CHAPTER FOUR                 CONTENTS                                        


Illustration by Bruce Pennington

We threw ourselves against the door; with a crash it burst open, and we almost fell headlong into the room. The Professor did actually fall, and I saw across him as he gathered himself up from his hands and knees. What I saw appalled me. I felt the hair rise like bristles on the back of my neck, and my heart seemed to stand still.

The moonlight was so bright that through the thick yellow blind the room was light enough to see. On the bed beside the window lay Jonathan Harker, his face flushed and breathing heavily as though in a stupor. Kneeling on the near edge of the bed facing outwards was the white-clad figure of his wife. By her side stood a tall, thin man clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw it we all recognized the Count - in every way, even to the scar on his forehead. With his left hand he held both Mrs Harkerís hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the manís bare breast, which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten's nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink. As we burst into the room, the Count turned his face and the hellish look I had heard described seemed to leap into it. His eyes flamed red with devilish passion; the great nostrils of the white aquiline nose opened wide and quivered at the edges; and the white sharp teeth, behind the full lips of the blood-dripping mouth, champed together like those of a wild beast. With a wrench, which threw his victim back upon the bed as though hurled from a height, he turned and sprang at us.

Dr Sewardís Diary in Bram Stokerís Dracula

For most people vampires are a fiction that exists at a safe remove in books and films or, at worst, in nightmares that can be easily shaken off in the bright light of day. This is a luxury that most of our ancestors would envy, living in constant terror of the forces of darkness as they did. But the twentieth century threw up some surprising examples of how easily the fears embodied in the various aspects of the vampire can still make themselves be taken very seriously.

One of the more bizarre manias of the 1990s was the goatsucker scare that hit Latin America. It eventually subsided to the level of occasional spasmodic recurrences, but has never fully been explained away. On the 5 May 1996 the London Observer reported of the phenomenon: ĎA giant bat-like creature is terrorising the village of Calderon in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa, where dozens of goats have been found dead with their blood sucked dry, witnesses told national television network Televisa. Calderon goat farmers have cobbled together a rough Ďwantedí sketch of the bat.í

Illustration by Bruce Pennington

The fuss had begun early the previous year out in the Caribbean on the island of Puerto Rico when farmers in the mountainous interior began finding their goats dead and completely drained of blood through a single small puncture, usually in the chest. As the death toll of animals rose into the hundreds, real panic spread through the island. Speedily dubbed el Chupacabras (goatsucker in Spanish), the perpetrator was first described by Canovanas housewife Madelyne Tolentino as a curious blend of alien and kangaroo, four or five feet tall and with slanting red eyes, vampire-like fangs, long talons and a spiky crest running down its back.

A drawing based on her testimony was published by radio journalist and UFO investigator Jorge Martin and suddenly the Chupacabras became famous throughout Central and South America. The media leaped on the story and soon the beast was being spotted all over Puerto Rico, with many descriptions that seemed to have leaped straight from medieval demonology, even down to the sulphurous stench that was said to accompany the beast. Although the government stolidly refused to admit that anything untoward was happening, other groups organised search parties to hunt the marauder down. In vain, as it happened, and people came to believe it was hiding out in the endless labyrinths of the islandís cave system between kills.

Then in early 1996 the attacks dwindled and ceased altogether for a month or so, only to be resumed with chickens as the main item on the menu. Chicken farmers now found their livestock drained of blood from small puncture wounds, then many other kinds of small animal were killed including rabbits and geese, gradually working up to sheep, goats again and even cows. A theory spread that Chupacabras had been laying low after an injury. If so he soon got his strength back and became wilder than ever. Reports now came in of it smashing fences and cages with unnatural strength. Theories about the beastís origin ranged from satanic ritual to the idea of it having escaped from a UFO, of which there had lately been a spate of claimed sightings in Puerto Rico. Many assumed it was an escaped alien pet or some genetic experiment gone wrong.

A tailing off of attacks in Puerto Rico coincided with a rash of them in neighbouring Spanish-speaking mainland regions like Florida, Texas and particularly Mexico. It seemed as if the Chupacabras, or what now seemed several of the creatures, had somehow taken to the sea and dispersed. In May 1996 Mexican television news announced a spate of animal, and particularly goat, mutilations in rural areas which sparked a major scare, with villagers barricading themselves and their animals indoors at night.

Although the Mexican government denied there was any real cause for alarm, reports began to come in of humans being attacked. One of the first was Teodora Reyes, a villager from the state of Sinaloa who displayed on television the wounds she had sustained in a brush with the creature. Then, in a metamorphosis that Dracula would have applauded, there came a flood of sightings in which Chupacabras seemed to have taken on the form of a giant bat with a reported wingspan of up to five feet. This is when the London Observer picked up the tale. Farmer Angel Pulido from Jalisco state held up to the public gaze on television twin puncture marks on his arm received, he said from Ďa giant bat which looked like a witch.í

Suddenly all over Mexico people reported waking in a depleted condition with puncture wounds somewhere on their person and the furore began to spread up the West Coast through the United States. It is perhaps no coincidence that alongside its goatsucker scare, Mexico was also flooded with reports of UFO sightings, including mass sightings over Mexico City itself.

So just on the threshold of the third millennium a kind of vampire proved itself still quite capable of becoming a perceived reality and although the fuss has died away, reports still occasionally come in from as far north as Maine and as far south as Chile and Argentina.

Illustration by Bruce Pennington

Continued in the published book . . .