Shroudeaters ~ a bite out of history
Some years ago, I came across a news story (read a version here) that reported on the discovery of a woman's skeleton that had been found with a stone wedged in its mouth. The article detailed an old superstition and ritual that arose in the years of the Black Plague. During this time, belief in vampires was rife, as it had been for around 500 years, while scientific knowledge about decomposition was limited. The combination of these two elements gave rise to the notion that plague victims were inclined to 'eat' through their death shrouds, claw their way out of the grave, and return to feast on the living. To avoid such a gruesome resurrection, a large stone was placed in the mouth of the decease to prevent them from eating through their shroud. This practice had the added benefit of starving any wannabe vampires back into death. Nice!
Of course, what was actually going on was far less terrifying, though no less fascinating. The bodies of the plague victims, under the pressures of decomposition, would leak fluids and gases, making them appear 'alive', while bacteria around the mouth of the corpses was responsible for 'eating' (read: decomposing) the shroud that covered their faces. Ah, science.
The Lair of Juliana Celeste
Where else would a beautiful, vengeful, vampire hang out, except in the catacombs of Paris?
I knew from Juliana's inception that she would frequent the catacombs, but it wasn't until I took a research trip to Paris that I realised the potential of this famous area.
As deliciously dark and creepy as the catacombs are, with their walls of ancient skulls and bones, hidden deep beneath the bustling metropolis, it was a brightly-lit passageway that really gave me the clue as to where Juliana would take up residence. This passageway lead downwards on a gentle slope under the walkway I was standing on. I leaned over the railing, but I couldn't see where it lead; all I knew was it went deeper, and suggested all kinds of possibilities.
A short time after my Paris jaunt, I read an article about the 'hidden' catacombs; the vast vaults and chambers beneath Paris where the tourists don't visit. The people who did venture below were vagabonds, the homeless, and the poverty-stricken; people on the periphery of society, who'd re-invented the city of the dead for their own purposes. Reading about this secret place, I knew for certain this was going to be Juliana fiefdom. Here she would feed, and linger while she laid her plans for revenge.
Are you reading...
Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
published by Transit Lounge (2016)
Awarding winning author, Nike Sulway, offers an evocative story about the nature of memory and the malleability of language, and how each shapes our perceptions, and relationships with the ones we love, and with the world at large.
As the title suggests, the work also explores death in its various guises - mysterious, expected, sudden, and desired - and how the inevitability of death gives beauty and richness to the experience of life.
Written in intelligent and elegant prose, Dying in the First Person is a novel to be savoured, considered, and read again.
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