By Ana Vidosavljevic
Scary phenomena like vampires and monsters have always worked well for adults. They use them to scare children.
Vampires have Slavic origins and they have always been a part of Serbian folklore and literature. And somehow, Serbs truly believe they exist. Even though the vampire stories that my grandma Lena told us often left us spooked, we, the children, loved listening to them. In the stories, they were eerie and demonic creatures but fascinating at the same time. They sent a chill down our spines but we were always eager to listen.
Among other things, my grandma told us that when the sun set, the vampires appeared out of nowhere and entered human corpses and harmed the living. They attacked people, sucked their blood from their throats or necks and transformed them into vampires as well. She told us that vampires usually attacked bad people and naughty children, but sometimes, their victims were good and innocent humans. Therefore, we were supposed to go inside when night fell and stay away from weird and creepy people.
After hearing these stories, we, the children, found a new game or better said, an entertainment. We tried to distinguish normal people from vampires.
Our drunken neighbor Sava always had red eyes. They were blood red and devilish. He didn’t talk much but when he did, it was incomprehensible mumbling that resembled the language of some alien creatures. Even though we were scared, our curiosity made us follow him very often.
We would ignore our fear and go after him. Sometimes, he ended up sleeping on the tombstones of our local cemetery. Often, he just sat in front of some shop and there, he fell asleep – snoring loudly and occasionally coughing. Rarely did he go home. And although we wanted to find out what the inside of his house looked like, we didn’t dare invade it.
Another probable vampire was an elderly lady called Nadya. She was pretty old and always dressed up as if she had been meant to attend some important ceremony or ritual. She was pretty tall and skinny. Her skin was so pale. We feared she was a revenant. Her eyes had some strange frightening glow that was not earthly. It seemed as if they had pierced through everything they looked at. We were afraid to look her in the eyes, fearing they could split us into two halves, cast a spell on us and bewitch us or worse, vampirize us. Nadya had never gotten married and her only family was a number of cats she kept. No one knew how many exactly. There were rumors that she ate them. We always looked carefully at her clothes, examining them thoroughly trying to find traces of blood which would confirm those rumors. But she was always neat and clean. We had never found even the slightest red spot.
There was a girl too in my street whose name was Valentina. She was a few years older than me and since she was a teenager, she had never joined us as we played in the street. She looked down on us, the kids who played in the mud, dirt and whose clothes were always ripped off due to the tireless playing outside. She rarely talked to us and we equally didn’t have any affection for her.
Our friend Dragan spread the story that he had seen some strange marks on Valentina’s neck. He also claimed that her eyes were sparkling with some unusual glow as if they weren’t human, and that she laughed crazily and freakishly as she talked. We wanted to see it and to make sure Dragan was not lying. One day, we decided to stick around her house and wait for her to come out. After two hours of waiting and pretending we were just playing our usual games, she showed up in her garden. She was wearing a knitted turtle-neck T-shirt even though it was pretty warm outside, which only confirmed our suspicion. She was obviously hiding her neck, covering it with clothes. However, we were not lucky. She stayed out only half an hour and then went back. She didn’t come out again. We were a bit disappointed, but we at least vindicated Dragan when we saw how intent she was at hiding her neck.
The next day, mum and I went shopping. New term was starting in three days and I needed a new backpack, shoes and some notebooks. We went to the only shopping mall in our hometown. After we had finished our shopping and were in front of the shoes store ready to go home, Valentina and her mother appeared. They had bags full of groceries. They greeted us and since my mum and her mum were good friends, they started chatting. The first thing I noticed on Valentina was her bare uncovered neck and I couldn’t help but stare at it. This time, she was wearing a simple V-neck T-shirt and I could see the purple marks on her neck. I almost opened my mouth in shock. Valentina noticed that I was staring at her neck. She pressed her palm against it trying to cover the marks. After a few minutes, they finished chatting and mum and I started walking home. I pulled my mother’s arm asking: “Mum, mum, did you see it???Did you see those purple marks on Valentina’s neck?” I was out of breath and my eyes nearly popped out. However, mum was tranquil and calm: “You mean the plums (that is how we call hickeys in Serbia since they usually resemble plums)? Yes, I’ve seen them.” I was surprised by my mother’s indifference and her nonchalance while talking about such a serious matter like a vampire bite.
Plus, I was confused that she called those marks “plums” (hickeys). While she was unperturbed, my voice trembled. I was so nervous and anxious. And I asked my mother why she called those vampire bites “plums” (hickeys). She smiled and said: “Well, if a vampire bit her, rest assured that he was some boy from her school. Hickeys (plums) are love bites, honey. They are actually bruises that sometimes lovers make on their partner’s neck. It is probably hard for you to understand, but this type of aggressively kissing your partner is the way of showing him or her that he or she belongs to you. Never mind. Don’t bother to try to understand it. One day, you will find out for yourself. I honestly hope not any time soon, though.”
My mother’s explanation totally confused me. I was completely baffled and couldn’t comprehend why people who loved each other did this awful thing. Biting was a sign of aggression and anger, not love. Look at dogs! They bit when they were angry or scared. But sometimes adults behaved so stupidly that no explanation could justify their actions. I remained silent the rest of our walk home. I was racking my brains silently trying to understand the whole hickey thing until I finally gave up.
That afternoon, when I told my friends what I had witnessed and what my mother had told me, they had the same expressions as me earlier. Our brains couldn’t understand the complexity and foolishness of adults’ actions. We decided to leave this particular episode for the time being and not bother to even talk about it again.
Every next time I saw Valentina, I gazed at her neck looking for those plums, but I didn’t do it with the astonishment and surprise but more with disgust and revolt since they left me uneasy and uncomfortable. Somehow, vampire bites were more impressive and fascinating than these weird human bites that were unreasonable and not fun at all.
Many years later, I still considered hickeys (plums) weird. I had grown a strong dislike of hickeys in childhood and that dislike stubbornly refused to lose its intensity with time. Maybe because they a bit ruined my fascination with vampires and belief that they existed. Or perhaps the child in me still believed that they were ridiculous and painful and had no purpose.
Ana Vidosavljevic is a Serbian writer currently living in Indonesia. She has her work published or forthcoming in Down in the Dirt (Scar Publications), Literary Yard, RYL (Refresh Your Life), The Caterpillar, The Curlew, Eskimo Pie, Coldnoon, Perspectives, Indiana Voice Journal, The Raven Chronicles, Setu Bilingual Journal, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Madcap Review, The Bookends Review, Gimmick Press, (mac)ro(mic). She worked on a GIEE 2011 project: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers 2011 as a member of the Institute Mihailo Pupin team. She also attended the International Conference “Bullying and Abuse of Power” in November, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic, where she presented her paper: “Cultural intolerance”.