'There are such beings as vampires, some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for sane peoples'.—Bram Stoker
I had always considered my traits meritorious as a man of God, and a disbeliever of the primitive superstition and lore. But one day in the year 1916 it would all change surreptitiously, when I first arrived as a stranger to a remote village of the Vitebsk Region of Belarus, in the northern part of the country that was bordering Russia on the east and Lituania on the west. I had been travelling south, by train through the solitary singularity of the narrow tract of countryside of the region, when the train had reached the course of its destination. I could vaguely see the lofty castle on the towering height of the cliffs, above the dim and cold moisture of the bog, beyond the stream. Thither, where the migratory birds fled the achromatic gloom of the mist as they flew outwardly, within all the active and prolific signs of autumn.
I was wont to read about the picturesque landscapes of Europe, but seldom had I seen such a landlocked area before. My inducement to this region was not of my volition—for I was a loyal soldier of the Russian Empire, by the name of Alexander Drugov who had been sent by the army of the Czar to quell, an insurrection that was surmounting.
Soon after a week, I was in the extensive forest with my active regiment, when we were patrolling the area, for any Belarusian rebels. For weeks we had the rebels in retreat, and the small skirmishes were nothing of extreme severity. It appeared that we would not be staying much in the area, and this was a favourable boon for us the soldiers.
However, we started to encounter stiff resistance, but it was not from the spirited insurgents. The villagers it was said had invoked a teramorphous being to save them from the Russians. Anon, the rumour of this being had begun to frighten our soldiers. Within the forest, it attacked and murdered bestially. With its stealthy motion and sharp claws, it sliced into pieces the reactive soldiers. The creature had decapitated their heads and took them as prized trophies. This was an enemy we had never before faced in the battlefield, or in other quondam battles.
One day as I was in the encampment, I saw the shredded remains of Russian soldiers, who had been killed or severely wounded. This image was not pleasant to bear, or to accept so easily as a Russian soldier. I had known various comrades well since the academy, and naturally I thought of their families in Russia. Unfortunately, this was intrinsic to the life of an average soldier.
Shortly, we headed into the woods in more regiments. Then amain, we were ambushed, by what we thought at first were local peasants aligned with the insurrection, but the damnable force that attacked us was swift and lethiferous, as the daemon that the locals spoke of. There were no bullets heard, nor the sound of the elusive foe. All that I could hear was the vociferous clamour of the soldiers who fell, and I had my rifle with me, but was able to escape unharmed.
I did not know what attacked, because it was not human I felt. Two of the soldiers, who were close to me, were badly mauled. I did not want to abandon them at the mercy of the unidentified killer, but I had to find necessary assistance. I got lost and had strayed, from the course of my regiment and the train station by the village also. The thick fog was to be blamed, for my errant misguidance, along with the evident threat of being killed. The imbriferous fog would soon bring the pouring rain.
Thereafter, I attempted to find the first place of refuge, since a storm was forming, from beyond the ridge. My vision was impeded for the most part, until I reached the only road that was near, and available for travelling. Along the way, I stumbled on the ground, and when I rose I was met, by an old Gypsy woman driving a caravan. She startled me, and I was not certain what to do. I had my rifle pointed at her, but she did not appear to be hostile in comportment. I was very fortunate enough to have learned Belarusian, through a former Kossack prisoner in Azerbaijan. Although she did not seem to be very minatory in her appearance, I was not going to underestimate the brash chicanery of the enemy, since I was within their territory.
I asked her then, where she was going, and her response was, she was heading toward the centre of the village. I had found myself on the outskirts of the village. The thought of her taking me to the encampment for help had entered my mind immediately, but that good possibility was quickly discarded, by the fact that she had seen rebel soldiers coming. I had heard of the poor captured Russians, who spoke much of torture at the hands of the Belarusians, and it would not be propitious for me to go with her afterwards. I had explained that several soldiers of my regiment, who were accompanying me, were dying of their wounds in the forest. I confessed to her that I did not see the attacker clearly, since it fled in a fleet and ineffable motion. That description though vague in nature was sufficient for her to give me a premonitory admonition.
'The men are dead and will become its slaves. The creature is everywhere', she told me.
When I enquired about the creature, she called it, a 'volkolak'.
A volkolak she dared to utter, with a stern assertion. The name was somewhat known to me through folklorish tales as an infant, but I was not entirely prevalent to the actual meaning of this connotation. When I asked her for the definition of a volkolak, she said with an affirmation that left me pondering. From what I understood of her words was that the volkolak was an immortal vampiric creature, who sucked the blood of mortals. Her insinuation of a vampire was totally absurd I surmised. The notion of a vampire being the culprit was unfathomable, but I saw honesty in her eyes.
I had mentioned the solitary castle I saw upon my arrival, and the eyes of the Gypsy woman grew with vehemence. She warned me not to go to the castle that it was the terrible lair of the Devil. Once more she reiterated this foolish claim, but I did not have much time to heed to her whimsical legend. I had the immediate concern of saving the lives of my comrades, who I was not certain were still alive.
The caravan continued forth upon the road, and when I returned to the soldiers, the storm had replaced the dense fog that abounded. Once there, the fallen men were gone—they had vanished. But where were they, and were they still alive? There were no visible signs of their presence, and the rain clearly would erase any visual vestige of them, except one.
I was able to see a trail of blood ahead that led to the eerie castle that I had seen previously, from the train station. The venerable castle lain, within the elevated escarpment that imposed, over the village. If they were inside the castle taking refuge, then they were saved and taken there by someone. The possibility of them living was feasible, though unlikely.
My adrenaline had aroused my necessity to discover the real truth. The storm had magnified my urgency, as I saw the long arterial passage that led to the entrance of the castle. I had experienced the vicissitude of the milieu of the forest.
Above the front door was this dilapidated inscription in Belarusian that I fully understood to mean, "Beware to whoever shall enter this castle, and enters without discretion." It was beneath, the daunting letters written of Castle Volkolak.
There was an emblem that could be detected nitidly, below the oriel windows. It was a beast of some nature it seemed, beyond the barbican. The protruding ramparts and parapets once magnificent and stately were ruined through erosion and reduced, by careless desolation. History and conflict had not been so advantageous to the dull façade and castellated towers of the castle.
When I finally reached the front door, I knocked on the rusty latch and waited. I waited and waited, but there was no response. Perhaps the storm had inhibited the inhabitants completely, from hearing my knocking. The door was heavy and made out of old, medieval steel of the days of yore, when the kings and princes of Europe ruled with an iron fist, from their palatial domains of fortitude.
After ten minutes elapsed, I sensed that there was no one present. I headed towards the side of the castle beneath the battlements, where the safest part of the stronghold stood. The precarious slope was a definite distraction or deterrence, but I had to find shelter. My concern then shifted, to my present well-being. The whereabouts of my comrades I forsook for the moment and then concentrated on how I could enter.
I noticed there was a huge artifice, within the crevices of the solid boulder walls. There was enough space to allow me to open a hole into the interstice of the wall, where I entered. I had entered into the corridor that was dark and clammy, and saw how badly kept was the interior of the castle. There were candlelights and torches, all around the hall. But they were not lit, and there was a foul stench of death I smelled, as I gingerly walked.
Ahead, laid a long secretive passage that was one of many unusual passages of the Volkolak Castle I would soon discover, during my stay. The storm did not yield, and the fulgurating of the storm grew and resounded. The lightning shone offered intense sparks of light that I welcomed, under the circumstances I was confronting. I used one of my matches from my sack, to light the torches and candles, within the vicinity. To describe the interior of the castle, I shall procure that endeavour, with a measure of accuracy.
The ancient castle appeared to be dated, from the 13th century, judging from its architectural composition. The rooms of the castle were divided into the east and west wings, with the great hall and the main rooms in the west wing, where I was at. I was not certain what was in the east wing, and I could only speculate. I had located a fireplace within the room, adjacent to the dining hall. There I had warmed my body, as I gathered wood from the torn furnishings that remained. There were plentiful superannuated books of poetry and literature to read in the library, or utilise for the fire of the fireplace. Whoever dwelt in this medieval castle enjoyed to read and perhaps was very ingenious.
The armorial bearings that hanged along the walls and paintings of the family lineage were conspicuous. I did not have an inkling of whom these prominent family members were. It was obvious that they all belonged to the local nobility. The question was simply, who were they? The impending answers were found in several of the books that contained the chronicles of the proud Bryachislavich lineage.
The chronicler was a monk from a nearby monastery, who served the family, and the last lord who lived in the castle, a Vasily Bryachislavich, the last scion of the Bryachislavich of Belarus. The name of the monk was not revealed—for the monk remained anonymous. Was this omission intentionally done to preserve the integrity of the author—or was it done to hide a significant secret that he did not want to disclose?
The storm had continued and so did the unraveling plot of this fascinating mystery. The information that I perused attentively was, about the history of the Bryachislavich lineage. Apparently, Vasily Bryachislavich was a viscount who ruled with the Boyars, the elite patricians of the country. He had descended from Vseslav Bryachislavich, the famous ruler of Polotsk, who was born in 1039 and reigned from 1044-1101. Then, he was buried in Polotsk Belarus, son of Bryachislav, and grandson of Vladimir the first of Kiev. He had taken the throne upon his father's death and was a member of the Great Rurik Dynasty.
In 1065 he laid siege to Pskov but was thwarted in his incursion. In the bitter winter of 1066 and 1067, he pillaged and burnt the city of Novgorod. He had fought against the sons of Yaroslav in the Middle Dnieper region off Scandinavia and the Baltic region, but Vseslav was defeated in battle on the Nemiga River on 1067. Then he was imprisoned in Kiev, in 1068, and he was freed by the throng. He was then proclaimed grand prince of Kiev, but he was soon defeated afterwards by Iziaslav, who regained his throne. Then, Vseslav finally secured Polotsk in 1071, and he died on the 24th of April, 1101. He was buried in the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Polotsk.
Verily, if I was to believe the chronicles of the monk, then this castle had belonged to Viscount Vasily Bryachislavich, the scion of Vseslav Bryachislavich. Then naturally one would ask where, was this Vasily Bryachislavich at?Was he dead, or was he alive? In accordance to these chronicles, there was no actual mention of his death and only his birth. Vasily Bryachislavich it was written was born in the year of 1098.
If that was the case, then how could he be in reality alive miraculously? It would be true, if he was not human but immortal, as the vampiric creature that the Gypsy woman had referred to ere. These parts of Europe were full of superstitious tales of exotic vampires. The question was I to believe in these antiquated fanciful myths?
Evening was approaching forthwith, and the storm seemed to be waning in intensity. My provisions were slowly diminishing, and I would need to find food. The water in my canteen was down to its last drops also I thought of the fate of my fellow comrades, who were wounded. Were they still alive and able to survive the storm?
That night I slept in the hard surface of the floor, by the fireplace to keep warm. Since the recondite castle was located on a slope, the cold draught spread easily, throughout the recesses of the walls. Whilst I was recumbent and sleeping, I began to dream about the attack and the agonising faces of my fellow comrades. The nightmare soon awoke me, from my nightly slumber in a profound sweat. I was immersed in that sweat, as I contemplated the meaning of this particular dream that was so vivid or graphic in context.
Then I perceived the breathing of a stranger and smelled the terrible scent of a wild animal or beast. The breathing began to fade, as I rose to my feet to carefully investigate the matter. I did not know what foul stench had reached me, but it smelled like a reeking stench of death. At times the rooms felt like intimate redoubts that encircled me madly.
I was a Russian Orthodox Christian, and carried around my neck a cross always for divine protection on the battlefield, but never did I associate it to vampires, or other unearthly beings. My grandfather, a devout man of religion, had once told me of the Strigoi of Romania, while he was there, during the Crimean War. To me vampires were nothing more than aberrant figments of human imagination.
That night had I slept little, with the eeriness of the sounds of the castle that were abundantly present. The howling wind, the fallen dewdrops that echoed; the pestiferous rats that roamed the castle, the slight footfall, and the fluttering bats that loomed over me in the tower. All these bizarre noises and more, contributed to a restless night, and heightened anxiety.
The filthy dust of the ample furnishings, were everywhere, from the tapestries on to the draperies and rugs. This squalid appearance was obviously transparent within the castle and gave the firm impression that no one resided there. Although there was some evidence that someone had recently been in the castle, from the padlock of a chamber that was opened. I had discovered this, when I awoke in the morning. Perhaps the castle had a caretaker, who came for its solicitude, and this chamber led to the other wing.
Thence, I heard the chirping of the sparrows and the sound of voices outside. Were they the voices of my comrades, who were searching for the others and me?When I had looked out of one of the spiral windows, I saw they were not Russian soldiers, but local Belarusian insurgents. Their speech also was not Russian, and they were speaking Belarusian. They were most likely looking for Russians, who were in the area. I knew if they found me in the castle they were probably going to shoot me dead.
Immediately, I grabbed my rifle and prepared for their intrusion or hostility. Either way, I had no control of the unfolding situation. If they left or entered it depended on their decisions. My actions would depend mostly on that occurrence. Therefore, I had waited restively, for their next move. They did nothing but only converse and departed afterwards, as if something or someone had spooked them to leave. Even though they left, I was unease about the possibility of them returning again soon.
I had not seen any Russian soldiers for hours, and I was beginning to think that the tumultuous insurrection was surging in numbers and vitality. I was in tremendous peril if this uprising continued any longer. I started to fret, as I was entirely encompassed with wrathful rebels, who could besiege the castle if wanted. I bore my precious time in reading books, and observing the inner design of the castle, with a heedful mind.
The hermetic environs and isolation had started to lessen considerably, my assiduous faculties slowly. Therewith, I had to decide whether to remain, or attempt to reach my regiment, beyond the massive woodland. This would require a meticulous plan of operation that would function correctly.
The afternoon subsequently arrived, and with it came the renewing sounds of the benighted dread that was waiting to haunt me. I was in the great hall, when I heard the deep breathing once more, and sensed the watchful eyes of a stranger observing me. I saw the stains of blood on the rug that led to the mysterious chamber. The padlock was no longer covering the door, and that meant someone had removed the padlock. But who could the noctivagant individual be I asked? There was no one visibly seen in the castle, except me.
This direful revelation meant that I was not alone, and I thought of exploring the chamber. My intrigue would be afterwards concentrated on that singular chamber. I discovered that it opened and led to a caliginous narrow passage unknown of the other wing. This discovery would necessitate my urge to escape, through this secret passage. Hence, I entered the passage with a bright flambeau I carried in my right hand, whilst I used my left hand to guide me along the sturdy walls and viscous cobwebs.
The stains of blood were seen as well in the passage. There were sounds of drops of water, and it was an abandoned well I located that was fresh with water. I drank some of it and washed my face. Then I proceeded, until I reached a colossal daunting vault that was wide opened. Shortly, I walked towards the entrance of the vault. As I did, I saw blood trickling from the entrance of the door.
Then the most shocking scene of utter repulsion caused a sudden horripilation in me. I quivered as I descried the image of an unsightly and aliferous creature within a teeming pool of blood devouring, my fellow comrades that were savagely attacked. The foul fetidness was all around, and I had to endure, but the ramageous creature had sensed my presence, and stopped drinking the blood of my comrades. Then it stared at me, with its oval alabastre eyes of absolute terror.
I bated my breath and stood stationary as I sensed that the vampiric creature known as the volkolak had poor vision and did not see adequately well. It rose to its feet, and finally I saw the teratoid stranger, who had been watching me and terrorising the area for centuries. Its enlarged constitution was manifest, as the indomitable vampire was lanky and pernicious. The creature was not piliferous and had sharp claws and long aduncated nails. Its feet consisted of three gigantic toes, with lengthy wings that spread outwardly.
I slowly and slowly, walked backwards, as I attempted to flee without detection, but I failed in that attempt. When I reached two steps backwards, I had not realised his impeccable scent of smell, and when I noticed that he knew I was nigh, I ran through the passage as he followed, like a rapid bolt of energy flowing electrically. Quickly he reached me and knocked me to the ground. He started to smell me, as I saw his pointed enormous fangs drooling with saliva over me. His poor sight would allow me to escape, his devilish clutch. I was under an oubliette, and a shining light had blinded his faulty vision even more. He recoiled in apprehension, as I rose to my feet and ran out of the passage. I heard his horrible shriek, as it began to deafen my hearing speedily.
I reached the main hall and headed towards the front door, but the door was too heavy to budge at first. I was trapped it seemed, within the lethal auspices of death. There was an unplumbed fright that agrised me, in such disturbing trepidation, as I beheld the stairway and corridor. He found me in the main hall, as I stared at him in awe of his rakish movement and ghastly posture. He started to sniff me, as he tried to distinguish my scent plainly. For some reason, he did not detect my presence completely, because of the grime that covered my face and hands, when I stumbled in the passage that was muddy.
My intuition and foresight had permitted me to eschew the imminent peril. However, my subterfuge would not last long in duration. The inimitable and volkolak had been able to make the distinction then. I had managed to grab a torch from the nearby hall and began to use it against the creature. I swung the torch at it in a threatening position, as it tried to lunge at me with an excited fury. I could hear his hiss, as his frenzy for my blood surged uncontrollably. There was nothing in my dissimulation that could placate its insatiable thirst for blood that did not bestir it.
The sound of gunfire outside of the castle I heard, as it appeared that there was a skirmish, between the insurgents and the Russian soldiers of my regiment. From the crevice of the rear wall, where I had entered before, came in the desperate Belarusian insurgents. The creature sensing them attacked straightaway and killed them all. He began to drink their blood afterwards, as I looked on with arrant shock.
I heard the heavy pounding at the front door, and I could hear the voices of the soldiers. The familiar language they spoke was Russian. Slowly, I began to walk towards the door, where shots were fired, and bullets were heard as well. Then, a roaring cannon ball blew into pieces the impregnable door of Castle Volkolak. The blast had knocked me to the floor, and my vision was becoming blurry, as everything appeared to be in sequential lentitude.
I vaguely saw the face of the volkolak as it gazed into my eyes, with its alabastre eyes. A loud eerie shrill reverberated to the walls of the castle. The ferocious volkolak thereafter disappeared, and when I awoke, I was in the encampment again, and the doctor was treating me. The blast had momentarily affected my hearing, but I recovered.
Consequently, I returned to Russia my homeland, and the insurrection would abate and lead to the independence of Belarus afterwards. Before I left Belarus, I saw the Gypsy woman anew. She was standing in the road at the centre of the village. I clearly remembered her countenance, and her stern warning.
Her words to me were 'The volkolak, sold his soul to the devil, and his offspring were cursed. The volkolak is forever to be imprisoned in that abominable castle. It will hunt and kill, for it must feed. But it will not leave this area, never. The castle is its eternal prison. We the proud descendants of the Boyars shall never allow the creature to escape. We shall protect it, but as well thwart it'.
When I had mentioned that the volkolak was Vasily Bryachislavich, she nodded her head and replied, 'Vasily Bryachislavich died many centuries ago young man, and whatever remains in Castle Volkolak is not human or mortal at all'.
That was the last time I saw the Gypsy woman, and her prophetic words were daunting and unforgettable. I never returned to the castle, nor saw the dreadful volkolak. I reflected on my ordeal at that horrendous vetust castle and my deadly encounter with the volkolak. From what I had learnt, the soldiers had entered the castle, and found no sthenic vampiric creature inside. I never revealed to anyone the maliferous story of the volkolak—for I knew people would think me mad. Who would truly believe my incredible tale of the praeternatural being?
Time is the actual witness in history to these phantasmagoric episodes of folklore that endure the whims of posterity. We humans are those who become pale and fretful, when our fright becomes reality, and is no longer a mere phantom of phantasy. The nameless terror that haunts us in our deep fears is the volkolak of the chthonic deities of mythology.