In 2009, the first intact corpse of a supposed vampire was discovered, on the small island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, in the Venice lagoon. The vampire, a woman who died by plague in the 16th century, was found buried with a brick in her mouth—supporting the medieval belief that vampires were behind plagues like the Black Death.
Venice in the 1700s was unlike any place on earth. People flocked there from around the world to join in its lavish parties and balls, and to dress in elaborate costumes and masks. It was normal for people to walk the streets in full costume. For the first time in history, there was no longer gender inequality. Women, previously kept down by authority, could now disguise themselves as men, and could thus gain access to anywhere they wished….
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Assisi, Umbria (Italy) (1790)
Caitlin Paine awoke slowly, completely enveloped in the blackness. She tried to open her eyes, to get her bearings on where she was, but it didn’t do any good. She went to move her hands, her arms—but that didn’t work, either. She felt covered, immersed in a soft texture, and she couldn’t figure out what it was. It was heavy, weighing her down, and with each passing moment, it seemed to get heavier.
She tried to breathe, but as she did, she realized her passageways were blocked.
Panicking, Caitlin tried to take a deep breath through her mouth, but when she did, she felt something get lodged deep in her throat. Its smell filled her nose, and she finally realized what it was: soil. She was immersed in soil, covering her face and eyes and nose, entering her mouth. She realized it was heavy because it was weighing down on her, getting heavier by the second, suffocating her.
Unable to breathe, unable to see, Caitlin entered into full-fledged panic. She tried to move her legs, her arms, but they, too, were weighed down. In a fit, she struggled for all she was worth, and finally managed to dislodge her arms just a bit; she eventually raised them up, higher and higher.
Finally, she broke through the soil, and felt her hands make contact with the air. With a renewed strength, she flailed with all she had, frantically scraping and clawing the soil off of her.
Caitlin finally managed to sit up, soil pouring all over her. She brushed at the dirt clinging to her face, her eyelashes, pulled it out of her mouth, her nose. She used both hands, hysterical, and finally, cleared enough to be able to breathe.
Hyperventilating, she took in huge, gulping breaths, never more grateful to be able to breathe.
As she caught her breath, she began coughing, wracking her lungs, spitting out soil from her mouth and nose.
Caitlin pried open her eyes, eyelashes still caked together, and managed to open them enough to see where she was. It was sunset. The countryside. She was lying immersed in a mound of soil, in a small, rural cemetery. As she looked out, she saw the stunned faces of a dozen humble villagers, dressed in rags, staring down at her in utter shock. Beside her was a gravedigger, a beefy man, distracted by his shoveling. He still didn’t notice, didn’t even look her way as he reached over, shoveled another pile of dirt, and threw it her way.
Before Caitlin could react, the new shovelful of dirt hit her right in the face, covering her eyes and nose again. She swatted it away, and sat up straighter, wiggling her legs, using all her effort to get out from under the fresh, heavy soil.
The gravedigger finally noticed. As he went to throw another shovelful, he saw her, and jumped back. The shovel dropped slowly from his hands, and he took several steps back.
A scream punctured the silence. It came from one of the villagers, the shrill shriek of an old, superstitious woman, who stared down at what should have been the fresh corpse of Caitlin, now rising from the earth. She screamed and screamed.
The other villagers were divided in their reactions. A few of them turned and fled, sprinting to get away. Others simply covered their mouths with their hands, too speechless to say a word. But a few of the men, holding torches, seem to vacillate between fear and anger. They took a few tentative steps towards Caitlin, and she could see from their expressions, and from their raised farm instruments, that they were getting ready to attack.
Where am I? she desperately wondered. Who are these people?
As disoriented as she was, Caitlin still had the presence of mind to realize she had to act quickly.
She scraped away at the mound of soil keeping her legs pinned down, clawing at it furiously. But the soil was wet and heavy, and it was slow going. It made her remember a time with her brother Sam, on a beach somewhere, when he had buried her up to her head. She hadn’t been able to move.
She had begged him to free her, and he had made her wait for hours.
She felt so helpless, so trapped, that, despite herself, she began to cry. She wondered where her vampire strength had gone. Was she merely human again? It felt that way. Mortal. Weak. Just like everybody else.
She suddenly felt scared. Very, very scared.
“Somebody, please, help me!” Caitlin called out, trying to lock eyes with any of the women in the crowd, hoping for a sympathetic face.
But there were none. Instead, there were just looks of shock and fear.
And anger. A mob of men, farm instruments held high, was creeping towards her. She didn’t have much time.
She tried to appeal directly to them.
“Please!” Caitlin cried, “it’s not what you think! I mean you no harm. Please, don’t hurt me!
Help me get out of here!”
But that only seemed to embolden them.
“Kill the vampire!” a villager yelled from the crowd. “Kill her again!”
The cry was met by an enthusiastic roar. This mob wanted her dead.
One of the villagers, less afraid than the others, a big brute of a man, came within feet of her. He looked down at her in a callous rage, then raised his pick-axe high. Caitlin could see he was aiming right for her face.
“You will die this time!” he yelled, as he wound up.
Caitlin closed her eyes, and from somewhere, deep inside of her, she summoned the rage. It was a primal rage, from some part of her that still existed, and she felt it rising through her toes, coursing through her body, up through her torso. She burned with heat. It just wasn’t fair, her dying like this, her being attacked, her being so helpless. She hadn’t done anything to them. It just wasn’t fair echoed through her mind again and again, as her rage built to a fever pitch.
The villager swung hard, aiming right for Caitlin’s face, and she suddenly felt the burst of strength she needed. In one move, she jumped up out of the soil and onto her feet, and she caught the axe by its wooden handle, mid-swing.
Caitlin could hear a horrified gasp from the mob—startled, they stepped back several feet. Still holding the axe handle, she looked over to see the brute’s expression had changed to one of utter fear. Before he could react, she yanked the axe from his hand, leaned back, and kicked him hard in the chest. He went flying back, through the air, a good twenty feet, and he landed into the crowd of villagers, knocking several over with him.
Caitlin raised the axe high, took several quick steps towards them, and with the fiercest expression she could muster, snarled.
The villagers, terrified, raised their hands to their faces, and shrieked. Some took off for the woods, and the ones that remained cowered.
It was the effect Caitlin wanted. She’d scared them just enough to stun them. She dropped the axe and ran right past them, racing through the field, and into the sunset.
As she ran, she was waiting, hoping, for her vampire powers to come back, for her wings to sprout, for her to be able to simply lift off, and fly far away from here.
But she wasn’t so lucky. For whatever reason, it wasn’t happening.
Have I lost it? she wondered. Am I merely human again?
She ran with the speed of a mere, regular human, and felt nothing in her back, no wings, no matter how much she willed it. Was she now just as weak and defenseless as all the others?
Before she could find out the answer, she heard a din rising behind her. She looked over her shoulder and saw the mob of villagers; they were chasing after her. They were screaming, carrying torches, farm instruments, clubs and picking up stones, as they chased her down.
Please God, she prayed. Let this nightmare end. Just long enough for me to figure out where I am. To become strong again.
Caitlin looked down and noticed what she was wearing for the first time. It was a long, elaborate black dress, beautifully embroidered, and it went from her neck down to her toes. It was fit for a formal occasion—like a funeral—but certainly not for sprinting. Her legs were restricted by it. She reached down and tore it above the knee. That helped, and she ran faster.
But it still wasn’t fast enough. She felt herself getting tired quickly, and the mob behind her seemed to have endless energy. They were closing in fast.
She suddenly felt something sharp on the back of her head, and she reeled from the pain. She stumbled as it hit her, and reached up and touched the spot with her hand. Her hand was covered in blood. She had been hit by a stone.
She saw several stones fly by her, turned, and saw they were throwing stones her way. Another one, painfully, hit her on the small of her back. The mob was now only 20 feet away.
In the distance she saw a steep hill, and at its top, a huge, medieval church and cloister. She ran for it. She hoped that if she could just make it there, perhaps she could find refuge from these people.
But as she was hit again, on the shoulder, by another rock, she realized it would do no good. The church was too far, she was losing steam, and the mob was getting too close. She had no choice but to turn and fight. Ironic, she thought. After all she’d been through, after all the vampire battles, after even surviving a trip back in time, she might end up dead by a stupid mob of villagers.
Caitlin stopped in her tracks, turned and faced the mob. If she was going to die, at least she’d go down fighting.
As she stood there, she closed her eyes and breathed. She focused, and the world around her stopped. She felt her bare feet in the grass, rooted to the earth, and slowly but surely felt a primal strength rise up and wash over her. She willed herself to remember; to remember the rage; to remember her innate, primal strength. At one time she had trained and fought with a superhuman strength. She willed for it to come back. She felt that somewhere, somehow, it still lurked deep inside of her.
As she stood there, she thought of all the mobs in her life, all the bullies, all the jerks. She thought of her mother, who begrudged her even the smallest kindness; remembered the bullies who’d chased her and Jonah down that alleyway New York. She thought of those bullies in that barn in the Hudson Valley, Sam’s friends. And she remembered Cain’s introduction on Pollepel. It seemed that there were always bullies, bullies everywhere. Running from them had never done her any good. Like she’d always done, she’d just have to stand and fight.
As she dwelled on the injustice of it all, the rage built, coursed through her. It doubled and tripled, until she felt her very veins swelling with it, felt her muscles about to burst.
At just that moment, the mob closed in. A villager raised his club and swung for her head. With her newfound power, Caitlin ducked just in time, bent down, and threw him over her shoulder. He went flying several feet in the air, and landed on his back in the grass.
Another man reached back with a large stone, getting ready to bring it down on her head; but she reached up and grabbed his wrist and snapped it back. He sank to his knees, screaming.
A third villager swung at her with his hoe, but she was too quick: she spun around and grabbed it mid-swing. She yanked it from his hands, wound up, and cracked him in the head.
The hoe, six feet long, was just what she needed. She swung it in a wide circle, knocking down anyone within range; within moments, she established a large perimeter around her. She saw a villager reach back with a large stone, gearing up to throw it at her, and she hurled the hoe right at him. It hit him in the hand and knocked the stone from it.
Caitlin ran into the dazed crowd, grabbed a torch from the hand of an old woman, and swung it wildly. She managed to light a section of the tall, dry grass on fire, and there were screams, as many villagers rushed back, in fear. When the wall of fire got large enough, she reached back and hurled the torch directly into the mob. It went flying through the air and landed on the back of a man’s tunic, lighting him and the person next to him on fire. The mob quickly gathered around them to put it out.
It served Caitlin’s purpose. The villagers were finally distracted enough to give her the running room she needed to take off. She wasn’t interested in hurting them. She just wanted them to leave her alone. She just needed to catch her breath, to figure out where she was.
She turned and raced back up the hill for the church. She felt a newfound strength and speed, felt herself bounding up the hill, and knew she was outrunning them. She only hoped that the church would be open, and would let her in.
As she ran up the hill, feeling the grass beneath her bare feet, dusk fell, and she saw several torches being lit in the town square, and along the cloister’s walls. As she got closer, she spotted a night watchman, high up on a parapet. He looked down at her, and fear crossed his face. He reached a torch above his head, and screamed: “Vampire! Vampire!”
As he did, the church bells rang out.
Caitlin saw torches appear on all sides of her. People were coming out of the woodwork in every direction, as the watchman kept screaming, and as the bells tolled. It was a witch-hunt, and they all seemed to be heading directly for her.
Caitlin increased her speed, running so hard that her ribs hurt. Gasping for breath, she reached the oak doors of the church just in time. She yanked one of them open, then wheeled and slammed it behind her with a bang.
Inside, she looked frantically around, and spotted a shepherd’s staff. She grabbed it and slid it across the double doors, barring them.
The second she did, she heard a tremendous crash at the door, as dozens of hands pounded on it. The doors shook, but did not give way. The staff was holding—at least for now.
Caitlin quickly surveyed the room. The church, thankfully, was empty. It was huge, its arched ceilings soaring hundreds of feet high. It was a cold, empty place, hundreds of pews on a marble floor; on the far side, above the altar, hung several burning candles.