It wasn't an easy task for the one who had to guard the dead person, who had to do the wake. Incredible things had been witnessed by those that had to be the guardians of the dead. Strange testimonies were coming from the villages, about the deceased people that returned from the other world. Especially through the 18th-century people from Dubrovnik's area believed in vampires and undead creatures that returned from the afterlife. These undead souls were known by many different names such as lorko, tenjac or vukodlak; they seemed as if they were only human skin filled with blood, all bloated up and swollen, so they were horrible to the sight. It was believed that they were raised and blown up by a demon or the devil himself. It was of the greatest importance to guard the dead because demonic spirits could come for their victims in these moments before the burial or right after.
Either the demons themselves would come to claim the deceased, or it would be in the form of an animal, hence if a cat stepped over the body of the one who had died, there was a strong possibility they would return from its accommodation on the cemetery. There are documented episodes from Konavle villages and elsewhere around Dubrovnik, where the people organized vampire hunts, they opened the graves and impaled the suspected corpses with blackthorn stakes.
It was well known, if someone was evil during life, there was a higher chance that they could become vampires. The kind of people that hated everyone and everything and enjoyed the misery of others. Or the ones that dwelled in the occult, that signed the contract with the devil, witches or wizards. Sometimes the practice was to cut the veins under the knees as to let the blood drain out of a dead one and then their skin couldn't be blown up, the hellish breath would go through, without inflating the body.
Hence, a strange story was recorded in Konavle. In the old times, people were often buried in churches, especially the wealthy and noble. The story is about a man who had made a promise, a vow, to a rich man that he had known while the man was still alive that he would guard his body when he dies against the evil that might come for him. Thus when the wealthy man passed away, he had to spend a night inside the church where the dead man was buried. Before his nightly duty began, the priest gave him some blessed salt and a stick with the advice to sprinkle the salt all around the tomb to protect himself from the evil spirits.
The hours were slowly passing by, but suddenly, somewhere in the middle of the night, he heard a creepy grinding sound that he couldn't expect. He looked towards the part of the church where the sound was coming from and saw one of the tombstones dragging dreadfully from its place in the floor. From the hole below, the two black shadows were emerging. It sent an ice-cold shiver through his body, so he closed his eyes fearfully, thinking it was just a hallucination. When he opened them again, they were already descending into the grave that he was supposed to protect. In his panic and dread, he didn't know what to do, but a few moments later, he remembered the holy salt that he held in his pocket.
He quickly sprinkled the salt around, while the two demons were busy working on the dead man, not noticing the guardian. They blew up the skin, but when they got out, they could not pass over the blessed circle!
First, they begged and begged to let them outside, and when he didn't, they cursed and swore and yelled terrible words at him. It all lasted what seemed like hours to him. He withdrew in the corner of the church and prayed to the Lord that the horror quickly ends. When he looked at the scene in front of him, he now saw two big black dogs that were growling and roaring, as if they wanted to scare him to death. Finally, in one moment they turned again into their somewhat human forms and started to offer him an enormous sum of gold coins if he would let them go. He still refused and prayed.
At dawn, upon hearing the sound of a rooster, the two shadows vanished into thin air. The nightmare came to an end. The burden has been lifted off of his shoulders.
The priest came back soon to relieve him from his task. Now, the man whose hair was all grey hugged the priest and told him everything that had occurred during the night. The priest saw the open grave, he looked down and indeed, the skin was all flayed and the bones were scattered all around. He then took the knife and cut the skin and then said a prayer. The corpse of the dead man was mutilated, but his soul was saved. Now the devil couldn't take him and make him walk the world as undead.
Sources and inspiration for the text:
Benyovsky, Irena: Vampiri u dubrovačkim selima 18. stoljeća
Bošković-Stulli, Maja: Usmene pripovijetke i predaje, 1997., page 180.
Vuletić-Vukasović, Vid: Prizrijevanje, 1934., page 19.