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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

The short story, “Chastel,” by Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986), was first published in 1979.

It is June in a village near Jewett City, Connecticut, and a small group is watching rehearsals for a musical adaptation of Dracula, entitled “The Land Beyond the Forest.” Among them is the occult detective and author of Vampiricon, elderly Judge Keith Hilary Pursuivant, essentially Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing in a “tailored blue leisure suit.”

Lee Corbett, also an authority on the supernatural, “remembered the story in Pursuivant’s book about vampires at Jewett City, as reported in the Norwich Courier for 1854. Horace Ray, from the now vanished town of Griswold, had died of a ‘wasting disease.’ Thereafter his oldest son, then his second son had also gone to their graves. When a third son sickened, friends and relatives dug up Horace Ray and the two dead brothers and burned the bodies in a roaring fire. The surviving son got well. And something like that had happened in Exeter, near Providence in Rhode Island.” In an earlier conversation, when Pursuivant mentioned the “lively vampire folklore” in Rhode Island, Corbett had suggested that they “leave Rhode Island to H. P. Lovecraft’s imitators.”

As Wellman unfolds his tale, we learn that the play’s leading lady, Gonda Chastel, is a descendent of the Ray family and that her mother, whom Pursuivant had fallen in love with some sixty years earlier, is entombed in the local cemetery. What befalls Wellman’s characters (and, indeed, anyone else whose fate gets entangled with vampires) is summarized by the oft-repeated observation in “Magnolia”: “We might be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

Pursuivant naturally had the foresight to prepare for the impending assault from the past: “He looked at jottings from the works of Montague Summers. These offered the proposition that a plague of vampires usually stemmed from a single source of infection, a king or queen vampire whose feasts of blood drove victims to their graves, to rise in their turn. If the original vampires were found and destroyed, the others relaxed to rest as normally dead bodies.”

[scroll down for Part Two]

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