An exerpt from Draculaland, published in 2016 by Eros Press. Also featured in The Calvert Journal
The party in question was officially billed as the 'Halloween Party in Transylvania with Vlad the Impaler' and it is to be held in the basement of my hotel in Sighişoara. The itinerary for it is vague. Most of the plans for the evening have been kept secret or mysteriously alluded to over the course of the day. But whatever does happen, the whole thing is set up to be an unmediated opportunity for Stefan and his colleagues to present their country as they choose, their first chance to tease out the threads of Romanian truth and fiction according to how they view it, and to show us—us, their captive western audience—just how little we really know.
When I booked, the online brochure had suggested that I bring my own fancy dress costume, but I had taken this about as seriously as their offer to void my fee if I happened to be over two hundred years old, or if sunlight causes me to disintegrate, or if I could prove that I cast no shadow. I assumed that they were joking. As a precaution I had packed a joke set of child-sized plastic vampire teeth and a tube of fake blood that some friends had given me before I left, which I had then hidden in my shirt pocket as a means of last resort.
My fellow partygoers, it turns out, have made more of an effort. Once through the door, I am greeted by a crowd of faces, most of them daubed with make-up in pallid tones and their bodies cloaked in layers of black. Amidst the group of people milling about the reception area is a thin, balding man schizophrenically dressed as a vampire with a large wooden crucifix hung around his neck. His props do not look cheap. The false teeth he has are clearly superior to mine, somehow clipping into the soft fleshy part of his upper jaw and overlapping and augmenting his own natural set. Elsewhere in the small crowd is a young woman with a zip seamlessly attached to her face, starting at her right temple above her eye and traversing the bridge of her nose before coming to a stop in the middle of her left cheek. There are eleven Draculas clustered around the room making small talk. There is also a witch and a cat, though they appear to have come separately. And standing near the door, on his own, is a tall figure wearing a floor-length cloak with his face concealed by what looks like a devil/vampire hybrid rubber mask with both goat's horns and elongated canines protruding over its sealed lips. Despite the disguise and even before he removes his mask—answering irrefutably any question I might have had about how sweaty such material could be—I recognise him as my tour guide, Stefan. He is less than impressed with my sartorial efforts and, despite my protestations and my waving the tiny false teeth and the tube of rubicund goo at him, he insists that I at least take his cloak, if not the mask too.
I take the cloak.
The cape now fastened around my neck is black on the outside and red within and boasts a large, stiff collar that comes up well past my ears, giving me near super-human hearing, on the one hand, but limiting me to almost cycloptic peripheral vision, on the other. I now have to turn my entire body robotically to talk with the person to my side and there is nothing in the room that escapes my hearing. And while it was floor-length on Stefan, the cloak drags on the ground when hung over my shoulders—at least I'm sure it would have if the material was not so light that the slightest breath makes it billow out behind me as if I were a superhero or a plastic bag caught in the wind. Every step feels almost heroic, battling against what is effectively a parachute tied around my neck, until I eventually have to tuck it in, like a tail between my legs, to prevent it from getting trapped under a chair, or in a door and maybe throttling me in, say, the toilet. It's a hazard, really. I imagine myself being found later on, or maybe the following morning, waxen-faced, perhaps with some dried blood at the corner of my mouth that really does look like it came from a tube, while I lie hanging from the door by my cape. The others laugh and tell me to knock it off before they realise, after a few tentative pokes and an unsuccessful grope for a pulse, that this isn't some elaborate Halloween prank or a part of the entertainment, like a vampire-themed murder-mystery, and they're disappointed; they came all this way for the spectacle, the somehow reassuringly fake gore that just maybe gives them some hope of immortality. They came to here laugh at death, to make light of death, maybe even to overcome it in some vague and spiritual way. They did not come to be confronted by it.