An Exeter Vampire, 1799

She comes back, in the rain, at midnight.
Her pale hand, not a branch, taps the glass.
Her thin voice, poor Sarah Tillinghast
whines and whimpers, chimes and summons you
to walk in lightning and will’o wisp
to the hallowed sward of the burial ground,
to press your cheek against her limestone,
to run your fingers on family name,
to let the rain inundate your hair,
wet your nightclothes to clammy chill,
set your teeth chattering, your breath
a tiny fog before you in the larger mist.

You did not see her go before you,
yet you knew she was coming here.
Soon her dead hand will tap your shoulder.
Averting your eyes, you bare your throat
for her needful feeding, your heat, your
heart’s blood erupting in her gullet.
You will smell her decay, feel the worms
as her moldy shroud rubs against you.
Still you will nurse the undead sister,
until her sharp incisors release you
into a sobbing heap of tangled hair,
your heart near stopped, your lungs exploding,
wracked with a chill that crackles the bones.

The rain will wash away the bloodstains.
You will hide your no more virginal
throat like a smiling lover’s secret.
Two brothers have already perished —
the night chill, anemia, swift fall
to red and galloping consumption.
Death took them a week apart, a month
beyond Sarah’s first night-time calling.

Honor Tillinghast, the stoic mother,
sits in the log house by the ebbing fire,
heating weak broth and johnny cakes.
One by one she has sewn up your shrouds—
now she assembles yet another.
She knows there is no peace on this earth,
nor any rest in the turning grave.

The storm ends, and birds predict the sun.
Upstairs, in garret and gable dark,
the children stir, weak and tubercular,
coughing and fainting and praying for breath.
The ones that suck by night are stronger
than those they feed on, here where dead things
sing their own epitaphs in moon-dance,
and come back, in the rain, at midnight.
Exeter, Rhode Island’s “vampire” case of 1799 ended with the exhumation and destruction of the corpse of Sarah Tillinghast after four siblings followed her in death by consumption. They burned Sarah’s heart and reburied all the bodies. 


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