My hike through the gloomy village of Harvest Hollow is far from untroubled. A low, curling fog only partly conceals the mounds of rotting pumpkins and straw bales that line my path. It seems to follow me into the cemetery, and settles in a few empty graves. I quickly make my way around dozens of crowded tombstones and return to the beaten path of the village. In contrast to the clutter of that dismal burial ground, the open lane before me looks almost inviting.
It's only 5:30 p.m. Thirty minutes before the “witching hour." To a naïve traveler, the small, condemned village’s population still seems to consist of a few shambling caretakers. Unfortunately, I know the truth. I know the broken, burnt-out shacks and cursed graves that surround me on all sides are teeming with the undead. Sorry, Undead-Americans.
I stand before “the first shack on the right, just after the graveyard.” There is no door to knock on, just some bloody, tattered curtains hung where one should be. The cold autumn breeze seems to sap my life and give it to the curtains. That seems to be the way around here. Take from the living and give to the dead. This betrayal of the laws of nature further chills my soul.
I hear a gurgling growl issuing from the shack that could possible be taken for a snore. I offer a timid “hello” to announce my arrival. The “snoring” stops. Silence. “Horace?”
The voice is low and inhuman, more like a rabid bear than the former crop farmer that waits within. I look around at the smoldering piles of ash left from the bonfires of the previous night, shuddering as I think of what materials lay there, charred and unrecognizable. I say a short prayer for the dead (I’m sure I hear a hiss from behind me as I do so), take a deep breath, and step forward into the unknown.
Once inside, I stand in complete darkness for several seconds, afraid to move or speak. As my eyes start to adjust, I can see the vague outline of a humanoid figure. It sits motionless on what I take for a low bench. He seems to be revealed in parts. First is his hair, lighted by the cracks in the boards behind him. It is full, but disheveled and matted down with earth. Next, his nose and mouth. I gasp as I realize they are smeared with a blackish-red paste. His perpetual grimace reveals two oversized canine teeth. After staring at the latter for several seconds, the rest of his face becomes visible. It is not quite as gruesome as what I would expect from a corpse. There are a few open wounds, but these seem to have been made before his death, as they are crudely stitched closed. In general, his face reminds me of something in-between dirty porcelain and leather. It certainly isn’t alive.
Sit, he growls, or I assume it is he. I never actually see his mouth move as he continues, Won’t bite. S’too early.
There is no emotion in his voice. No sarcasm or threat, just flat truth. My immediate reaction is to take a step back and look down. I’m shocked at how close I was standing to this creature, staring so boldly. I look behind me and see a straw bale. I sit.
Must be quick. You’re my guest, so you’re safe now, but’f you’re here after dark, you’ll never leave.
Again, nothing but facts. I swallow my fear and pull a tape recorder out of my pocket and ask,
Do you mind?
What is it?
It will record our conversation, so I can recount it later.
Don’t care. No one’ll listen.
Why is that?” I ask as I push “record.”
Living won’t suffer the dead.
Do you mean they won’t believe I really had an interview with you?
No, they won’t suffer FOR me. They don’t want to hear what’s true. It hurts them.
I see. Well, let’s continue then. First, how did you, uh, die? Was it that? - I point to the noose pulled tightly around his torn neck.
No. They did that after. Thought they could hang the dead. Wrong. I taught them…
No. No flowing robes and sweet words. I was devoured by a beast. Slinking, base creatures, Nosferatu. The Vampire’s on the hill keep them as pets.
He motions up and behind me. I know he is referring to the “Bitten” house. It is a dark mansion occupied by Vampires, but its details are limited to rumors and nightmares. To the south of that mansion lies the shadows of “Hunted,” said to be the realm of the Werewolves. Harvest Hollow, the small village in which I am conducting this interview, lies in-between the two. It is a sad fate for the hard-working farmers that once lived here. One of those farmers was named Horace. His body now sits before me, He has generously agreed to spare my life, for the present, in order to conduct this most invaluable interview. Thankfully, it seems the longer my host speaks with me, the more intelligible he becomes. It is as if he is remembering a forgotten language.
There was no exchange of blood. No sire and fledgling. I was consumed and left for dead here in my home.
Is that what happened to the rest of the village? Killed by Nosferatu?
Some. Most on this side of the graveyard fell victim to the Vampires and their pets, eventually. The ones turned into Vampires went up the hill. The rest of us stayed here. Nowhere else to go, ever.
What about the other half? On the other side of the graveyard?
Not sure. There were rumors of wolves in the darkness before they cut us off.
Cut you off?
When Vampires started coming down from the hill and killing us, they closed us off from them. Condemned us.
For the first time, I sense emotion in his voice, the bitterness of betrayal. He shifts uneasily on the low bench, which I know now to be a coffin.His coffin.
In the last night before I was taken I heard screams mixed with howls coming from the other side of the graveyard. Not human howls. Not wolves. Something in-between. It was a full moon that night. Since then, I’ve seen one or two running through our paths late at night. I think they’re attracted to the trespassing humans that’ve been coming through here lately.
You’re talking about Werewolves?
His grimace turns to a blood-chilling smile, fully bearing his bloodstained teeth. I quickly move on, not wanting to awaken the beast within.
Will you tell me about the trespassers that you spoke of just now?
What about them? They start close to sunset, coming sometimes individually, but mostly in groups, and continue until just before midnight. Cowards.
What do you mean?
We rise at six o’clock, so you say the "scare is everywhere." That is true. Seldom are we enticed to kill that early in the evening. It is then that we usually...play with our food. The true witching hour is midnight. That’s when we’re the most alive…or most undead. Our thirst's fully awakened then.
So can the living pass through your village safely if it’s before midnight?
Does it bother you that they do it?
Bother me? Ask me again after sundown. It’s taking all my will to keep from running that (he motions to a bloody scythe propped up in the corner) through your gut. And I INVITED you here. What do you think it's like with scores of screaming, crying cattle running through my place of eternal rest?
Speaking of that, what are they like? I mean, what kind of people do you encounter?
All the same, mostly, but there’re a few differences. Some enrage me. There’s the terrified girl cowering in her protector’s arms. She won’t show her face and he won’t betray a single emotion, even unto death. I’m not sure why they come, but the stench of their hormones is sickening…Then there’s the parent that sends his or her offspring out in front, using them as human shields and laughing at their terror. I go for the parents, myself. They deserve it. But worst of all, the bottom feeders, the scum of the human race, those that set my shriveled veins on fire…the texters! They’re in their own world, oblivious to the danger around them. The light from their talking devices is blinding. I’m ashamed to say that sometimes my rage gets the best of me. There are only two kinds of people that aren’t safe before midnight. Texters, and smart-mouthed, punk kids. If you disrespect my family or my lineage, you WILL remain here with me, forever.
But, there’re some that aren’t too bad. The ones that respect where they are, and aren’t afraid to show it. If they’re young enough, life is still an adventure, and they scream at every shadow and gust of wind that comes through. If they’re old enough, they realize that life is precious, and too short to put on a brave face all the time. Occasionally you will get a would-be punk kid that can surprise you, but ONLY if they aren’t with a boyfriend or girlfriend. If they’re alone or with friends, they’ll scream, run from you, fall, jump, and occasionally wet them selves. I’m serious. Those types of people don’t really bother me. Their screams of terror actually delight me in some ways. Reminds me what it was like to be respected. I almost always let them go, even if I do chase them all the way out of the Hollow.
You mentioned rage getting the best of you occasionally. But, don’t you, uh, you know…
Feed on humans? Yes, but as I said, our thirst isn’t fully awakened before midnight. Before then, we still have some of our former emotions and constraint. There was one time I actually felt bad about silencing a kid that spoke ill of my darling mother. The later it gets, the more dangerous we become...But most of the time, I just remind myself that they are a temporary nuisance.
How is that? They only come in October. After All Hallows’ Eve, October 31st, they leave and give us nearly eleven months of peace.
As I begin my next question, I hear a howl in the distance. Horace’s grin widens as he breathes in deeply through his nose.
It’s coming. Can you feel it? Getting hungry. Might want to go now…or…you could stay a while…
I quickly thank my host for his time, shove my tape recorder back into my pocket, and exit the darkening shack. Outside, I see the earth stirring in several spots. To my left, I see shadows moving in the graveyard. I turn quickly to my right and head up the hill. It is the quickest way back to the Busch Gardens Festhaus, my pick-up location, but unfortunately it passes deathly close to the “Bitten” house. I can already hear screams coming from within as I run for my life…