From the author: One of my early stories, written in the fashion of the old horror pulps, in which a team of anthropologists make a ghastly discovery in the backwaters of Transylvania.
Entombed in the Dawn
C. L. Werner
There are eight hours left to me. On the other side of a crude wall of rocks, death sleeps. And in eight hours it shall claim me. But that will be enough time for me to complete this chronicle of superstition and horror which is all the more insane because it is in every word the truth. I can only pray that this journal will fall into the hands of one who will believe and will avenge us upon the evil which we have unleashed.
We came to the green slopes of the Carpathians seeking the dead. Myself, Otto Bauer of the University of Berlin and William Hanser, our esteemed colleague from England. We three were going to upset the world of anthropology, to make such grand discoveries on the very doorstep of civilization that the entire world would heap honour and prestige upon us.
Otto had a theory that Neanderthal man had not migrated to France, but rather that he had originated there. Modern man forced his primitive rival out of the forests and lowlands and into the mountains, steadily driving the Neanderthal eastward until they at last arrived in north-western Rumania. It was here, Otto hypothesized, that the “European Neanderthal” made his last stand, surviving into near historical times. It was for the bones and artefacts of these prehistoric men that we searched the cave-ridden Transylvanian Alps without success. We had nearly given up hope and had sent our students and assistants back to our homelands when Radu Danesti entered our lives.
I cannot remember why we three chose to remain behind in Bistra, choosing to hold our rooms at the Green Hart Inn a full month after the others had left. Perhaps it was one of William’s intuitive “fits”. Odd that a scientific mind should be so much a slave to irrational stimuli as was William’s. He was always talking about his vague precognitive powers and insisted that we bide our time with a vehemence that we were hard put to defy. Still, that alone would not have kept me and Otto in Rumania. Perhaps we too had some inkling of what was to come for it was two weeks after the others had been sent away that we received a visitor.
The day was as grey and gloomy as ever I had seen. The dark thunderclouds above the city seemed to swarm across the sun with malevolent design. The air was foul with a thick, swampy smell and all through the morning a chill light rain had slowly and steadily drenched the medieval streets. I was pondering how even the harsh weather of Berlin was more cheerful than the brooding storm clouds of Bistra when there came a knock upon the door of my suite’s parlour.
In the hallway stood a medieval figure, like a character out of a picture book. I knew, of course, that much of Rumania is yet impoverished – fifty years of communist rule will do that to a country, and Rumania had not been particularly well off under the despots who preceded the Soviet puppets – yet I did not expect to see such a specimen as now greeted me. He was a large, muscular man with dark hair and stern, weathered features. He wore leather boots and very rough wool leggings with a matching shirt, both garments having a dirty white colour to them. Over his shirt, the man wore a goat-skin jacket, the hair on the outside. All of his clothes had a rough, home-made look about them, perhaps even the work of the hairy calloused hands which protruded from the sleeves of his wool shirt. One of these hands was closed about a squarish goat-skin pouch.
‘Good afternoon, sir. I am Rădu Danesti of the Prundu Bîrgăului. I would take from you some of your time.’ The man paused and looked into my face for a moment, studying my features. A decision reached, he continued. ‘I something in which you interest may have.’
I motioned for the Rumanian to enter, too intrigued to reflect that so disreputable looking a man could not possibly have anything in which I might be interested. Indeed, had I given it much thought, I should have immediately dismissed him as one of the parasitic creatures which survive by preying upon the gullibility of tourists. As it turned out, this wasn’t the case and he did have something of value.
Radu set his bag down on the little table resting against the wall. He looked at me again before deciding to continue, his hairy hand still resting protectively on the bag.
‘You are having interest in the cavemen? Is this so? For that is what I am having heard.’ He continued to study my face as I replied.
‘If by “cavemen” you mean Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, then yes and very much so.’ As soon as my condescending words voiced in the “scientific intellectual enlightening the ignorant commoner” tone had left my mouth, I regretted them. However. Radu took note only of ‘yes and very much so’.
‘You are look for caveman’s tool and weapon? If one was having these things for to sell, they would valuable being?’ This said with a look of embarrassment and wounded pride.
The warning lights came on. I suspected that my new “friend” was going to try and sell me some “artefacts” as crudely made as his clothes. He had, no doubt, learned of our expedition in the local newssheet and was now attempting to exploit a different sort of tourist.
‘If they were genuine, we might perhaps come to some kind of arrangement,’ I said guardedly and then added, ‘such artefacts would only be of value to an anthropologist and I fear that our pockets do not run terribly deep.’ I expected the man to make swift apologies for wasting my time or else to curse me for wasting his.
Instead, he undid the clasp sealing the goatskin pouch.
I was amazed at the objects which Radu drew from the bag, forgetting for the moment thoughts of forgery. In quick succession, the Rumanian produced three spearheads, an obsidian knife and a long curved tooth-like device which had been crafted from shale. It was these last two items which immediately arrested my attention. The knife was similar to a tool that had been found in a cave in the south of France. Holding the stone blade in my hand, I could at once feel that it was too unwieldy for the slender hands of modern Homo sapiens. If Radu was a faker, he was a very thorough one.
The tooth-like item completely puzzled me. It was too curved to be practical as a weapon and lacked any sort of an edge, ruling out that it was employed as a scraper. I postulated that it might be used in digging for roots and tubers. When I met with my colleagues later that evening and introduced them to Radu, Otto proffered another explanation for the tool. Noting its resemblance to the claw of Ursus spelaeus – the fearsome cave bear of the Pleistocene, Otto speculated with some enthusiasm that the item might actually be religious in function, reminding us of the reverence which Neanderthal man paid his ferocious adversary.
We talked with Radu long into the night, our enthusiasm feeding off of one- another and fuelling a thousand questions which we levelled at the Rumanian, the poor peasant being unable to answer most and only tangentially answer the remainder. To forestall the barrage, he broached the subject of payment. Before retiring that night, we agreed upon a price, Otto promising to pay the man’s fee five times over if he would take us to where he had found the artefacts.
The next morning found us in the back of Radu’s cart, feeling for all the world like pigs being taken to market. Roads were few and poor where he was taking us, Radu explained. It was a backwater where a horse was still more dependable than an automobile and the calendars might as well herald the 16th century for all the impact the 20th had had upon the region. There was a note of contempt in the peasant’s voice as he spoke of the backwardness of his home.
It was a long, bumpy and uncomfortable ride out of Bistra. The storm clouds still smothered the sky, threatening to drown any brash enough as to be out of doors. The bushes and trees we passed were without the avian melodies present in happier weather. Even the lush greenery of the Transylvanian country was muted into grey drudgery.
Once upon the road, we came across the path of a withered old woman and her equally ancient man, peasants by their dress, leading an emaciated cow. They eyed our party with ill-concealed scorn, the woman going so far as to spit in Radu’s direction. Radu quickly returned the insult.
‘What was that all about?’ William asked in a jocular tone. Radu’s face was sombre, telling us without words that this was no laughing matter but rather an open wound in a man too proud to cry.
‘The people here always into the backwards are looking. It is so for much long time. My family is of old blood, Danesti clan it is belonging to. In my family voivodes, boyars and even princes have been. In my blood is same as Dan II, Vladislav II and Dan III, princes of Wallachia all of them are being. My ancestors are fighting that mad devil Vlad Dracula when Turks are him unleashing on the land. For revenge, Vlad is all Danesti he find murdering. Even here, in Transylvania, then by the White Knight Hunyadi being ruled, Vlad is coming for to revenge. He is near the Prundu Bîrgaŭlui a castle building. Ruins still are there standing, into the pass sometimes crumbling. Dracula is villages for many miles scouring, those of my clan for to looking. Entire villages that mad devil is impaling when even one Danesti he is finding. Eventually, Dracula is on the Turks turning and he is in battle being killed. Then is safe for my ancestors to be from Hungary and Moldavia returning. But the people is suffering greatly because of Dracula’s searching and they are from the villages driving the Danesti, like wild beasts in forest they are making them to live. So it is being then, so it is being now.’
The rest of our long trip was spent in silence following Radu’s emotional tale and I marvelled that tradition and blame could continue so long, like some hereditary disease passed from father to son down the course of four centuries.
At last we reached Radu’s modest farm – a simple stone house with a clap-board roof and a barn of like construction. A few sheep milled about in a clearing not too distant under the watchful eye of a monstrous dog of some mongrel strain. Radu pointed at his home with pride and boasted how it had been constructed.
‘The stones my grandfather from Dracula’s old castle is stealing. The communists are new roof on house and barn putting. Very grateful I was being until they are half my flock taking because I am more than is “just” having.’
We spent the night in the large den-kitchen-parlour of Radu’s two-room house, nestled within our sleeping bags and shivering as countless drafts whispered through the walls throughout the night. In the morning, our enthusiasm returned and we eagerly followed Radu up the grassy, boulder-littered mountainside beyond the dark forest that loomed behind his property.
In the full light of the noonday sun which had at last escaped its cloudy bondage, we reached the cave.
The cave was about two hundred fifty feet up on the side of the mountain, a rugged and rocky climb which should have tested the mettle of a goat. Panting, cursing and with our clothes torn, we crawled rather than climbed after Radu as he led us ever closer to this great black blemish on the mountain’s otherwise verdant face.
There was something wrong with that cave. I am sure that I sensed it then as we sighted it for the first time. There was something unnatural about how dark it was, how incongruous with the brightness and life all around it. William seemed especially stuck by the sense of unseen menace.
‘We should go back,’ he said as we rested twenty feet below the cave. ‘We can’t perform a proper investigation by ourselves, you know. We should go back and get more equipment and engage some labourers. More people should be here.’
‘Get a hold of yourself Hanser. Can you be hearing what it is you are saying? Walk away from this before we have even discovered if it is anything or nothing? What ever is the matter with you?’ Otto chastised the Englishman. I remained silent, inwardly agreeing with William but unwilling to be subject to my colleague’s contempt.
As Otto rose to make the last assault, we followed. Otto had ever been the leader, whether in the steaming jungles of Sumatra or the icy sands of the Gobi, where he went those with him followed.
My impression of the cave’s unnatural nature did not lessen as we at last stood within its twisted and jagged mouth, it only grew. Certainly it appeared to be a natural cavern – no medieval dragon lay within sleeping atop a pile of hoarded gold – yet it seemed to me that its darkness was just a bit too dark, its silence just a bit too silent. A foul odour, like the reek of a charnel house, slithered from the blackness, as though the cave were reaching out with rotting tendrils to drag us into its unclean depths. Strangely, only William and I seemed to wither under this festering wind, gagging on its unwholesome atmosphere. Radu, it appeared, was unaffected while Otto positively leapt into the cave, playing his flashlight across floors and walls in a frenzy of excitement. Reluctantly, fighting down the sickness in my stomach, I joined the old scientist, William at my heels.
Otto held up a handful of obviously carved stone to me and beamed, ‘Spear-head fragments! Gott im Himmel! The Neanderthalers were here!’ He stabbed his finger along the beam of his flashlight where it illuminated the series of crude pictoglyphs on the wall. Soon we were all marvelling at this art from the Stone Age.
It was a series of pictures, scenes from the dawn of mankind. The first depicted a large, ferocious-looking man covered in fur and with red eyes running with a pack of wolves beneath a gibbous moon. Before them cowered women and children of similar likeness to the man, though lacking the crimson eyes. The next was again a picture of the red-eyed man eating a human arm; his victim’s body at his feet. The third was of another man, armed with a spear chasing a vulture-like beast from a human corpse. Last of all came a picture of a number of armed men arranged around the red-eyed marauder. At the cannibal’s back was a cave, perhaps this very one. The cannibal cringed before a large man wearing a bearskin and holding before him the skull of a bear. Together, the images presented a fascinating story, such a clear picture of Neanderthal culture that it was certain to be the anthropological discovery of the century. Yet still I was uneasy.
Otto, however, was fairly hugging the cave wall, actually weeping tears of joy. ‘Cameras! We must bring cameras in here! We must show this to the world!’ As he turned from caressing the wall to fetch his notebook from his pack, the beam of his flashlight found something else the Neanderthals had left. In one corner of the cave was a crude wall of piled stones.
‘Hello,’ Otto squeaked. ‘Is our discovery still greater? Anton, what would you make of this?’
I answered his question truthfully, though an Arctic chill crawled up my spine. ‘I think that perhaps there is a tomb under or behind that pile of stones.’
‘Oh, I am sure that you are mistaken,’ William protested feebly.
‘There is only one way to find out,’ declared Otto as he set his flashlight down and began to remove the stones. Radu and I were soon roped into assisting him while William held the light for us.
In the space of a quarter hour, we had excavated a small niche behind the prehistoric wall. We had indeed opened a tomb; a grave thousands of years older than those of the pharaohs.
With our bare hands we dismantled the gates of Hell.
A man’s heart can only be ruled by one emotion at a time. Horror would have filled us at the morbid sight revealed by our flashlights had we not been anthropologists, had that ghastly relic not been to us a treasure beyond our maddest dreams. Radu, the common man, screamed, flying from the cave though a sense of honour bound him to wait outside while we three gawked at the grim tableau before us.
It was the body of a Neanderthal, perfectly preserved after tens of thousands of years. It lay upon the floor, a shrivelled thing, withered like a toad left in the sun. Such natural mummification was not unique. In Argentina mummified skins of Megatherium, the tremendous ground sloth, had been found sealed within a cave. And, again, in Siberia, the preserved bodies of mammoths had been discovered locked under the permafrost. Never before, however, had a find of this magnitude been unearthed, the remains of a hominid, a human that was not modern man but one of the creatures that had vied with early man for dominance. None of us dared to blink for fear that, like a desert mirage, the mummy would vanish before our eyes.
The dead Neanderthal was an imposing sight, his body telling of an enormous strength when alive, his muscles still evident despite the withered skin that was drawn about his frame like wet newspaper. He was shorter than a modern man, only a little over five feet in height but incredibly broad, with long, ape-like arms and short, bandy legs. His skin was completely covered with a short grey fuzz of hair, growing to lengthier patches atop his head and across his chest. The skull was simian with broad, flat facial features and a sloping forehead. His massive brow loomed above his sunken eye sockets. The Neanderthal’s lips were pulled back in a hideous, feral expression, exposing long pointed teeth, the canines elongated into veritable fangs. His broad, withered hands were clenched about that which protruded from his chest – the shaft of a spear, the wood also having miraculously survived the ages.
We stared at the mummified Neanderthal for a very long time. It was William who first overcame the spell of fascination and so it was he who discovered the painting on the wall of the niche and called our attention to it.
The scene was the interior of a cave. Several men were holding down the red-eyed cannibal of before. One of the men thrust his spear through the captive while a bearskin-clad shaman held a bear skull above the struggling victim. Above the shaman’s head was rendered the timeless symbol of the solar disk. Below the entire scene the paw print of a cave bear had been drawn.
‘Fabulous!’ exclaimed Otto. ‘Don’t you see what this means? Remember, the cave bear was venerated by these people. I think that what we have here is the first recorded religious execution! Our friend here, our beautiful friend with his spear, was killed as a heretic or witch perhaps. And all of this occurred thousands of years before Egypt gave a man the head of a falcon and called it a god!’ Otto’s enthusiasm infected me and I joined his line of speculation.
‘Those paintings outside, they damn this man as a cannibal. Clearly cannibalism was taboo to these people.’
‘Yes, yes!’ returned Otto after having pondered my conclusion for a moment. ‘A cannibal! A charge which has been levelled against enemies of all religious traditions throughout history, from witches to the savants of Baal in ancient Canaan! We may have discovered something of vast importance not only to anthropology, but the study of the human psyche as well! Primitive, sub-human man predicting the superstitions of modern man.’
William continued to stare at the painting, stealing glimpses at the mummy. Suddenly, our English associate screamed, pointing emphatically at the Neanderthal’s face.
‘Its eyes! It tried to open its eyes!’ He erupted into frenzied laughter and would have fled had I not caught hold of him. I quieted William down as best I could while Otto examined the Neanderthal.
‘A trick of the light, my friend. Nothing more,’ the old man winked at me. ‘I imagined that I saw the same thing myself. An optical illusion, that is all. Though startling, it is nothing to fear.’ Otto looked at the old-fashioned pocket watch he wore, closing it with a loud snap that echoed through the cave.
‘Come, it is getting late. Let us see if we can remove our ancient friend. I would very much like to get him back to Herr Danesti’s farm and make a proper study of him.’ Otto coaxed William to his feet and he seemed to recover slightly.
Otto spread out his raincoat to act as a litter for the mummy while William and I attempted to lift it onto the coat. It was then that we discovered that the spear had not merely been driven into the body, but through it. As I grabbed the spear shaft in my hands, an alarm seemed to go off in my brain. I paused, unable to act, terror at last overcoming scientific exuberance. Cold sweat beaded on my forehead while my flesh began to tingle as though the circulation in my entire body had been cut off for a moment, the horrible sensation writers describe as having one’s flesh “crawl”.
‘Is something the matter?’ asked Otto. I was unable to answer; I could only look at him imploringly. The old scientist stared back at me for a moment. ‘Yes, perhaps it would do damage to remove the spear from him. See if you can just remove that part which pins him to the floor so we can move him.’
I stooped beside the mummy and felt my way under the Neanderthal’s back until I found the sharpened point of the spearhead. A sense of nausea was rising through my body, suffocating me, causing the blood to thunder in my ears. Subconscious warnings screamed in my mind. It was with an audible groan that I gave the spearhead a savage twist and snapped the ancient wood of the shaft. All at once the strange alarms that had been assaulting my body ceased. In their place was only a sense of dread.
It took us several hours to retreat back down the slope with the ancient corpse carried between William and myself. Radu obviously had mixed feelings about our find but Otto reassured the Rumanian with loud boasts that this was ‘the scientific find of the epoch’ and that he would be well rewarded for his part in the making of that discovery.
Still, even Radu’s greed had its boundaries. When we returned to his farm and would have taken the mummy into his house, he angrily pointed to the stone barn. ‘When I am being sleeping, that devil not under same roof being.’
We dutifully removed the Neanderthal to the barn, rigging a makeshift table out of some boards left over from the communist roofing project. Unsound as it was, it proved more than sturdy enough to bear our desiccated find, which had all the weight of a cardboard box. No sooner had we set the Neanderthal on the table than Otto put light to one of the old lanterns hanging from the beams. Grinning with the euphoria of discovery, Otto fell upon the mummy with all the glee of a child who has finally gotten his hands on a long-desired toy. We left him measuring each section of the skull and jotting his findings down in a black-bound journal. It was Otto’s hour of triumph and we were glad to let him have it, contenting ourselves to a withdrawal to the farmhouse to join Radu in a meagre meal of porridge.
It was already twilight when we left the barn and the night was not slow in falling as we ate our small supper in silence. Radu had, we realized, come to resent our presence since we had brought the Neanderthal down from the mountain. Tonight he was too polite to speak. The next day he would ask us to leave. William was still in a state of uneasiness bordering on fright, though he tried his best not to show it. The ember of life he had imagined the Neanderthal to possess back in the cave had unsettled him more than I had realized. For myself, I couldn’t share Otto’s enthusiasm, though I didn’t understand why. There was a vague disquiet again stealing upon me and growing more pronounced with every moment.
The scream came just as we finished our supper.
As one, we leapt up from the table and raced to the barn, from where the hideous shout had come. It had been the scream of a damned soul, a cry of mortal agony in which was mixed all the horror, all the pain which a hundred men could find in their lifetime. A fetid odour struck us as we left Radu’s house, a foul charnel reek of death and decay. The barn door was open, the light from the lantern guiding our steps as we rushed to the scene of tragedy and horror.
Oh, that it was but some hideous nightmare from which I might awaken to find myself abed in my home in Berlin! But, no, the sight was real. Hideously real. My aged mentor and colleague, Professor Otto Bauer, lay on his side like a broken doll, his body strangely shrivelled and his flesh ghostly pale. Radu crossed himself in terror while William could do no more than stare in horror from the doorway. It fell to me to ensure my friend’s morbidity.
Otto’s flesh was cold as ice, though death could have struck him down no more than a few moments prior. There was such a look of fear frozen on his dead features as made me cringe to see. At first I supposed that death had come from a broken neck, so unnaturally did Otto’s head sag against his right shoulder, but then I saw the savage twin wounds in his throat, wounds which were without a trace of blood!
‘Stirgoi!’ exclaimed Radu, again crossing himself. I looked up from Otto and back at my living companions and for the first time noted that they were not looking at me or even at Otto. Their attention was claimed by our makeshift table.
Our vacant table. On the earthen floor lay the prehistoric spear-shaft, the only trace of the mummified Neanderthal left in the barn!
I turned from that impossible revelation, hoping to find some trace of strength in my companions. William was still frozen in horrified awe while Radu backed away slowly, like a man retreating from a venomous snake. It was when the Rumanian had withdrawn from the doorway and stood beneath the stars that a grey shadow noiselessly fell to the ground behind him.
The horror of it! The evil, vile impossibility! It rose up behind Radu, its grey fur clothing a body much changed from the thing that had been removed from the cave. It was now emaciated rather than withered, the frame of a starving beast rather than a dead husk. Red eyes burned from beneath the massive brow with a luminance of their own while white fangs snapped in feral anticipation. Such was my terror that I didn’t cry out, didn’t scream a warning to the prey of this wraith. I watched in mesmerized dread as the Neanderthal’s thick arms locked about the Rumanian’s waist and neck. With a loud hiss, the monster sank its fangs into Radu’s jugular, the farmer struggling as feebly in its grip as a sparrow in the jaws of a dog. Even the farmer’s screams and death rattle didn’t arouse me from my almost hypnotic state. It was the sight of the great deluge of blood which gushed from his wound and was greedily lapped by the Neanderthal’s long lupine tongue that at last set me free.
In blind panic I charged at the monster as it fed, barrelling my way past it with William following at my very heels. Even in my terror, I realized that in the open we should be easy prey for this supernatural fiend but within the confines of the farmhouse we might at least find a chance of refuge.
I took one last look at the grey, almost dwarfish shape and the man whose struggles in its grasp grew ever more feeble. Then I slammed the door and hurriedly secured the bar.
William was gulping down a jug of wine from Radu’s pantry, mumbling to himself. ‘I knew it was alive. I told them it was alive. Why did he take out the spear? Didn’t he remember that if you remove the stake, the vampire lives again?’
I ignored my hysterical comrade for the moment and busied myself with finding and loading the old rifle Radu kept for hunting game. If the monster came for us, it wouldn’t do so unopposed.
I seated myself in a chair and faced the door with the rifle on my lap. William stopped drinking long enough to laugh at me.
‘You think that will stop him? A vampire cannot be killed with bullets! Here, this is how you fight a vampire!’ and he rose to stumble across the room and remove a large crucifix from the wall. Clutching it to his breast, he began to sob.
I shuddered at William’s mad words, my mind retreating back down the years to a time when it had not been moulded into the cold rational intellect of the scientist but was peopled by the bogies of childhood, by ghosts and witches, vampires and werewolves and all the lore which was attendant to such legendry. I cursed myself for entertaining the thought that this was indeed some vampire fiend ripped from myth. I struggled to rationalize the Neanderthal’s revitalization. Might he not have lain in a stupor down through the ages, preserved in a natural vacuum? Toads had been documented to survive for decades under such conditions. Had this been the Neanderthal’s situation? But how had he survived the spear that had pierced his heart?
I trembled and dropped the rifle in a sudden seizure of fear. Outside, perhaps only on the other side of the wall, had arisen a booming bestial cry, an echo of a savage primordial epoch. If the cry of the modern wolf is a howl then this kindred intonation was a roar, the very snarl of Fenrir. And it was answered by the distant symphony of gaunt grey wolves in Transylvanian’s forest deeps. Ancient lore rose unbidden to my mind; the vampire, master of the wolf and the rat, king of the creatures of the night.
‘Let me in! In the name of mercy! Let me in!’ A furious, desperate pounding shook the door of Radu’s house as the Rumanian’s voice rasped out his plea. Had he somehow, by some miracle, escaped the Neanderthal’s attack? Even as William’s hand closed about the latch, even as the bar was lifted, vague childhood nightmares shrieked through my brain, crying out in warning.
The vampire cannot enter a dwelling except that it is first invited, my subconscious memories shouted at me. I screamed for William to get away from the door, but it was too late. The door stood open, the Englishman stood gaping in terror at the sight which greeted him… nothing. There was no one there, no one pounding on the door for entry, no one shouting in Radu’s voice.
A mocking laugh, an inhuman cackle like the crackle of a funeral pyre, rose from the darkness. William gave an anguished cry and slammed the door. Still the horrible laughter reached us, the gleeful chortling of the Devil himself. William began to move the few furnishings in the room against the door. It was my turn to scold his efforts.
‘It is too late. That won’t stop it! You’ve invited it in and nothing can keep it out now!’ William looked at me with an expression of agony.
In a shower of splintered wood, a long grey shape burst through door and furniture alike. It rose from the debris with a snarl, a deep-throated cachinnation which drowned out our own screams. It wasn’t the Neanderthal that slowly crept toward our retreating forms. It was a shape of prehistoric savagery, of the malevolent power of beasts Nature had decided were too terrible to let survive. Imagine a great grey wolf with frothing mouth and burning red eyes, with immense fangs hanging from its mouth like daggers. Such was this, only as large as a horse, a monster two metres long! Creeping towards us was Canis dirus, the dire wolf, bane of the Pleistocene, a ghastly shade from the past every bit as ancient as the pre-human vampire.
I marvelled at the gigantic wolf for only a moment before I began firing into its monstrous frame. Bullet after bullet passed through the beast, as though it were no more solid than mist and shadow. The dire wolf ignored my efforts and stalked deliberately and hungrily towards William as he cowered in the far corner of the room.
William held the iron crucifix before him with one hand while he covered his eyes with the other. The monster wolf was unimpressed by the gesture. Only a few feet away from its prey, it stopped and, where a second before had stood the gigantic form of the dire wolf now stood the powerful figure of the grey-haired Neanderthal, his long fangs gleaming in the firelight. With a contemptuous gesture, the vampire swatted the cross from William’s trembling hands and fell upon the cowering man.
Perhaps its eldritch blood did not recognize the cross’s power. To its kind the cave bear had been sacred not the Son of God. Or, perhaps, faith couldn’t be turned on and off like a switch. Whatever the reason for the cross’s failure to retard the vampire’s attack, William was beyond my help and my only hope lay in immediate flight. I dropped the empty and useless rifle and raced through the shambles the Neanderthal had made of the door.
I could hear snarls and animal screams coming from Radu’s enclosed pasture. The wolves had come and fallen upon the Rumanian’s livestock. His massive mongrel dog was probably even now selling its life against its lupine foes. These thoughts rapidly assembled themselves in my mind as I beheld several pairs of eyes gleaming from the shadow of the barn. Not all of the wolves were attacking Radu’s flock. These had probably been driven off by their stronger fellows and come to scavenge the desiccated remains of the vampire’s meals. But now fresh prey had presented itself and a new notion entered their predatory brains. I turned and ran from the wolves, running in the opposite direction of the pasture. And my lupine pursuers stalked after me on padded paws. The reputation of man-eater is an unwarranted one for the wolves of North America, but the gaunt grey shadows of Europe’s forests had earned that title in gory spectacles which had ended only with their virtual annihilation.
My flight soon took me beneath the darkened boughs of the woods. The wolves were panting behind me, slowing their pace to a loping trot. At first I imagined they had lost my scent but soon the horrible truth revealed itself. Unseen and unheard, some of them were slinking through the underbrush to either side of me, weaving through the irregular ranks of thin-trunked trees. Once sure that I was surrounded, they would charge and escape would be impossible. With this realization, I found a new energy and dashed forwards with greater speed in an effort that I should have thought impossible. True to my fears, a single wolf closed in upon me, only to fall to the ground ahead of me as it over-estimated its leap. I jumped over the prone animal without slowing my tremendous pace.
The wolves continued to pursue me for a mile or so before I stumbled and fell. The brutes were upon me before I could rise. But even as they prepared to attack a change came upon them. Where once they were a pack of savage predators frenzied by the close of the hunt there now cowered a whimpering mass of grey fur. They whined like chastised curs, their tails between their legs. They sank to their bellies and crawled away into the darkness.
I looked about me for the demon I knew to be close at hand, the undead fiend which had called off its beasts before they robbed it of its prey. I had no fear left in me when a great black shadow dropped from the tree branch where it had been hanging. I did not run as that black shape sailed nearer, for there was no chance of escape.
As it came closer I beheld the details of that wraith – a giant bat as big as a condor, its fur a blue-black. Its face was elongated like that of a fruit bat but it bore two long fangs as though it were some ghastly sabre-toothed chiroptera. Again, the horror had changed its form, adopting that so often ascribed to its kind in myth and legend. The fiendish gargoyle descended upon me, its red eyes burning in the night. I didn’t resist as its clawed feet grasped my shoulders and I rose into the sky.
There is little more to tell. The bat-beast deposited me on the mountain before returning to the shape of the Neanderthal. The prehistoric vampire, its hairy body bloated from the night’s three victims, roughly herded me back into its cave, forcing me into the very niche which had been its prison for countless ages. Then, like some primitive Montressor, the Neanderthal rebuilt the wall, its immense strength accomplishing the task in only a few minutes.
And so, here I sit, entombed within the earth, dreading the moment when the vampire again needs to appease its ancient, unholy hunger. I cannot doubt that its present blood-gorged state will be a short one.
By the flickering flame of my lighter and a torch improvised from rags, I have studied the painting upon the wall, for there is nothing else for me to do except ponder my own horrible fate. Again there comes unbidden the old legends from my childhood. Perhaps Otto didn’t remove the spear from the vampire’s heart after all. The lore of the ancients has it that a vampire must be pinned to the ground so that it cannot rise in order to stop its rampages. And as I study the cave painting, it occurs to me that it shows the vampire not being stabbed, but staked, impaled through the heart and pinned to the ground.
It was a warning, a warning from the Stone Age that we were too enlightened to understand.
- This fragmentary journal was discovered by Minhea Corneliu, a woodsman assisting the Jandarmeria Română in the search for a young child missing from the village of Ungureni. The Gendarmerie reports that this region of Transylvania has been plagued in recent months by a string of such disappearances. It is generally agreed that wolves are to be blamed, which have become bolder and more numerous in the area.
This story originally appeared in The Black Wind's Whispers.
A collection of horror stories presenting a wide array of tales inspired by the things that go bump in the night. My contribution is 'Entombed in the Dawn', a story about anthropologists in Romania who have the misfortune to unearth a prehistoric vampire.
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