Sunday, July 28, 2019

Classic Literature: The Last of the Vampires

First published in Contemporary Review, Vol.63, in 1893, this story by Phil Robinson is interesting as it features a vampire that is a separate species but also because the description thereof is rather man-bat like and draws a bat/vampire connection, which probably is based on the 19th century linguistic trend that reference to a vampire was often directly of the bat rather than the restless dead, but definitively anthropomorphised the concept and, of course, is pre-Stoker.

The story begins with a European (his exact ethnicity being unimportant from a modern viewpoint but perhaps containing an underlying racism when the story was written) merchant in South America finding a set of bones that, when constructed was “the skeleton of a creature with human legs and feet, a dog-like skull, and immense bat-like wings.” The merchant intended to make money from the find but shared his name with a recently exposed charlatan and was tarred with the same brush. The skeleton was donated to a university.

There it was found by a student, and then seized upon by older professors and, still, the only logical construction was the bat winged creature dubbed “the man-lizard of the Amazon”. A heated debate between those who believed it authentic and those who claimed it to be a hoax ended when the skull and wing bones were stolen.

All of this was pre-amble to the story of a group of gold prospectors living among natives who turned on the white men and killed most of them, putting the three survivors on a boat directed to a river cave as a sacrifice to the vampire that lived within. The natives said, “there were many vampires in Peru, but they were all swallowed up in the year of the Great Earthquake when the Andes were lifted up, and there was left behind only one ‘Arinchi,’ who lived where the Amazon joins the Marañon, and he would not eat dead bodies — only live ones, from which the blood would flow.

However, a professor (and beetle expert) from the university happened to come (peacefully) amongst the same tribe and he entered the river cave willingly, looking for samples. He was attacked by the vampire but managed to stab and overpower it and decided to bring it (still living) back to civilisation. He described it as having “two huge bat-like wings, and these were spread out to their utmost as if the beast were on tiptoe and ready to fly. And so it was. For just as I had realized that I beheld before me some great bat-reptile of a kind unknown to science, except as prediluvian”. Later it is further described as a “winged kangaroo with a python’s neck!

It is interesting to note that it is blind in sunlight – a trait tied to its bat nature (and being a cave dweller), no doubt. The last thing to consider is it’s feeding. The professor tells us “I caught a vicuna swimming in the river, and it sucked it dry — gallons of blood.” As to the mechanics of the feed, “It links the claws of its wings together, and cowers over the body; its head is under the wings, out of sight. But the victim never moves. As soon as the vampire touches it there seems to be a paralysis. Once those wings are linked there is absolute quiet. Only the grating of teeth upon bone.

Did the professor get the vampire back to Germany – the link to the Contemporary Review above will reveal all.

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