Whether it is a cold or my sinuses, my body has been sending very direct messages. You are sick. You need to rest. Why aren’t you resting? Sleep, you need sleep. Oh and by the way, until you give me what I want food will lose all favor.
And it did. Well mostly, I just didn’t want to eat the veggies. Freshly steamed veggies. Warm and crispy veggies that I normally devout just lingered there while I went for second and third helpings of mashed potatoes. I was really tempted to go get a milkshake, blowing all the lovely work I have done in the past week with my diet.
My body wants sleep and rest. Not to be up and at work. It wants more than a day off. It wants less stress and more … just more. More of all the things, I like to do but don’t get a change to do because I am working all the time. I am not sure if I really want to spend the next six months working on my math certification when there are other projects and goals.
I wanted it because I thought I would be able to translate my love of math into the change I have been looking for in my life. I wanted an easy out. No such luck. It would have been nice. Well, not really since it would have caused all sorts of other change and in the end might not have done what I wanted it to do. Secure my income base and work more on my passions, writing and gardening. Spend more time with family and loved ones, here and in Virginia and New York as well.
I am still going to work towards the math certification. It is something I always wanted. I gave up on being a math major in college for a couple of reasons. The first was it got a whole lot harder than it was in high school. I didn’t make the transition well. I didn’t really have to study in high school and going to college, my math classes jumped up a level that I wasn’t expecting. There were lots of other pressures going on all at the same time and let myself get distracted from my course work.
I failed to ask for help until it was clear that I was way in over my head. So I got a D that first semester and the one after that. Soon a switch in majors was on the way.
The second thing that killed it for me was my instructor although kind and willing to help was that he lacked passion for subject. A grad student who was assigned to teach Freshman, he did his job, but he didn’t know how to teach. He did practice problems and reviewed with us, but there wasn’t anything engaging about the class. Mrs. G, the veteran teacher, that I had yesterday engaged with the class. She took time to explain and answer questions, adjusting her tone and going back and working problems. It was really amazing to watch.
The last reason that I gave up on it was my own self-doubt. It ate and me and I allowed it to tell me that I wasn’t good enough. This has been something that has plagued me for years. For many years, I thought while I was intelligent I just didn’t have the brains to get it. Cognitively, I could tell you that there is difference between talent and skill. Skills are developed and talent may be intuitive but it takes skill to refine. Emotionally, however, I thought if I wasn’t good at something after a little bit of practice, then it wasn’t for me. I would go on to something that I was good at. Pretty silly since I never developed anything for a long time except for my writing.
I gave up on getting a degree in math many years ago for a lot of reasons. I don’t regret the choice because it led to some many other wonderful things. Still, I feel like getting my certification in math would go along way to complete something that I gave up on thinking that I just wasn’t smart enough to do it. Turns out, I am smart enough to keep on learning.
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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The fall wind blows through the trees no matter where I am to remind me that today is Halloween, today is a day to remember the dead. The beloved dead, our ancestors and friends who have walked before us into the unknown.
For Catholics, soon will come the celebration for the faithful departed. Many will make their way out to the graveyards to clean off the graves of their love ones and spend some time with them. Other traditions have a Dum Supper, a meal eaten in silence to honor the dead.
In years past, I have been attending an event called the “Ancestors’ Feast” at the local Unitarian Church. A group of friends and myself have sung old and ancient songs and joined in the celebration. Of all the masses, rituals and celebrations, I have attended over the years this one has meant more to me than any other. It is a collaborative event, where everyone contributes and feels welcome. A rare event for many of us. It has been the highlight for me of this fall season; a time to remember the real reason for the season. A time to remember my own ancestors.
Each year in my own home, I light a candle to remember my ancestors and friends who have crossed veil and into the next world. This year, I will be lighting two more candles. One for my Grandmother, who passed last Thanksgiving, and another for my friend, Shannon who passed later in the year. As a part of my yearly ritual, I raise my glass to them and thank them for all they did and for brightening my life with their existence.
My grandmother went by the nickname, Honey, for most of her life, because of her honey blonde hair. She and my grandfather fell in love in elementary school. She used to walk down the mountain and my grandfather would wait to walk to her school. They were in love for nearly eight decades. He loved her until the very end.
Poets can only try to and do justice to their love. I believe they would all fail,because their love was an imperfect and real love. A love that produced four children and saw two grow into adults. One of whom is my father.
This was one of my grandmother’s swans. I think her name was Judith after my aunt who passed away. My grandmother loved nature and taught me to love it as well. We never really understood each other. She was always formal and rarely emotional. I was her opposite and while I learned from her, I didn’t understand her.
We connect in the last months of her life. My father drove me up to see her and we spent the morning talking in the solarium. My grandfather built it to house her plants in the winter. She was suffering from dementia and was rarely coherent. I was used to this side of her. For years, she was slipped in and out of this world. I knew it and some of the rest of the family, but no one wanted to admit it.
That summer day, we talked for hours while my grandfather and father went down the mountain to run errands. She told me the same story over and over. In the sixties, my grandfather and her built a house in small pocket of a mountain. The house was built in part on the land and part on water. It is an amazing house. She loved the house being surrounded by a mountain. She could never explain her love for that house to others or why she built in the shadow of her former home.
I don’t know if I really understood it either, but she didn’t try and make me over into her version of me, like before, this time she just talked to me and I snuck her licorice sticks. We giggled. I always loved her, I loved her strength and her ability to transcend her beginnings and life’s tragedies. On that day, however, I met the women that my grandfather fell in love with seven decades before.
I will also be raising my glass to my grandfather who passed away in the spring. He is finally with his beloved. Both the patriarch and matriarch of my family are gone and we are all a little lost. Lighting candles and seeking guidance seems like an excellent plan for the evening. So I raise my glass and thank them for being themselves and for all the lessons they taught me and all the lessons their memories will teach me in the years to come.
Below is a preview of my novella, Blood Child, which I am working on finishing by the end of this month. The story began with the first line and the image of a woman stalking away from an open door. Enjoy and let me know what you think, please and thank you.
“I am not drunk enough to talk about it, now.”
The interview I had lobbied over six months for just turned on her heels and walked back into the shadows of the house, leaving the door wide open giving me an excellent view of her curves. My appreciation was short lived as cool air slapped me as I hesitated before the threshold trying to take in the house’s details. The ten foot walk from the car to the house, however, had broken me out in a sweat making it difficult to concentrate. It wasn’t even May, and already Florida was managing to melt British tourists and small yippy dogs into smelly sticky puddles. British born myself it was only being raised in the U.S. that kept me from disintegrating.
Watching the current Countess Bathory return with a fresh glass it occurred to me that she was nothing like her infamous blood bathing ancestor. She had no aura of power or authority. She was, in fact, a wino, judging from the bin overflowing with bottles on the front porch.
Albeit, an incredibly attractive one. Technically, she wasn’t a countess having renounced the title, but not the money. Only people in fairy tales give up both and usually that is for love. As far as I knew, Ms. Bathory, was single.
Nothing about Emily Bath made sense. She was richer than Donald Trump and had more degrees than Neil Degrass Tyson, yet she lived in a tiny orchid colored house with floors that creak with each every step in a mismatched Orlando neighborhood and taught high school. She could have done anything and willing chose to work in high school hell. Literary since she didn’t work in a regular school, but an alternative one for students who had been kicked out of other schools.
The interior was modest, if not a little old fashion for a twenty-something heiress. There was no TV in sight just bookshelves and seating. All the furnishings looked like they were hand-me-downs from someone’s long deceased grandparents. The sofa engulfed me in patterned floral pillows. The countess smirked as I struggled to right myself. At least she had a sense of humor.
Still nothing about the home spoke of the mounds wealth she had; it was all understated and sadly normal. I expected more, craved it to be honest.
Emily Erzabet Bath was the survivor of modern day murder mystery. Nine years ago, she and her three older brothers spent the weekend at their late father’s estate in upstate New York. They died along with twenty three other souls As the ten year anniversary approached interest in the case was reemerging; making this an interview priceless. And I was the man who landed it; the first and only person to speak to the reclusive Ms. Bath. Persistence, charm and just a bit of cyber-stocking had won the day; being unemployed finally had a benefit.
The manor had been drenched in blood, literally. It dripped off of tables, pooled in puddles on the floor and had un-artfully spattered the walls. The first officers on scene inched their way around the edges of each room as they searched for survivors. They weren’t trying to preserve evidence no one wanted to step in that much blood. And with that really weren’t expecting to find anyone alive. Pieces of victims were carried out bit by bit for nearly a week. It was a forensic nightmare.
The officers who found her had to break into the room after following a blood trail to the door, only to find her cloistered in the back of the closet beneath a bunch of old musky coats stained with her blood. The combination of the smell: musky fur, stale blood and human excrement remained with the two men. Their stomachs emptied upon seeing Emily broken and begging for help with her eyes. Even mentioning her or her condition made the two turn green. They thought she was dead until her emerald eyes opened. Severely dehydrated with deep bloody scratches which had turned her flesh into ribbons; her wounds would seep blood for days after her rescue confounding the medical staff. It was months before she was released from the hospital.
Emily allegedly had fled to her room and hidden there until found. She couldn’t explain how she had gotten there or what happened that weekend. Many believed that she was at least partially responsible for the deaths of the twenty three people in attendance. Especially the media who kept the story alive even after the relatives of the deceased pleaded with them to stop.
No evidence was found linking Emily with the deaths according to the investigators’ report in my satchel. It had cost a pretty penny. Now, I was wondering if the expense had been worth it. She was just so ordinary. So painfully plain.