“THE REVEREND ALPHONSUS Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers MA, FRSL, spent much of his life abroad in Italy, although he passed his last years in an antique and strangely quiet home in Richmond Green, Surrey, England. It was in that abode in 1947 that I talked with him about some of his remarkable experiences with ghosts, vampires and denizens of the uncanny world. One particular story, concerning his personal encounter with a vampire in northern Italy intrigued me. That terrifying incident had happened several years ago. Summers held that evil is a reality but goodness is overpowering, and one must be always prepared and armed for the struggle. He knew of the existence of vampires, wrote treatises on the subject, and claimed to have encountered them himself.”

“Summers told me this story in his resonant voice. His limpid eyes and cherubic face seemingly recalled the awesome incidents and people he actually encountered. To repeat that tale of horror and write about it after the passage of many years causes me to shudder and look over my shoulder. I ask myself whether there could ever have existed such a being as the Italian Count, for that was how Summers always referred to him. He knew the real name of that infamous individual, but he had sworn in dire peril not to divulge his identity, nor ever to write about him. Doubtless, the Reverend Summers, with all his knowledge, power and influence, was more than a little afraid of the Count, who might yet be able in some strange way to get him.”

“In 1909, Summers was visiting northern Italy where he heard strange tales of vampires. Rumours had reached him concerning several unexpected deaths, where bodies were found drained of blood. More stories followed and still more, all from the same area, until Summers was convinced that the dead were victims of a vampire, and decided to visit the affected area equipped with his famous Vampire Talisman.”

“Summers showed me the talisman. It had been made in the 17th-century in eastern Europe, and had been used with considerable effect — to his certain knowledge — in several vampire infestations.”

“Both sides of the medal contain lettering in the old Slavonic or Romanian and incorporate both Roman and Cyrillic characters, but even Summers, with his not inconsiderable scholarship, was unable to translate it. In the centre of the medal, the obverse side bears the head of a man who has a distinctive nose, staring eyes and a long face that can be seen on all reputed etchings of Dracula or Vlad Tepes, ‘Vlad the Impaler’, the historical Wallachian prince. The figure appears to be clothed in and the head protected by some kind of chain-mail. The figure, as becomes a prince or ruler, wears what appears to be a seven-jewelled crown. Around the neck there is a row of seven circular stones. On the left-hand side of the head is a circle over a cross, the age-old talisman against vampires, etched dike a brand of fire. The reverse of the medallion depicts a curious, man like figure, with a bird-like head wearing a conical cap, while some form of mail encases the whole body. In one hand the figure grasps a sword, and with the other hand holds a pointed stake, both, however, pointing downwards. The traditional method of ridding the world of a vampire is to put a stake through his heart and cut off his head.”

“Armed with this formidable talisman. Summers set out to look for the vampire in the area where there were daily reports of bodies being found drained of blood. He already knew that in some parts of Europe there was a prevalent belief that passive vampires in life become active after death; that those whose blood has been sucked in life by vampires will turn into vampires after death, and that the only way to prevent this calamity from spreading is for the threatened victim to eat some earth from the grave of the attacking vampire, and to smear his own body with the blood from the vampire’s corpse.”

“As he drew near the wild and mountainous countryside that was the centre of the reputed visitation. Summers told me that he had an overwhelming impression of entering a bewitched area, a pan of the world where rational belief and natural law had been suspended. He felt a curious coldness and an awareness that he was utterly alone, that forces over which he had no control were closing upon him Although it was still daylight, a large bat swooped above him as he trudged along a dusty and deserted path.”

“As dusk fell, he arrived at a solitary and silent dwelling that had the appearance of an inn and. thinking that here he at least could lodge for the night and perhaps make his headquarters for further investigations, he banged on the heavy door. His knocking echoed in the emptiness and was followed by a strange stillness. He knocked again, but there was only the echo. He banged repeatedly, louder and louder. Surely, someone would answer....”

“Suddenly he heard a muffled shuffling, a dragging sound which he could not comprehend. It made his blood run cold The sound ceased and then again resumed, coming a little nearer. Silence prevailed once more Summers banged again, and the door suddenly swung open. Slumped on the floor at his feet lay a young girl, her whole body curiously thin, the skin a strange white colour and hanging loosely on the bones. Her face was dead- white. Her open mouth was gasping for air. Her body was spattered with blood, and a bloody trail led back into the hallway where the girl had dragged herself to the door to answer his knocking.”

“Summers, touched to the quick by the terrible, fear-filled wide eyes that looked up at him, lifted the girl in his arms and asked who or what had done this terrible thing. The girl seemed to summon her last waning strength; her white and thin hand dropped to the blood-stained floor, and slowly with her bony finger she wrote in blood the following words: THE COUNT. As she finished, she drew her hand to her side. Her tortured eyes closed and Summers found that he was holding a dead body in his arms. Summers laid the body on an ancient ottoman and covered it as best he could. Then he saw to his horror that her eyes had opened again. He forced himself to close them and he knew that, to the end of his days, he would be haunted by her lifeless stare. Shaking himself, he took out the Vampire Talisman and holding it before him, he warily explored the empty inn. It was completely deserted. In two bedrooms he found such disorder and chaos that it was obvious that violent struggles had taken place there. The bedroom windows were swinging loosely, but all other entrances and doors were closed, fastened and heavily shuttered. Some casements, Summers noticed, were hung with sprigs of garlic, and this convinced him that his worst fears were justified.”

“Looking out through one of the windows Summers saw. away in the distance, the silhouette of a castle perched on the side of a mountain. He noted the glimmer of a single light burning high up in what appeared to be its topmost tower. Night had fallen. A full moon lit the desolate countryside and cast eerie shadows whenever Summers moved. He looked out of the window again. The darkness seemed almost to pulsate as he stared at the twisting roadway and the boulders bordering it. The scant bushes and quietly waving spindly trees seemed like eyes watching his every movement.”

“Holding his medallion in front of him. Summers entered a small, undisturbed and garlic-protected room at the back of the inn and, weary from his journey, lay down and was soon fast asleep.”

“He was awakened at dawn by the sound of knocking. He made his way quietly into one of the front bedrooms and was about to look out the window, when he was struck in the face by a window which was swinging open and shut. It must have been caught by a sudden gust of wind — yet there was no wind. As Summers touched his painful nose, an enormous bat flew out from behind the window, fluttered for a moment in the air in front of him. its unblinking little eyes fixed on his. its tiny blood-stained teeth clearly visible — and then with a sudden swirl it swung away and flew with incredible speed in the direction of the castle he had noticed the night before.”

“Then Summers heard the knocking again, louder this time and definitely from downstairs. He leaned out of the window and looked down. In the cobbled courtyard of the inn stood an ancient coach, its single horse snorting and pawing as though anxious to be on its way. Standing at the door of the inn Summers could just discern the figures of two people. As he watched, they knocked again and looked up Summers darted back into the bedroom but a guttural voice called and beseeched him to open the door. “My daughter...my daughter...what have you done to my daughter...?” the voice wailed.”

“Montague Summers hurried to the door to admit two poorly dressed villagers, a man and a woman Summers quickly showed them his clerical vestments and the heavy crucifix he wore around his neck and he hurriedly explained how he had stumbled upon the inn the night before. He told them of the awful discovery that he had made. They eyed the crucifix and the vestments and looked at each other. A vampire would not — could not — possess and handle such things, especially a crucifix. Then Summers showed to them the pathetic corpse of their daughter.”

“They told him that she had worked at the inn before the sudden spate of unexplained deaths. They had implored her to return home but she had refused, even when the owners and everyone else packed off and left. The girl had said she was safe. Did she not have a picture of a saint, blessed by the Pope himself, hanging above her bed? And she wore a crucifix round her neck, another round her waist and one on each wrist; and she had sealed her room with garlic — was ever anyone so protected? Somehow she must have been persuaded to leave her room, to remove her protective amulets and so become a victim. She wore no crucifix when she was found, and it seemed likely that she had been deceived by the vampire, if vampire it was, appearing to her in another form. At all events, once she was unprotected, she met an awful end. But she had managed to write the words “The Count” in blood on the floor. The old people looked to where Summers pointed and saw the last message their daughter had written. “What does this mean?" asked Summers. They hurriedly crossed themselves and pointed in the direction of the castle. “It must be the Count,” they muttered. "Oh, God save us....” ”

“The dead girl was hurriedly buried in the garden and they rolled a heavy stone on to her grave and covered it with a cross and garlic Summers then decided to call on the Count. The couple warned him that the Count saw no one. Over the whole region he was the lord whose word was law. The only people who ever saw him were those he sent for. usually the young and pretty girls as they grew up. and many of them were never seen again once they entered the portals of the castle. The Count found excellent work for them in other parts of his kingdom!”

“The old couple, devastated by the awful death of their only daughter, were all for mustering the villagers and local people to storm the castle by night and set it alight for, they said, vampires cannot withstand fire. But Summers was dubious, for the Count, if he was a vampire, might metamorphose or transform himself into a bat or a wolf and escape the flames.”

“Summers first wanted to have tangible proof. He possessed a deep and wide knowledge of architecture, and he sent a message to the Count saying that he had travelled many miles to explore the architectural monuments in northern Italy. More than any other building in his travels, this one, with its unique shape, structure and location fascinated him, and he would consider it a privilege to call on the Count for the purpose of discussing his remarkable castle. The ploy was successful, and Summers received a reply stating that the Count would receive the visitor in his castle at dusk the following day. But, he added. “I am an old man and you must forgive my eccentric ways. Many years ago I was attacked with a crucifix. It appears impolite, but I must ask you not to carry a crucifix of any kind on your person during your visit, and I must warn you that I shall know immediately if you have a crucifix with you.” ” 

“As the dusk fell. Summers approached the castle, having trudged along the deserted path up the steep and rugged incline. He noticed on the journey a bat of unusual size above him, then behind him, then around him. Doubtless, he told himself, the Count was making sure that his visitor carried no crucifix. As he made his way up the last flight of stone steps, the bat flew off and disappeared.”

“Arriving at the dark door with its heavy surround in the shape of a bat with outspread wings. Summers reached for the bell-pull, a plaited rope which felt suspiciously like human hair, and at the end of which hung what could have been a baby's skull...but before he touched it, the heavy door swung open. Summers peered into the dim interior. He could just discern a wealth of period furniture and fitments and an immense circular stairway that faced the door. As he entered, a strikingly beautiful woman appeared from nowhere. She was dressed in a long black velvet dress that clung to her figure. She hardly opened her lips, but Summers heard her say: “The Master will see you in his study, at the top of the stairs.” It was such an odd voice, almost as though the speaker had a mouthful of thick liquid, but already the girl had turned away. He noticed her entrancing figure in clinging velvet, and her long blonde hair hanging to her waist.”

“She paused at the foot of the stairs and pointed the way to Summers, up the stairs. He nodded to her, and began to mount and then, on an impulse, he turned to glance at her again. But she had not expected him to look back, and now she stood boldly glaring at him, her eyes gleaming and mouth open — revealing enormous blood-stained fangs!”

“Summers shuddered, but continued to mount the stairway. On and on it seemed to spiral, round and round Now and then he passed doorways which presumably led to different floors, but he continued, and the stairs became narrower and narrower until he arrived at the top. He felt as though he was on a precipice, and when he looked down the stairs he could hardly see anything, for it was so dark, or perhaps the circular steps had made him giddy. He proceeded towards a large door, all covered with some material like dark skin or leather, and studded with what looked like human teeth As he peered at the door it slowly opened, and before him stood a tall, singular figure.”

“The Count was impeccably dressed in a dinner suit and wore an enormous red decoration of some principality around his neck. “Welcome to my home,” he said in a deep voice. “Forgive my dress, but I shall be dining shortly and the hours of darkness pass quickly; I only dine at night. But do come in.” ”

“He led the way into his circular study. It was lined with bookshelves, and there were divans placed about, all covered with rich brocade. Black candles burned in tall silver candlesticks in each of the windows round the room.
The Count seated himself, in an elaborately-carved ebony chair, behind a deeply carved desk which Summers longed to examine. But the Count looked straight at Summers and said “Let me tell you Montague Summers that I know who you are. Let us not waste any time. What do you want?” ”

“Summers began asking the Count about the architecture of the castle and was just getting into his stride when the sound of a shouting and clamouring mob drifted up through the window. Summers stopped speaking, and the Count listened for a moment and then crossed over to open the window. The babble of voices grew louder, and Summers was about to approach the window himself to see what was happening when the Count turned round and faced him livid with rage.”

“So, you planned to trick me,” he roared, “you stupid fool...You thought of engaging me in a conversation while the rustics set fire to my castle! But you forget that I am able to alter myself and escape unseen. Even a crucifix cannot stop me.” ”

“ “No,” replied Summers with fear rising to a pitch of bravery. “But I have this...” and he produced the Vampire Talisman and held it out in front of him at arm’s length, straight in the face of the Count. There was an awful scream, as though a flaming brand had been pressed on the face of the Count, who sank upon the floor. Summers approached the Count and unthinkingly allowed his arm to drop. The Count suddenly recovered, and again rose to his feet. Summers found himself looking into the hypnotic eyes of a cornered vampire. Summers felt his own strength ebbing away and the will to struggle with his adversary fading but, summoning every ounce of his strength and intellect, he again lifted his hand and thrust the medallion towards the Count. The stricken vampire cringed, but reached out to tug fiercely on the hanging bell-rope.”

“Almost immediately the door was flung wide open, and the same beautiful woman appeared. Her lips were closed to hide her terrible fangs, so that she looked again full of sweetness and life. Smoke curled up the stairs behind her “The Count orders you to leave at once,” she said in a tone that brooked no opposition. Summers pocketed the medallion, and made his way past the girl, down the smoke-laden stairway and out of the castle. As he passed through the doorway he waded through fire and smoke on every side in the darkness. He looked back, but the door of the castle had been slammed shut. Through the haze he saw the old couple whose daughter was the Count's last victim, and they helped him through the fire to safety.”

“By early dawn the ancient castle was gutted, a smouldering ruin, its irreplaceable artefacts destroyed forever and with them its occupants. As Montague Summers later said to me: “No vampire could possibly withstand the sight of the medallion and fire on a single night!” ”

“The last time I met Montague Summers he gave me the Vampire Talisman. I treasure it and look at it sometimes and wonder whether it really has the power of which he was convinced. Pray God I may never have to test its efficacy myself.”

The Italian Count (1987)

Underwood subsequently relinquished possession of the medallion to Sean Manchester.