Within the depth of the remotest region of Bavaria, there exists a tale of horror that exceeds the ancient lore of German mythology. The ineffable horror that I refer to is forever attached, to the haunting vestiges of the abnormality of death. From whence there is a praeternatural world that has remained insoluble and known only to those specific individuals, who have transcended that delicate boundary extemporaneously. The tale that you are about to read is a factual account of my encounter, with the dreadful Nachzehrer. On the 18th of April in the year of 1798, I was travelling in carriage through the solitary road, near the vast forest. I had been travelling that entire day, until I arrived in the late midday at the village of Irmelshausen. From there, I rode unto the cobblestone bridge and moated castle of the late Baron Wilhelm Offenheimer. We had been friends, since our childhood, and he was an illustrious man of an impeccable lineage, who had recently passed away. His death was inexplicable, but I had received the unfortunate tidings of his funeral, a week ago. I had not seen the baron for several years, but we had remained in contact, through our correspondence and letters exchanged. I had remembered with a fond affection, his baronial castle and estate.
However, upon my arrival, I perceived a conspicuous and eerie veil of mystery that loomed over the Bavarian landscape continuously. I was not certain of the nature of this peculiar distinction, except that the baron had a unique attachment to the area. An evident accumulation of thick clouds had begun to cover the sky, as I descended the carriage therewith. I was cordially greeted at the entrance by one of the servants of the castle. As I had entered, I felt the mystery enveloped the hall within a morose gloom that was exceedingly significant of death and dreariness I had not experimented erewhile. The sombre tone reflected I had imagined, but never to the degree of this nature. I was escorted up the stairway and to my chamber on the second storey of the castle. The placidity was interrupted, by a sudden gust of wind that had entered through the ornate window. I closed the window and wooden shutters and heard the voice of a women who was addressing me.
'Good afternoon Herr Laufenburg. I hope that your trip was not that incommoding. I am Mila one of the maidservants of the castle. I am here to serve you, during your stay'.
She was a young woman in appearance, with a defined fain smile and lovely blue eyes that flowed, beneath her brown curly locks of hair. Her unassuming demeanour was exposed with her wont.
'I thank you for your amiable gesture and courtesy, young lady'.
'Will you be taking your dinner here in the chamber or in the dining hall Herr Laufenburg?'
'As you can imagine, the trip was long and tiresome. Therefore, I rather have my dinner in the chamber'.
'Of course! I shall bring you your dinner, once it is prepared'.
'Thank you! Before, you go, will there be more guests coming?'
'That I do not know, but I shall inform you, if there are more guests!'
I was not aware of the number of guests, who were to attend the funeral of the baron, before my arrival. Nevertheless, I had contemplated a funeral with many persons, who were either intimate acquaintances or direct members of the family. The villagers of Irmelshausen had known the family of the Offenheimers for centuries. Their name had been well established, since the beginning of the 17th century. The countryside was a fresh breath of new air compared to the usual congestion and bustle of the city. I had unpacked my clothing and then prepared myself for dinner. Mila, the maidservant, had brought my dinner and afterwards, I had remained in my chamber for the night. The following morning, I was awakened by the birr of chirping birds, who were spry in the adjacent forest. I got dressed and then headed down the stairway, when I was greeted by Mila, who had seen me coming. Her pleasant smile and her comportment I noticed perceptibly, as I had stood before her.
'Good morning Herr Laufenburg. Will you be taking your breakfast at the table or in your chamber?'
'Good morning Mila. I shall be taking my breakfast at the table'.
'I shall have the table prepared then!'
'Good! Meanwhile, I shall entertain myself, within the castle'.
Before I had entered the dining hall for breakfast, I walked around to see the historic composition of the castle, in its entirety from within its foundation. I was always a fervent admirer of Bavarian architecture, and I knew the baron was a fine connoisseur of art and culture. I had observed the wrought tapestry and the bedecked armorial trophies that were hanging in one of the corridors. The remarkable paintings of such venerable men of prestige in auriferous frames had suddenly captivated my dormant intrigue. The direct lineage of the distinguished Offenheimers was visibly displayed, in the array of the colourful paintings. I had been to the castle several times, but a peculiar sensation had caused me to be pensive in my thoughts.
Soon, I would head to the dining hall. There at the table I took my breakfast with three other guests who had recently arrived in the early morning. Unbeknowst to me, the three guests were Ludwig von Sternberg, Otto Müller and Anna Betzenstein. They were each relatives of the late baron and had come to the funeral as well. Apparently, the baron had requested our immediate presence. I was the only person amongst them, who was not a family member, but an old and esteemed acquaintance. We had exchanged the assuetude of the pleasantries of formality, and I had learnt of their distinctive personas. Herr Von Sternberg was a prominent banker from Berlin. Herr Müller was a wealthy merchant from Düsseldorf, and Lady Betzenstein was the wife of another baron from Dresden. They were all inheritors of the noble class of the Lower Franconia region. The general impression of them was of a considerable demonstration of untoward expressions, as if they were simply indifferent with the death of the baron. At first, they were not certain of my desired intentions, since the baron had bequeathed an inheritance before his untimely death. Naturally, this was not a chosen consideration of mine, because I was not a member of the family or had fancied the baron's wealth.
The preparations for the baron's funeral arrangements were determined for the early morning. Therefore, we headed towards the local graveyard, where the baron was to be interred. The proceedings had occurred as planned and what I thought queer was the fact that only twenty individuals were amongst the attendants. Was this designed intentionally or was there an ulterior motive that I was not truly cognisant of its actual definition. Nevertheless, that peculiarity did not inhibit the funeral. After the baron had been laid to rest, I returned to the castle with the other three guests I had met previously. I had intended to leave the castle the same day, but the oncoming storm had prevented my departure as well as the other guests. For that reason, we had returned to the comfort and shelter of the castle, whereupon we gathered in the main hall to converse. Our conversation was focused on our genuine relationship and knowledge of the baron.
Herr Von Sternberg described the baron as callous and temperamental, whilst Herr Müller described the baron as unreasonable and intolerable. Lady Betzenstein's description of the baron was a man of a reclusive and sullen nature. These different observations were ultimately contradictory to my personal interpretation of Baron Offenheimer. We spoke also at length, about the inexplicable death of the baron. His death had not been resolved, except that he was suffering from a gradual form of uncontrollable hysterics. That grievous revelation if proven to be accurate had a very compelling implication. I was surprised that no one in his immediate family was apprised of his deteriorating condition. Perhaps it was something that the baron had sought to intimate in privacy and not be disclosed to the general public. Furthermore, it was pointless, since he was dead. However, my perception would be altered by a certain discovery that would dismiss any reasonable doubt of the baron's tormenting affliction.
When our conversation abated, I was handed a letter by Mila the maidservant that was addressed to me. Apparently, it was written by the baron himself, before his regrettable death. It was supposed to be a startling account of the last days of the baron that were troubling. My immediate concern was why did I sense an intense sensation increasing twofold? And why did the baron confide in me to know, about this particular agony of his? The contents in the letter were indeed disturbing and alarming as I had read its entirety, but the dire predicament that the baron was confronting was a terrible inducement of death. According to the written words of the baron, he had been experimenting sudden episodes of hysteria that were affecting his sanity. I had no vivid recollection of any degenerative form of madness in the history of his family, but there was always an absolute plausibility that his mind and civility had dissipated into this unhinged instability. There was mention of a profound depression that was manifesting in his inherent indisposition. Suicidal thoughts had consumed his thinking and rationality, and he was emerged in a confined isolation. This was later confirmed by the maidservant, who had tended to him. I had concluded from this poignant asseveration that the baron had taken his own life. The terrible circumstance was presupposed, but it was such a tragedy to know the horrendous truth about the baron's death. I had pondered the significance of the letter and its direct connotation to the mystery that had been developing around the death of the baron. I had contemplated whether or not the others would discover this veritable fact afterwards. If so, this would definitely preclude the conjectural speculations of the baron's death. However, this vital endeavour to relate his death was not incumbent upon me nor did I have much desire for it. I was only concerned, with the preservation of the worthy reputation of the baron and his foreseeable legacy, amongst his nearest acquaintants.
The storm had persisted, and the sound of heavy thundering was heard, as lightning was seen from the edge of the windows of our internal chambers. I noticed that the storm had begun to unsettle the other guests in disquietude. As the hours passed, the storm did not seem to wane in its steady intensity. The darkness of the sky had enveloped the dull and dim aspect of the castle and the hinterland. The rain began to pour and reach the cobblestones of the frontal bridge and moat as well. The raindrops could be heard trinkling over the bedoven roof of the castle. Lady Betzenstein was fearful of the storm's progression. Herr Von Sternberg and Herr Müller were more occupied, with the baron's intriguing collection of splendid art. Since we were not able to leave the grounds of the castle, because of the storm, we had attempted to distract ourselves the best we could. We had gathered in the hall to wait out the effects of the brunt of the storm. All of us had acknowledged being passionate admirers of art, and our discussion was based, on our observation of the baron's personal collection. Her Von Sternberg was keen on the paintings that were from the Renaissance period, whilst Her Müller spoke of the paintings of the Baroque period. Lady Betzenstein was more fascinated, with the elaborate and gilded arabesques of the Middle East. There was another interesting collection that had enthralled me. It was not associated to any known painter and was of an abstract vision.
Soon, I would be told by the maidservant that this collection was painted, by the baron himself, who was a proficient painter. This aspect of the baron I was not aware of, but his painting was unique and revealing. Mila had informed me that there were more paintings of the baron in his private study to be examined.These particular paintings she had divulged were more of a disturbing nature. The study was closed to not allow anyone to enter. This was explicitly demanded by the baron upon his death. What I had pondered in my mind was the terrible notion that the baron had foreseen his tragic death beforehand. It was too premature to make that haunting presupposition, but when I had entered after opening the door to the study with the key, I discovered the daunting torment of the baron in its most realistic form. There were several paintings on the walls that were of a distinctive and troubling depiction of the mentality of a perturbed individual. I had managed to enter and leave the study, without any of the other guests knowing.
Thereafter, I returned to the hall. When asked by the others where I had gone, I told them that I had spoken to the maidservant about the preparation of our meal. They were still musing the paintings and absorbing the active storm that was continuous in its force. This part of Bavaria was known for its unsteady weather, during this time of the year. As the night was approaching, we had decided to retreat to our private chambers, until dinner was prepared. After dinner, we spent the earlier part of the night once more in the hall. The discussion this time was then centered on the mysterious circumstances, surrounding the death of the baron. It was somewhat difficult to conceal the information of the baron's horrible state of mind and his unfortunate suicide, but I did not want to dishonour him, with this shameful disclosure of his persona. Thus, I kept this a secret from them, and I was confident that the maidservant and the other servants would not reveal the intimate nature of the baron's delusionary condition, prior to his death. I had sensed that they did not know of this horrid ordeal, with the baron and what he was experiencing in agony. However, they were intelligent people and had begun to wonder in their thinking, since the baron's death was yet an enigma to them.
It did not make any sense to their pattern of thought that there was no official confirmation acknowledged. The maidservant had told them when enquired that the doctor who examined him would soon make public the cause of his death. I was relieved to hear that new revelation and had respected the protocol of the established procedure of the doctor implemented. After all, he had been his personal doctor for manifold years. I had reminisced in my memory the precocity of the baron in his childhood, and how charismatic his father was. I had wondered if the baron's torment had originated, from his days as a youth or did it gradually manifest at great intervals during his adulthood. Although the mystery of the baron's death was not yet determined, the guests were eager to offer their expressive opinion on the matter. Each had their original conclusion and version of the eventual outcome that had resulted in the baron's death. Herr Von Sternberg had suggested that the baron had been poisoned by someone, who was interested in his wealth. He even believed that one of the servants was directly involved in his death. Herr Müller had made the insinuation that the baron had contacted a virulent disease that had killed him in the end. Lady Betzenstein was even more audacious. She had claimed that the baron was murdered, by a jealous lover who he had courted and spurned ere. All of these theories were nothing more than inventive concoctions of fanciful imaginations. I tried to not be overtly indubious in my posture, but it was uncomfortable to not interject, which I had known already of the baron. The situation with the anonymity of the baron's death was beginning to progress, into a burden that had busied my conscious. The storm had persisted with a ferocious impetuosity that seemed unrelenting.
As the night had advanced, we decided to wait the abatement of the tempest in our private chambers. Naturally, there was no possible way we could have departed, since the roads were inundated with water and heavy mire. Thus, we were resigned to leave in the morning or midday the castle, if the weather permitted our immediate departure. I had thought the storm was the main suspense that would occupy our time and night. Never did I anticipate the dreadful and shocking events that unfolded afterwards. As I was reading once more the disconcerting letter of the baron I heard a loud scream coming, from one of the guest chambers of the castle. Immediately, I grabbed my pistol and scurried to where the clamour originated and I had seen Mila, the maidservant, outside of the chamber of Lady Betzenstein. There was a ghastly expression on the face of the maidservant. Inside was the dead body of Lady Betzenstein that was mauled to death. It was a horrific image and there was a pool of blood splattered everywhere. The question was who had killed the Lady Betzenstein and for what reason? I had the ominous impression that Mila knew who, but did not want to tell us. The culprit had to be someone who had the castle or someone, who was in the castle from the beginning. Was it a complete stranger, who strayed on to the grounds without detection? Was it one of the servants or worse, one of the guests? I told Mila to inform the others including the servants, who were in the castle. However, when she went to the other chambers, she found Herr Müller dead. His body was badly mauled to death like Lady Betzenstein. As for Herr Von Sternberg, he was not in his chamber. He was discovered dead in the moat by the lackey, as his body was floating in the water. Apparently, he was murdered as well. There were no servants in the house, except Mila and the lackey. The gruesome nature of their deaths had unsettled me, and it was a series that triggered, such unexpected developments. The mystery had thickened with the fact that the murderer was perhaps in the castle amongst us. I spoke to Mila about any person who she knew, who could have been the cold blooded killer, but she was not aware of any one. I had perceived that she was not telling me the truth. Was she the actual murderer of the other guests? Did she see, who killed them and had assisted this unknown individual?
The macabre murders and the active storm had augmented the suspense and sudden thrill of the night to the point that I was suspecting to be the next victim of the murderer. Why, was I not killed? Was it that I was extremely fortunate to have survived? The uncertainty had caused me to confront Mila, and thus, I did. When I ordered her to tell me what she knew, but failed to acknowledge, she made a startling admission. I shall not forget the incredible tale she disclosed to me so vividly. She had told me that the baron was not dead as we know the word to mean. Verily, I was stupefied by her discreet declaration that I forthwith queried a clarification. She had asked me if I knew what a Nachzehrer was. I answered with a question of my own. What did this have to do with the baron? She then expounded by saying that the baron was a living specimen of the abominable creature of ancient Bavarian mythology. I was too incredulous to believe that what she was alleging was true. Therefore, I had assumed her involvement in the murders, but I refrained my accusation sensing that I was at a clear disadvantage.
Gradually, I began to walk towards my chamber, when I saw a fainting image of a stranger ahead of me. When I approached cautiously, I saw the horrendous appearance of a vile being that had resembled my old childhood friend Baron Offenheimer. My initial reaction was of absolute disbelief and stupor that left me aghast. His eyes were tinted with a dark film over the whiteness of his ghoulish eyeballs. His teeth were yellowish and sharp. His clothing was covered in dirt and wet. There was an obvious putrid stench of death that had reeked noticeably and reached my nose. How could the baron be alive, since it was impossible? Was this some preternatural occurrence that I was witnessing? Soon, I would hear the daunting utterance of my name and the familiar voice of the baron. He got closer and repeated my name again, until he spoke more words that were tangible to my logical comprehension.
'Friedrich Laufenburg. It is me Wilhelm, my old friend. Do you not recognise me?'
'No, it cannot be! Wilhelm, you are dead! How can you be alive, when I saw you buried six feet under a gravestone?'
'It is true, I was buried on that day of my funeral, but I have been reborn, with acute senses of extraordinary abilities I have never known before. You do not understand Friedrich'.
'Understand what Wilhelm—that you have risen from the death miraculously?'
'The plausibility of my immortal existence. Imagine what it means to be immortal —eternal life'.
'By killing people to survive? I call that eternal damnation!'
'It is a compulsion I cannot control. I must survive!'
'Survive, you are dead Wilhelm. You have no volition, but you must still have a human soul'.
'My soul you ask? Where was God when I was suffering? He had truly abandoned me in my hour of need!'
'But you took your life!'
'Yes, because I could bear no more! You do not understand the anguish and pain I had to suffer daily. My mind was going mad! I wanted for the nightmare to end!'
'Why, did you not seek my help Wilhelm? I have been your friend, since we were children'.
'Because, I was fearful of my own shadow and isolation was my only escape from the real world'.
'But underneath this amort and monstrous façade of yours, is still the Wilhelm that I knew, intellectual, logical and believer in God'.
The lightning resounded in the background, as we stood in front of each other. Mila and the lackey were at the end of the hall. I had asked her if she knew of the baron's unbelievable resuscitation and she responded with her acknowledgement that she and the other servants had known, since they first saw the baron rise yester. They had served him for years and were loyal to him. They were also strong believers of the supernatural realm of the walking dead, who quickened. I was then horrified by this confession that was unexpected. I had sensed danger was nigh, and I had to overcome swiftly, my momentary amazement to flee the horror of the castle. My options were few, and I had to destroy the creature and that signified destroying the baron, if that was even a likely feasibility to accomplish.
Thus, I took my pistol from within my frock coat and pointed it at the baron. I threatened to shoot him, if he advanced more towards me. I had instructed the maidservant and the lackey to step aside, as I slowly walked passed them. Intuitively, I had realised that they were not going to allow me to escape the castle alive. Thereafter, the lackey charged at me, and I was forced to shoot him. The lone bullet had killed him on the spot, as the maidservant observed. I took her by the arm and used her as a shield to escape the castle, but as I did that the baron had lunged at me and killed the maidservant Mila. He began to tear her garments and devour her flesh, like a wild animal. It gave me sufficient time to quit the castle through the front door. I ran on to the bridge, when I was stifled by the baron, who had reached me then. There was a profusion of blood that was dripping from his sharp teeth and his deadly stare was imposing. I told him I would shoot him, if he approached, but this did not dissuade him, since the bullets would not kill him. He came straight ahead and I pulled the trigger. I had shot several bullets at his chest, but he did not desist in his deliberate advancement. I shot him in the head, and he stopped in his movement and fell into the moat that was full of the water of the pouring rain of the storm. The currents took him to a centurial berm that was unearthed by the rain. He fell into the pit and was unable to escape.
A rapid lightning bolt had struck the upper part of the castle and caused its massive stones to fall upon the berm. The baron was trapped some 20 feet inside and his attempt to climb out was futile. At first, I had stood there watching and praying that the baron would not rise from the berm. He had screamed a vociferous roar and my name. Afterwards, I departed the castle, when I knew that he was trapped under those heavy stones. Once I reached the village, I had planned on warning the villagers of the baron's immortal nature and monstrosity, but I was cognisant of the fact that perhaps the authorities there would not believe my account and think me mad. Therefore, I spoke to the villagers instead, and they did believe me. They knew of the existence of the legendary Nachzehrer and had guaranteed me to never open the pit or permit any one to do so. I trusted them and I was eager to leave the area and forget the terrifying castle and the abhorrent monster that was the baron.
That next morning I had departed the village of Irmelshausen. I returned to Berlin with the terrible incertitude of whether or not the baron would escape and locate me. Was the berm his ultimate demise or was it a haunting intimation of my unnerving preoccupation? For years I have lived in the dauntless shadow of the baron and with the constant thought that I would encounter his devilish acquaintance anew, in the streets of Berlin or at my current residence. I had understood very well, the problematic consequence of that actual eventuality. The once brilliant and established Baron Wilhelm Offenheimer, that I knew was a monster of a wicked depravity that the local peasants called the Nachzehrer. What I Friedrich Laufenburg had witnessed that horrible night at the castle was no mere aberration, but the representation of a living phantasmagoria.