The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Got a happy Halloween story? XXVI

He poured the blood into a tin cup for Lucy, who drank it in my presence. I could not repress a shudder at the sight of her lips touching the blood fresh from my body. She watched me out of the corner of her eyes, lowered the cup and smiled with a puckish delight. My limbs shook at the sight of her long white fangs. "Thank you, Henry," she said with a false coyness. "What does his blood taste like?" Adena asked. She picked an awkward time to satisfy her curiosity. "Like autumn," Lucy answered. "Henry’s blood tastes like October when the leaves have changed colors and a hint of smoke hangs in the air and you walk past a cemetery at dusk, the fallen leaves swishing under your shoes." The vampire Lucy Westenra's description of Henry Armitage's blood sums up what I love best about this time of year. Most of my happiest memories evolve around autumn: cutting firewood with my father, attending autumn festivals in smalltown Ohio, the color and sound and sweet smell of decay from the fallen leaves underfoot. Fall meant football and cheeks painted rose by the brisk air on the fair skin of my high school sweetheart and hands cupped around cups of hot chocolate to warm them. Fall meant a lot of work preparing for winter on our farm. But working in the autumn was much better than working in the hot and muggy summer. Working on a farm in the fall is pleasant - at least in memory. And fall meant trips to the grave yard at the end of Union Lane in Ross County. The cemetery was long abandoned and at the end of a long, narrow gravel lane with the trees so close they seem to form a tunnel. The cemetery is reputed to be haunted by Elizabeth's ghost, but those in the neighborhood know Elizabeth's ghost haunts a different cemetery on a small, family plot in between a cornfield and the woods. But the other cemetery was more accessible and when I was about 11 or 12 years old, I had friends over for a Halloween party. After we played games of tag and hide and seek and told ghost stories, Dad hitched up the wagon to the tractor and we sat on bails of hay and rode down Egypt Pike. We left the paved road to a gravel road and then to the very narrow lane back to the cemetery. It is surrounded by county-owned land set aside for hunting so no homes are within a mile of it. The roar of the tractor drowned out most conversations, but it was a pleasant ride bundled up against the chill. At the cemetery, we hopped out and with flashlights in hand walked through it. Most of the boys did not go far from the parking lot, but some of us walked through reading the barely visible names off the still standing tombstones and tripping over the occasional tombstone knocked over by drunken partiers. Someone suggested playing hide and seek in the dark in the graveyard, but no one spoke up in support. After a while, Dad called for us to return and we began walking back. No one wanted to appear in a hurry to leave and be called a chicken. I lagged behind to show off that I wasn't it frightened. As the other boys got ahead, I looked around behind me, though, suddenly not so sure of myself. Perhaps, I thought, a ghost or monster was merely waiting for one boy to lag behind to snatch him from the others. I stopped and listened. But I heard nothing except the sound of the other boys climbing on the wagon. I started forward again when I tripped over a fallen tombstone, hidden under the weeds. My shins hurt and my flashlight went out. I picked myself up thankful my hands hadn't landed on one of the broken beer bottles. I had enough light from the moon and stars to make my way through so I started forward when I stepped in a hole. Looking back, I tell myself it was a gopher hole but to my 11-year-old mind, it felt as if the grave had opened up so the skeletal corpse could grab my ankle. I felt a burst of adrenaline and kicked my foot free and ran the rest of the way from the cemetery and pulled myself up onto the wagon. "What scared you?" one of my friends asked. "Nothing," I replied. "Just didn't want you guys to leave without me." Dad started the tractor and we bounced on the back of the wagon. Nothing, I told myself again. But when I looked back, I saw skeletal arms and a bald skull pulling itself up from the grave. The wagon bounced down the ruts of the lane and the graveyard was lost to sight behind the trees. But I was happy to be on my way safe back home on the wagon, listening to my friends and smelling the sweet decay of the autumn leaves in the air.


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