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Posted By Michael Bell

Ruth Ann Musick (1897—1974) was an America folklorist who specialized in traditions of West Virginia. She collected and published at least two vampire tales, both of which are included in her book, The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales (University of Kentucky Press, 1965). Following is “Footprints in the Snow,” collected in Grant Town, WV, in 1959:

In the quiet little village of Lutza in western Hungary lived Stefan Lutza, whose grandparents had founded the village over a hundred years before. Stefan followed the family tradition by becoming the mayor of the village that bore his name. It was the custom for the mayor to live in the big house that overlooked the village and to give shelter to all travelers that entered Lutza. But six years had passed, and no one had come to visit the mayor and his pretty young wife, Esther.

Then one winter there came a knock on the door at midnight.

The snow was still falling as Esther got out of her warm bed. “I’ll answer the door,” she told her husband. “You go and see if the guest room is in order.”

Stefan knew that he should be the one to answer the door and Esther to attend to the guest room, but he knew that she always was delighted when she met people for the first time. So, without offering a word of protest, he wrapped a heavy robe around his body and headed for the guest room.

“I’ll make him stay until the snow melts,” Esther said to herself.

She didn’t know why she knew the knocker was a man. She gave her hair an extra pat and then opened the door. Through the snow a tall, dark stranger emerged into the light of the room. The two figures stood silently for some time, and then, as if the whole thing had been agreed upon, Esther and the dark stranger departed into the falling snow.

Alarmed that she had not appeared with the guest, Stefan called out for his wife. Getting no reply, he dropped his robe on the floor and hurried down the single flight of stairs. The door was wide open and white snowflakes fell lazily on the floor. From the lamp he was holding he could see tiny footsteps leading down the winding path. Stefan followed them, walking for nearly an hour before he realized that he, too, was barefooted.

He swung the lantern around and discovered he was in the village graveyard. Frightened, he ran more feverishly than ever along the single track of footprints, until they entered one of the tombs. Even before Stefan opened the wooden casket, he knew that the tomb belonged to his family. The casket lettering read, “Piztau Lutza, 1782-1852, settled and founded the village of Lutza in 1799.” It was empty, except for shredded black rags that had once served as the clothing of his grandfather.

What happened that night Stefan could never say for sure. When he finally got back to the house, he was so tired that he decided to get some sleep and continue the search in the morning. As he lay down on the bed, he was aware of somebody breathing beside him. Grabbing the lantern, he held it close to the breathing figure. It was his wife Esther!

“What is it, Stefan? she said, sitting up. Then noticing the red feet, she said, “Where have you been?”

Had Stefan been only dreaming and imagined all this? But how did the tomb door get opened? And how did the tiny red marks get on Esther’s neck?

The figure Esther described, the one she had seen in her dreams, was that of Piztau Lutza, a man who had been dead for over a hundred years.

 
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