On a summer night in 1897, seven men who had been standing quietly in the burying ground grabbed their shovels and began digging. When they heard the scraping of metal on wood, Abner Pond and another man dropped into the hole and exposed the coffin. After loosening the lid, Pond tied a rope to the handle and the two men climbed from the hole. While another man pulled the rope and raised the lid, Pond held a lantern.
In the ground for six months, Lida had hardly changed. Surely this confirmed their fears. Pond hesitated, unsure what he should do. Only the thought of his two daughters at home dying of the same disease allowed him to continue. Dropping back into the grave, he ripped Lida’s burial shroud with his hands, exposing her bare chest.
“God forgive me!” he sobbed.
The men fell back, looking away into the darkness. Thinking only of his daughters, Pond pulled his knife from its sheath and removed Lida’s heart. Holding the organ in his hand, he cried for several minutes before placing it on the edge of the grave. The men would not touch it, nor would they touch the hands that held it; Pond had to climb from the hole without assistance. Picking up the heart, now covered with dirt and leaves of grass, he sliced it open. Crowding around, the men could see fresh blood, confirmation of their fears. Lida, a victim of consumption, the “white death,” whose valentine had been ignominiously ripped from her chest, had been drawing the blood of the living to preserve her own body.
Lida was a vampire.
Placing the heart on a nearby rock chosen for the gruesome ceremony, Pond burned it while the other men watched. As he gathered the ashes, the men reinterred the violated corpse. Some say Pond mixed the ashes with water and gave it to his ailing daughters to drink. Others say he only burned the heart. All agree that none of the men slept that night.
One of Pond’s daughters, Estelle, died several days later. Pond buried her beside her sister.
Her sister, Lida.
Abner Pond had exhumed the body of his own daughter. He had held his daughter’s heart in his hands. Folks say he was never the same afterward. Pond’s youngest daughter, Grace, survived. Perhaps she did not have the disease that killed her siblings. I remember her as an old lady, though I never knew of what happened until she had joined them in the burying ground.
Everyone who remembers that night has died, but people who heard the story from grandparents still live. They refuse to talk of it though, only insisting that Abner Pond and the others never called Lida a vampire. They didn’t see it that way. Confronted by what they could not explain and desperate to save their loved ones, they did what they could. I wonder if people will talk of us one day, ages from now, shaking their heads in disbelief, wondering at our superstitions.
NEXT WEEK: “What Price Your Soul?”
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