A little bit of explanation before you read this story by my husband Gary Clark. Gary’s a well-respected writer and he sometimes sends stories to me while I’m traveling. He wrote this story earlier this month while I was in Romania leading a photo tour. Gary refers to “the woman-who-makes-the-coffee” in the story. That’s Gary’s pet name for me when I travel. He frequently complains that “the woman-who-makes-the-coffee failed to do her job so I had to make my own coffee.”
Encounter in Romania with Dr. Vladislav by Gary Clark
The woman-who-makes-the-coffee watched a crimson sunset over the Carpathian Mountains as an old building creaked in the distance and wolves howled from a darkening forest. Suddenly a bat flying on fast-flapping wings swept past her, and she, being a renowned nature photographer, berated herself for not having her camera ready to take its picture. For how many bats of the Arizona desert had she photographed sucking nectar out of fruiting plants to now miss shooting a picture of a Transylvanian bat sucking nourishment from fruits or eating insects….she knew not what it ate. For Romania had more species of bats than any other.
Not being deterred, the woman-who-makes-the-coffee dashed into the hostel where she was staying. She grabbed her camera and rigged her flash equipment to photograph nighttime bats. What if she photographed a rare or endangered Transylvanian bat like the elusive Horseshoe Bat? Ah, she would then cement her place in the annals of legendary photographers.
As she started out of the door, a female cook in the hostelry said, “Woe to one in these parts who dares to snap a picture of a bat.”
The woman-who-makes-the-coffee chuckled to herself and thought, “Well, I guess the old timers still hold onto folk tales.”
Out in the dank night she waited. A cold breeze cut through her jacket like icicles. She shivered when a feeling like a cool breath wafted against her neck, but forgot about it when a bat suddenly appeared zigzagging in flight only a few yards away. She lifted the camera and took aim, making sure her settings were correct and that the shutter would trigger her flash.
Snap! Snap! And snap scores of times as the bat flew back and forth in front of her.
“I got it!” she cried, “I got it!”
Back in her room, the woman-who-makes-the-coffee was wholly bewildered. “What did I do wrong?” she said to herself.
No image had appeared in her camera. She downloaded the card onto her laptop. Still no image. She could not explain the anomaly, but rather than staying up all night to try again for a photograph, she went to bed. She snuggled under the warm blankets of her bed and wished her husband were with her.
Tapping noises on the window sounded like pellets of ice. “Must be snowing,” she thought.
But she could have sworn a shadow of that flying bat was silhouetted against the window.
Next evening she sat at dinner with the group she was leading on a photo tour. The dining room was large with a high ceiling and, despite the lights, the room was gloomy. Sitting at a nearby table was a tall man in a smart black suit, a starched white shirt, and a red cravat around his neck. His jet black hair set off a pearly white face, uncommon for a man, and his eyes though sunken glistened like obsidian.
He walked over the photography group’s table and addressed the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“Excuse me, dear madam, but are you per chance the famous woman-who-makes-the-coffee? I have so admired your photographs. They bring life to me like rays of sunshine, a beauty that in my line of work I don’t get to see.”
Whereupon the woman-who-makes-the-coffee said, “Won’t you join us? I’ll take a group picture with you in it.”
“No, but thank you for the offer. By the way, I thought I saw you trying to photograph a bat last evening. Any luck?”
“No, darn it!” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “Something went wrong with my camera.”
“Perhaps I may be of assistance,” said the black-suited man in a mellifluous voice. “You see, I’m an expert on European bats, especially those of Transylvania.”
“That’d be great!” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “I’ll be trying again after dinner.”
One of the male photographers in the group looked up at the black-suited man and said, “What kind of work do you do?”
“Night surgeon, of sorts, in an urgent care center. Such services in our country are offered without charge, unlike in your country,” said the black-suited man.
“Oh, so you must be a doctor,” said the male photographer. “What’s your name?”
The male photographer chuckled and said, “It’s kind of funny, but you look like Dracula. No offense. Just the movies, you know.”
“Tourists from your country always say that to any man in a dark suit,” said Dr. Vladislav. “Seems your country is obsessed with scary movies about…vampires. Even the castle built by the Russians to fool American tourists into thinking it’s the ancient home of Dracula draws thousands of American tourists. Russians are good at fooling Americans, eh?”
“Now just hold on!,” said the male photographer.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Dr. Vladislav. “Just kidding. We know Americans are fine people with, if I may say, fine, intelligent women like the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.”
“My husband read a book about Dracula,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “I think it was called The Historian, or something like that.”
“Ah, yes,” said Dr. Vladislav. “Written by Miss Elizabeth Kostova. We’re good friends. She now lives in Romania, you know. Runs a writing school, and like me, works at night.”
“My husband is a writer,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “He’s always wanted to see Dracula’s castle and is really aggravated about the Russian fake.”
“As am I,” said Dr. Vladislav. “I can sadly assure your husband that the once glorious castle of Dracula…he was an admired Count, you know…anyway, his castle has been obliterated from the earth. Fortunately, his memory lives.”
The group fell silent. The dining hall seemed to darken as a chilled air suffused the room.
“Shoot, I’ve got to go photograph bats,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “Since you know about the bats here,” she said to Dr. Vladislav, “would you mind helping me find one to photograph?”
“I’d be delighted,” said the doctor.
One of the female photographers in the group named Jane quickly rose from her chair and said, “Do you mind if I come along?”
“Sure, come on,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “Get your camera, and let’s go shoot bats. Put on that big coat of yours. It’s freezing out there.”
The others decided to go to their rooms.
Outside in the bleak icy night under a New Moon, Jane and the woman-who-makes-the-coffee stood staring into the dark hoping for a bat to fly within in shooting range. Suddenly, the woman-who-makes-the-coffee felt a quiver in her neck and scrunched up her shoulders as though trying to cover her throat.
“May I help you find a bat,” said Dr. Vladislav.
“That’d be wonderful,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “Thank you. But you’re not wearing a coat. Aren’t you cold?”
“My people are, so to speak, a cold blooded race,” said the doctor. “But shhhh… here come the bats!”
Then two, three, and eventually 20 bats flew within camera shot. The woman-who-makes-the-coffee fired her camera with flashes lighting up the darkness like quick bolts of lightning. Her companion Jane did likewise.
The two women were so excited that they didn’t notice the chorus of wolves howling as though in the crescendo of a requiem.
“I think I got some good shots,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“Me, too,” said Jane. “But I’m tired. Think I’ll download my pictures when I get home. Can’t see much detail on my camera in this heavy darkness.”
“Well, I do see the bat photos on my camera,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee, “but you’re right, it’s too dim to see any details.”
Weeks later one evening when the woman-who-makes-the-coffee was sitting on her living room couch and showing the bat pictures to her husband, Socks the cat, sitting in the husband’s lap, began glaring at the photographs while hairs on his back reared up and his tail flared like a bottlebrush. Socks uttered a guttural growl.
The phone rang.
It was Jane from the photography tour calling.
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said.
“What?” asked the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“Remember me taking a picture of you with Dr. Vladislav when we were photographing the bats? He was standing right beside you, and you were showing him the bat pictures on the back of your camera.”
“Yeah, of course, I remember,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “He was really helpful in getting us on the bats.”
“Right,” said Jane. “But just one problem that I can’t figure out.”
“Tell me,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“I took lots of shots of the two of you standing next to each other. Ten shots in all.”
“Well, I remember taking pictures of you holding up your camera to Dr. Vladislav standing right beside you.”
“Yes, I remember,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “So how did your shots turn out?”
Silence on the other end of the line.
“Jane, are you still there?”
“Yes,” said Jane. “But my shots of you and Dr. Vladislav together….I mean, you look great standing there with a big smile.”
“And….”, said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“In all those photos,” Jane whispered, “Vladislav IS NOT THERE!