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.