The containment chamber had changed. The two bodyguards had moved the corpse in the coffin to one of the stainless steel examination tables. The corpse was naked and pale as ever. They had removed the remnants of clothing and the corpse looked even more unnatural now lying on the sterile table with its gaunt arms and hands folded over its thin, dehydrated body. On another table they had placed several objects. On one end of the table was a closed wooden box but next to it were some clothes, a bible and a sword, a rather large sword. It was sheathed in a leather case clasp with silver and ornately decorated. He recognized it as a replica of a Jerusalem sword used by the holy crusaders of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries.
Henry knew better than to protest. He was no longer in control of the situation. What Henry was telling him was absurd but he was starting to realize that this was more than extraordinary. The corpse in itself was proof enough that not all was normal. It should have withered to dust centuries ago leaving only a few scattered teeth and perhaps a few scattered bone fragments in the bottom of the coffin. Even with the coffin sealed well, it couldn’t keep over 600 years worth of decay out. But here it was in pristine condition. It reminded him a little of the bog man. In Canada they discovered a 500 year old body in a peat bog that was so well preserved that you could still see the stubble on the chin. In that situation the acid environment of the soil in the peat bog had prevented any kind of bacterial decay but there was no ready explanation here.
John surveyed the room as the two of them moved in the door and went over to the table and picked up the sword. “He will be disappointed that his sword has eroded to almost nothing. It was a gift from Lanordo. But I think this will do.” He unsheathed the sword to reveal a highly polished blade. Henry couldn’t see the detail clearly but could tell that it was simple but would have been highly effective against chainmail in its day. Even with his untrained eye for swords he could appreciate its simple beauty and heft.
“So who is he?” Henry was pointing to the corpse on the table.
John put the unsheathed sword and its scabbard back down on the table. “Ah, well I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I shall tell you what I know of him but first I told you that I would prove to you that I am a vampire.” He began to take off his jacket and unbutton his shirt as he continued. “As a scientist I know you have a tendency to be skeptical so I offer you two lines of evidence. Perhaps you will only need one.” He laid his jacket and shirt over the sword on the table and turned back to Henry. “Please, come and examine me. Take my temperature, feel for a pulse, examine me for signs of what you would expect of someone who is normal and living.”
Henry noted first that John was much paler under his shirt than his face revealed. It reminded him a little of the color of the corpse but not nearly as severe. He had thought to raise his objections at the ridiculousness of all this but what if John was telling the truth? Looking at his neck and face again he realized John must have used some makeup to give his skin some color. The second thing he noticed when touching John was that he was cold, much more than he expected. He grabbed a thermometer from a nearby drawer and had John put it under his arm. He held it for a couple of minutes and then checked it. His body temperature was too cold to be alive. “This is extraordinary”, Henry muttered to himself. Next he felt for a pulse in John’s wrist and failing that tried in the neck. There wasn’t a pulse at all. Putting his ear to John’s chest didn’t reveal any heartbeat either. Henry couldn’t believe it. It was too much. This wasn’t logical. This broke every rule of biology, medicine and about a dozen other scientific disciplines. “How are you doing this?”
“Doctor, I am not ‘doing’ anything. I’m dead. That’s what being a vampire means.” With that, John slid the sword out from underneath his clothes on the table. “Perhaps this will help with your skepticism.” He took the sword and turned it holding the blade so that it pointing the tip at his stomach. With a sudden motion he plunged the sword tip into his gut. Henry cried out in surprise and horror. “What the hell are you doing?” John then grabbed the handle of the sword and pulled it until the sword came out of his back near where his left kidney should be.
John was in pain, that much was clear, but he looked up from the sword that was now imbedded in his stomach. With some effort he spoke to Henry. “Dr. Latimer, please examine the entry and exit wounds so that you are satisfied that the wounds are real.”
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit”, was all that Henry could manage for a moment but he did slowly approach him and examine the wounds. He could see that the epidermis had been pierced and that the rectus abdominis muscle was protruding out of the wound. The sword was smeared with black blood on the blade exiting the back and more of it was seeping out of the wound on both sides of the body. “Are you satisfied, doctor?” John asked feebly. One of the guards moved to support John.
“Why in the hell did you do it? It doesn’t prove a damned thing except you have to be the craziest man I’ve ever met.”
“Patience doctor. This isn’t the part that was supposed to convince you.” He nodded to the body guard who immediately grabbed the hilt and pulled the sword out of John’s body. John doubled over but caught the edge of the table and managed to stay standing. With great effort he stood up straight and the wound opened up bleeding more profusely than before. “Here is where I prove it to you.” John closed his eyes and he seemed to be concentrating. Almost immediately the wound began to close on its own. In a few seconds both wounds were closed and all that remained were a thin, almost imperceptible line where the wound used to be and the escaped blood that still clung to his skin and stained his pants.
John no longer appeared in pain but looked suddenly very tired. Henry just stared at John. He felt faint. Tears streamed uncontrollably down his face.
“I’m sorry Henry. You will have to trust me when I tell you that I know what you are going through. There is no easy way to shatter someone’s perception of the world.” John now had his shirt back on but it was untucked. He walked over to Henry, who was sitting down now, and put a hand on his shoulder. “I was made a vampire at the age of 23 in 1551 and it pains me to this day when I think about my life before and after being introduced to the world of the undead.”
Henry recovered some of his composure. “So you really are the son of Sir Thomas Moore?”
“Yes, but I don’t remember him well. It is hard for me to figure out what parts of him I remember versus what parts of him I had to reread.”
“Is that because so much time has passed?”
“No. You might as well know now since it will make some sense here in a little bit. Vampires are immortal after a fashion. That is to say we cannot die from natural causes but are certainly susceptible to dying of unnatural causes. But there is a side effect to being alive for so long. After awhile our ‘lifestyle’ is too much and we must rest for long periods of time. We essentially go to sleep for decades at a time. This is necessary for those of us that have been around a long time but one of the unfortunate problems is that we often forget a great many things while we sleep.” John gestured to the corpse. “Our friend here has been asleep for around 650 years and that is unusually long. I do not know exactly what to expect but we can hope that he at least remembers a few things about himself. But I am getting ahead of myself a little. Before I tell you more about your discovery I feel sure that I can now tell you other things and you will believe them.”
Henry nodded his head.
“I told you earlier that you were chosen and you may still be wondering about that.”
Henry nodded again.
“There are many different kinds of vampires and almost invariably each of us belongs to a group of vampires that we identify with. Often times it is that we are turned into a vampire for the very purpose of serving that group and sometimes we migrate to it secondarily. I belong to a group who call themselves the Mystikoi. While most vampires see themselves as damned and cursed and therefore apart from God, the Mystikoi still seek enlightenment and attaining spiritual unity with God.”
Henry looked quizzically at John and began to ask a question but John cut him off. “I know, I know, it probably seems odd that a vampire would seek God. Make no mistake, we are indeed cursed but the Mystikoi have always believed that we can be at peace with ourselves through knowledge and enlightenment. We essentially carry on the work of the Catholic Church as it used to be. It may make some sense if you consider my case. My father was well known for his scholarship and his absolute faith in the Catholic Church. He taught his children these values and even my sisters were more educated than most priests at that time. After my father was beheaded by King Henry VIII the rest of the family fled to France where we were treated very well but could not be protected entirely from heretics, especially the Lutheran heretics. I would have died at the hands of such a heretic had I not been turned by one who had been watching after I received the fatal wound. I had been watched by the Mystikoi even back then just as we have been watching you all these years. Your scholarly pursuits along with your religious beliefs attracted our attention, especially since you were in a position that could help us.”
Henry rubbed his hands over his face wiping away some of the tear stains on his cheeks. “But now that I have helped you find this person”, Henry gestured to the corpse again, “how can I be of any help?”
“You were not chosen to find this coffin. You were chosen to find kindred in general.”
“That is what we call ourselves. I told you that old vampires must go to sleep. Well sometimes that sleep is voluntarily but more often than not that sleep is involuntary. Vampires can be put into torpor with grievous injuries especially if it involves a stake in the heart. Over the centuries many of those Vampires have been lost unable to wake themselves. They must be awakened by another. There are literally hundreds and maybe even thousands of such ‘coffins’ out there containing kindred that are sleeping. We search for them but primarily through people like you, doctor. Many of the vampires that are asleep must be destroyed because they were monsters when they were awake but in some cases we attempt to revive a few.”
John walked over to the corpse. “Paolo de Salerna is one such case.”
“Who was he in life? Did you know him?”
“This is the first time I have ever seen Paolo. He was before my time and was asleep well before I was born. But even though we have never met I know a great deal about him. Paolo was a monk. He lived in Salerna and was well respected in the city. He contracted the bubonic plague during the Great Pestilence in 1348 and would have died from it had he not been rescued by his friend Lanordo. Lanordo is with the Mystikoi and although his whereabouts are a mystery at the moment he has been very influential in our society. As you may or may not recall the Great Pestilence, or as you might know it, the Black Death, brought about a lot of changes for society and the church and brought about, in part, the hundred years war between Edward II of England, who by a strange stroke of luck had claim to both the English and French crown, and Phillip VI of France who wrested the thrown from Edward II. The two of them kept England and France at each other’s throats for a very long time. After Paolo was turned he joined Lanordo in fighting the other vampires who were trying to keep the fighting going between the two countries. During a war vampires thrive especially in those days and Lanordo and Paolo were part of a movement to protect humans instead of just treating them like cattle.”
“So all of the myths about you feeding on blood are true?”
“Yes, indeed. It is the curse. It is an addiction that can only be denied so long by even the most humane of vampires. That is why some vampires actively work to create conflict because in war they can feed on human victims more often without suspicion. I shudder to think on how many of the victims in World War I and II were actually victims of vampires in Europe. But to get back to the story, during one crucial battle both Lanordo and Paolo were grievously wounded and they both fell into torpor. Their fighting was so valiant and noteworthy that they were buried in honor in the catacombs of St. Peter’s church in Paris. A few years later it was noticed that their bodies did not decay with time and so they were believe to be saints and so crypts were made for them in the church to be displayed in the church.”
Henry recalled that in addition to the bog man there was another group of mysteriously preserved individuals. A decent number of the saints in the Catholic Church had been discovered to have bodies that didn’t decay. He had even been called into a case a few years ago to look into the authenticity of one such case that had proven to be a forgery. “I have heard of other people who didn’t decay. I seem to recall that a bunch of them are saints.”
“Yes, the church calls them incorruptibles and you might be surprised how many of them are actually vampires but because of their notoriety as saints and the fact that they often display them to the public we cannot wake or destroy them. Fortunately the church keeps them out of the daylight because they believe they will decay in it, they have no idea how right they are.”
“So if they were buried in France how come this coffin is of a Middle English construction along with the notes which are in Middle English.”
“In those days Saints’ bones and bodies came at a premium. To possess such relics was to own a piece of holiness and many people could be moved by such objects. Our research indicates that at around 1450 the coffin was stolen and moved to England. Lanordo’s coffin was not stolen and so stayed in France at that time but we found the notes on the English coffin that I showed you earlier and most telling about them were the description of the corpse that was to be put in the coffin. The new coffin was made to reflect the notion that the ‘saint’ in the coffin was of an English nature and origin but of course he was Italian all along.”
“So why weren’t they reawakened by other vampires?”
“Information wasn’t so readily available in those days and news traveled tortuously slow. None of the Mystikoi knew what happened to the two. It had been assumed that the two were either dead or had gone into seclusion. This was not so unusual but eventually they did discover that Lanordo was in one of the crypts at St. Peters. He was reawakened around the beginning of the 16th century. However, Paolo had not been there for some time. Lanordo eventually tried to rescue Paolo from England but failed because of other complications. But he did manage to chisel out the words that led me to you, ‘volo reverto ob istud’.
“I will return for you”, Henry translated.
“Yes. But before Lonardo could return another time, the church had been destroyed by a fire and the coffin had been moved. By the time Lonardo tracked down which church it had been moved to on the coast it had already been stolen once again by a band of Irish bandits and taken to Dublin. Nobody knows what the Irish knew about the coffin but church documents in Ireland show that it appeared briefly in Our Lady of Lourdes church but then it disappears entirely from the record. This happened around 1530. I was just a small boy at the time. The Dublin church still exists but no documents have had yet surfaced as to what happened to the English coffin. It is likely that they were planning on holding it for ransom from the English crown but either died by disease or force before they could carry out their plan. But in any case you stumbled upon it and so the mystery of its location is solved even though the explanation of how it got there is not.”
“So what now?” Henry was now feeling very tired.
“Well Henry, you have been told a great deal about us for another purpose.”
“What purpose is that?”
“I still need your help Henry. Paolo is going to be extremely disoriented not only because of his long sleep but because he is a man of the 14th century and not the 21st. He will need someone to help him and I need you to get him back into the world.”
“Of course you. You are an educated man and a man of learning, Paolo will appreciate that. You are also a Catholic who speaks Italian, a little Middle English and can read and understand Latin. You will need that since he doesn’t know any modern English. You are also someone who can be his interface to the world, you are modern and are of modern times. Now he will be protected by a local coven, a group of vampires friendly to our cause but at night you are to spend a great deal of time with him. You will be paid well of course and your research will have no limits to funding should you cooperate. I can only stay here in Iowa for a short time but I need to know that I can count on you.”
Henry’s head began to spin again. He knew he should run screaming but he knew too much for his curiosity to let him. Here was the threshold and without much thought he crossed it. “Yes, I will cooperate. I will help.”
John smiled almost back to his earlier self that hadn’t seen a sword run through his stomach yet. “Good. Very good.” John turned to one of the bodyguards who had been quiet the whole time. “Go fetch the food.” The guard left the room.
“So all of the Vampire movies are telling the truth then, huh?”
John laughed briefly. “Oh heavens no, well at least not most of them.”
“Worst Vampire movie ever made.”
John shuddered slightly. “Ok, I take it back. Blade is the second worst vampire movie ever made. One thing I can assure you of is that being a vampire is not a teenager’s fantasy come true.”
“Ok, how about Underworld?”
“That one is pretty close. There is a bit more drama and action than in a typical vampire’s day but the society that they portray is pretty accurate.”
“And the werewolves?”
“Nastiest creatures you will ever encounter. Smell bad too.”
“They are real?”
John looked at Henry with a half grin. “You can believe in vampires but not werewolves? Doctor, you are now privy to a world full of extraordinary beings. Vampires and werewolves are only the beginning.”
“So did vampires make the Underworld movie?”
“No, but someone in the know did. As a vampire I am not privy to what other vampire societies are doing but rumor has it that the Underworld series was sanctioned by the Kindred to further the mythos.”
“So you tell the truth with the effect of it being accepted as myth and story.”
“Yes, and I must stress this to you with as much importance as I can give it. Everything I told you tonight is to remain a secret on pain of a most terrible and painful death. Our secret must not be truly revealed. We call it the masquerade and it must not be broken. Some play with fire with such movies as Underworld and Interview with a vampire but they have their usefulness in keeping us hidden as you have already observed. Even vampires who break the masquerade are often destroyed for the betrayal.”
“Well at least with Kate Beckinsale being a vampire never looked so sexy.”
John eyed Henry suspiciously. “And she is followed by a very large number of vampires for that reason.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It may not strike you tonight but eventually you will find that vampires are rather whimsical creatures. When Underworld came out many were worried that Aaliyah Haughton would happen all over again.
“Aaliyah Haughton was the actress who played Queen Akasha in the movie Queen of the Damned.”
“Oh yeah. I remember now. She died shortly after filming it if I recall.”
“Well that was what you were made to think. She was supposedly burned badly in the plane crash that she and the rest of her crew died in but that was a cover so that they didn’t have to have an open coffin funeral. An over infatuated vampire took it upon herself to try and make Aaliyah her immortal lover. So Aaliyah is now quite a celebrated member of our ranks but her creator still suffers for her indiscretion.”
“So then the Ann Rice novels and movies are pretty close as well since they are similar in a lot of ways to Underworld?”
“Anne Rice is another celebrated individual in our ranks but is not a vampire herself. She knows of us and her house is said to be a safe haven in New Orleans for those of us in trouble. And to answer your question, her novels are probably one of the closest descriptions of our society. While there is no ‘Lestat’ there are many who could fall under his description. She is probably the most famous ‘unattached’ among us. You will be unattached as well.”
“Many vampires influence humans by giving them some of their own blood. Mortals who taste vampire blood are addicted to it and will do anything for it. They become ‘junkies’. Perhaps these slaves of the addiction have their use but you, Henry, are to never touch the stuff. You may get curious but I need you uninfluenced by the need for your next ‘fix’. There will be times you are offered blood but refuse it. You can do so politely by saying that you have been forbidden by the mystikoi to partake of any blood but theirs. You will also need to get a tattoo like this.” John walked to the remaining guard in the room and turned him around and lifted up his long hair. On the back of his neck was a small cross fashioned by two swords in the shape of a cross. At the bottom of the cross making the straight piece was a drop of blood.
“This symbol will identify you as Mystikoi and others will believe you our ghoul, that is to say our slave. They will know you are not a vampire but you will be able to walk among others in our society without fear with this mark. You should go to the tattoo parlor in campus town tomorrow. Ask for Paul. He will be expecting you.”
“Anything else I need to know?”
“Take a few days after tonight to rest. Get back to your normal life. You will find appropriately decaying remains in the box there on the table to seed your coffin. Put them in and seal the coffin again and reveal it as planned.”
“So you are not taking the coffin?”
“No. I’m sorry but that was just a threat designed to get you here quickly. You will still get to enjoy the discovery and I will make sure that the original copy of the coffin notes find their way to you.”
The guard who was sent to fetch the ‘food’ came back in the room carrying a tray of blood bags. They were still wet from being in the water bath. He set them next to Paolo.
John escorted Henry to the door. “Now you can watch but you and my guards must be out of the room during the process. Paolo will be hungry and it is most likely he will go into a feeding frenzy. If he smells fresh mortal blood in the room it might be just too much to resist. So if you will lock the doors and step outside I can keep you alive.”
Henry did as John asked and locked the two doors into the containment room. He then stepped out of the room and stood in the observation room where others would stand in a few months to witness him open the coffin. John rolled up his sleeves and stuck a long metal straw into one of the bags and began to poor the blood in the partially opened mouth of Paolo.