Coverart by Steven Warrick
Em and her brothers were born and grew up at the New York Bathory estate. Their births all took place in the house itself, attended by a midwife and a physician in a room built specially for the receiving of Bath heirs. Their father, Count Atalik Hedrick Bath, insisted on having access to all four children. As a result, they would be homeschooled so he could guide their education. This guidance included beatings if they did not perform up to his expectations.
Beginning at six o’clock each morning, Monday through Saturday, their daily lessons included Latin, Greek, arithmetic, literature, history, music, and science. They took a break about eleven for lunch and athletics, returning to their studies no later than two. All the Bath children were excellent equestrians, among other things. The youngest boys, Andras and Sandor, were accomplished fencers as well as fraternal twins. Mihaly, the oldest, was a skilled marksman who had turned down the US Olympic team. His father would never have let him out of his sight long enough to train, so why entertain the idea?
Atalik wanted his children under his complete control. His mind was the only mind allowed to influence them. The various nannies, tutors, and coaches over the years never said a word about the abuse the children suffered. Money lined pockets and sealed their lips.
On Sundays the family, along with the stepmother of the moment, would head into town to attend the First Methodist Church of Wanaka. It was a forty-five-minute drive that took place in complete silence. Atalik insisted that the time be used for reflection. Once there he would lead the family to the front row, never speaking or greeting anyone along the way. They would retreat in the same manner back to the estate and spend the rest of the day in yet more silent contemplation. Often the children would read passages of the Bible to their parents in the evening. Atalik would then give his own unique biblical interpretation, sometimes lasting for three or four hours, depending on the quality of the liquid fuel he ingested during his personal contemplation time in his study. A Ms. Emma Cathill was fired from her position for suggesting that it wasn’t right for him to get drunk on a Sunday. Her firing was one of the few that didn’t result in a mysterious accident or disappearance two or three months later.
The presence of the eerily stoic family unnerved the rest of the congregation to the point that when Em was ten years old, they were asked to leave. The Bath family was infamous in the small community even before the massacre. Interviews I had conducted prior confirmed the family’s banishment. The current minister hadn’t been a great deal of help, but his secretary, a lovely woman named Glenda, had all sorts of juicy information. The story was pretty much the same except for rumors about an affair with several of the ladies on the church board. The last lady reported to have been disarmed by Atalik’s charms had been the former minister’s wife. Each of the women had approached him seeking a donation for one committee or another and always ended up receiving more than just funds.
Margret Mitchell Hanopy was one of those women. She had been married for twenty-five years to the chief of police in Wanaka. Never strayed a day in her life, and looked down on any woman who spent just one moment longer than she deemed necessary with a man who was not her husband. Her pride made her the perfect target, and she fell hard and fast for him. For a split second, she thought he might leave the wife du jour for her. Her breakdown was public and cost her husband the next election. Not surprisingly, someone more suitable to Atalik’s needs was elected the next go-round.
Em didn’t step foot in the village of Wanaka until four years later, when her father’s car stopped to get gas before taking her to college. One of her stepmothers convinced Atalik it would draw unwanted attention to the family if she didn’t attend school. It was a good thing that online school wasn’t big at the time; otherwise, Em might never have been allowed to leave home.
At nineteen she was tall, shy, and awkward, but smarter than any of her future classmates hoped to be. She slipped into the store to get a soda to wet her dry throat. When Atalik discovered her absence, he strode into the store and dragged her out by her hair. The soda was still on the counter when they sped away. Em said she thought it would be OK, given the freedom she would enjoy at school.
A police report was filed; however, the case was never pursued. The owner of the gas station confirmed this version of events. He also admitted to altering his account after receiving a check from Mr. Bath, or Count Bathory, as he insisted on being called. The check paid for his son’s entire college tuition.
The count liked to pay for things. He found it far easier to give someone who had nothing a check than to waste other resources on that person. His charisma in the beginning was not strong enough to talk a dog into a walk. It would grow and grow over the years, but the easiest way to get what he wanted remained through purchasing it. The title he tossed around was also purchased from a relative, despite it having no meaning in this country. Em renounced it upon receiving her inheritance. It was her way of distancing herself from his legacy—a legacy that Em assured me was going to be far bloodier than her infamous ancestor. I inquired how that could be, since the Countess Bathory had a death toll estimated to be close to six hundred and fifty.
It was then that I received a history lesson. She explained that the Blood Countess was only convicted for eighty deaths, and reports of her bathing in the blood of virgins were added later after Bram Stoker published his famous tome. The countess, like most of the aristocracy of her day, disciplined her servants harshly to prevent any sort of uprising and to maintain total supremacy. The countess excelled at keeping those she considered hers in line; the occasional death was not uncommon. The death of a peasant was not considered a capital offense. It was only when the countess began to discipline the daughters of minor nobles that any sort of fuss was raised, and that was only after her political usefulness had been depleted by the crown. Her objection to paying her share of the crown’s debts owed by her and her family was also a factor in her being brought to trial.
Still, the countess hadn’t acted alone. She had a little gang of cronies who carried out her will and in some cases enforced it without the countess ever having said a word. They would end up betraying their mistress at the trial, saying she ate bits of her victims’ flesh. Their testimony would serve as the basis for bloody tales in the future. Then, as now, people wanted to cash in on whatever was popular to make money. It worked, and the infamy of the countess grew while her cronies disappeared into the fabric of history.
If I didn’t believe her, I could read her translation of the countess’s diary. She would happily give me a copy.
The diary mentioned in the trial had been lost or, more accurately, misplaced by the countess’s castellan, Imre Vasvary. He was in charge of her affairs after her arrest and managed her personal papers as well as her husband’s. Her beloved count had died in service to the emperor. It was his death that truly spelled the end for the countess. Emperor Matthias II sought to take control of the vast holdings that had been created by her marriage to the count. Vasvary lived for many years after his mistress’s death and served her son, Pal (Paul), and the other Bathory children until his death.
Atalik found the diary on one of his trips to Hungry. It had been authenticated using letters written by the countess, but it had never been released to be authenticated by the academic community. Atalik didn’t want to share his prize with anyone. Emily opted to keep it a secret because its release would do nothing to repair the tarnished reputation of the countess and would also bring the connection between Bath and Bathory into the public’s eye. One branch of the family choose to change the name shortly after coming to the U.S. It was common for new arrivals to change difficult names or in the case of the Bath family make a break from the past.
While the journal was recovered, the final resting place of the Infamous Lady was never found. It was reported that she was buried at the church at Cesjthe in 1614, only to be moved three years later to the Bathory estate. The crypt there and at a family estate in Nyirbator had been opened at various points; neither contained her remains.
The manner in which Atalik Bath passed from this life to the next was just as mysterious as his infamous ancestor. Atalik died in his home, attended by no one. He, like the Countess Bathory, was found dead at two in the morning after complaining that his hands were cold the night before. His death certificate listed the cause of death as heart failure. Atalik was just sixty-four years of age.
Atalik’s methods of research were unorthodox; he used psychics and thieves. Psychics were used to locate leads genealogists couldn’t, and thieves were used to steal artifacts buyers wouldn’t part with, sometimes even resorting to grave robbing. Everything was verified by a separate set of genealogists or psychics, depending on how the information was originally obtained. The results they yielded were still questionable, but Atalik was confident his money had bought him the truth. A lack of confidence was never his weakness—perhaps a tragic flaw, if there had ever been an ounce of goodness in him.
Emily’s father was far more discreet than the countess ever had an occasion to be. People didn’t die; they simply vanished or died with a reasonable explanation as to the cause. Atalik’s abusive nature intensified after his banishment. He had always been a sexual sadist, but the number of former employees increased exponentially afterward. Court records from his five divorces confirmed that all of his wives accused him of various degrees of sexual deviance. All but one of them recanted their accusations after receiving a generous settlement.
Marcella Bath, Emily’s mother, died in a car accident prior to any agreement being made. Her parents claimed that Atalik was responsible, but no connection was ever found. They died in a house fire six months to the day after they had buried their daughter. They would never see their granddaughter.
Em agreed to give me the names and contact information for some of her tutors growing up; she wasn’t sure they would talk to me, but there was a chance, now that her father as well as the New York statute of limitations on child abuse had expired. She produced two of her father’s scrapbooks, which contained photographs and notes on his sexual encounters with two of the tutors.
The first scrapbook documented five years of his relationship with Martha Vane, the Latin tutor. The first page contained a copy of her resume and a photograph of Ms. Vane. It was black and white and faded. She looked like June Cleaver, with her permed hair and a carefully tailored suit. Before turning to the next page, Em finished her glass of wine and returned to the kitchen for the bottle. I finished my glass in one swallow after seeing what those pages contained.
“You looked at these?”
“Yes, of course.” Her tone was oddly down-to-earth, but she didn’t offer to explain.
“All of them?”
“Yes, all twenty-seven.”
I nearly choked on the next sip of wine. “Why in God’s name would you look at all of them?”
“To prove to myself that it wasn’t just a bad dream. My therapist said I needed to confront my past in order to stop living in it. So yes, I looked at every single page and photograph.”
“Are there pictures of you?” My words stumbled out of my mouth, trying to shake the images of bodies tangled. The reality that some of the young faces staring feebly back from the photos were Atalik’s own children. He had molested his own kids, taken pictures, and then lovingly created twenty-seven albums. “But why keep them?”
“Proof that my father was insane. That my siblings and myself were victims not complicit in his crimes. I know that doesn’t necessarily mean they were innocent as adults, but I know in my heart they weren’t evil like him. As we continue, my brothers’ innocence must be maintained. I can’t bear the thought of their memories being dragged through the muck. They deserve better.” Em’s eyes watered, but she didn’t start to cry. She took several deep breaths and regained her composure.
“Is this why you didn’t have them buried with your father at the estate?”
“Yes, but my father isn’t buried there either.”
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