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    By Matt Johanson
    Blast San Francisco Bureau

    Howling wolves, screeching bats and the anxiety of being Dracula's houseguest should have kept him awake, but Vincent Hillyer was sleepy. He'd climbed 1,531 stairs to reach Castle Dracula, then drank a bottle of wine to celebrate the occasion. It hadn't been easy, but Hillyer had convinced the Romanian government to permit him an overnight stay in the ancient fortress, the first in centuries.

    Hillyer awoke with a start to see eyes staring at him through the darkness. He rubbed his neck and discovered tiny drops of blood.

    "When you're spending a night alone at Castle Dracula, this is definitely not the greatest place to have this happen," Hillyer said.

    A native of Los Banos in California's Central Valley, Hillyer is an expert on the Dracula legend and blood-suckers in general.

    Vampires come in many varieties, Hillyer explained. "There are people who drink blood just because they like the taste of it. That doesn't make them vampires, it just makes them act like vampires."

    Then there are the people who really believe they need the blood of the living to sustain them, sometimes capping their teeth with fangs or filing their actual teeth to points. A 29-year-old man from the San Francisco Bay Area, who in 1973 killed two teenagers and claimed he needed their blood to survive, falls into this category.

    "I call them living vampires," Hillyer said. "They're every bit as dangerous as real ones because they're insane."

    Bram Stoker's fictional Dracula is one of the "motion picture vampires," an undead creature craving blood and vulnerable to light. But the real Dracula who inspired the novel was not a supernatural monster but a cruel military leader of Transylvania in the 15th century.

    Hillyer has studied vampirism and lectured on the subjects at universities for nearly 20 years, but he's yet to encounter an authentic vampire.

    In his book, "Vampires," Hillyer offered a $10,000 reward for a "resurrected corpse in the human vampire state." One of many calls the offer generated came from a man on the East Coast who claimed to be just that. He asked Hillyer for a plane ticket to California to claim the prize.

    "I told him if he really was a vampire he could turn into a bat and fly out on his own," Hillyer recalled with a laugh.

    In Castle Dracula, Hillyer realized a wolf, not a vampire, had crept into the castle to stare him down. Still, "further sleep was out of the question," and he started his hike back to the nearby village before dawn.

    Hillyer was so pale and shaken when he arrived two hours later that his hosts took him to a hospital. A doctor there thought one of the spiders that infested the castle made the puncture marks that bloodied his neck.

    Hillyer doesn't dispute that, but he points out that the bites were awfully big to come from a spider. And he still keeps a bottle of Russian garlic oil, a vampire repellent, in his home.

    "Some things are inexplicable," Hillyer said. "That's what makes life interesting. But where there's smoke, there's fire."