Today I am excited to have James Lyon author of Kiss of the Butterfly here with a guest post. Enjoy his tale, and learn about his novel.
Things That Go Bump In The Day:
I swear on the grave of my dead cat, Cile II, that the following is true.
Once upon a time, three hundred years ago to be precise, a Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI, dwelt in an elegant palace in the center of Vienna. Sitting in a fancy palace all day was quite boring, especially if you were a vampire fanatic. Back then there was no premium cable TV, so Charles couldn’t watch Buffy the Vampire Slayeror True Blood. Even though Charles ruled Transylvania, Bram Stoker hadn’t yet been born and had therefore been unable to confuse the Romanians with claims that Dracula was from Transylvania — and a vampire to boot. Motion pictures and multiplex cinemas hadn’t yet been invented, so he couldn’t watch Bela Lugosi, Johnny Depp or Robert Pattinson.
Even though Charles ruled over such strange and exotic lands as Bohemia, Dalmatia, Moravia, Bukovina, Wallachia, and Transylvania, there just were no vampires to be found: whatever was a vampire fan-boy to do? One day, that all changed when his army conquered the Turks and took control over an exotic and wonderful new land far to the south — Serbia.
In Serbia, Charles’ soldiers began to hear stories of hideous monsters that walked at night, sucked the blood from living creatures, had teeth of iron, changed their shape (often into butterflies), and carried a burial shroud with them. These monsters had numerous names, the most common being “vampir”. So Charles ordered that anything vampire-related be sent directly to him at the Imperial Court. Whenever Austrian officials attended a vampire staking, they wrote to Vienna. And when a military surgeon wrote about how he conducted autopsies on suspected vampires…well, it created a vampire hysteria in Europe that became the 18thcentury equivalent of the “Twilight”madness.
Because I’m an historian specializing in Balkan history, I decided to set off in search of these vampires. Fortunately, much of the Balkansremains agricultural, so I am able to stop at roadside farms to buy long garlands of braided garlic.
My first stop was the small, isolated mining town of Srebrenica, set deep within Bosnia’s forested mountains. Why Bosnia? Well, Vlad Dracula visited Srebrenica in 1476 and conducted a horrific massacre there, impaling people on stakes. Disturbingly, in July 1995, a genocidal Balkan warlord massacred 8,000 men and boys in the same town over the course of two days. There exists video footage of a priest blessing the executioners as they set off for the killing fields, telling them their enemies had become vampires. Coincidence…?
From Bosnia I went to Serbia to visit the site of the first high-profile vampire, Petar Plogojowitz, who died in 1725 in the village of Kisiljevo, just south of the Danube River. Even though Kisiljevo is marked on the map, there was nary a road sign to mark the way, as though the village sought anonymity. Thoroughly lost, I bounced along a rutted dirt track until I came across a rather gaunt hitchhiker in the middle of a dried-out cornfield. He claimed to be an off-duty policeman, said he was going towards Kisiljevo, and he’d show me the way. “I’ve been out of town, visiting a family member who recently moved”, he proffered by way of explanation.
He sniffed the air inside the car: “garlic?” he asked. I told him of the purpose of my journey and my garlic garlands in the trunk and he nodded knowingly, while rolling down the window. He said that his family had been protecting these parts for two centuries. “Better than garlic”, he murmured softly.
As we meandered along unpaved roads through labyrinths of head-high corn, he told me how folks in Kisiljevo bury their dead underneath the fireplace or the front door threshold. “We believe the spirits of our ancestors will protect us from vampires and evil spirits”. He told me that if you sell your home, the ancestral spirits feel betrayed and will seek revenge for abandoning their graves. No matter how far away you go, the spirits of the dead will come after you. “Need I say”, he chuckled, “that property values aren’t very high in Kisiljevo”. He told me that after dark the town’s other residents emerge, and humans stay off the only street. “Imagine being a teenager in Kisiljevo who’s out after curfew…” he grinned raggedly, showing his few remaining teeth.
As we entered Kisiljevo, I saw gravestones built into the walls of many homes. “It’s good to be back home”, he nodded, then asked that I let him out in the small deserted triangular crossroads that served as the town center. As I drove off in a cloud of dust, I glanced in the rearview mirror and could have sworn that he dissipated into thin air.
Since that day, no matter how hard I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to find my way back to Kisiljevo. The maps don’t quite seem to align with reality, as though the town doesn’t wish to be found. ~James
“The smell of blood is in the air, I sense it even now. People thirst for it; the entire country is mad with desire for it. And now we are going to war with our brothers because they look like us, and because we can smell our blood coursing through their veins…” A mysterious letter starts a university student on a journey into the war-torn lands of rapidly disintegrating Yugoslavia. Naively trusting his enigmatic professor, the student unwittingly descends into a dystopian crucible of decay, destruction, passion, death, romance, lust, immorality, genocide, and forbidden knowledge promising immortality. As the journey grows ever more perilous, he realizes he must confront an ancient evil that has been once again loosed upon the earth: from medieval Bosnia to enlightenment-era Vienna, from the bright beaches of modern-day Southern California to the exotically dark cityscapes of Budapest and Belgrade, and horrors of Bosnia. Vampires have formed an integral part of Balkan folklore for over a thousand years. “Kiss” represents a radical departure from popular vampire legend, based as it is on genuine Balkan folklore from as far back as the 14th century, not on pop culture or fantasy. “Kiss of the Butterfly” offers up the real, horrible creatures that existed long before Dracula and places them within a modern spectrum.
Meticulously researched, “Kiss of the Butterfly” weaves together intricate threads from the 15th, 18th and 20th centuries to create a rich phantasmagorical tapestry of allegory and reality. It is about divided loyalties, friendship and betrayal, virtue and innocence lost, obsession and devotion, desire and denial, the thirst for life and hunger for death, rebirth and salvation. “Kiss” blends history and the terrors of the Balkans as it explores dark corners of the soul.“Kiss of the Butterfly” is based on true historical events. In the year of his death, 1476, the Prince of Wallachia — Vlad III (Dracula) — committed atrocities under the cloak of medieval Bosnia’s forested mountains, culminating in a bloody massacre in the mining town of Srebrenica. A little over 500 years later, in July 1995, history repeated itself when troops commanded by General Ratko Mladic entered Srebrenica and slaughtered nearly 8,000 people, making it the worst massacre Europe had seen since the Second World War. For most people, the two events seemed unconnected…
About the author:
James Lyon is an accidental Balkanologist, having spent the better part of 32 years studying and working with the lands of the former Yugoslavia. He has a Ph.D. in Modern Balkan History from UCLA and a B.A. in Russian from BYU. He has lived in Germany, Russia, England, Massachusetts, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, and California, and spent the better part of 18 years living in the lands of the former Yugoslavia, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia, and has worked in Macedonia and Kosovo. He has traveled widely, from Africa to Latin America to the Middle East, and all over Europe. He currently works in Sarajevo and bounces back and forth to Belgrade. In his spare time he likes sailing through the Dalmatian islands and eating Sachertorte in Vienna at the old Habsburg Imperial Court’s Confectionary Bakery, Demel. He lost his cat in the forests of Bosnia and can’t find it. If you see a black and white cat that ignores you when you call the name “Cile II”, a reward is being offered…provided the cat hasn’t turned into a vampire.