I did go to meet this old man. The man’s appearance upon meeting him did not inspire hope in me. He was certainly old, but he had not aged with any grace. This is not to say that age had made him ugly with wrinkles or deformity, but that he looked like one of those old men who was happy with his station in life, content with what he’s done, and decided to longer concern himself with how anybody else considered him.
He wore a t-shirt which was riddled with holes. His jacket was clearly old, though he clearly cared for it better. And I say this because the only wear and tear on this jacket was some fraying along the edges and seam, but it may have fit over his torso at one point in his life, but no longer could he ever hope to even meet the left breast to the right one over his colossal gut. He wore a pair ill-fitting pajama pants over a pair of shorts. His feet were covered by moccasin slippers.
His white hair was long and uncombed, but surprisingly washed and clearly clean. The same could not be said for his beard, which was equally long and unkempt, but also contained the leftovers of whatever he ate between that last shower and when I met him. He kept his hands in his pocket, not even extending them for a handshake. I found myself relieved that I did not have to make any skin contact with this man.
Shortly put, he looked like some alcoholic homeless Santa. His big smile and the jolly tone in his voice completed this impression.
We met outside of his house in the city. He stepped out before I even climbed the porch steps. He seemed pleased with how surprised I was, commenting, with the happiest smile, that he liked to be perfectly prompt. He spoke with a heavy Slavic accent. My knowledge of Eastern Europe is not really anything to boast about, but if I was forced to guess his country of origin, I would probably have guessed the Ukraine.
I would also be incorrect. He let me know in the first few moments of meeting him that was born in Romania to a Bulgarian mother and a Russian father. I asked for none of this, by the way.
He led me down a set of stairs which were next to his porch, concealed by a gate and carefully arranged shrubbery. If he cared for this little garden, he certainly put much more effort into that than he did into his appearance. And I do focus on appearance a lot, it’s something both my wife and I have always done since our college days.
I followed him down into what was a sort of office beneath his house. Inside this office there appeared to be no stairs leading up to the domicile. He informed me that he used to be a medical doctor of sorts, particularly for immigrants from Eastern Europe, fleeing Communism, who could not afford Capitalist American doctors and did not trust anyone provided by the government. This basement had served as his office, and thus he wanted no way for any patient of his to enter into the home where his family stayed.
I looked around and saw the walls were lined with bookshelves. And the bookshelves were overflowing with books. Some shelves looked bent from the weight of the books and others already had snapped from the sheer weight of so many pages resting on them. Not one of these books appeared to be in English, as every spine with words I could see displayed cyrilic characters.
I was losing hope. This man continued to ramble about this and that until, at last, he asked me about my wife, referring to her as my reason for needing to pull him out of retirement. He said this in such a jovial way, and clearly struggled to contain his laughter at his own joke, I could not help but feel somewhat endeared to the old man, even if he was more than a little bit annoying.
I told him my wife’s physical condition. I told him about her sensitivity to sunlight and her sudden development of an allergy to garlic. I told him of her hypersensitivity to silver. Knowing this man presented himself as a doctor, and since my wife was not present, I decided to describe her aging in some different words, choosing to instead make it sound more like dry skin and hair loss than watching a living woman rot because of how unbelievable her condition truly was. And this is where he surprised me.
He told me to cut the shit. He told me she was aging rapidly. He then listed some more intimate symptoms of her disease I did not even convey to you, due to the more feminine nature of them. I nodded at each one, confirming she was indeed experiencing these. He also began listing those psychological symptoms I talked about, such as the phobia of lines crossing at right angles and running water. By this point, I had stopped nodding and just let my jaw drop.
Other doctors, men with shaved faces, combed hair, and impeccable style, had assured me these symptoms were all unrelated, and the psychological ones were certainly in her head before writing some useless but lucrative and addictive prescription. But this man did not even need to be told every symptom by me, as he seemed to know them already.
And this did not fill me with hope. The jovial visage of Santa Clause vanished from his face. Instead, he now looked serious, as though he had something grave to tell me. For what I think was about ten minutes, we both sat on opposite sides of a dusty old desk covered in rotting papers in total silence. Not a word was said.
He then informed me, speaking as if the long pause had not happened, that my wife was becoming a vampire. I would have stood up from my chair and barged out had his accuracy at guessing all the symptoms not been a hundred percent.
At first, he pulled up an old, leather bound book. He opened it to the table of contents, sliding his finger down the page towards himself, stopping about three quarters down the page. Then, he flipped through the old medical text to the appropriate chapter. I can tell you the paper was old, probably parchment, and the ink appeared to be stylishly written on each page. Perhaps this was written sometime before the Gutenberg press?
He turned the book around so I could read, pointing at the paragraphs written in a language I did not know. He quickly apologized, not laughing at all, and said he is so used to patients from his old part of the world that he completely forgot I do not know Serbian. He began to translate for me, giving me an abbreviated version of what the text said.
Vampirism is an old disease. Medieval doctors, who were not the first to encounter the illness but the among the first to record it and all of the symptoms, studying it for the sake of science, got wrong the origin of the illness. Obviously, it did not originate with some Satanic pact or unfortunate meeting with a member of the undead. He did make it a point to tell me that werewolves also do not exist. Apparently, he believed that was important.
Vampirism is caused by a parasite. This worm colonizes a human host, consuming and replacing the digestive system and reproductive system. It also apparently may lay some claim to the brain, though its effects there were not altogether understood yet and the memory, cognition, and decision making patterns of the infected host were always observed to be unchanged mostly, except for the phobias developed. These phobias are always the same, and it is a shame more research isn’t being done to find out why this is. That was his opinion, and I am only telling it to you.
This parasite is to be found in all parts of the infected’s body, however it does totally consume the intestine, colon, and male or female sex organs. The worms form some mass that strongly resembles the intestine. As for the sex organs, the parasite uses those locations to reproduce themselves. The individual worm in such a colony actually has a short lifespan of about five years, give or take. Once dead, it is consumed by the next generation. Thus, no worms ever appear in an infected person’s fecal matter.
They’ve apparently evolved so well to this task that not only do they accomplish the same tasks as the intestine do, but they are also undetectable to the current state of medicine unless physically examined through a surgical procedure, which none of the doctors I visited ever thought of doing. Again, all the doctors my wife and I had up until this point consulted believed this to be some drastic skin condition.
This he explained to me very simply. The sun’s effects on the skin of the infected is a side effect of being infected. Has something to do with the chemical changes the body undergoes as it is transformed from being one living organism with maybe a few colonies of friendly bacteria and a few more of hostile bacteria to becoming a veritable city of worms.
The allergy to garlic is because garlic does kill these worms. In fact, in the early days of an infection, consuming a large amount of garlic should kill the initial colony, thus preventing any long-term effects. However, as they grow in number, some worms take care the somehow readjust the nerves of the mouth and throat, making them burn and thus conditioning the host to abhor garlic. Any vomiting or diarrhea resulting from an infected host’s consumption of garlic is actually a reaction of the worms trying to evacuate their poison. In a sense, they are panicking.
He further explained her sensitivity to silver as the only symptom not fully understood from the research done. He told me the research done on Vampirism was mostly done in a time before a full understanding of chemistry was done. So why an infected person has such a violent reaction to silver remains unknown.
He was also certain to tell me that these worms not invisible to the naked eye, hence why scientists bereft of an understanding of chemistry and without microscopes could come to study this particular parasitical illness when so many others would remain undetected for centuries more.
The more intimate issues my wife was facing were due to the worms eating and replacing her ovaries and uterus in order to make more worms. They leave the heart, lung, blood and blood vessels, and other organs in tact, as these keep the host alive.
He explained that this was the cause of the most disturbing of my wife’s symptoms. Her rapid aging was due to the worms’ aging and dying at rate faster than they were replenishing themselves. The worms ultimately want their human host to live, hence they do not mess with more organs than needed. He told me he believes their making the skin so sensitive is some survival mechanism meant to protect us from certain skin cancers.
He continued, detailing the history of the study of this parasitical worm.
He said that study had halted in both East Asia and Western Europe because those civilizations came to the same conclusion separately. Both determined it was better to eradicate the parasite by killing the infected rather than risk spreading infection to others by keeping specimens for study. Much of the Muslim world, as well as Africa, followed suit, executing the infected in various ways. The famous methods of beheading, burning, and a stake through the heart were all used and immortalized in lore not because of some scientific reason, but that these were definite methods of killing some one. An infected individual might well survive a stab to the gut a severe beating, or even an improperly done hanging. But there exists no record anywhere of some one surviving decapitation, being burnt to a crisp, or having his heart destroyed.
It was only in the Ottoman Empire, primarily in the Balkans, where Vampires (which is the word commonly used to refer to the infected, if we are speaking English) were allowed to survive, though their numbers were intentionally kept very low. Apparently, their existence was deemed as effective population control by the Sultans who ruled that brutal empire.
He continued to speculate that the Soviets clearly knew of the disease, as he had it on good authority that a few of the serial killers who emerged into infamy as the Soviet Union fell were themselves Vampires. Also some Romanian doctor he had kept in contact with, somehow, through the Iron Curtain, had on a couple of occasions relayed that he discovered the disease in some unfortunate patient exhibiting the same symptoms my wife was.
He did laugh once more when I asked about fangs, wondering how those had become part of the lore. He told me all humans have canine teeth, and that the myth of the fangs may have just been some part of a larger hysteria regarding some outbreak somewhere.
This led me to ask the ultimate question, which for some reason was slipping my mind. I asked about the blood drinking. I asked him if that was part of some larger hysteria, too. My wife had made no violent attack against me, nor had she shown any aggression towards anything living.
To answer my query, the old man leaned forward, his dirty beard covering the Serbian text. He said that the drinking of blood was very real.
Apparently, the worms responsible for making vampires can not only lead to one’s slow and painful demise, but can also prolong an infected individual’s life. In those cases which were carefully observed, individuals continued living and even retained their youth for an indefinite period of time. One subject, before being burned until dead, was recorded as living for a full century with the disease, never aging from his appearance as a man in his mid forties. The doctor told me this, and told me further this particular subject lived in Thirteenth and Fourteenth Century France.
They can obviously be killed though. They are only made immune to attacks of time, but not of man. Silver bullets are said to work due to both the Vampire’s apparent inability to handle silver and the effectiveness flying bullets have to kill a person. He no longer smiled when he told me such things, but I do believe some of these more flippant comments were being said to lighten the tone.
But his face remained so serious, as though the worst had not yet been said.
He finally told me the worms could only keep a host alive indefinitely if they received some amount of human blood on a daily basis. The exact amount of blood required to keep a Vampire alive varied from case to case. It was also important that the blood not just be any blood, but a virgin’s blood.
I expressed some inquisitive doubt at this notion. I did not understand how a virgin’s blood could be chemically any different from mine or anyone else who has ever had sex.
He calmly explained to me that when an individual has sex, due to the act itself, some endorphins and chemicals are released into the body. In addition, because there is skin-to-skin human contact, more endorphins and chemicals are released into the body at the same time. It only takes one instance of such an occurrence to permanently change the chemical make-up of one’s blood. This change was so slight, so minute, that it has absolutely not medical value whatsoever, and impacts a person in no way. But, it does affect these worms which cause Vampirism.
Another prolonged moment of silence fell over the two of us. Deep in thought, I stared at the Serbian text and considered what I knew I had to do. I didn’t say anything more to him, not even goodbye. And he only volunteered, as if he was capable of reading my mind (which he might have been, honestly), that he would not help me in obtaining a virgin’s blood, but he would not assist in any police investigations should virgins start to go missing. He believed this was his fulfillment of a doctor’s obligation to his patients’ privacy and confidence.
I left, determined to find a virgin by the end of the week.