His voice is deep, very deep, with a hypnotic smoothness as the words drip off his tongue like blood trickling from an open wound.
"I've always had a fascination for the macabre, horror and the unknown. . . . I didn't learn about Dracula until I was 11 years old," says Thomas Schellenberger, 30, of Baltimore, founder and president of the Dracula Society of Maryland.
The Baltimore-based society, which has 30 members, was formed in January 1977. It is the only state branch of the Count Dracula Society, headquartered in Los Angeles and boasting 700 members worldwide.
Last Saturday during a taping of the Washington children's television show "Newsbag," the four youthful hosts sat wide-eyed as Schellenberger discussed gory details of Dracula's life and the subsequent books and films he inspired. The show will be aired Saturday at 7 a.m. on WTTG-TV (Channel 5).
The Dracula Society is devoted to the serious study of horror films and gothic literature, particularly the fictitious Dracula, and most especially the real Dracula, a.k.a. Vlad Tepes, a 15th century Romanian prince who loved to impale his enemies on large, blunt stakes, then dine and drink blood as he watched them die a slow, painful death.
When English novelist Bram Stoker wrote the original book about a blood-thirsty vampire named Dracula in 1897, it was based on Vlad Tepes, who also was called "Vlad the Impaler" and "Dracula" (son of the devil, in Romanian). Although he was ruthless, Tepes was not a vampire -- that's where fact became fiction.
Schellenberger, dressed in a black satin cape for the TV show taping, lived up to the kids' expectations, but they were hoping for a little more makeup and possibly some blood.
"He was good. He had the voice of Dracula. I expected him to be all made up with blood streaming down his face. . . . I didn't even know there was a real Dracula," said Kim Maher, 13, of Gaithersburg.
Maher's co-host, Lauren Targoff, 13, of Silver Spring, also said she learned a lot from Schellenberger's visit.
The children were most impressed with Schellenberger's expertise on every Dracula film ever made and the gruesome history of Vlad Tepes.
He can relate, for example, the time when the Turks were thinking of invading Romania to force the Islamic religion on all who lived there. Vlad, a devout Christian, impaled thousands of his own people and lined them along the border to scare off the Turks. Not only did the ploy work, it secured for the prince the nickname of "Vlad the Impaler" in the chronicles of history.
Then there was the time Vlad got furious when two Turks refused to take off their turbans in recognition of his princely status. Vlad said he would see to it that they never took off their turbans again. With that he had the turbans nailed to the men's heads.
"I think he was half insane," muses Schellenberger.
"I don't condone him. . . . As a child he was kidnapped three times and both his parents were assassinated. . . . That would make anyone a little insane," he said.
In 1974 Schellenberger fulfilled a lifelong goal when he visited Dracula's castle, birthplace and grave in Transylvania, a province of Romania.
"Legend has it that if you stand on the tomb of Dracula it would make his spirit comfortable. . . . I stood on the tomb when I was there and, well, I just can't describe the feelings that went through my body. . . . I think it made his spirit comfortable," he recalled.
He said he was surprised, however, to learn that the Romanians consider Dracula a great folk hero and frown upon the fictionalized character of Dracula the vampire.
Vampires, after all, are corpses that rise from the dead at night and go around biting young women on the neck so they can suck their blood. They are petrified of crosses and shy away from garlic. The only way to kill a vampire is to drive a stake through its heart. Vampires have no reflection in mirrors, have long claw-like nails and can turn into a bat at any time.
Schellenberger hopes to form branches of the Dracula Society in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and to sponsor a convention where people could view and trade horror films, books and memorabilia.
An editorial assistant for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, Schellenberger spends much of his spare time organizing events for the society's monthly meetings.
Tomorrow night the Dracula Society of Maryland will hold its biggest event of the year, a Halloween party and awards banquet.
At the banquet Schellenberger plans to talk about the importance of horror films.
"They horror films exemplify our innermost feelings. . . . When the monster in a movie is destroyed the fear of evil within us is also destroyed and good triumphs," he explained.
"I don't believe vampires really exist; it's just pure fiction and fantasy. Horror films and books are there as an escape from the real world where the real horrors exist."
What are Schellenberger's personal goals?
"I want to be a professional writer. I'm two-thirds of the way through a book right now. . . . It's about a man who visits Romania and comes back to the United States as a vampire, only none of his friends know it."