A Shapeshifter’s Ball and Summoning in Dublin

I stepped out of the taxi over puddles formed from a mid day shower. “Alright then, yeah, have a grand night now!” Shouted the taxi driver as he rode off. I stood in front of the Richmond Tower with its iron gate marking the entrance to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Erected from the earth in 1684, once a home to retired soldiers, it is a site that is no stranger to ancient burial grounds, early Christian monuments, Vikings and a medieval monastery. Now home to the Irish Museum of Modern Art and for just one night, the Shapeshifter’s Ball on the Bram Stoker Festival weekend.

The light of day was transforming into shades of blue, and the clouds overhead were beginning to weave a blanket to cover the distant and diminishing sun. Just as the taxi turned off the road, I could hear it, silence. Broken only by the ravens that perched inside the tree beside me. Never one to turn down occasions of nature I stopped to photograph the onyx feathered creatures, bound by myth, slaughter and storm.

Raven mythology shows considerable homogeneity throughout the whole area [northern regions of the northern hemisphere] in spite of differences in detail. The Raven peeps forth from the mists of time and the thickets of mythology, as a bird of slaughter, a storm bird, sun and fire bird, a messenger, an oracular figure and a craftsman or culture hero.

Edward A. Armstrong, “The Folklore of Birds,”1958

Just as I snapped my shot, I heard a rustle of leaves behind me. Was it another larger creature in the bush? I peered over the gate wall past the blackberries and into the bushes. I could see nothing. So I continued through the iron gate and up the hill. Still, I felt like something or someone was there.

Dublin

Ravens have long been associated with myth and legend. They are everywhere in Ireland.

The blue light began to transform into night as I approached the grand entrance to the Royal Hospital. My eyes met a massive courtyard that seemed to go on for miles. There was no one there. Had I arrived at the right place? Was I just too early? I was cold but not too cold to jump on another photo opportunity and so I snapped a few shots and started through the courtyard for the grand hall. As I walked towards a door guarded by rows of pumpkins I thought I heard footsteps behind me, but there was no one when I turned around. I knew little about this event, just what the invitation I clutched in my hand offered,

Join us for an evening of immortal proportions with Gothic tales & dark veils. We are stirring up plans for an intimate, slightly twisted, Gothic-themed soirée. You are encouraged to arrive in costume, and those that don’t, will be able to rent something suitably ostentatious from the expansive, on-site wardrobes of the Abbey Theatre. Get ready for an evening of a more macabre, veiled mischief, in a darker season.”

Dublin Royal Hospital

The Royal Hospital in Dublin towers over a vast courtyard and into the night sky.

Being the Fairytale Traveler has its perks. One of them is having the tourism board arrange for your theater costume fitting before a Shapeshifter’s Ball. Mindful, since there’s no way I would have flown one from the states. I was incredibly early and eager to meet with the wardrobe department from the Abbey Theatre. For I was being fitted for a Gothic vampiress costume of my own.

I made my way to a room furnished with vanities and racks upon racks of costumes. It was like I had stepped into the backstage area of a Broadway show. Finally there were people, bouncing around the room doing this and that. Some were getting fitted, others were getting makeup. I was growing with excitement. After all, how often does a travel writer get to be fitted in theater costume and makeup?

Then I saw him. Peering over one of the costume racks. His smiling eyes dark and warm beaming at me through a masquerade mask . Suddenly I heard a soft Irish voice. It was Saileóg, Costume Coordinator from the Abbey Theater. “Now we’ve got ya sorted, we’ve picked out a few fairytale gowns here. Tell me what you think and we’ll get ya dressed. Do you mind a corset? It will be tight but we’ll squeeze ya in there.” I had to laugh, she’d be squeezing me in there alright! Lord knows I’ve had a horrible diet since I started writing full-time.

I stepped behind the fitting room partition taking one glance over the racks to try to spot that mysterious man. He was nowhere to be seen. I set down the bagged gowns Saileóg handed me. They had to weigh fifty pounds! Understandably so, they were the most intricate and beautiful gowns I had ever seen, plucked from a Victorian Gothic dream! The first was the deepest turquoise, like the bluest blue of a peacock feather, the second crimson like fresh blood. Both bustled and round, tight in the waist and fitted with a tight corset. The kind of corset that leaves little to the imagination. I chose the crimson followed by a deadly makeup transformation. Before long I was a Victorian Gothic Vampiress and I had one thing in mind, to find that mysterious man who had been watching me.

The Fairytale Traveler

I was a Gothic vampiress.

Dublin Bram Stoker Festival

The Grand Chapel in the Royal Hospital.

It had been a good hour since I first arrived. By now I could hear music of the most haunting ensembles. The baseline rattling my bones. What was lurking beyond this fitting room? Would there be vamps and ghouls? Would there be twisted tales? Would there be blood? And where had that man gone?

Dublin Bram Stoker Festival

Haunting sounds from Jamie Nancie and the Blue Boys.

Dublin Bram Stoker Festival

It was a haunting crowd at the Shapeshifter’s Ball.

I made my way through the crowd past a half nude snow-white vampiress chained in pearls, and into a magnificently ornate grand chapel. Beasts, vamps and ghouls were dancing together to the sound of an eerie songstress. I scanned the crowd for the man in the mask, determined to find out why he had followed me, but again he was nowhere to be seen. I heard there was a cellar and a vault beneath the chapel. Perhaps he had retreated there. Just as I approached the winding staircase I saw him, the man in the mask. I picked up my pace enough to keep him in sight. It’s as if he knew I would be there.

Dublin Bram Stoker Festival

Dancing vamps.

He turned around and locked his eyes with mine again, baiting my chase. He was vanishing deeper into the crowd within the vault. What was I doing? This was crazy! Chasing a complete stranger into a vault was obsurd! But I kept on until he vanished. My hunt defeated by the masses. I was starting to think this whole ball had run its course and then he appeared. Just like that! Right next to me, close, as if he had been there the whole time.

You’re not from Ireland. You’re alone. Most ladies don’t show up to a ball alone. Why are you here?” asked the man in the mask.

“Meddle much?” I replied with a crooked brow. “My apologies, it’s just that I saw you arrive by yourself, you seemed lost and yet you have the theater girls at your fingertips. Forgive me, I’m just curious I mean no harm.” He pleaded as he removed his mask to reveal those smiling eyes. “I am a writer. I am in Dublin for the Bram Stoker Festival, and you’re right, I am not from here, I’m from the States. I’m writing a story on the Bram Stoker Festival and this ball was on my itinerary. To be quite honest, I’m  little bored. While everyone seems to be having a great time, I am alone.” I explained. “You’re not alone anymore.” He replied, and just like that he vanished.

Dublin Bram Stoker Festival

The mysterious masked man.

Okay, that was just about the right amount of creepy for me to make my way to the costume department of this ball and catch the next taxi back to my exquisite hotel in the city. I was staying at the Shelbourne, the most famous and luxurious hotel in Dublin, and one that Bram Stoker himself frequented in his time. I started for the stairs, my long Victorian gown chasing my feet as it crept over the stone steps leading to the main floor. All of a sudden, this young girl tripped on my gown. As I tried to catch her the masked man caught my eye and I misjudged my grip. The poor girl fell, her face crashing into the edge of the stone step beneath her. I could see her head bounce like a ball at my feet as I reached out to help her. I cried out, “Are you okay?” From the ground she lifted her head, her hands trembling towards her face as her fresh warm blood poured from her crown. A quivering whisper broke past her lips as I heard her say,

They’re coming.”

Just past her bleeding silhouette I could see the masked man watching. In an instant he vanished and just as he had disappeared, a mob of people lunged toward the injured girl in a feasting frenzy. Horrified at what was unraveling before me, I forced my human body through the crowd and up the stairs. My heart racing, sending tingling pins into my hands as the blood drained from my extremities. I felt weightless in my flight to the pumpkin guarded doorway. The haunting sounds of the music receding into the distance as I ran down the hill past the shadows and to the iron gate tower at the end of the road. “Had my eyes deceived me? Who would believe me when I told them I saw a crowd of people feasting on a young girl? What would become of this?” All of these restless thoughts were firing off inside my head. This made no sense!

Dublin Bram Stoker Festival

Turned vampire for the feast.

I looked around for a sign of a taxi, a light, anything that would take me away from the grim truth of the Shapeshifter’s Ball. But there was nothing, only silence. The silence was far removed from the white noise of the city and broken only by the crow of the raven that perched beside me on the tower wall. I looked into its glossy black eyes and just like that I was back in my posh hotel room at the Shelbourne. No Victorian Gothic dress. No invitation to a Shapeshifter’s Ball. Just fresh flowers, my luxurious bathrobe and a really annoying hotel phone ringing.

“Hello?” I answered, hazed still and a bit confused. “Hello yes Miss Thompson, there is someone downstairs for you, he says he’s with Tourism Ireland and he has a package for you. Should I tell him you’ll be down or would you like me to collect the package?” inquired the girl from the front desk. “No, please tell him I’ll be down in just five minutes, thank you.” I replied. I quickly jumped into my jeans, fluffed my hair, brushed my teeth and ran down to greet the man. My feet fled in haste down the ornate stairwell and past the Gothic candleaboras. My eyes scanned the room to the lofty crystal chandeliers and into the sitting room. There, standing next to the Halloween display of ravens was a tall slender man. He turned to me. Those eyes!

I couldn’t believe it. It was the masked man! He was dressed in regular clothes but I knew it was him. There was no way I could forget those smiling warm eyes. I took a deep breath and managed to fumble the words, “Hello, I’m Christa, you’re from the tourism office?” “Yes hi, nice to meet you. I was asked to deliver this to you, it’s an invitation to tonight’s big event. I hope to see you there.” “Thank you.” I replied as he walked away. I broke the crimson red seal marked by a raven and pulled out an invitation that read,

Join us for an evening of immortal proportions with Gothic tales & dark veils.

This couldn’t be, was I losing my mind? Was this all just a dream? How could I possibly know what the invitation would say? Something wasn’t right. I glanced at the raven seal again, running my fingers over its crimson wax. “Maybe I’m just being ridiculous, it would be terribly rude of me not to go.” I rationalized my thoughts, as if what had just happened was merely left beside my pillow in a leftover dream. Then, just as I turned around to head back up the staircase I heard something in the street. It sounded like a drum.

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

The masses gathered to see what the stir was all about. They had no idea what they would learn. Photograph provided by Aaron aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

I stepped into the revolving door the Shelbourne is so famous for and onto the sidewalk. I wasn’t the only one following the sounds. They were eerie, like something from a twisted horror movie. Little by little the crowd grew, advnancing in the direction of the music. By the time I got to the Leffy, I found myself in a mob. There was no turning back. How did this happen? Where was I going?

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

Mischievous ghouls took to the streets. Photography provided by Aaron aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

Pretty soon I was surrounded by monsters and marvels from drains, lanes and street corners. Creatures of mischief danced around us. A Pegasus floated over the crowd. This was a summoning. There was no escaping the creatures that towered over me, taunting my every move. As they picked and grabbed at my hair, yanked and tore on my clothes, I started to fear the worst. I was brought there for a feast! Just like the girl at the ball! Terrified I forced out what little air I had left in my lungs and fashioned it into a scream. That’s when everything went black.

To be continued….

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

Some rode in from the woods, others came up from the gutters and drains. Photography provided by Aaron aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

Their screams could be heard for miles. Photography provided by Aaron aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

A Pegasus rode in from the night sky. Photograph provided by Aaron aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

Towering monsters.

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

The earth itself rose up and transformed into creatures of the night. Photography provided by Aaron aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

There was a giant Photography provided by Aaron aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

This short story is based on real-life events that took place during my visit to Dublin for the Bram Stoker Festival. Special thanks goes to Limelight for the Bram Stoker Festival, the Shelbourne Hotel and Tourism Ireland for making this story possible. 

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin 6

The events you see in pictures are real. The story is fiction. If you are keen on the dark side of things like zombies, Gothic culture, and vampires, you’ll want to experience a story of your own at the annual Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin. Unless you’re scared…. Photography provided by Aaron aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

I’ll see you on the dark side….

shapeshifters ball 8

 

In Partnership with

 

 

Bram Stoker Festival logo Tourism Ireland

Want to join the Sunday Traveler linky? Here’s how:

SUNDAY-TRAVELER-BADGE-TEAL1

Choose your badge color here

Check out another Sunday Traveler, Chasing the Donkey – Your Guide to Croatia

Rules

  • Add The Sunday Traveler badge to your post  & and a link back to one of the hosts. This helps to promote everyone’s hard work. Posts without these will be removed
  • Follow your fave co-hosts. You can find me on Instagram, TwitterFacebook & Pinterest
  • Link up your travel related posts (Opens 12PM EST) USE THE BUTTON AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST!!
  • View, comment and share on fellow bloggers links during the week
  • Use the hashtag #SundayTraveler when sharing on social media
  • Spread the word and come back next week!

 

An InLinkz Link-up


Shares

About Christa Thompson

view all posts

Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day. "It's never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams." -Christa Thompson

17 Comments on this post

  1. Wow, Christa, how amazing!! Love your story, and the photos are fab! Looks like you had an unforgettable time!

    Jo Woolf / Reply
  2. Love, love, love! Can’t wait to read more 🙂

    Hannah / Reply
  3. This is TOTALLY BRILLIANT. What a nerd dream! I’d love to see the ball from the inside, or even just wait outside to see all the vampires and vampiresses walk out… amazing!

  4. […] Post linked to Sunday Traveler […]

  5. Great story…and fabulous photos! I was totally hooked. Looking forward to reading more.

    Fairlie / Reply
  6. Waw, great story and amazing pictures! The royal hospital seems taken from a film…

    Laia | colibrist / Reply
  7. This looks seriously awesome!! Wish I could´ve been there. Thanx for hosting #SundayTraveler

    Esther / Reply
  8. Great costumes! It looks better than any ball I’ve seen on TV!

    Angelica @BkChickTravels / Reply
  9. Superbly written Christa.. I would love to attend this Ball.. Haha!
    Can’t wait to read the next part!

    Upasna / Reply
  10. Wow, fantastically written Christa!! I felt like I was right there with you! It was just like reading a great novel, I could not stop reading! 🙂 You look awesome in your Victorian Gothic Vampiress outfit and makeup! Can`t wait to read the rest of the story….

    Maria from Nerd Nomads / Reply
  11. Ohhhh I am not a ‘nerd’ but you are slowly changing me.. I wanna dress up too now!

    SJ / Reply

We love hearing your thoughts, stories and adventures. Share them here: