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The Last of the Vampires

Phil Robinson

Do you remember the discovery of the "man-lizard" bones in a cave on the Amazon some time in the forties? Perhaps not.

But it created a great stir at the time in the scientific world and in a lazy sort of way, interested men and women of fashion. For a day or two it was quite the correct thing for Belgravia to talk of "connecting links," of "the evolution of man from the reptile," or "the reasonableness of the ancient myths" that spoke of Centaurs and Mermaids as actual existences.

The fact was that a German Jew, an india-rubber merchant, wending his way with the usual mob of natives through a cahucho forest along the Marañon, came upon some bones on the river-bank where he had pitched his camp. Idle curiosity made him try to put them together, when he found, to his surprise, that he had before him the skeleton of a creature with human legs and feet, a dog-like skull, and immense bat-like wings. Being a shrewd man, he saw the possibility of money being made out of such a curiosity; so he put all the bones he could find into a sack and, on the back of a llama they were in due course conveyed to Chachapoyas, and thence to Germany.

Unfortunately, his name happened to be the same as that of another German Jew who had just then been trying to hoax the scientific world with some papyrus rolls of a date anterior to the Flood, and who had been found out and put to shame. So when his namesake appeared with the bones of a winged man, he was treated with very scant ceremony.

However, he sold his india-rubber very satisfactorily, and as for the bones, he left them with a young medical student of the ancient University of Bierundwurst, and went back to his cahucho trees, his natives and the banks of the Amazon. And there was an end of them.

The young student one day put his fragments together, and, do what he would, could only make one thing of them—a winged man with a dog's head.

There were a few ribs too many, and some odds and ends of back­bone which were superfluous; but what else could be expected of the anatomy of so extraordinary a creature? From one student to another the facts got about, and at last the professors came to hear of it, and, to cut a long story short, the student's skeleton was taken to pieces by the learned heads of the college, and put together again by their own learned hands.

But do what they would, they would only make one thing of it—a winged man with a dog's head.

The matter now became serious: the professors were at first puzzled, and then got quarrelsome; and the result of their squabbling was that pamphlets and counterblasts were published; and so all the world got to hear of the bitter controversy about the "man-lizard of the Amazon."

One side declared, of course, that such a creature was an impossi­bility, and that the bones were a remarkably clever hoax. The other side retorted by challenging the sceptics to manufacture a duplicate, and publishing the promise of such large rewards to any one who would succeed in doing so, that the museum was beset for months by competitors. But no one could manufacture another man-lizard. The man part was simple enough, provided they could get a human skeleton. But at the angles of the wings were set huge claws, black, polished, and curved, and nothing that ingenuity could suggest would imitate them. And then the "Genuinists," as those who believed in the monster called themselves, set the "Imposturists" another poser; for they publicly challenged them to say what animal either the head or the wings had belonged to, if not to the man-lizard? And the answer was never given.

So victory remained with them, but not, alas! the bones of contention. For the Imposturists, by bribery and burglary, got access the precious skeleton, and lo! one morning the glory of the museum had disappeared. The man half of it was left, but the head and wings were gone, and from that day to this no one has ever seen them again.

And which of the two factions was right? As a matter of fact, neither; as the following fragments of narrative will go to prove.

Once upon a time, so say the Zaporo Indians, who inhabit the district between the Amazon and the Marañon, there came across to Pampas de Sacramendo a company of gold-seekers, white men, who drove the natives from their workings and took possession of them.

They were the first white men who had ever been seen there, and the Indians were afraid of their guns; but eventually treachery did the work of courage, for, pretending to be friendly, the natives sent their women among the strangers, and they taught them how to make tucupi out of the bread-root, but did not tell them how to distinguish between the ripe and the unripe. So the wretched white men made tucupi out of the unripe fruit (which brings on fits like epilepsy) and when they were lying about the camp, helpless, the Indians attacked them and killed them all.

All except three. These three they gave to the Vampire.

But what was the Vampire? The Zaporos did not know. "Very long ago," said they, "there were many vampires in Peru, but they were all swallowed up in the year of the Great Earthquake when the Andes were lifted up, and there was left behind only one 'Arinchi,' who lived where the Amazon joins the Marañon, and he would not eat dead bodies—only live ones, from which the blood would flow."

So far the legend; and that it had some foundation in fact is proved by the records of the district, which tell of more than one massacre of white gold-seekers on the Marañon by Indians whom they had attempted to oust from the washings; but of the Arinchi, the Vampire, there is no official mention. Here, however, other local superstitions help us to the reading of the riddle of the man-lizard of the University at Bierundwurst.

When sacrifice was made to "the Vampire," the victim was bound in a canoe, and taken down the river to a point where there was a kind of winding back-water, which had shelving banks of slimy mud, and at the end there was a rock with a cave in it. And here the canoe was left. A very slow current flowed through the tortuous creek, and anything thrown into the water ultimately reached the cave. Some of the Indians had watched the canoes drifting along, a few yards only in an hour, and turning round and round as they drifted, and had seen them reach the cave and disappear within. And it had been a wonder to them, generation after generation that the cave was never filled up, for all day long the current was flowing into it, carrying with it the sluggish flotsam of the river. So they said that the cave was the entrance to Hell, and bottomless.

And one day a white man, a professor of that same University of Bierundwurst, and a mighty hunter of beetles before the Lord, lived with the Indians in friendship, went up the backwater, right up to the entrance, and set afloat inside the cave a little raft, heaped up with touch-wood and knots of the oil-tree, which he set fire to and he saw the raft go creeping along, all ablaze, for an hour and more, lighting up the wet walls of the cave as it went on either side; and then it was put out.

It did not "go" out suddenly, as if it had upset, or had floated over the edge of a waterfall, but just as if it had been beaten out.

For the burning fragments were flung to one side and the other, and the pieces, still alight, glowed for a long time on the ledges and flints of rock where they fell, and the cave was filled with the sound of a sudden wind and the echoes of the noise of great wings flapping.

And at last, one day, this professor went into the cave himself. "I took," he wrote, "a large canoe, and from the bows I built up a brazier of stout cask-hoops, and behind it set a gold-washing tin tub for a reflector, and loaded the canoe with roots of the resin-tree, and oil-wood, and yams, and dried meat; and I took spears with me, one tipped with the woorali poison, that numbs but does not kill. And so I drifted inside the cave; and I lit my fire, and with my pole I guided the canoe very cautiously through the tunnel, and before long it widened out, and creeping along one wall I suddenly became aware of a moving of something on the opposite side.

"So I turned the light fair upon it, and there, upon a kind of ledge, sat a beast with a head like a large grey dog. Its eyes were as large as a cow's.

"What its shape was I could not see. But as I looked I began gradually to make out two huge bat-like wings, and these were spread out to their utmost as if the beast were on tiptoe and ready to fly. And so it was. For just as I had realised that I beheld before me some great bat-reptile of a kind unknown to science, except as prediluvian, and the shock had thrilled through me at the thought that I was actually in the presence of a living specimen of the so-called extinct flying lizards of the Flood, the thing launched itself upon the air, and the next instant it was upon me.

"Clutching on to the canoe, it beat with its wings at the flame so furiously that it was all I could do to keep the canoe from capsizing, and, taken by surprise, I was nearly stunned by the strength and rapidity of its blows before I attempted to defend myself.

"By that time—scarcely half a minute had elapsed—the brazier had been nearly emptied by the powerful brute; and the vampire, mistaking me no doubt for a victim of sacrifice, had already taken hold of me. The next instant I had driven a spear clean through its body, and with a prodigious tumult of wings, the thing loosed its claws from my clothes and dropped off into the stream.

"As quickly as possible I rekindled my light, and now saw the Arinchi, with wings outstretched upon the water, drifting down on the current. I followed it.

"Hour after hour, with my reflector turned full upon that grey dog's head with cow-like eyes, I passed along down the dark and silent waterway. I ate and drank as I went along, but did not dare fall sleep. A day must have passed, and two nights; and then, as of course I had all along expected, I saw right ahead a pale eye-shaped glimmer, and knew that I was coming out into daylight again.

"The opening came nearer and nearer, and it was with intense eagerness that I gazed upon my trophy, the floating Arinchi, the last of the Winged Reptiles.

"Already in imagination I saw myself the foremost of travellers in European fame—the hero of my day. What were Bank's kangaroos or Du Chaillu's gorilla to my discovery of the last survivor of the pterodactyles, of the creatures of Flood—the flying Saurian of the pre-Noachian epoch of catastrophe and mud?

"Full of these thoughts, I had not noticed that the vampire was no longer moving, and suddenly the bow of the canoe bumped against it. In an instant it had climbed up on to the boat. Its great bat-like wings once more beat me and scattered the flaming brands, and the thing made a desperate effort to get past me back into the gloom. It had seen the daylight approaching and rather than face the sun, preferred to fight.

"Its ferocity was that of a maddened dog, but I kept it off with my pole, and seeing my opportunity as it clung, flapping its wings, upon the bow, gave it such a thrust as made it drop off. It began to swim (I then for the first time noticed its long neck), but with my pole I struck it on the head and stunned it, and once more saw it go drifting on the current into daylight.

"What a relief it was to be out in the open air! It was noon, and as we passed out from under the entrance of the cave, the river blazed so in the sunlight that after the two days of almost total darkness I was blinded for a time. I turned my canoe to the shore, to the shade of trees, and throwing a noose over the floating body, let it tow behind.

"Once more on firm land—and in possession of the Vampire!

"I dragged it out of the water. What a hideous beast it looked, this winged kangaroo with a python's neck! It was not dead; so I made a muzzle with a strip of skin, and then I firmly bound its wings together round its body. I lay down and slept. When I awoke, the next day was breaking; so, having breakfasted, I dragged my captive into the canoe and went on down the river. Where I was I had no idea; but I knew that I was going to the sea: going to Germany: and that was enough.

* * * *

"For two months I have been drifting with the current down this never-ending river. Of my adventures, of hostile natives, of rapids, of alligators, and jaguars, I need say nothing. They are the common property of all travellers. But my vampire! It is alive. And now I am devoured by only one ambition—to keep it alive, to let Europe actually gaze upon the living, breathing, survivor of the great Reptiles known to the human race before the days of Noah—a missing link between the reptile and the bird. To this end I denied myself food; denied myself even precious medicine. In spite of myself I gave it all my quinine, and when the miasma crept up the river at night, I covered it with my rug and lay exposed myself. If the black fever should seize me!

* * * *

"Three months, and still upon this hateful river! Will it never end? I have been ill—so ill, that for two days I could not feed it. I had not the strength to go ashore to find food, and I fear that it will die—die before I can get it home.

* * * *

"Been ill again—the black fever! But it is alive. I caught a [---] swimming in the river, and it sucked it dry—gallons of blood. It had been unfed three days. In its hungry haste it broke its muzzle. I was almost too feeble to put it on again. A horrible thought possesses me. Suppose it breaks its muzzle again when I am lying ill, delirious, and it is ravenous? Oh! the horror of it! To see it eating is terrible. It links the claws of its wings together, and cowers over the body; its head is under the wings, out of sight. But the victim never moves. As soon as the vampire touches it there seems to be a paralysis. Once those wings are linked there is absolute quiet. Only the grating of teeth upon bone. Horrible! Terrible! But in Germany I shall be famous. In Germany with my Vampire?

* * * *

"Am very feeble. It broke its muzzle again. But it was in the daylight—when it is blind. Its great eyes are blind in sunlight. It was a long struggle. This black fever! and the horror of this thing! I am too weak now to kill it, if I would. I must get it home alive. Soon—surely soon—the river will end. Oh God! does it never reach the sea, reach white men, reach home? But if it attacks me I will throttle it. If I am dying I will throttle it. If we cannot go back to Germany alive, we will go together dead. I will throttle it with my two hands, and fix my teeth in its horrible neck, and our bones may lie together on the bank of this accursed river."

* * * *

This is nearly all that was recovered of the professor's diary. But it is enough to tell us of the final tragedy.

The two skeletons were found together on the very edge of the river-bank. Half of each, in the lapse of years, had been washed way at successive flood-tides. The rest, when put together, made up the man-reptile that, to use a Rabelaisian phrase, "metagrobolised all to nothing" the University of Bierundwurst.

Contemporary Review, Jan.-June 1893

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