Sunday, May 14, 2023

A Coldness in the Blood

In A COLDNESS IN THE BLOOD (2002), a modern-day installment of Fred Saberhagen's Dracula saga, set mainly in contemporary Chicago, Vlad Dracula is living under the name "Matthew Maule," after the character in THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES condemned to the curse that "God will give him blood to drink." As the story begins, college student Andy Keogh is setting up a website for the Count. After all, even the undead aristocracy must adjust to the new millennium. At this point, Andy has no idea that "Uncle Matt" is an old and powerful vampire. When Dickon, an even older but ludicrously cowardly nosferatu, shows up with a human alchemist, an ancient evil tracks them to Dracula's home. The alchemist's murder by a mysterious entity capable of mesmerizing Dracula himself launches "Uncle Matt," Andy, his ex-cop father Joe Keogh (who's quite familiar with the existence of vampires), and Dolly, granddaughter of a recently deceased stage magician who also practiced alchemy, on a quest for an Egyptian statuette that may conceal the fabled Philosopher's Stone. Meanwhile, Joe and his brother-in-law, John Southerland, introduced in AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY (Mina Harker's family, that is), wrestle with whether and how to reveal the world of the supernatural to Andy. A gang of ruthless vampires and a repulsive crocodile-god separately pursue the heroes on a cross-country search. Sobek, the crocodile monster, proves a credible threat to even Count Dracula. Dickon, incongruously timid and neurotic for one of the ancient undead, provides a bit of comic relief. A climactic confrontation leads to an astonishing and ingenious conclusion.

This is a fast-paced, solid adventure story, peppered with the wit and irony we would expect from Saberhagen's Dracula, even though it's narrated in the third person rather than the first like some of the other installments. This volume contains little vampire activity as such, but the Egyptian monster and his minions provide plenty of supernatural thrills. On the purely human side, Andy offers an engaging, sympathetic anchor of normality for the reader, as he struggles to adjust to "Uncle Matt's" true nature. Although A COLDNESS IN THE BLOOD doesn't rank up with such gems as THE DRACULA TAPE, THE HOLMES-DRACULA FILE, or AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, it's a worthwhile addition to them. New readers probably shouldn't choose it as an introduction to the series; they might feel they've plunged into the middle of a story. Any fan of Saberhagen's earlier Dracula novels, however, should enjoy this one.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Friday, April 14, 2023

The War of the Worlds

Have you considered H. G. Wells's Martian invasion classic, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898), as a vampire novel? Critics have often compared this book, published the year after DRACULA, with the latter as an invasion narrative. In both, alien predators are determined to overrun and conquer England (and, in Wells, the entire Earth). Moreover, the Martians, portrayed as not merely inhuman but superhuman, consume human blood.

In THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, human scientists and political authorities are caught off guard partly because they never expected superior aliens but assumed, if the question ever arose, that any such we met would be inferior to us. Wells's narrator rationalizes the aliens' behavior as a natural consequence of their position at the top of the food chain. In evolutionary terms, the Martians, leaving their sterile world to occupy ours, probably regard us as lower animals with no rights they're obligated to respect. After over a century, it's not much of a spoiler to note that the interplanetary invaders are ultimately defeated, not by human intelligence or courage, but by the sheer luck that the Martians have no immunity to Earth microbes.

Although the narrator tries to maintain a facade of scientific objectivity, his revulsion is obvious in his description of the Martians: He admits his "sudden chill" at the first sight of tentacles and a "big greyish rounded bulk," where he "expected to see a man emerge" from the spaceship, and he later refers to the "strange horror" of the aliens' appearance. Wells envisions his Martians as evolved beyond the need for most organs and physiological processes common to the animals of Earth (including us), such as digestion. The creatures are essentially composed entirely of oversized brains and the tentacles they have in place of hands. Their method of ingesting nourishment, in which "blood obtained from a still living animal, in most cases from a human being, was run directly by means of a little pipette into the recipient canal," describes what amounts to blood transfusion. Yet the narrator repeatedly labels this process "feeding," calls it "horribly repulsive," and admits, "I cannot bring myself to describe what I could not endure even to continue watching."

One question never asked or answered, by the way: How can a species evolved on a different world benefit from feeding on an Earth species or be harmed by our diseases? However, that's beside the point of Wells's theme, deconstructing the human illusion of occupying the highest rung of the evolutionary ladder. From the Martians' viewpoint, their own superiority entirely justifies enslaving or exterminating us "lower" life forms. Since, in addition to their blood-consuming habit, they plan to drain Earth's resources and render the planet barren except for themselves and possibly the victims they need for nourishment, calling them vampires seems well justified.


Different Blood

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Dark Dance

In DARK DANCE (1992), celebrated science fiction and fantasy author Tanith Lee creates a twisted variation on the traditional Gothic love story with its mysterious, charismatic anti-hero, atmospheric, forbidding old house, and naive heroine. While not a conventional romance, DARK DANCE, first book of the Blood Opera trilogy, centering on the not-quite-human Scarabae clan, begins like a formulaic Gothic novel. The orphaned Rachaela is summoned to the isolated mansion of her father's peculiar family. There she meets her long-lost father, Adamus, who looks no more than thirty years old. Repeating the pattern of his single night with Rachaela's mother, Adamus mates with Rachaela only until she becomes pregnant. Their child, Ruth, matures with abnormal speed and grows, of course, into a bloodthirsty creature like her father. DARK DANCE somewhat brings to mind Anne Rice's THE WITCHING HOUR (1990), another horror novel of a woman ensnared by her previously unknown family and forced to conceive an inhuman child.

In the ravishingly attractive, hypersexual Adamus, Lee presents a nightmare parody of the tender, passionate, Byronic vampire lover of conventional dark romance. He cares nothing for Rachaela except in terms of her fitness to bear the "Scarabae seed." He plans to breed with their daughter, Ruth, as soon as she reaches the age of fertility. Rachaela visualizes the Scarabae as animals, "wild things dwelling in a stained-glass forest." They present themselves to her as a persecuted race. But Rachaela feels no attachment to or sympathy for them, nor does she feel anything for Adamus aside from erotic attraction mingled with bitter resentment. Ruth is a "thing" to Rachaela, a parasite that has used her body. She imagines Ruth wearing a sign around her neck: "Conceived from my father while he drank my blood, suspected of being a demon."

The two sequels are PERSONAL DARKNESS (1992), the aftermath of a murderous rampage by Ruth, who has grown up to be, if not outright evil, dangerously unstable, and DARKNESS I (1994), in which Rachaela bears another Scarabae daughter, who also matures at a preternatural rate, while the ancient progenitor of the clan hunts for the girl. A deeply disturbing three-volume work of science-fantasy and horror, highly recommended.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

By Blood Alone

After Anne Rice's bestselling INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1976), having a vampire tell his or her story in his/her own voice became trendy. Not that Rice did it first; Fred Saberhagen's THE DRACULA TAPE (1975) beat her by a year. In a further refinement, some vampires reveal their past lives/unlives to therapists. Arguably, the first such novel (that I know of) was SOME OF YOUR BLOOD (1961), by Theodore Sturgeon, although the protagonist isn't a literal vampire but a human blood-drinker. Later, Suzy McKee Charnas did it in THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY (1980) and S. P. Somtow in VAMPIRE JUNCTION (1984). If you count short stories, however, at least one using the vampire-in-therapy trope appeared much earlier, the humorous piece "Blood Brother" (1961), by Charles Beaumont.

And then there's BY BLOOD ALONE (1979), by Bernhardt J. Hurwood, best known for his nonfiction guides to vampires and related monsters. Not only does INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE get name-checked in the front cover tagline, in the text Hurwood's vampire mentions Rice's novel as being more accurate than most. Although the bulk of BY BLOOD ALONE comprises a transcript of the vampire's therapy sessions, with the psychiatrist's notes, the story begins with an investigation into a decapitation murder. The victim's wealthy father hires private detective Russell Dorne to delve into the case. Dorne's character is refreshingly free of "cynical hardboiled PI" cliches. He's not a drunk or a womanizer. He doesn't break the law or go out of his way to antagonize cops. In fact, he has a good friend in a high position on the police force, and he cooperates courteously with the officers assigned to the case. A clue leads them to a mausoleum where they find an empty coffin and, outside, an apparently ancient skeleton dressed in modern clothes. Discovering a psychiatrist's business card in the tomb, Dorne makes an appointment with the doctor and persuades him to share the therapy transcript, on the grounds that the patient has disappeared. (No HIPAA regulations in 1979!) Almost all the rest of the book, as mentioned above, consists of the patient's file.

Zachary Sexton claims to have been born in New York in 1811. The doctor understandably considers this claim a psychotic delusion but keeps his skepticism low-key to avoid arousing Sexton's hostility. The vampire has sought out a psychiatrist to listen to his life story and recommend a way for him to die, since he's sick of his undead existence. He's inherently unable to deliberately kill himself, a restriction that strains my suspension of disbelief. I forced myself to accept it as a necessary premise of the story, however; for example, a similar premise motivates the "evil" vampire in Elaine Bergstrom's excellent SHATTERED GLASS (1989). Sexton covers the entire scope of his life and unlife, from arising from death and learning the needs, abilities, and limitations of undead existence, through finding victims, concealing his murders, coping with the tedium of endless life, and spending decades with a female vampire companion, to the present day. Although he maintains that, as an animated corpse, he feels no true emotions, the doctor accurately points out that his autobiographical statements sometimes contradict that claim. Despite the psychiatrist's growing amazement at the complexity and consistency of the patient's "delusion," he maintains his rational disbelief to the end -- almost.

Concerning Sexton's difficulty with attaining the death he says he craves, I had no trouble thinking of ways he could solve that problem. Since he's a "destruction by sunlight" vampire, he might lock himself out of his daytime shelter and dispose of the key in some inaccessible place. Or he might hire an assassin to destroy him while helpless during his daylight coma. Also, the abrupt conclusion in the final scene struck me as gimmicky and a bit of a letdown. Still, this novel is well worth reading, for its detailed thought experiment on how a ruthless, clever vampire might cope with the demands of his condition over several lifetimes, if you can find a used copy cheaper than those offered on Amazon.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Horror Stories of M. R. James

Most horror fans have probably come across the classic ghost stories of M. R. James (1865-1936). Some of the most often anthologized pieces first appeared in his GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY. Several more comprehensive collections of James's fiction are in print; I recommend CASTING THE RUNES AND OTHER GHOST STORIES, published by the Oxford University Press, which features a detailed introduction as well as twenty-one stories. Many of them focus on antiquarian characters and take place in ecclesiastical or other ancient settings. "Casting the Runes," an account of supernatural vengeance by a decidedly nasty expert in the occult who puts his research into practical application, culminates in the persecuted victim's being stalked by a creature the villain conjures up. Unlike many horror fiction protagonists, the victim manages to turn the curse back on the occultist. The protagonist of another well-known classic in this volume, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," comes into possession of an antique whistle with a Latin inscription translated as, "Who is this that is coming?" The protagonist playfully decides to find out by blowing the whistle. A huge mistake, as any genre-savvy reader would know. In "The Mezzotint," a sinister figure in a picture begins to move whenever not being watched. The picture's owner, as one would expect, falls victim to a mysterious death. All these entities are especially terrifying because of their amorphous, essentially inhuman character.

Strangely, this book doesn't include "Lost Hearts," which I consider the author's creepiest and yet saddest story. An eleven-year-old orphan comes to live with his wealthy, reclusive cousin, a scholar of the occult. Unexplained sounds in the cellar and scratches on doors puzzle the boy until one night when he catches sight of a pair of ghostly children, mournful and "hungry," with gaping holes in their chests. The wicked cousin is found dead with a similar wound. This tale displays vampire-related motifs, since the villain's goal was to extend his life by using the hearts of his victims in a dark ritual, and the child revenants prey on him in turn. "Lost Hearts" appears in GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY, sold on Amazon in several editions and free to read on the Project Gutenberg website:

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

CASTING THE RUNES AND OTHER GHOST STORIES includes James's two best-known vampire stories, "Count Magnus" and "An Episode of Cathedral History." The protagonist of "Count Magnus," an English traveler doing research for a book, comes upon the tomb of the title character in Sweden. Count Magnus de la Gardie, notorious for his cruelty, was rumored to have delved into dark magic and made the "Black Pilgrimage" in a quest for means of prolonging his life. Upon visiting his mausoleum, the protagonist idly remarks, "Count Magnus, there you are. I should dearly like to see you." In another cautionary tale (like "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad") on the theme of "Be careful what you wish for," over the next few days the three padlocks securing the coffin lid fall off. The Englishman flees from two sinister figures that appear to pursue him, until at last he meets a grisly death.

"An Episode of Cathedral History" features a more overtly vampiric revenant. A frame narrative introduces a flashback story an old man tells about the "episode" that happened when he was a boy in 1840. During a renovation of the cathedral in the title, an anonymous, centuries-old tomb incurs minor damage. A gradual buildup toward the revelation of the supernatural menace follows, with strange noises and other hints of something stirring inside the monument. At the climax, we get a glimpse of a dark thing emerging from the tomb, with "a mass of hair and two legs, and the light caught on its eyes." This understated but chilling moment leads into the final line of the story, an inscription on the cross affixed to the accursed site: "Ibi Cubavit Lamia." A lamia, of course, is a type of vampiric female demon in classical mythology.

James also wrote a tale of spectral vampires, "Wailing Well," not included in this collection. It recounts the fate of a boy who defiantly trespasses on a forbidden patch of land with the titular well at the center. Four ghostly entities, described as "hideous black" figures that look barely human, haunt the spot. Desperate attempts to save the boy fail, with the would-be rescuers blocked by the unnatural atmosphere of the place. Too late, the victim's body is recovered, drained of blood, and thereafter five ghastly creatures lurk at the well. You can read it here:

Wailing Well

James's work epitomizes "quiet horror," nevertheless slowly building to no less frightful climaxes than those found in many more violent tales of terror.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Holiday Greetings

Happy longest-nights season -- ideal for vampires! If you're in the mood for a mashup of the undead and winter holidays, check out A VAMPIRE CHRISTMAS CAROL, which I reviewed on this blog in January 2022:

A Vampire Christmas Carol

Also, you might enjoy my December-set vampire novel CHILD OF TWILIGHT, which concludes on Christmas Eve. (No, it has nothing to do with a certain bestselling series. The first edition of mine was published earlier.) Although it's the direct sequel to DARK CHANGELING, it's readable on its own. Both books are now available together as a Kindle omnibus titled TWILIGHT'S CHANGELINGS:

Twilight's Changelings

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson

NIGHT TERRORS: THE GHOST STORIES OF E. F. BENSON (2012) constitutes a collection of over fifty works by a classic early-twentieth-century author. It includes fiction from many different subcategories of horror, naturally. However, among them you'll find his vintage vampire stories.

"The Face" introduces a happily married woman who has suffered a pair of recurring dreams for many years. In the first, she approaches the graveyard of a ruined church on a cliff above the sea. In the second, the true nightmare, she reaches the cemetery, where she confronts the leering face of a man who declares he will come for her soon. Shortly after the most recent return of the dreams, she stumbles upon the man's portrait, two hundred years old, in an art gallery. Her health begins to decline. A seaside vacation to repair her shattered nerves, ironically, brings her to the cemetery of her nightmares, which holds the ominous man's grave. Our last glimpse of her shows her walking with the strange man, whose disinterred body is later found after a storm and landslide, perfectly undecayed.

In "The Thing in the Hall," seances and an experiment with hypnosis conjure an elemental, a creature like a large slug that first appears as a shadow and then grows more substantial. Its victims are found dead with their throats slashed.

Another slug-like elemental stalks in the better-known story "Negotium Perambulans." It haunts the vicinity of a house whose impious builder had constructed it from the materials of a church he destroyed. The current church contains a panel depicting "the figure of a robed priest holding up a cross, with which he faced a terrible creature like a gigantic slug." The narrator, however, inclines to the belief that the loathesome entity is a naturally evolved, material creature. It leaves its victims "skin and bones as if every drop of blood had been sucked out." The description of the thing itself provides as gruesome an image of stomach-turning horror as one could hope to find in classic supernatural fiction.

"And No Bird Sings" features a patch of woodland that drains life-energy from living creatures. The bloodthirsty dead woman in "The Room in the Tower" preys on her victims, guests in the titular room, through the medium of her portrait.

The title character of Benson's best-known vampire story, the often reprinted "Mrs. Amworth," stands out from most such creatures by her gregarious, forthright, down-to-earth personality. Far from shunning daylight, she loves the outdoors and gardening. First a living vampire (perhaps hereditary), she rises as a typical undead after she's accidentally killed. The narrator's best friend, a retired professor of physiology with an interest in the occult, plays the Van Helsing role, with the narrator as a Watson-like representative of the audience.

In addition to these tales of vampirism, the NIGHT TERRORS collection includes numerous acclaimed classic stories of terror (e.g., "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery," "Caterpillars," and "The Wishing-Well," among others) as well as more obscure pieces seldom or never found in anthologies.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Generation V

In GENERATION V (2013), M. L. Brennan designs a naturally evolved vampire species that's unique in at least one aspect of its biology, as far as I know. Fortitude, the protagonist, strenuously but ineffectively strives to reject the heritage of his species in favor of leading a quasi-human existence. He has a college degree in an impractical major, a job at a coffee shop, an unfaithful girlfriend, and an obnoxious roommate. Unlike most stereotypical Gen X bachelors coping with their first experiences of “real life,” however, he belongs to a family of vampires. Not having yet made the “transition” to adult vampirism, he is still mostly human. Fort detests his need to drink blood from his mother at regular intervals and postpones it each time as long as possible. The analogy with a human slacker dude living off his parents is probably intentional.

Because, contrary to the usual custom, he was brought up until the age of nine by human foster parents, he also clings to human attitudes that baffle his mother and two siblings, Chivalry (brother, who has a human wife he truly loves) and Prudence (sister, the most sociopathic member of the family). These vampires become biologically more inhuman with increasing age, e.g. in prominence of fangs and intolerance for sunlight and solid foods. It's their mode of reproduction, though, that especially sets them apart from other fictional vampires. Both males and females have functioning genitalia but lack the ability to reproduce. Instead, they must create “hosts” through a blood-exchange process that changes the human victim’s physiology so radically that offspring conceived by him or her have vampire DNA. Creating a viable host is a difficult procedure few vampires succeed in accomplishing. Madeline, Fort’s mother, is highly unusual in having managed to create two hosts, male and female. Unfortunately, the process eventually reduces the human subjects to an animalistic, uncontrollably violent condition.

Near the beginning of the novel, a vampire from a different territory arrives to pay his respects to Madeline. When he turns out to be a homicidal pedophile, Fort becomes determined to rescue the villain’s one surviving abductee, a little girl. Fort’s family members refuse to help with what they see as an irrational mission that violates vampire etiquette. Like many urban fantasy works, this book and its sequels complicate the protagonist’s life by involving representatives of other monstrous species, such as a kitsune hired by Madeline as a bodyguard for Fort. In dealing with various nonhuman allies and antagonists as well as coping with his transition to full adulthood, Fort repeatedly finds both his principles and his competence tested. This series contains a bracing blend of suspense, humor, character growth, and ethical quandaries.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Empire of Fear

Brian Stableford portrays vampirism as a contagious disease in THE EMPIRE OF FEAR (1988). A version of the first section was published in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION under the title "The Man Who Loved the Vampire Lady." An epic work of alternate history, EMPIRE OF FEAR takes place mainly in seventeenth-century Europe and Africa, as the Renaissance inaugurates the beginnings of modern science. The main but not exclusive viewpoint character for most of the story, Noell Cordery, devotes his career to researching the biological origin of vampirism. Interludes in the form of inserted letters from various characters provide other perspectives. Historical figures such as Vlad Tepes appear.

In the world of this novel, vampires have long since consolidated their hegemony, despite the fear and hostility directed at them from some quarters. An aristocratic caste, they dominate ordinary mortals, a difference in status highlighted by references to non-vampires as "common men." Ultimately vampirism is revealed as an infection that alters the human genetic code. The virus originally came to Earth on a meteorite that landed in the depths of Africa, so that the transformed elite are almost literally aliens. Since only the semen of an infected male can effect transformation, all male vampires are engendered through homosexual intercourse. A global pandemic spreading out of Africa via sexual contact inevitably evokes the real-world AIDS epidemic. The vampiric infection, however, is benign rather than harmful; it changes its hosts into superior beings. The political, religious, and social consequences of their dominance are meticulously explored and portrayed in rich detail. After superstitions about vampirism are replaced with scientific facts, immortality becomes available to all except the minority who are immune to the virus. Freed by synthetic nourishment from the need to drink live blood, the transformed population embraces a new world order.

The novel's final section leaps ahead to 1983, when this transformation has spread worldwide. The protagonist, Michael, is a mortal man barred from the immortal privilege of the majority. Unlike Neville at the end of Richard Matheson's pioneering vampirism-as-disease work, I AM LEGEND (1954), however, Stableford's Michael is not a feared and loathed outcast, but the cherished lover of a vampire woman. Stableford's story, therefore, concludes with reconciliation rather than alienation, although in a melancholy tone.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, August 14, 2022


Okay, like the book highlighted here last month, JACOB: A NOVEL OF THE NIGHTSIDERS (2015), by David Gerrold, is less than ten years old, too. However, it's also a vampire novel many fans might have missed, somewhat unusual and well worth checking out. This slender (just under 200 pages) but intriguing book comes from the author of the classic STAR TREK script “The Trouble with Tribbles” and many other SF works. The narrative invokes an obviously deliberate parallel to Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, as the title character applies the label “interview” to his conversations with the narrator. The latter is a struggling author who attains some modest success over the course of the novel.

Jacob first approaches him at a meeting of a writers’ critique group, interest apparently piqued by the narrator’s perceptive remarks. Unlike the structure of Rice’s novel, which compresses Louis’s interview into a single session, JACOB shows the vampire revealing his past little by little in a series of dialogues over several years. Gerrold describes vampirism as a non-supernatural infectious disease, a “parasitic symbiosis” that converts its host into an “apex predator.” Vampires exercise cautious restraint in choosing people to transform, and only the very reckless create child or adolescent vampires. As Jacob points out, why would anyone want a callow youth as an immortal companion? Also unlike Louis, Jacob doesn’t describe the process of his transformation. In fact, we never learn how the change is done.

Born in Seattle in 1858, Jacob was orphaned at an early age and had to live on the streets, stealing and whoring. “Monsieur,” seeing potential in him, adopted and educated him, eventually sending him to Harvard. By then, Jacob knew of his guardian’s true nature, at least as much as Monsieur chose to reveal. Jacob expected to be transformed eventually. But then he received news of a fire that destroyed the mansion in Seattle, with the owner presumed dead. Jacob tells the narrator of his search for other vampires, almost impossible to find if they don’t want to be, and some details of his post-transformation life. According to Jacob, vampires purposely choose for conversion people who, if not sociopaths already, have the capacity to become such. Only a sociopath could endure having to kill uncounted numbers of victims to survive over centuries of existence.

Logical—IF a vampire must kill every time he or she feeds, a premise I always find annoying. To me, it doesn’t make sense for an intelligent predator to endanger himself that way without a plausible reason, which few authors provide (with some notable exceptions). And even though Jacob states or at least strongly implies that vampires have to kill whenever they feed, we later witness him sipping from several victims in a row and letting them live. Aside from this quibble, I found the novel totally convincing.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt