The Vampire Girl Who Lost Her Heart
Abigail Padden located the following transcript one afternoon while helping me unpack boxes at the Imaginactory, surprisingly enough from the collection of Big Benny Cubbage, strange as is the idea of the illiterate stink-pot having any collection beyond commemorative beer cans. I have copied it word for word, leaving all errors in punctuation and orthography, partially to preserve the freshness of the document and partially to give my editor a break.
As near as can be ascertained, the interview was the first of a short-lived attempt to document the history and folklore of Sycamore Shadows. Several transcripts, of which this is one, deal with the prevalence of “consumption” (tuberculosis) in 19th Century Sycamore Shadows. From other notes, it may be assumed that the interviewer was a nurse, though she was not a native of the area and nothing else is known of her life.
Interview with Edward Gruder, aged about 100, by Victoria Holt, Sycamore Shadows, OH.
I found Mr. Gruber sitting on a screened-in porch wearing several layers of flannel and a wool cap, with a kerosene heater at his feet, though it was a warm September morning. Though feeble of body, his mind is quite sharp and he retains his humor and is uncommonly voluble. We discussed an incident of which I was not aware, which had occurred when he was a boy. Mr. Gruber declined giving any names.
“I remember when they dug up the body – I was mebee ten or so at the time but it stuck with me. Things like that do. Nobody left alive that remembers it now, I would imagine, but that don’t matter. No one ever talked about it anyway. Things like that, folks keep to themselves. I had a bitty hound dog – just a mix but he was all hound – he was with me. He was ever with me. Best dog I ever had too, but wasn’t worth much for rabbits. Gun shy. Sure, I was there when they dug her up. She was turned over you see – layin’ on her belly. Now that’s a fact. Her folks believed it when they found out. Said she always slept on her belly, even when she was little. So, she got flipped over somehow. I ain’t sayin’ how – only that she’d flipped, as sure as I’m talking to you. There wasn’t no embalming then you know. Folks was laid out in their burying clothes and put in the ground that way. Nowadays you embalm people and you know they’re dead – they’ve got to be when the undertaker finishes. But back then, you heard stories. Stories of the ressurectionists and the things they saw. Stories that would knock a child’s bones together with fear on a dark night. No one ever wanted to talk about it though – at least the respectable folks – but that don’t mean it didn’t happen. She’d have suffocated soon enough probably. Maybe so. But I’ve seen catfish – mostly bullheads – that lived for a long long time in the bed of a pick-up then swim away when they get thrown back. So maybe she was. ‘Course catfish is catfish and not people.”
“The kids was all abuzz with the talk, after it happened, but the others folks wouldn’t allow no questions or discussing and my grandmother – she died not long afterwards of the fever – she’d fold her hands together and say a quick prayer if someone mentioned it. She’d be shaking too, though I don’t know I understood it at the time. Don’t understand it now, much.”
“Anyway, they flipped her over again and she was awful peaceful looking. At least that’s how I remember it. She wasn’t rotten at all – pretty dry. The worms hadn’t got to her and her shroud – that’s what they called the buryin’ clothes – the shroud was still whispy, so to speak. How come I know that was on account of the wind there was that day and the way it flapped on the edges when they brought her up. Then the doctor cut her heart out and they laid her back in her grave. Even most of the men turned their heads for that. She was mightily loved in town, that poor girl was. But all they needed was the heart. That — could build a coffin. He was the one who done hers – built it I mean – built most everybody’s for a good many years. And you know what they did when he died? Laid him to rest in a store-bought. Always thought that was a shame.”
“Well, someone had piled up some rocks over at the edge of the graveyard – sort of a cairn to burn the heart on. There was a big flat rock on top, good for scraping the ashes from. Everyone edged closer when the doctor took his knife from its sheath and opened the heart – a nice clean slice from end to end but it didn’t want to cut, on account of being in the grave so long, but he got it sliced somehow. Then he reached his fingers and slowly put two of them from each hand into the heart and spread it open and there was wet blood in there – not like fresh blood mind you – more such as jelly blood. But there was blood in there sure enough, and it wasn’t hers. She’d been dead too long for that – most of a year. It was her brother’s blood you see. She’d been drawing the blood from his heart into hers, like a vampire will do. Folks called it food for the dead. Said it was the “white death.” It wasn’t no use. Her brother was too far gone for it to help, but other folks said what’s the harm in trying, so they dug her up that way. Her folks were awful anxious they’d lose another. They took the ashes from the heart and mixed it with some tea and he drank it, but he was too far gone and died within the week. Her people weren’t ever the same afterwards – sort of always walking around in a daze. They’ve been dead themselves quite a few years now. All of them together now I expect. And no one ever mentioned if afterwards. They were either too ashamed, or scared maybe.”
“I’ve been the last one left for a long time and it doesn’t matter to me now. It was a long time ago but I can still see the men pulling those ropes and the girl rising from her grave and how still everyone was when the doctor opened her coffin. It was a nice town back then, full of good God-fearing folks who was ever helping one another, and it still is I suppose, mostly, but it shook me up something horrible when I looked at her heart and saw what sort of evil exists in the world, even in a place like this. I ain’t never been the same.”
Note written in a different hand, some time later:
Mr. Gruber died in 1933, at the age of 103.