On a chilly spring morning, the Bishop of Nantes, his chaplain and two priests stood in the tiny churchyard of the village of Vincienne in western France and solemnly called upon an evil spirit to leave the soul of Charles Fennec.
"You have done enough evil in this place," the Bishop said. "Now go — and let us have done with you..."
They stood in silence on that April morning in 1925 by a freshly-dug grave, the funeral flowers still on the mound of dark soil, the silence punctuated only by a weeping woman in deep black, supported in the arms of her husband.
Slowly the couple walked away. The grief and shame of Rene and Marie-Louise Fennec was complete. Their nine-year-old son Charles, dead for less than two weeks, had been denounced ... as a vampire.
The story of the child vampire of Vincienne has become a chilling classic of the supernatural still discussed by psychical researchers... a story centred around the simple grave in which Charles Fennec lies... and from where he was claimed to have emerged when dusk fell, to bring fear to the people of the village and tragedy to two families.
It is an astonishing story and one which has been passed down by villagers of this small rural community and even today there are many people who believe that the story is true.
It was in the summer of 1924 that Charles Fennec first became ill. He was the eldest of the family's three children, a dark and usually silent boy and not popular with the other village youngsters.
He preferred to spend his time walking alone in the fields or climbing trees in the woods searching for birds' eggs and even his mother sometimes felt a little scared of him.
"He looks at me with those dark eyes," she would tell relatives, "and I never know what he's thinking. He doesn't seem like an ordinary boy."
At first Charles' illness took the form of extreme lethargy. He lost interest in food and began to lose weight. By the winter of 1925 he was little more than three stones in weight and his parents and doctor were shocked by his decline.
In March 1925, he lay, hardly breathing, in the main bedroom of the tiny cottage and his parents felt it was time to call for the village priest.
It was later revealed that halfway through the ritual of Absolution the boy summoned up enough strength to turn away from the priest and face the wall. "No," he apparently whispered. "I don't want your..."
They were the last words Charles Fennec spoke. Three days later he was buried in the churchyard of Vincienne and that, one would assume, was the end of the story. In fact it seemed to be only the beginning.
Two days later, a child of seven, the son of the local baker, ran into his mother's kitchen screaming "The boy who died is chasing me..." The mother ran outside but saw nothing. Her son later gave a description of the boy he claimed to have seen which tallied exactly with that of Charles Fennec.
The following day a three-year-old girl was found dead by the side of a pond on the outskirts of the village. The local doctor declared she had died from a massive loss of blood.
He tried to keep the information quiet but already stories of a vampire boy were spreading like wildfire through the district.
A group of men went out that night and kept watch on the graveyard but saw nothing. Then the next evening seven-year-old Marie Leclere, daughter of the village postman, failed to return from school.
The search for the child went on all night and by dawn the searchers were back carrying a tiny body. Once again death was certified as loss of blood.
The feelings of the Fennec family can hardly be imagined. Marie-Louise, distraught and horrified, hysterically denied that her son had become a vampire.
Then something happened that forced her to think again. Just over a week after Charles's death, Marie-Louise was walking with her youngest daughter, three-year-old Therese, past the churchyards on their way home.
It was dusk and they had been to visit a relative on the outskirts of the village. "Suddenly I saw a movement among the graves and there was a figure. I am sure it was Charles. But in reality, how could it have been?
"The only way I can describe it is that he began to float towards us. I picked up Therese and ran. The look on the boy's face was of an evil not of this world..."
Marie Louise always maintained that her story was true and never deviated from it for the rest of her life. A week after her experience the Bishop of Nantes carried out the exorcism and it seems the boy vampire wasn't seen again.
But tales of the inexplicable rarely end so tidily. Nor does this one. A recent retelling of the incident in a French psychic magazine made the point that today, in the neglected overgrown churchyard of Vincienne, not a single strand of foliage had ventured over Charles Fennec's grave.