When she was six, Laura had a vision of a beautiful visitor in her bedchamber. She later claims to have been punctured in her breast, although no wound was found. Twelve years later, Laura and her father, a wealthy English widower retired from service to the Austrian Empire, are admiring the sunset in front of their castle, amid an extensive forest in Styria, when her father tells her of a letter from his friend, General Spielsdorf. The General was supposed to bring his niece, Bertha Rheinfeldt, to visit the two, but the niece suddenly died under mysterious circumstances. The General ambiguously concludes that he will discuss the circumstances in detail when they meet later. Laura, saddened by the loss of a potential friend, longs for a companion. A carriage accident outside Laura's home unexpectedly brings a girl of Laura's age into the family's care. Her name is Carmilla. Both girls instantly recognize the other from the “dream” they both had when they were young. Carmilla appears injured after her carriage accident, but her mysterious mother informs Laura's father that her journey is urgent and cannot be delayed. She arranges to leave her daughter with Laura and her father until she can return in three months. Before she leaves, she sternly notes that her daughter will not disclose any information whatsoever about her family, past, or herself, and that Carmilla is of sound mind. Laura comments that this information seems needless to say, and her father laughs it off. Carmilla and Laura grow to be very close friends, but occasionally Carmilla's mood abruptly changes. She sometimes makes romantic advances towards Laura. Carmilla refuses to tell anything about herself, despite questioning by Laura. Her secrecy is not the only mysterious thing about Carmilla; she never joins the household in its prayers, she sleeps much of the day, and she seems to sleepwalk outside at night. Meanwhile, young women and girls in the nearby towns have begun dying from an unknown malady. When the funeral procession of one such victim passes by the two girls, Laura joins in the funeral hymn. Carmilla bursts out in rage and scolds Laura, complaining that the hymn hurts her ears. When a shipment of restored heirloom paintings arrives, Laura finds a portrait of her ancestor, Mircalla, Countess Karnstein, dated 1698. The portrait resembles Carmilla exactly, down to the mole on her neck. Carmilla says she might be descended from the Karnsteins even though the family died out centuries before. During Carmilla's stay, Laura has nightmares of a large cat-like beast entering her room and biting her on the chest. The beast then takes the form of a female figure and disappears through the door without opening it. In another nightmare, Laura hears a voice say, “Your mother warns you to beware of the assassin,” and a sudden light reveals Carmilla standing at the foot of her bed, her nightdress drenched in blood. Laura's health declines, and her father has a doctor examine her. He finds a small blue spot on her chest and speaks privately with her father, only asking that Laura never be unattended. Her father then sets out with Laura, in a carriage, for the ruined village of Karnstein, three miles distant. They leave a message behind asking Carmilla and one of the governesses to follow once the perpetually late-sleeping Carmilla wakes. En route to Karnstein, Laura and her father encounter General Spielsdorf. He tells them his own ghastly story. At a costume ball, Spielsdorf and his niece Bertha had met a young woman named Millarca and her enigmatic mother. Bertha was immediately taken with Mircalla. The mother convinced the General that she was an old friend of his and asked that Mircalla be allowed to stay with them for three weeks while she attended to a secret matter of great importance. Bertha fell mysteriously ill, suffering the same symptoms as Laura. After consulting with a specially-ordered priestly doctor, the General realized that Bertha was being visited by a vampire. He hid with a sword and waited until a large black creature crawled onto his niece's bed and to her neck. He leapt from his hiding place and attacked the beast, which took the form of Millarca. She fled through the locked door, unharmed. Bertha died immediately afterward. Upon arriving at Karnstein, the General asks a woodman where he can find the tomb of Mircalla Karnstein. The woodman says the tomb was relocated long ago by the hero who vanquished the vampires that haunted the region. While the General and Laura are alone in the ruined chapel, Carmilla appears. The General and Carmilla both fly into a rage upon seeing each other, and the General attacks her with an axe. Carmilla disarms the General and disappears. The General explains that Carmilla is also Mircalla, both anagrams for the original name of the vampire Mircalla, Countess Karnstein. The party is joined by Baron Vordenburg, the descendant of the hero who rid the area of vampires long ago. Vordenburg, an authority on vampires, has discovered that his ancestor was romantically involved with the Countess Karnstein before she died and became one of the undead. Using his forefather's notes, he locates Mircalla's hidden tomb. An Imperial Commission exhumes the vampire's body. Immersed in blood, it seems to be breathing faintly, its heart beating, its eyes open. A stake is driven through its heart, and it gives a corresponding shriek; then the head is struck off. The body and head are burned to ashes, which are thrown into a river. Afterwards, Laura's father takes his daughter on a year-long tour through Italy to recover from the trauma and regain her health, which she never fully does. It is implied that she dies some time following her encounter with Carmilla.
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