw this place. I had consulted the best medical minds in the country, expecting to be enlightened, reassured that my father had died of some incurable disease. What I found instead infuriated me as I felt that Fate had mocked me!
I prayed for my soul to be at peace. However, because my heart was so dark with the pangs of rage, I feared that my plight would go unheard. In fact, the more I prayed the more quizzical I grew. A great strain was put on my Faith to the point where my belief in the Lord became uncertain. It was a disturbing realisation, one that would plague me for the days to come.
No sooner had the locomotive made a full halt that the ticket-master hastily escorted me to the nearest exit. I remember the pale look on his face, as well as the frightened glare in his eyes. I did not understand what could have made him feel that way, but I was not given time to find out. With courtesy though agitation, I was given my bags and told to disembark quickly. As instantly as it had stopped, the train started its engines and headed away from Vatra Dornei. And there I was standing amidst a sad memory.
The once golden fields were now bronzed. The ponds, which had been transparent green in the summer, were now solid topaz. Moreover, the majestic Carpathian Mountains, that overshadowed the whole valley, were of a formidable jet-black colour with only the white snow-caps soaring towards the heavens to give any indication of their height.
I would have lost consciousness from this awesome scene had not a breeze suddenly blown and replenished my lungs with its refreshing air. Indeed, how I have missed this region—how anxious I was to be close to it again.
After witnessing that breath-taking tableau, I turned my attention towards the village. In contrast, Vatra Dornei was a most tragic sight. Death hung over it like a rain cloud, and the putrid aroma of decay had touched every inch of the village. What happened here; how could such devastation have taken hold of my birthplace?
With much sadness, I made my way towards the station clerk’s office in search of answers. In-side the booth, I saw an elderly man giving me a most uninviting gawk. I could read in his eyes that I was not welcomed here.
The old clerk greeted me with a methodical tone. His demeanour was everything but courteous and impromptu. “Good evening sir,” he said. “The train schedule is on the bulletin board.”
“I’m not interested in the train schedule sir,” I replied. “I need a place to stay for the night. Do you know of any?”
Suddenly, the clerk smiled sarcastically. “The gentleman cannot read perhaps?” He pointed to a shrivelled piece of paper on the bulletin board. “This is an ordinance. It says that every inn, every auberge must close its doors at five o’clock. It is a quarter past that hour now. So, I think that you had better move on.”
I found this ordinance fascinating. “Pray, on whose authority must these establishments do this?” “Our parish priest, Father Krueger.”
Upon hearing that name, I could not be otherwise than moved. The sound of it was like music to my melancholic ears. Yes, I knew this cleric, and knew him well. Not only was he Vatra Dornei’s priest for a little over thirty years, but he was also the one who baptised me. I had to confirm my suspicions. “No, Father Nicolei Krueger, is he still here?”
“You know the clergyman?”
“I used to know him, as I used to know this town,” I replied with a snicker. As I had suspected, my answer peaked the clerk’s curiosity.
Did you really?”
“Yes, I lived here—fifteen years ago.”
The man looked at me with a doubtful sneer. “You say that you lived here?” he asked me with arrogance, “Strange that I don’t remember you. What is your name?”
“My name is Hummel, Father Peter Hummel.” So as not to cause any antagonism, I added, “I wouldn’t blame you for not remembering me. How could you, for I was but a boy then; but perhaps you knew my father, Anton Hummel?”
The name struck a chord in the old man. I expected as much, since my father was a well-respected man in this community, beloved by all. Promptly the clerk’s cold disposition became friendlier. In a more apologetic voice, he told me that Father Krueger’s rule was indisputable. He suggested that I take the next train to Transylvania, and return the next day before five. He even gave me a ticket at no cost.
I thanked the clerk; I was about to leave when I decided to ask him more about this ordinance. “Tell me, why must the inns close at five?”
“Father Hummel, you have been away a long time.” His manner of speech became eerie, “Much has happened during your absence. A great fear has taken hold of Vatra Dornei. Every day, after the stroke of five, the sun sets and the creature awakes.”
“The creature?” I asked.
“A creature,” he repeated, “of great strength.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. “What sort of beast is this? How do you know it exists, has anyone seen it?”
The clerk felt the scepticism in my voice, and that vexed him. “No one has seen the fiend. However, Father Krueger tells us that it is real, and the word of a fellow Vatraian is good enough for us. And so it ought to be for you; that is if you really are one of us?”
“Perhaps the good Father was mistaken,” I remarked with a slight chuckled. “Did this monster kill anyone?”
“I do not expect an outsider to believe us.”
“I did not mean to offend you or the village. I apologise, but I find this so incredible.”
He gave me a wry smile and replied, “Hmm… Father Hummel, I do not care what you believe; but you would be wise sir to take my advice and go to Transylvania. As for me, I must now go home. Goodbye.”
The clerk left in haste. I did not know what to make of his story, but I could tell that he was genuinely afraid of something. I wondered, ‘was an animal really terrorising the village?’ The people around here were Catholic by baptism, but whether they practised the Faith was another matter. Perhaps the good father created this great fear to increase the volume of his flock; this was not impossible. The Nicolei Krueger that I remembered was somewhat of an opportunist, perfectly capable of masterminding such a scheme.
I thought that my theory was sound; but then the smell of rotting carcasses, which was ever so present in the air, poignantly made me consider that perhaps the clerk’s story did have credence. The odour seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. Moreover, as I looked at my surroundings, I observed that the populace of cattle and rodents that usually roamed the land were nowhere to be seen.