Mrs. Beast

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Matt Cutugno
Matt Cutugno

Dracula by Bram Stoker was first published on May 26, 1897. After years of research, Stoker’s iconic invention of Count Dracula burst into popular literature fully formed and unyieldingly formidable. Many have speculated over the past hundred years about the genesis of Stoker’s “hero.” Few have known for sure.

IN DRACULA’S TIME is the untold story of an ancient biography of Vlad the Impaler that inspired Bram Stoker’s creation of Dracula. For the first time, Stoker’s secret source, hidden from view for almost a century, makes an indelible connection between Vlad and Dracula.

A tale told by a witness to literary history, IN DRACULA’S TIME by Matt Cutugno gives voice to the real Dracula - a leader, a warrior and a cruel defender of his kingdom. To get your blood flowing, whether you are a fan of vampires or horror stories or gothic novels, we include the first chapter of how it began to let you in on a secret that has been kept from the public since Bram Stoker’s death on April 20, 1912.







Matt Cutugno

Copyright © Matt Cutugno 2011
All Rights Reserved


How It Began

I met him in the autumn of 1969. I was a first-year college student in Pennsylvania. He was an old man. He never told me his age and I never asked. I avoided him at first; disinterested in anyone so elderly. He was tall, though bent over, with pale skin and wispy white hair. He wore dark, well-worn clothes and had the smell of frail grandfathers.

As I sat near where he was sitting, he took note of the book I was reading, Dracula by Bram Stoker. He leaned toward me and started to laugh, at first to himself, and then loud enough that I couldn’t help but notice and be annoyed.

“What?” I said finally.

“That’s a good book.” Then he repeated, “Good book.” I detected an accent in his English.

“It’s okay.”

I was trying to concentrate on the journal of Jonathan Harker and his first meeting with the elegant Count Dracula in his castle in Transylvania. In truth, my literary tastes at the time ran to Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, but this famed story of vampires was required reading in my English Lit class, so I was dutiful.

“I knew him,” the old man said, interrupting my fragile concentration.

“You knew Dracula?”

He gave me a patient half-smile. “I knew Stoker,” he replied, almost off-handedly.

I was skeptical. There was a picture of Bram Stoker on the back cover of my paperback, a black and white photo that seemed from distant times past. A glance at the accompanying text told me the author died in 1912, and judging from the old man’s appearance, I supposed it might have been possible. Could I be in the presence of a witness to literary history?

“We spoke several times,” the old man continued, “or rather Mr. Stoker spoke and I listened. I was a respectful young man.”

“That’s cool,” was all I could think to say. I was not persuaded.

At that point, he motioned to have the paperback and leafed through the pages, commenting under his breath as he did. There was a glint in his eyes as he handed it back to me.

“This is the kernel of truth. The husk and cob were left behind.”

I didn’t understand, but that was the extent of our first conversation.

* * *

Our next chance meeting was some weeks later. By then, the cold winter weather had set in. I was in the campus bookstore on Allen Street when I spotted him, seated at a table with a newspaper spread out in front of him. He held an oversized magnifying glass in his shaky right hand as he concentrated on the newsprint.

He surprised me by looking up, straight at me with recognition.

“Hello, Dracula,” he said. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

I felt more sympathetic toward him on this second encounter, perhaps because my own grandfather had passed away a month before. Or maybe it was because I fancied myself a writer and imagined that I should be interested in people and their true stories, even if the people were old and their stories probably just filled with exaggerations.

So I sat down across from him. I watched him turn the newspaper’s page, his hand trembling and the paper crackling like tired bones. I wanted to say something, anything.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Ireland, born in Dublin,” he replied. I nodded and mentally noted that the author of Dracula was born there too.

“My father was Mr. Stoker’s attending physician and took care of him after his stroke. The famed author was a legend…manager of the great Lyceum Theater…related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle no less. And, he stole Oscar Wilde’s girlfriend right away from him, did you know that?” He had a twinkle in his eye. “I was a star-struck boy who loved to read. I visited him in the hospital and listened to anything he wanted to tell me.”

I was attentive, but skeptical.

“By the way, I finished Dracula. Like you said, it’s a good book.”

The Dubliner smiled and straightened a fold on his newspaper. “It was certainly successful, but it could have been better. That’s what the author used to say—should have been better.”

“Why would he say that?”

“Do you really want to know?” He spoke without looking up from his magnified reading.

“You said yourself it was successful,” I added. “My English Lit professor says it’s the greatest horror story ever written. What more could it have been?”

“Well young man, let me tell you what it could have been.” He placed the magnifying glass on the table and leaned toward me.

“When Bram Stoker was researching his book, he made a secret trip, never been written about, to Eastern Europe where the vampire legends originated. He told me he was shown a fantastic manuscript, written in ink on thick vellum from the 1400s. Only a select few knew of its existence. It was…,” he paused as if for the effect, “the authorized biography of Vlad Drakul, the terrible Impaler Prince.”

Vlad the Impaler, Circa 1600

“Who was he?” I asked.

“He was a great warrior, the lord of Wallachia, a kingdom north of the Danube River during a time when the Balkans peninsula was being overrun by Turks of the Ottoman Empire.” The old man pointed a bony finger at me. “He was the historical figure that the character of Dracula was based upon. Mr. Stoker told me all about that ancient biography. It was filled with tales of great battles and fierce struggles. It was more amazing than any fiction of ghouls and vampires.”

“I’ve never heard that,” I said.

“And you likely never will. He told me how he carefully examined the old manuscript; he got ideas from it—the dark gothic landscape, the name of his main character—and Lord Drakul became Dracula. You know droch ola, Gaelic for ‘bad blood.’”

“Where is that biography now?”

“He was not permitted to take it with him. He left it behind in Romania and no one knows what happened to it.”

“And then?” I asked.

“He wrote a fiction filled with undead, blood sucking creatures. The true tale was left untold. Can you beat that?”

I sat in silence for a few moments —unsure if I believed the story he was spinning. The old man squinted at me as if he was reading my mind.

“Do you know what it means to be ‘bloodthirsty’?” he asked wryly.

“It means you are violent. You enjoy it.”

He considered my reply, as if he was teacher and I his student. “The lord Vlad Drakul mixed the blood of animals he killed during the hunt into his wine in order to gain their spirits. It was all chronicled on those vellum pages. Mr. Stoker told me that he just borrowed the idea.”

“What else is in the biography?” I asked. My curiosity had been piqued.

The old man took a deep breath and folded his hands in front of him. He glanced around, as if he was the keeper of dark secrets that he must protect, and continued.

“Where to begin—I suppose the year 1476 in Wallachia is as good a time and place as any.”



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