Who Is Howling?

June 4

Sighișoara is a village of spires and watch-towers. It’s always looking over its shoulder. In medieval times, Sighișoara must have been a village of insomniacs. Each tower was funded and defended by a guild—there’s the Furriers’ Tower, the Tailors’ Tower, the Tanners’ Tower, The Tinsmiths’ Tower, the Butchers’ Tower, the Blacksmiths’ Tower, and the Ropemakers’ Tower. On their watch, a child name Vlad was born in this village. When he grew up, instead of collecting scalps, he collected epithets: Vlad Țepeș, Vlad the Impaler, Dracula. Perhaps that’s why the clocktower’s dome looks like a clove of black garlic. Perhaps that’s why the church spire is plated in silver. Perhaps that’s why the village is looking over its shoulder.

From the arrow-slit windows of the Furriers’ Tower, I can see the forest that makes Transylvania a breeding ground for gothic horror and ghost stories. The road from Brașov winds through those woods and as our bus sped in, the man beside me drew the sign of the cross. The driver had tucked a Saint George card above his window and Jesus rode up front above the rearview mirror. Though the sun was already brazen when we drove into the forest at eight’o’clock this morning, it couldn’t pry apart those shadows. The slim-waisted trees stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a phalanx, fending off the fierce sunlight. Forests are one of the last places where I can find ancient, untainted darkness. I treasure sanctuaries that safeguard darkness. In the age of electricity, darkness is an endangered species.

Meanwhile, on its sunburnt hilltop, Sighișoara has exterminated darkness. The village is painted in the violent colors of poisonous flowers—oleander, bird of paradise, angel’s trumpet, foxglove—to frighten off predators or plagues or strigoi or vampires. And like poisonous flowers, the houses are wickedly pretty. Yet their tiled roofs sit uncomfortably, puckered and sagging like a leper’s skin. Some have armed their eaves with spikes, and one even hefts a medieval mace instead of a weathervane. I love places whose cornerstones were sunk on the brink of disaster. They are mortared with so many more stories.

It’s Sunday and the bells are too agitated to sit still. They fidget all day, and on the hour they throw tantrums—screeching and groaning and crying and keening. And I swear that in the midst of the ten’o’clock conniption fits, I hear howling. Something howls amongst the hysterical bells, and somehow, the howl fits their cries as perfectly as my shadow fits me. But who is howling in Sighișoara on a Sunday?

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