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| St. Andrew’s Day
By Carol Wolfe
Charles McIntosh walked briskly along in the darkness. He shifted his back
pack and hoped he would reach the next village soon. He had left the last
village in late afternoon, close to sunset. The shopkeeper, where he had a
late lunch, had suggested he stay. As with many of the people he had met,
the old man was superstitious. He told Charles this was not a good night to
be out after dark. But everyone he met had said that about every night. He
had the impression that all of Romania closed up at sunset.
“You should stay here tonight,” the old man said again in his surprisingly
good English. “We have extra room you could use, no charge for you.”
“I really should go. I’ll be fine. The next village is only a two hour walk from
here. I’ll get a room there.” The old man took a piece of paper and
wrote something on it and handed it to Charles. It was in Romanian and he
had no idea what it said.
“When you get to next village of Surdesti, go to church and give this to
priest. He is my nephew and will understand. He will let you stay in church.”
Charles tucked the note into the pocket of his coat and picked up his
backpack. As he was adjusting his pack, the shopkeeper’s wife came up to
him. She hadn’t spoken all the time he had been there. Now, she said
something as she lifted the chain holding her crucifix over her head. She
stood on tiptoes and placed it over his head.
“She said you must take this to keep you safe.” Her husband translated. She
removed a small glove of garlic from her apron pocket. In the other hand,
she had a small knife. Making a couple of quick cuts in the clove, she tucked
it into Charles’ coat pocket with the note. She made a quick sign of the cross.
“Now, go quickly. Stay on road and do not talk to anyone. But, most
important, tell your name to no one. This is very important.”
Charles had thanked the old man and left the shop. The shopkeeper locked
the door, pulled the shades closed and turned the lights off. As he walked
out of the village, he noticed a few people peaking out of their windows.
They seemed to him both superstitious and a little curious. He smiled to
himself as he followed the narrow winding cobblestone road out of town.
Now, after walking almost two hours in the dark, he wished he had taken the
shopkeeper’s advice, and stayed with them. Right now, in the darkness, the
Romanian country side seemed spooky. He could almost understand how
the locals might think there were all kinds of things lurking in the darkness.
The full moon shown through the tree branches, casting shadows that
seemed to move independently of the small breeze. But Charles knew that
was impossible. He also knew if you stared at something long enough it
could become whatever you wanted it to be.
Every so often, he heard a wolf howl in the distant woods. There were other
sounds, too. He thought they might be owls fluttering by, but he thought he
remembered reading that owls were silent when they flew. He wondered what
other kinds of birds, or things, flew at night. He began to walk faster. The
road dropped down and rounded a sharp corner. Several hundred feet in
front of him, he surprised to see a small group of people around a small fire.
The fire was in the middle of road at the junction where four lanes met. They
were all dressed in black robes and sat in a circle around the fire. As he
approached, he could hear them talking. He was relieved to see other
people and hoped he was close to another village. As Charles walked
closer, they stopped talking and one by one, turned in his direction. He
hesitated for a moment and then continued toward them.
“Hi,” he said, when he was just a few feet away. “Does anyone speak
A woman stood up and pushed her long, dark hair back. “English, yes. I
speak English.” She said smiling.
“Great. Can you tell me how far it is to the next town?”
“It is less than a kilometer ahead.” she said.
“Thank you.” he said trying to pass by her. She moved in front of him,
blocking his path.
“You are a tourist?”
“Yes. I’m American and I’m visiting for a few weeks.”
“An American.” another one spoke. “Perhaps we can make him our guest.”
“Yes, a guest. We can show him our hospitality.” another said.
“What is your name?” the woman asked. Charles felt a shiver run down his
spine. He opened his mouth, but remembered the advice the shopkeeper
had given him, and kept silent.
“You might stay if you give us your name. You could be our guest.” the
woman urged, moving closer. He was uncomfortable with her being so close
and he noticed that she smelled odd.
“Yes, stay.” a man said, walking up to him. He smelled odd, too.
Charles inexplicably reached into his coat pocket and clutched the clove of
garlic in his hand with his thumb nervously rubbing one of the cut marks.
“I think I would rather just walk on to the next town and get a room, thanks.
You said it was that way.” Charles pulled his hand from the pocket and
pointed. His coat fell open and the cross that the old woman hung around
his neck was visible. The woman raised her hand and backed away. The
man, standing just behind her, covered his mouth and nose and backed
away as well.
“Yes,” the woman said backing away. Charles skirted around the remaining
members of the group, and walked down the road toward the next village. He
looked over his shoulder and found the group silently watching him. He was
frightened and walked faster. After reaching a dropping curve in the road,
he turned around. There was no sign that he was being followed. He turned
and walked quickly toward Surdesti. He reached the small village about
twenty minutes later. In the center of the town square, he saw the small,
village church. He could see a dim light through the windows. He knocked
loudly on the door and waited. A moment later, the door creaked, opening a
sliver. An eye peered through the small opening. Charles opened his mouth
to say something, but remembered the note and pulled that out instead. He
held it out toward the opening. Fingers reached through and plucked the
note from him.
After a few seconds, the door opened and in the doorway stood the village
priest. He was young, not much older that Charles himself. The man moved
from the doorway without speaking. Charles hesitated, and then walked in.
The young man made the sign of the cross in Charles’ direction, closed the
door behind him, and slid the bolt into place. He turned and took the note
from Charles’ hand. After reading it, he spoke, “You are tired, no doubt.
Come and rest.” he motioned for Charles to come in through a side door that
led from the church alcove into a small, adjoining residence. The priest
motioned for Charles to sit and poured two cups of tea. Charles set his pack
aside and sat in one of the chairs. The priest set the cups on the table and
sat across from him.
“I want to thank you for letting me in. It’s cold outside, and a little scary, too.
The shopkeeper said you might let me stay here for the night,” Charles said.
“Yes, of course. I am afraid that no one else would let you in after dark,
especially on this night. The note from my uncle explains that you are a
guest to our country and that you insisted in traveling tonight.”
“I am running short on time and wanted to make it a bit farther tonight.”
“It would have been better if you would have taken my uncle’s advice and
stayed with him.”
Charles ran his fingertip around the rim of the cup. He looked across the
small table at the priest.
“I’ve been traveling through your country for a couple of weeks now. I know
that you have beliefs that I don’t understand. I have heard from everyone
that it is not safe to travel after dark, but no one had ever given me a crucifix
and a glove of garlic before. What’s going on and why is tonight such a bad
night to travel?” The priest looked thoughtful and took a sip of tea before
“Are you a man of faith?” Charles thought of what many of his friends and
college mates said about faith, or more specifically, organized religion. That
spirituality was one thing, but church was another. Christianity seemed to
many like a big, ugly monster that reared its massive head to eat non-
believers. While Charles did not believe that, he couldn’t remember the last
time he had been to mass.
“Perhaps a better question would be do you believe in God?” The priest
“So, you must also believe in evil?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Then it may not be so difficult for you to believe this. It is November 30th,
St. Andrew’s Feast Day. He is the patron saint of our country. There is great
celebration throughout the country and our village is no different. We
celebrated all day and I will pray well through the night for prosperity for our
village and safety for travelers, more tonight than any other night. While only
the bravest or most foolhardy travel at night, but not even they would travel
tonight. It is a night that is left to the evil.”
“What do you mean? On my way here, I saw a small group of people not
more than a kilometer from here.” The colored drained from the priest’s face.
“Were they dressed in black?” he asked.
“Yes,” Charles said.
“And were they where the roads meet at the top of the hill?”
“Yes, and they didn’t seem to be frightened of anything.” Charles said. The
young priest made the sign of the cross.
“Did you tell them your name?” he asked.
“No,” Charles answered and was more than a little confused. “Your uncle
told me not to tell my name to anyone that I met on the road.” The priest
sighed and seemed relieved.
“What’s going on? Who were they?”
“They were evil and they use this, one of our most sacred days to mock
God. They are strigoi in my language, and vampires in yours.”
Charles felt himself start to smile but stopped. One of the reasons he had
wanted to come to Romania had been to visit sites related to Vlad Tepes,
also known as Vlad Dracula, Bram Stoker’s model for his infamous vampire,
He had known from the start this was a land that believed in the
unbelievable. But the level of superstition surprised him.
“You can’t be serious. You can’t possible believe in vampires.” Charles said.
“ I do. After your experience, how can you not.”
“They were a little odd, yes, but they did not show any signs of being
“Did you notice anything unusual about them?” the priest asked.
“Besides being dressed in black and meeting out on a road in the dark?” he
asked smiling. The priest did not answer. He only looked at Charles.
“They wanted to know my name. I didn’t think it was strange though.”
“But you said that you did not tell them your name.”
“No, I didn’t. I thought of what your uncle had said and actually, the thought
of them knowing my name made me uncomfortable.”
“What else did you notice?” the priest asked.
Charles looked down at his hand and now noticed he had been rubbing his
fingertips over his thumb repeatedly. The stickiness and pungent odor of
garlic still clung to him. He reached up with the same hand and touched the
crucifix hanging around his neck. “No one wanted to get too close to me once
they saw this, or smelled the garlic.”
Charles thought of the strong odor he had notice but not been able to
identify. It had been strong but not necessarily unpleasant. “That smell…”
All of a sudden he remembered. They had smelled like dirt. That was it, like
dirt. Not soil or loam, not potting soil or soil mixed with manure for flower
beds, but dirt. The smell had reminded him of the dirt in the garden that his
grandfather had tilled each spring. The smell of thick, dark earth turned from
the darkness into the sunlight. The dark rich dirt that when broken apart
always held the fattest night crawlers. The kind of dirt that now reminded him
of the line they always used in a graveside service. “From the earth you
came and to the earth you shall return,” It was the kind of dirt, he imagined
bodies had lain in, rotting and turning the dirt thick, dark and stagnant.
“It was dirt. They smelled like dirt.”
“It was the dirt of their graves. On this night, they travel far and may not be
able to make it back to their graves before the sun rises. If they sleep
anywhere other than their grave, they must have soil from the grave with
“You can’t possibly think I would believe this.”
“It does not matter if you believe, it is still true. The strigoi meet on St.
Andrew’s Day to talk about the evil to come. They always meet at a point
where four roads come together, with some coming from each direction.
Although they do not kill on this night, if they learn your name, you will be
added to the list of victims for the coming year. You are very lucky that you
did not give them your name. You have walked through the valley of death
on this night and by the grace of God you have survived.”
Charles felt a shiver pass through him and leaned back in the chair. He felt
all the strength drain from his body. The priest poured them both another
cup of tea and they waited for morning to come.