It was just after noon on a pleasant midsummer day that two American college students on vacation checked into the hostel in the picture-postcard Bavarian village.
After showing the young gentlemen their room, the hostel manager introduced them to the only other person staying there, a Spanish student named Pilar. The boys were smitten instantly and the young lady was thankful that neither knew more Spanish than he could pick up from a taco stand menu.
Herr Schnuckler gave the three a quick rundown of what little there was of historic and cultural interest in the area, and then he added an unusual caveat.
“You must be inside by midnight. I will lock the door shortly before that and you do not want to be outside.”
“Worried about crime?” asked Stephen, the blond of the two younger men who knew only a useless and thoroughly trivial smattering of Gaelic.
“Of a sort,” Herr Schnuckler admitted. “I am certain the three of you will think me ridiculous, but a vampire comes out of its tomb at midnight and drinks the blood of anyone caught outside — or wherever it can gain easy entrance.
“Entschuldigen Sie, mein Herr?” asked Matthew, the darker-headed one. “Der Vampyr?”
Stephen snorted quietly.
“Ja. It’s the only vampire for many kilometers, and we would happily give it to someone else. It is a Koloskopie — the last of that line — and from their tomb he comes each night and feasts on the blood of the unwary.”
There was a pause as the youngsters mulled this over.
“Of course,” Herr Schnuckler said, “since people are generally inside by midnight, it means we don’t have much problem with rats. So some good comes of everything.”
The little gathering broke up soon and Pilar went to her room and the Americans went to theirs.
Stephen glared at Matthew.
“No one — I took a quick poll — no one is impressed with the fact that you’ve got a semester of German under your belt.”
Matthew looked at Stephen a trifle frostily. “So that’s what your horse impersonation was about. We’re in his country; it’s only polite to use his language whenever possible.”
“You weren’t being polite. You were trying — and failing, I reiterate — to show off. Possibly for the manager; certainly for Pilar. ‘Der Vampyr?’ Spare me your B+ auf Deutsch.”
“Now you’re doing it,” Matthew noted. “And that was pretty good.”
“Oh … well, thanks.”
“Now, while we’ve been conducting this little language debate,” Matthew noted, “I heard the door and I’m pretty confident it was Pilar on her way out to explore this charming little nowhere. Without us.”
“But how will she ever find her way back to the hostel?”
“She couldn’t possibly,” Matthew agreed. “Let’s go after her.”
The young men trotted off down the only available street leading to the center of town. Pilar watched from behind a tree, having expected their attentions, and went hiking alone in the hills outside of town.
Stephen and Matthew returned to the hostel long before midnight, having exhausted the wonders of the village shortly after 4 p.m. And that included a quick look at the cemetery and the grim mausoleum of the Koloskopies. The heavy concrete door showed signs of numerous attempts over the years to seal it permanently. None appeared to have been successful.
As any young American men would when in a new country, they immersed themselves in hand-held electronic games for the next several hours, interrupted only by dinner.
Long after dark, a soft knocking was heard at the door. Matthew hopped up from the floor and opened the door to see the manager.
“Have you boys seen the Spanish girl?”
Stephen tried to rise also but his blood-starved legs wouldn’t hold him up. Matthew took charge of the conversation.
“No, not since you were telling us about der … er, the vampire,” he said, glancing back at Stephen.
“She isn’t in the hostel. I’ve had to lock the door,” Herr Schnuckler said mournfully, and he walked away.
Stephen steadied himself against the wall.
“Out after midnight after that warning?” he said. “Pilar’s really going to some lengths to avoid you.”
Matthew’s response was both trite and predictable and is easily glossed over, as is everything the young men did before going to sleep.
The next morning Pilar remained absent and concerned looks were liberally exchanged at the breakfast table between Herr und Frau Schnuckler and Matthew and Stephen.
After breakfast, as the boys prepared to leave and continue their hike across the continent, they heard the hostel’s door bang open. A woman’s voice unleashed a high-pitched torrent of hysterical German on the Schnucklers.
“You getting all that, Mr. B+?” Stephen asked Matthew.
“As a matter of fact, smartass, I got two very important words: ‘Spanish’ and ‘vampire.’” Matthew led the charge down the stairs and into the hostel’s foyer.
Herr Schnuckler had his arm around his wife who was beginning to sob. He looked at his American guests.
“The police have found the body of the young Spanish woman, Pilar. She had apparently gone hiking in the hills. There are fang marks in her neck. She is dead.”
The boys trudged outside into the beautiful day. The bright sunshine and soft breeze seemed inappropriate.
“You realize the situation, of course.”
“Of course. We’re Americans in Germany, and once again it’s up to us to make the world safe from some bloodthirsty Kraut.”
“I see two options,” Matthew said.
“Option One,” Stephen began helpfully.
“We devise glow-in-the-dark crosses for the public to wear over their clothing. Hang them on a necklace — one for the front and one for the back — and blessed by Martin Luther’s local salesman for a small percentage of the profit.”
“We use the same basic idea, only enlarge and overthink it, and use it to keep the vampire in its mausoleum, preventing it from getting at the good burghers and their charming guests.”
“There’s money to be had either way, of course,” Stephen said, thinking hard, “but Option Two will greatly reduce our time on task and let us get back to both our aimless European wanderings and the U.S. much sooner than Option One.”
“An excellent analysis,” Matthew said. “We’re agreed on Option Two, then?”
“Let’s plan it quickly and go see Herr Schnuckler about our parts list, local assistance, and the resultant gratitude.”
Herr Schnuckler had had a soft spot in his heart for Americans since he was a little boy and his ex-Wehrmacht father, Werner, told him of the American soldier he encountered during the Battle of the Bulge. This American, rather than shooting or bayoneting the elder Schnuckler, simply clubbed him with the butt of his rifle. Werner had a steel plate in his forehead and a ringing in his ears that never ceased until his death, but he always remembered that soldier’s kindness with tears in his eyes.
The still-living Herr Schnuckler felt this generation of Americans wasn’t made of quite the same stuff as in years past. Had he mentioned this, neither Stephen nor Matthew would have contradicted him. Still, out of respect for that long-ago angel of mercy in the Ardennes, Herr Schnuckler called a couple of friends in the building trades over to the hostel to discuss the Americans’ idea.
Hans and Dieter and Rolf sneered openly into their coffee mugs and were making gestures as if to leave.
“Halt!” Frau Schnuckler said. The men eased into their chairs again. In German, she said: “Do you know what the headlines are going to say in Spain’s newspapers tomorrow? ‘German maniac kills lovely young Spanish woman.’ They’ll overlook that it was a vampire. Our little town is suffering for tourists as it is. One more death could finish the whole town off. Now this plan may not be the best idea we’ve ever heard, but it’s the only idea anyone’s offered in years. What do we have to lose?”
And so, on the basis of it being a slow day and having, as Frau Schnuckler said, nothing to lose, Hans and Rolf went off to a nearby city with the parts list Matthew had made. Dieter went to his shop for some tools and they all met at the cemetery at 2 p.m.
“We’re going to have to work fast,” Matthew said, “but I think we can get this done. Stephen will draw the outline on the inside of the door and then you, Dieter, can use that dangerous-looking thing to put the nails in.”
They finished just before 6, as the sun was thinking of setting behind the high hills. On the inside of the great door of the mausoleum they had made the outline of a cross with nails. This had prompted a single blasphemous joke from Hans which Frau Schnuckler punished with a vicious, American-soldier-in-the-Ardennes-style slap across his head. A string of LED Christmas lights — available year-round in Christmas-loving Germany — was carefully fitted on and around the nails. A sturdy Plexiglas covering, bolted to the door from the outside, protected this work. The cord went through a hole in the center of the door and hooked up to a car battery Dieter had brought over.
Rolf carefully closed the heavy door and they went in their various directions, agreeing to meet on the church steps just before midnight. If the plan failed, they would be able to lock themselves inside the sanctuary.
Dinner at the hostel was quiet, each person being lost in thoughts of what had happened, what they had done today, what might come tonight, and how to get to the next level of a particular electronic game.
Everyone was in place just before midnight. Around the corner from the church lay the cemetery and the mausoleum of the Koloskopies. The German men kept sneaking worried glances at their watches until the church bell tolled midnight. All eyes turned toward the mausoleum. Dieter kept a foot in the door and a hand on the handle for a speedy entrance.
A moment passed quietly so as not to disturb the watchers. The next moment did not.
A hideous scream skewered the very air, followed by another and another. People, awakened by the noise, came out on their porches to look
“It’s working,” Frau Schnuckler whispered. “The vampire can’t get past the cross. Surely, after a week or two of not being able to feed, it will finally die!”
“Ja,” said Rolf, “and the rats will come back.”
Everyone was all smiles at breakfast the next morning. Stephen introduced the only wistful, but appropriate, moment when he raised his milk and offered a toast: “To Pilar.” And they all drank.
The boys left soon after breakfast and resumed their trek. They had realized that morning, to their chagrin, that their solution came under the heading of “what had to be done” rather than “what we can legitimately charge for.” That would have been Option One, and they agreed to keep it in mind for the next village they came to with a vampire problem.