...there lay a dark, ruined castle. No living being had inhabited this desolate, crumbling palace for hundreds of years, and moss and weeds had claimed much of the once majestic stone structure.
On many a night, a feeble flame could be seen flickering in the window of the highest turret, and the silhouette of a tall cloaked figure struck terror in the hearts of the villagers in the valley below.
For though no living being called this castle home, the evil Count Dracula still roamed its dusty halls. When night fell, the villagers bolted themselves into their shabby cottages, hung garlands of garlic around the windows, and gripped their rosaries in trembling hands. They knew that Dracula would be coming in search of blood...
That, believe it or not, is how my father began my nightly bedtime story when I was a child. He was a master of the Gothic style (perhaps because he had read too much Poe in his college years).
I'm not sure that most small children would have enjoyed such macabre bedtime fare, but I adored the gruesome tales my dad dreamed up for my sister and me each night. Bear in mind, by the way, that I was seven years old, my sister just four.
Each night's tale was a variation on a familiar theme. After setting the stage with the description of Castle Dracula, my dad would contrive some way to send an intrepid young vampire slayer, Sepulcher Sean, into the vampire's lair to dispatch him.
Sometimes I used a stake through the heart, with the requisite spurting blood. At other times I splashed Dracula with holy water, causing him to melt hideously and painfully. I burned him, decapitated him, and shot him with arrows.
I was merciless, frankly.
Yet, no matter how utterly I annihilated him, by bedtime the next night, Dracula would need to be destroyed again.
Feeling left out of the action, my sister begged to kill Dracula like her big brother. Thus was born "Tomba Lou," the plucky side-kick of Sepulcher Sean.
When I was eight, my newborn sister, "Kathleen of the Crypt," accompanied us up the mountain-side, securely strapped into her baby carriage. She was too young to slay vampires, but she looked on and burbled with admiration as her older siblings did the dirty work.
Woe onto the grim revenant who crossed our paths!
Of course, once my dad had tucked us in and turned off the light, it was my mother who had to comfort us when vivid, bloody nightmares sent us scurrying into our parents' bedroom for protection.
I had a crucifix on my bedroom wall, and sometimes I would bring it with me as we crept out in the dark hallway. Better safe than sorry, I figured.
My mother would bring us back to our beds, comfort us with kind words or a hand rested gently on our backs, and mutter under her breath about our father "scaring us half to death."
"Tomorrow night, no vampires," we promised ourselves as we pulled the covers tightly around our tender necks. "No more vampires!"
Yet, children quickly forget their resolutions, and by the following night, we would once more be wending our way up the craggy Carpathian trails toward that dark, looming castle...