Emerging from Darkness

Do vampires exist?

They do, in the alternative reality of our three stories that make up the first issue of AaNX. Pronounced Annex, this is the first issue of Air and Nothingness Press’ newspaper format, limited edition collections. Emerging from Darkness is our own title for this collection, though these vampires very much remain hidden, only appearing off-stage. For now.

Sawneys, they’re called, and at nights their wailing can be heard from the rooftops. They’re rumoured to have red hair, and wear skirts – even the men. They’re originally from Scotland, though some think they’re far older, and descended from Judas Iscariot, or even Cain, both rumoured to be red-headed. Most agree that they are the progeny of one Sawney Bean, who preyed on unwary travellers in the Scottish highlands with his family, though some claim a nobler descent, from one Lord Ruthven. Rather than the somewhat derogatory term ‘Sawneys,’ they speak reverently of Ruthvenites. Either way, none can help but shiver when they hear the sound of bagpipes in the night, as dawn will bring bodies, drained of blood, their throats torn open.

The ‘real’ Sawney Bean was the head of a clan in 16th century East Lothian, rumoured to have killed, and eaten, over a thousand people over twenty five years. He and his wife, children and grandchildren (in varying incestuous combinations) lived in a coastal cave in Bennane Head (Firth of Clyde) which was cut off at high tide, helping them to stay undiscovered for so long. They ambushed and killed lone travellers and small groups at night, and brought their bodies back to their cave, where they were butchered and eaten, and the leftovers pickled. Only when one man was rescued by a group of fayre-goers, and told his tale to the magistrate, did the law catch up with the family. The King sent four hundred men (plus several bloodhounds), and soon the clan was captured. According to one version of the legend, Sawney and his fellow men had their genitalia cut off and thrown into the fire and their hands and feet hacked off. His last words were: “It isn’t over. It will never be over!” – and in ‘our’ universe, indeed it isn’t.

Lord Ruthven is the main character of John Polidori’s 1819 poem The Vampyre. It started as a story told by Lord Byron on ‘that night’ when Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley began working on Frankenstein, picked up by John Polidori, his doctor and somewhat of a poet himself, when Byron lost interest. It was first published as A Tale by Lord Byron, perhaps by mistake, perhaps to drum up an audience. The name Ruthven will have contributed to the connection with Byron, as the name was used by Lady Caroline Lamb in her gothic novel Glenarvon, in which Byron appeared, thinly disguised, as Clarence de Ruthven, Earl of Glenarvon, who corrupts an innocent young bride (Lamb herself, also thinly veiled. It’s a hot stew!).

The Vampyre proved hugely popular – the idea of our lords and masters as bloodsucking monsters struck a cord – and was quickly adapted for the stage (something Stoker wanted to prevent with his ‘dreadful’ table reading of Dracula) in France by Charles Nodier as Le Vampire. This play in turn spawned operas, more stories and more plays. One of these plays was by J.R. Planché, whose The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles (1820) had all the trappings of a good gothic thriller: thunderstorms, castles, a virgin in peril, Lord Ruthven – and kilts. Despite Planché’s misgivings about the historical accuracy of setting a vampire play in Scotland, the manager of the Lyceum in London, who commissioned the play, was adamant. They’d done well with adapting Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, had a rich stock of Scottish costumes, and they were to be used! And this, dear reader, is how Lord Ruthven became a Scotsman.

Will you read (or hear) more about these Sawneys or Ruthvenites? Undoubtedly! Now then, do ghosts exist in this world? Oh, yes!

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