A TRUE RAIDERS
Congratulations, I think, on finding (or stumbling onto) this lost chapter of the True Raiders saga. It details the story that Cyril hints at in the book: his alleged encounter with the legendary Dracula. This story takes place before Cyril joined Monty Parker in Jerusalem to search for the Ark of the Covenant and is adapted from Cyril's own memoirs and notes and is, like all of his stories, completely one-of-a-kind.
Cyril vs. Dracula
The hour was sufficiently late in the day that a correlation might be made between the amount of glasses on the table and the amount of stories that had been told over the course of their emptying. But such an estimation could never be entirely successful, at least not here, because any such estimation of tales told, true and otherwise, would always fall short in light of this particular storyteller. For it was no ordinary clubsman holding court at the table that night; it was Cyril Foley himself, the soldier, the cricket player, and the adventurer, and he had just let loose with a banger of a question.
“So,” Cyril asked, his fingers absently smoothing out his mustache, “anyone with a ghost tale worth telling?”
No one answered. Not at that table. Not with the fire crackling in the hearth. Everyone knew – or had quickly learned – that like all questions posed by Cyril, it was going to be answered (and in great length) by the questioner himself.
“It is an undeniable fact,” said Cyril, “that ghost stories claim undivided attention and arouse keen temporary interest. Once the subject is started, no other topic will be discussed until every one present has exhausted his ghostly stock of personal and impersonal reminisces. You rarely meet anyone who can give you a personal experience of the supernatural.” Cyril paused here. There was always another shoe to drop.
“But when you do,” he continued, “and such a person is in addition a distinguished soldier, a superlative shot, and a man of abnormal stature, your interest in his story is more likely to be permanent than temporary.”
It was vintage Cyril. For as much ostentation as he inserted in his stories, no one could rightly deny that he was certainly all of those things. This now having been established, the truth of the teller, Cyril looked around, and then settled into his story. There was no escape.
“My ghost story,” he said, “is no ordinary children’s tale. It involves an evildoer who is exists beyond legend itself.” He looked around. This time he was expecting answers.
“Dr. Cream?” someone asked. Cyril shook his head.
“Old Jacky!” said another, with more confidence, and quite possibly drink. Cyril shook his head again.
“Mary, Queen of Scots!” bellowed another, inciting a mixture of coughing and laughter.
“Gentleman,” said Cyril, “these are amusing guesses. But what I am about to tell you is not mere fancy. No, the creature I faced was none other than death itself, and it took the form of the most singular personage of darkness you can imagine. A creature whose very name, whose very syllables, inspire fear, terror, and dread.”
He paused before the next line, clearly relishing his ability to say it:
The men around the table did not know what to say, though there was some shuffling of feet and knees.
“Yes, men. This is the story of when I met Dracula himself. And indeed, of my very . . . own . . . death.”
He had their attention now. Well and truly.
“I had traveled to Bohemia, of all places,” began Cyril. “This was somewhere around 1900 or so. I was the guest of Prince Henry of Pless, who lived in a most spectacular castle with the hideous name of Fürstenstein.”
“The castle itself was most impressive. It seemed to rise out of a deep ravine almost as an extension of the old earth itself, then fashioned into a more pleasing shape by hammer and pick and shingle. It was so tall, mostly because the ravine was so deep, that if you looked out the windows, you could see the tops of the fir-trees that grew on the descending slopes.”
“Fürstenstein was a place of marvel and wonder. The prince and his wife were excellent hosts. We dined and hunted and listened to enchanting music in the main chamber. Each of its four hundred rooms was possessed of rich ornamentation, Oriental accents, and even rich Chinese wallpapers.”
“One night, I stood at my window and looked out onto the turreted side of the castle wall. With the window open, I could hear the stream, down at the very bottom of the ravine. The river had a name that began with an “S” that I could not hope to pronounce, but its sound – its sound – was slow and lively through the night, echoing up the walls of the gorge. It gave the night a most mystical aspect. Though I could not see the stream, not precisely, I could hear it: I knew it was there.”
“I finally took to bed and I think I slept, but not for long. The moon was out and its bright aspect made me restless. I came again to the window and leaned out, taking in the night air and hearing the river louder than ever. The ivy crept up the castle like gigantic hands.”
“I looked out into the night, and onto the castle wall. There, I thought I could almost see something, there on the surface of the stone. As I leaned out, I could almost see a man, dressed in black crawling down the castle wall before vanishing in the gloom of the precipice.”
“I blinked because I had almost seen it, that dreadful vampire. Dracula himself.”
“I knew that I had most likely just visualized it, using my mind to place the image of him from onto the stone keep which seemed to coalesce from the very words of the novel itself. Whatever it was, it produced a powerful effect on me. I left the castle soon after, but I believe It is possible that my subconscious mind was impressed by this vision, and that it may have had something to do with the very weird and sinister experience that I had on my second visit to Fürstenstein.”
“I returned in the summer. In the back of the castle, there was a magnificent garden. There was a fountain in the center and the area was enclosed by a staggered stone wall. Unfurled in the center, done up in the most splendid green, was a labyrinth, made of carefully cut bushes and shrubs. It lay itself out like curls, brushing up against the walls before turning in on themselves like tentacles in the deep. Sometimes we would have chases in the maze, with the hunted – the ‘hare’ – leaving strips of paper so that we might track them. Other times our paper-chases were done on horseback over some thirty miles or more, galloping across the Silesian countryside, the actual distance of our hunt depending on the energy and enthusiasm of the two people who were the ‘hare.’
“One day at luncheon, just previous to setting out on one of these rides, Princess Pless turned to speak to me.”
‘You know, Cyril,” she said. “You are in the haunted room. My old nurse had her bedclothes pulled off her in that room, and refused to sleep there any more.”
“I thought briefly about this curious image, of her nurse (and now her maid), but five minutes later,” said Cyril, “I had forgotten the remark completely, and off we started on our paper-chase. Nothing unusual occurred. We returned, we dressed, we dined, and we went to bed.”
“The bedroom itself was very large, filled with fine furniture, a heavy rug, and old paintings on the walls. In the middle of the large room was an exquisite table, topped by a hand-lamp that was the only light in the room. The castle, though not ancient, had no electrical light. But I had a male friend sleeping in the next room, and the matches were by my bedside. I was unafraid.”
“My bed was in the corner, alongside the wall opposite the door and parallel to it, and at its foot, and in the same wall, was a long French window, both sides of which were wide open. Through it the moon was shining, lighting up that half of the room.”
“It was then that I heard the great clock from the stables sound out from below. The clock was a strong, wooden thing that was loud as a ship. The time was 12:30 am. So, I undressed and got into bed, and had pulled my sheets up as far as my hips, when I was suddenly struck by what I can only describe as a paralysis, produced by stark and sudden terror.”
“I could not move.”
“The old clock boomed out through the deep night. At 12:45, I still could not move and there was nothing to account for it."
“It was then 1 o’clock. I lay there dripping with perspiration, numb with terror and all volition gone.”
“My room was quiet of sound and motion, save for a very slight breeze, which came in through the open window and blew softly behind the paintings, which hung by long picture-wires, so that they rattled against the walls.”
“Never had such a thing come over me. I lay there, drenched in sweat and unable to move. It was then, in that cool and still room, that I heard a sound. I had not yet heard the quarter-past bell. But I heard something else."
“A scratching. A most methodical scratching, on the outer wall of the tower.”
“I immediately thought of what I thought I had seen on the wall on my last visit. Who else could be on the other end of that sound? Who else but what I had visualized? Who else but the Count himself?”
“Impossible! Yet in my mind’s eye that is who I saw, crawling just outside my open window. I was frozen with horror of an expectation of a call from him.”
“I could not move.”
“But I believed, through some inkling of will, that I should have been capable of the effort of stretching out my left hand for the matches on my nightstand had I not, by the irony of fate, recollected that awful story where a man in a similar position to myself put out his hand for the matches, and they were handed to him! I thought to myself that anything, even a visit from Dracula, would be less ghastly than that.”
“The clock which had already struck 1:15, now informed me that it was 1:30. I was fully conscious of everything and realized that I had been under some terrible influence for an hour.”
“Though I could not move, I became very slowly aware that my hands were numb from their firm grasp of the bed-clothes which I was still holding in exactly the same position, to prevent their being dragged away.”
“At 1:45, the clock tolled and I heard a slow curve of a creaking sound from across the room as my bedroom door began to open. I could not turn to see it, but the sound was more than enough.”
“The reason I died was not so much because the door actually then opened, but because something came softly and stealthily across the room towards me.”
“I heard it coming distinctly.”
“I believe that I was dead for over twenty minutes. I know this because, when I was brought back to life, I lay conscious for approximately five minutes before the clock struck 2:15, and, indeed, if I am correct in this estimate, I was dead for twenty-five minutes, but I will be on the safe side and call it twenty.”
“And yet, though it may be hard to believe it, it is nevertheless true that by 2:20 all fear had gone, and I was able to rise, light the lamp and remove my silk night-shirt, which I then threw against the wall where it stuck for a moment because it was so wet. I rubbed myself down with a Turkish towel, put on another night-shirt, and sit down to think it all over. My bed was sopping from where my neck to my hips had been. I lit a candle and went into my friend’s room next door.”
“To my astonishment he was awake and reading.”
“Hallo,” he said. “I’m sorry if I woke you. I came in for some aspirin for my headache, but as you were asleep and I couldn’t find it, I went away.”
“I wasn’t asleep!” said Cyril. “I was dead, and you killed me!”
“I then told him the entire story, just what I have told you, but we agreed to say nothing about it, because it would have served no useful purpose to have done so.”
“Everything I have related actually happened, and anyone who suggests I went to sleep and had a bad dream is talking nonsense. Does one go to bed on a cold night in Bohemia with no bedclothes (especially with Dracula about) with the window open and a silk night-shirt on? No, one does not. Has any one ever woken up from a dream sufficiently hideous to cause his night-gown to stick to the wall? No, no one ever has. I do not want to know about that, but I do want to know why I was subjected to the greatest terror that could be inflicted upon mortal man for a period of one and a quarter hours.”
“I have never found out.”
“Still,” he said, his voice cheering a bit. “The entire adventure did not keep me away. There was something magnetic about that place. When I next returned, German maneuvers were being held in the countryside, and we went on the final day to see them. It was quite the grand undertaking. I saw stretchers being carried about with a cloth over them and thought there might have been injuries, or worse.”
"That evening, the German Emperor and his staff came to dinner at the castle. I think there were over twenty guests, amongst them being General Mackenson of Romanian fame, von Bulow, and many other generals. Some of them started making light of machine guns on the battlefield when I realized that’s what was being disguised on the stretchers.”
“After dinner, the Emperor asked me that I thought of the final assault, a play-action that had been carried out by battalions advancing in columns of double companies, who deployed at a range of 600 yards, against entrenched infantry with its artillery support.”
“It was very impressive,” said Cyril. “But I asked him if a good number of men would be sacrificed in such an action on the battlefield?”
“Ah,” said the Emperor, a man with a deep mustache and a chest covered in medals, “I only lose one man once.”
“As he left me,” said Cyril, “I realized that what I presume he meant was that the number of his storm-troops was so overwhelming that, in spite of even grave casualties, one attack would be sufficient for victory. I did not know then, as we do now, how many men he lost at Verdun – which is a case in point – a good many men several times, if I recollect rightly.”
And then Cyril's story was done, at his table, with its cups and his audience. The story of a fiendish monster and the man who even death could not hold his tongue. Cyril searched the faces around the table, blank and disbelieving, familiar even if they were not. He thought of lost friends in the silence, which, as always, did not last long.
“How do you feel about lawn tennis?” asked Cyril. “In my youth I used to regard it as a simple game, but now . . . “
Castle Fürstenstein, or Schloss Fürstenstein is located in present-day Poland, nearly 50 miles to the southwest of Wrocław. During the second world war, the site, now referred to as Ksiaz Castle, was outfitted as a possible refuge for Hitler by the Nazis, who had taken over the castle in 1938. Below the castle, using prisoners of war and concentration camp prisoners, the Nazis began building a system of underground tunnels under the Owl mountains as part of Project Riese, which is German for “giant.” For years after the war, treasure-hunters and raiders excavated within these underground catacombs in hopes of finding the legendary lost ghost train that had secreted away the Reich’s gold. There were also rumors that the train contained the pieces of the legendary Amber Room of Russia. All they found were train tracks.
Though Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is referenced by Cyril, there is a local record of vampire activity near the castle in the nearby village of Reimswaldau. When resident Georg Eichner died in 1709, his only recorded ‘sin’ was a conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism. But that might have been enough. Soon after his death, villagers began reported mutilated livestock and a strange figure that seemed to stare at them at night – who looked just like Eichner.
His widow denied the accusations that Eichner was un-dead and spat upon her accusers. But the villagers were so scared they got the mayor to write an official letter that was delivered to the castle asking the Count Konrad Ernest Maksymilian von Hochberg to personally intervene. The Count went over the letter meticulously as the villagers waited nervously in the shadow of the castle. A few days later, the Count himself rode into the village with a man said to be an exorcist.
They exhumed Eichner’s coffin and opened the lid. The corpse had already rotted until the exorcist, with a kerchief held to his mouth, pried open Eichner’s weak chest to reveal something astounding.
The dead man’s heart was red and plump. It looked to be full of life.
They moved the body to an old, neglected cemetery well beyond the village boundaries, in accordance with the old rules. They would not be bothered again.
A few weeks later, the Count, having mostly forgotten the grisly business, received another letter from the Mayor. He assumed it included his heartfelt thanks. He was wrong.
Eichner had allegedly returned in the form of a heavy black dog. Other times, he took the shape of a great, oversized squirrel. To make matters even worse, some of the women reported having been sexually assaulted by the beast.
The Count had to act. He sent eight of his personal guard down into the village to guard Eichner’s grave. As they stood watch, day and night, the guards, who were hale and hearty men, heard weird noises and saw a great black bird in the skies above them.
The Count himself returned with a grim priest from one of the neighboring cities. The priest, who was very knowledgeable, gave out very specific orders to the guards and townspeople. The body was once again removed from the casket. The priest then ordered that it be carried not through the gates of the cemetery, but through a hole in the gate wall. Once this terrible maneuver was concluded, the priest ordered one of the guards to cut off Eichner’s head. The priest then produced an aspen stake that the soldier drove through Eichner’s heart. The body was then burned. It was done.
As this all took place, the Count sat watching, seated upon a gilded throne that had been carried down from the castle, covered in thick, warm blankets.
Bingel, Markus. “Książ Castle – A Silesian place of longing with a dark past,” Wild East, May 13, 2021. Link.
Foley, Cyril. Autumn Foliage. Methuen & Co.: London, 1935.
Macias, Amanda. “A team has begun digging for the rumored Nazi ghost train,” Yahoo Finance News, August 16, 2016. Link.
Webber, Alex. ”A story with a bit of bite,” The First News, January 18, 2020. Link.
PRAISE FOR TRUE RAIDERS
"Such a fun read . . . Ricca manages to keep readers hooked with this true story that reads like a novel." ―Associated Press
"The story of the expedition has the elements of a good thriller―desperate characters, hidden tunnels, an ancient code, and intrigues among the treasure hunters themselves―and aims for a cinematic feel." ―The Wall Street Journal
"Brad Ricca tops all his previous work with this page turner."
―San Francisco Book Review
The best kind of rollicking adventure true-life tale."
―New York Journal of Books
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FROM ST. MARTIN'S GRIFFIN
DECEMBER 13, 2022