I don’t live in Louisiana, do not teach history, have never been imprisoned and don’t “believe” in vampires. Yet An Unremembered Grave is the story of a history professor, a prisoner and yes, a vampire, in Louisiana. So what was I thinking?
The History Professor
Danni Telfer was abandoned as a toddler and has no history, which may account for her getting a Ph.D. in the subject. But amphitheater classrooms of bored college freshmen aren’t doing it for Danni. When an ill-advised affair with her department chair results in an invitation by the dean to get out of Dodge for a semester, she scrounges an obscure grant to study the history of cotton in Louisiana. Danni has always been “different,” prone to odd experiences no one else seems to share. And now she’s about to find out why.
“History” in my long-ago formal education was an agony of boredom. Kings, wars, names and dates memorized and instantly forgotten. A wasteland of data actually painful to recall. But I hang out with friends now who are History professors, and from just listening to their shop-talk quickly learned that “history” isn’t like that any more. Approached creatively, it’s a vast cache of stories, most of which do not involve kings, battles or specific dates. Had I to do it over again, I might major in History! Thus is born Danni, an alter-ego whose academic skills I admire and envy even as I create them from the distant perspective of the English major.
Antoine “Monk” Dupre didn’t murder anybody in Opelousas ten years ago. Yet he was convicted and sentenced to life in Louisiana’s infamous maximum security prison at Angola. Monk, in the company of his cat, Bastet, works as head inmate counsel, helping other men struggle toward freedom even though his own case is hopeless. In the prison hobby shop he fashions exquisite wooden cats in the image of the Egyptian deity for which his own cat is named, only joking that his carvings might have magical power. But all that is about to change.
Once a plantation, Angola is an entire town that, as such, appears on no map. It lies at the end of a single, two-lane road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild, snake-infested hills and a treacherous stretch of the Mississippi River. Isolated even now, seething with brutal history and snared in Louisiana’s traditional laissez-faire political corruption, Angola might be seen as the prison exemplar, a fantasy prison embodying all prisons. Except Angola is real. For seventeen years I visited a friend imprisoned there and talked on the phone with him every week. We even wrote and published a short story together. But that’s another whole book, a memoir in progress. For now, Angola belongs to Monk, a desperate man whose life hangs on the skill of a History professor… and a vampire.
The man, Stephane Grimaud, was born to Basque shepherds near Bayonne, France, before there was France. But Grimaud is no longer a man; Grimaud is a vampire. Staked and buried by a courageous but dying slave during the Civil War, Grimaud has slept beneath the soil of the plantation called Angola for 150 years. When a crew of prisoners grading a golf course for the warden unearths his grave, Grimaud struggles to stand, starving and terrified. He will need help if he is to survive in a world unimagined before he slept. How fortunate that an adept is nearby, one of the mortal humans who see and understand realities beyond the accepted one. Her name is Danni and he knows what she is, but why does she flee from him in terror?
Kids love stories of the occult, witches and vampires, magic and all things outside the quotidian. Most outgrow it. I never did. So it was with fascination that I observed the recent, sudden and unprecedented popularity of vampires in fiction and media. (At this writing there are 10,920 vampire novels listed on Amazon Kindle, most written in the last five years!) What is this about? I dived into the research and came up with a theory. Interest in vampires demonstrably increases during periods of social change. The current time is such a period, a paradigm shift of incomprehensible dimensions, and so of course there are vampires everywhere. But why? Why do people, particularly young adults, crave endless stories of deathless, humanoid beings who drink human blood?
Eureka! In human blood is encoded the history of the human race. But history is threatened with obliteration by social change, and the blood-coded stories in every individual perish when the individual dies. Vampires cannot die, and so shoulder the task of consuming and preserving human history. The vampire, born of a Balkan folk belief and refined by the minds of many writers, including mine, is a symbol rising from our collective unconscious. Young adults, teetering between the dying world of their parents and grandparents, and the unknown world in which their children will live, are acutely, if unconsciously, aware of the shift. They, and I, long for the vampire, who preserves what we cannot. And so… Grimaud!