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2011-10-26 / Columnists

A Hal loween story to real ly sink your teeth into

by Patrick B. Mc Keown

October is when you really know summer is gone. Even if you get a warm day or two, the trees have started turning and the shopping centers, even the ones that didn’t put up Halloween displays right after the Fourth of July, all have their spooky stuff and super saver pack candies on display. October has that cool snap in the air and somewhere, there is a smell of wood burning, because someone either has an old fashioned stove going or is trying to get a home improvement job done while the weather is still good. Octobers can be memorable for a lot of reasons, but for my wife and me, October is when we rescued Vladimir, Prince of Bats.

Our neighbors are terrific people and we never mind when they ask us if we can feed their cat, Molly, when they go away. But one night a few years ago, my wife called from the house next door, with an unusual request for assistance. Molly the Huntress had claimed a new victim.

“I need you to help me with a wounded bat...” I had, as it happened, been watching a Dracula movie on one of the movie channels. Not one of those sissy new wave vampires - the ones who can’t turn into bats (even though their friends, the werewolves, can change shape, for some reason). I was watching either Bela Lugosi, John Carradine or Christopher Lee and he, whoever he was, had just turned from bat to person, or person to bat. So, when my wife said “ a bat,” on the phone, I was sure she had said something else. Halloween was coming and we would hear bats clicking at night in the trees as we held the last of the year’s barbecues in our yard, but what help would a bat need? They help us, by munching the real life blood drinkers, mosqitoes. Even if a bat is a vampire, I couldn’t think of much to do for it, except to call Dr. Van Helsing, be he Otto Krueger, Peter Cushing, Laurence Olivier, Mel Brooks or Hugh Jackman. So, my wife could not have said “...wounded bat.”

“A wounded cat,” I said in confirmation, thinking our neighbor’s cat had hurt another feline in the neighborhood.

“No, a bat. Get over here!” I half stopped to think whether or not I needed to get a stake and mallet, as I rushed out the door.

When I got to the yard next door, my wife had the cat corraled. The little descendant of tigers, leopards and other leonine predators was hunched over her prize, a bat. He (or she, to be honest) was small, gray and strangely white on his underside. The white I thought might be indicative of rabies, or a white nose disease I had read was menacing the North American bat population. I didn’t want to touch the little guy, but I didn’t want the cat, Molly the Mighty Huntress, to kill him, or catch whatever the white fluff was. We eventually got Molly to drop Vladimir, as I was now referring to the bat, the name of the real Dracula. We then got Molly to go back into her house and looked at Vladimir on the ground. His left wing seemed to be stiff, but he was still able to walk on all cloaked fours. Vladimir’s walk using his feet and his wings reminded me of how some of Draculas are shown to walk up and down castle walls, like Louis Jourdan on the PBS Dracula from the early ’80s, or Frank Langella’s Dracula, from the late ’70s movie.

The wings spread out from the fingers, like the cape that went over a Victorian tuxedo.

But these movie memories wouldn’t help Vladimir. Even if there were a veterinarian who would check the bat’s wing, it was past midnight. It would drive our poor dog crazy to have Vladimir in the house, with all his clicking. They don’t shriek, like in a Scooby Doo cartoon; bats click to send out the sonic signals, by which they navigate or communicate. As we were about to leave, Vladimir looked up at us. His tiny mouth opened and the clicks came faster.

“I don’t feel right just leaving him here,” said my wife.

“Let’s put him under one of those storage crates. It will keep any other cats or possums away from him, and if he is still alive in the morning, we can think about taking him to a vet then,” I said. Years of horror movies were on my mind and Vladimir grew quiet as we put the storage crate over him. I put a big rock on top of the crate, to make sure that no other Creatures of the Night could move our emergency batshelter, to get at Vladimir. I was Vladimir’s Renfield, or Barnabas Collins’ Willy, making sure the creature who flies at night had a safe place to rest. The space for the hand grip on the crate was too small for Vladimir to get out, especially so, since he seemed unable to close his wings. He should be safe enough, I thought. As we got the rock in place, I could not help thinking that the crate looked like something else I had seen on television. Not a movie, but something else. A bat in a cage...The Bronx Zoo perhaps? The bat house, where the animal attendants pose with a Flying Fox on their arm, with its four foot wingspan? No, that wasn’t it. A bat in a cage...

Grampa Munster! In a episode of the old TV show The Munsters Grampa had gotten stuck in his batshape and was stuck in a cage, to be placed in a moon rocket. Vladimir, here in a storage crate on a driveway in Bablyon, looked like the rubber bat from a television show filmed forty years before, but Vladimir had so far not turned into Al Lewis. He was moving around but he wasn’t clicking anymore. Maybe he would be okay.

“There’s nothing else we can do,” said my wife as we walked back to our own house. We could check on Vladimir, and of course, Molly the Huntress, the next day. The cat might need to go to the vet, if Vladimir’s white belly was really indicative of some disease besides vampirism. Still, I just had to look back again. Still no Al Lewis, or any of the other actors who have played Dracula; not even George Hamilton, or Leslie Nielsen.

The next day, I was of course, up well after the dawn that has saved so many vampire hunters in movies and on television. When I checked on Vladimir, I did not find the smoking corpse, which would prove die fliedermaus had been a real vampire, like in the old Chiller Theatre, Creature Feature and Dark Shadows. What I found was still spooky, though.

If you watch the History Channel, you may have seen one of the many shows about the search in Transylvania, for the real life Middle Ages’ warlord Vlad Tsepes, who inspired Bram Stoker to write the book Dracula. On one such show, a descendant of people persecuted by Dracula finds what appears to be the resting place of Vlad Tsepes, in a ruined church. The “official” burial site of the historic Dracula was found to be empty, when it was opened, while another, secret gravesite, opened several years ago, had a corpse. But, when the sarcophagus was opened, the body, or at least the head, turned to dust and disappeared. The mystery of Dracula lives on, in movies, television, books, toys and candy - and in Babylon, it seems. As with the grave of the historic Dracula, Vladimir’s crate was empty.

The rock was still holding the crate in place, as with the lid of the tomb in Transylvania. The makeshift cage did not seem to have been moved or knocked over and Vladimir would have had to close his wings to get out, which he was unable to do, the night before. He shouldn’t have been able to get out and nothing should have been able to get in at him. There are, of course, many things that could have happened, but as a fan of classic horror movies and golden age television, I have my preference. Vladimir turned into his humanoid self and lifted the rock and the crate off his body, then laughed in an eerie voice at the humans who had helped a vampire! Bwa-hah-hah!

In every vampire story based on Bram Stoker’s book, there is always a scene where Dracula, not yet revealed to be the Lord of the Undead, has to invite people into his castle, or be invited into an intended victim’s house. Vampires have their own rules of etiquette. In the story of Solomon Kane, Vampire Hunter, Dracula saved the vampire hunter and Solomon Kane has to oblige by letting Dracula go. At the end of Wesley Snipes’ third Blade movie, Dracula acknowledges Blade as a worthy adversary and gives Blade a parting gift. Hopefully, Vladimir will return our kindness. If our Vladimir was not a vampire, I still hope he appreciated what we did for him enough to make a special effort to eat mosquitoes on our block. If Vladimir was a vampire, he hopefully won’t hunt here.

But, all in all, I would prefer to think of Vlaimir as a vampire in the Al Lewis “Grampa” vein, changing back into human form and then ordering a cab to take him home.

“...I’d fly there myself, but my arms are tired.”

Happy Halloween!

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