The Perverse Imp

“The Perverse Imp”
by Larry Darling, Jr.
(with apologies to E.A. Poe)

 

We loved with a love that was more than love.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Never trust a big butt and a smile.” – Bell Biv Devoe

 
It has been there for a week. Maybe longer.
It hasn’t made any moves toward me, just stands there watching me with yellow eyes.
If I look away and look back again it is gone.
I should explain, but I am not sure where to begin.

My life has been an awkward one.
Nothing is ever easy.
After thirty five years, my life has simply become a stale routine of work, sleep, and resisting urges.
It sounds depressing when you look at it like that, but it isn’t always so bad.
I have a job, at least.  So there is that.
My job is managing the kitchen in a small bar and grill in my hometown in south Florida.
Things could be worse, but things can always be worse.
I have worked this particular job for three years now ; it has become comfortable and easy.
The restaurant is a small hole in the wall bar with a loyal group of drunken retirees who show up regularly for my dinner specials. The owners, Eddie and Susanne, work the breakfast and lunch shift, and leave the dinners completely up to me. It can be a fun time, but it also can wear me down.
An endless parade of waitresses come and go through the restaurant, as we are not nearly as busy as many of the other large corporate restaurants and bars in this little tourist town.
It works out well for me, as I have grown to enjoy my solitude.
I work the entire kitchen at night by myself ; prepping, cooking and washing everything, and in return I get paid enough to have a small apartment and afford most of the things I want. Not to mention, they don’t mind if I hit the taps for some free beer at the end of my shift, which is a definite plus.

It is always the little things.
For example, I was walking home from work one day and a mother and her little girl were trying to photograph butterfies in the bushes in front of me. My first instinct was to run up and kick at the bushes, spoiling their time.
At work, I am constantly having to hold myself back from flipping a tray of drinks from the hands of a passing waitress.
It is always in the back of my mind ; to cause some kind of chaos, but I never do. I just try to keep it to myself, as my mother taught me all those years ago.
These thoughts are always floating around in my head, at least for as long as I can remember. An unrelenting urge to do or say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Mostly I just fight to keep it in, and go on about my day.

One particular morning, I saw it upon waking.
A tiny black little monster with wide yellow eyes and a devious smile was clinging to the ceiling above me when I woke.
I just rolled over and went back to sleep.
I had to work in a few hours.
I arrived at the restaurant, a few minutes late as usual.
Eddie was counting the money from the day shift and Susanne was in the dining room, sweeping under tables.
“Hey, we hired you a new girlfriend today,” said Eddie with a smirk, as Susanne stifled a giggle.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I said, continuing on my way into the kitchen. They were always trying to fix me up with someone.
And I didn’t particularly get along with most waitresses. We tended to butt heads a lot.
“She’s a redhead, with a bunch of tattoos…” Eddie said, grinning widely.
I stopped, raised an eyebrow.
“And glasses,” chimed in Suzanne from out in the dining room.
“Well,” I said. “What is this young lady’s name?”
“I thought so,” Eddie said. “Her name is Emily, she starts tonight. Try and go easy on her, champ.”
“Okay,” I said, then continued into the kitchen to prepare for a busy Friday night.
I usually had about two hours to get everything ready for dinner service, so I set myself right to work.
It was Friday night, so tonight’s special was fish and chips.
Easy enough to whip up the beer batter and cut the fries, then I set about cutting veggies and getting everything else ready for the evening. My hands were occupied with the cutting and organizing, but it was an old routine. I could do it in my sleep at this point.
My mind wandered back to the morning, and the tiny creature I had thought I’d seen.
What was that?
Just a leftover fragment of some weird dream?
It couldn’t have been real.
I shook it out of my head and filled the sandwich station with fresh lettuce and tomato, then went out to have a smoke before the dinner crowd started to show up.
I was sitting on an upside-down empty pickle bucket outside behind the bar, finishing my cigarette and mentally preparing myself for the evening.
Eddie came pushing out the screen door with that dopey grin on his face, followed by a gorgeous young lady.
“This is Emily,” he said, and stood back smiling. He enjoyed watching my awkwardness.
She stepped forward confidently, holding out a hand decorated with rings and bracelets.
Before saying anything to me, she glanced back at Eddie and whispered, “He’s not that scary.”
I took her hand and shook it, saying, “I can hear you.”
She giggled and covered her mouth. Her hair was naturally red and curled down around her shoulders, and her arms were covered in fanciful ink. She wore black-rimmed glasses and a lip peircing, and smiled brightly at me as I checked her out.
The silence must have been awkward even for Eddie. He cleared his throat and said, “Emily, meet Joe. He is scarier than he looks.”
She was looking me directly in the eyes, beautiful pools of hazel staring right back at me, right into me.
“You didn’t tell me how handsome he was!” she said, not breaking her gaze.
I felt the blood rushing to my cheeks, but could do nothing to stop it.
“Don’t pick on me,” I said.
“I am one hundred percent serious.” She did not break her gaze, and smiled wide.
“Look, he’s blushing!” Eddie announced. He called into the restaurant. “Susanne! Joe’s blushing!”
He laughed hysterically, as I let her hand go and looked away, lighting another smoke.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Red looks good on you. Nice to meet you, Joe. I look forward to working with you. I heard that you are an awesome cook.”
She turned and headed back to the bar, where Susanne was waiting at the screen door, watching me and smiling.

Susanne stayed on for a couple of hours, showing Emily around the restaurant and giving her little pointers, but it turned out to be a slow night and she bailed when the sun set and we only had  a few geezers in the dining room.
I tried to keep myself busy and occupied, whipping up a soup for Eddie to run the next day and doing a bunch of extra prep work.
Emily was attentive to her few customers and kept herself busy as well, but it was obvious we were checking each other out as we passed each other, or she put in any new orders.
She seemed nervous, and bit her bottom lip every time she showed up in the window to pick up a new order. Overall, she did great and we made it through a slow Friday night with no problems.
“I heard you made an 60-year-old woman cry.”
I looked at my ragged shoes, feigning shame.
“Nice job,” she said with a smile.
“Why are you so hard on waitresses?” she asked, then giggled to herself, repeating “hard on” under her breath.
“Because in my experience, most waitresses are whores,” I replied, flipping some pans and trying to keep track of the orders I was working on. Sometimes I wished I could think before speaking.
But she laughed long and loud, and said, “I’m not a whore, you know. If I was, I would be sucking dicks on the internet for money, not serving your shitty food.”
I shook my head, laughing too, and slopped two piles of spaghetti and meatballs onto plates and rang the bell for pick up.
“Ugh. I’m right here,” she said, rolling her eyes, then speeding out of the kitchen with the meals. She looked back at me and winked.
The night was finally over.
“Would you like a drink?” I asked, pulling a beer from the tap and draining half the glass.
She smiled awkwardly. “I would, but I don’t drink.”
I was genuinely surprised.
“Really?” I asked, finishing my first beer of the night, and pulling a second.
“There must be a story. There is always a story,” I said.
“Not really,” she said, not meeting my eyes. “I just don’t drink.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “I could probably quit drinking too, if it weren’t for this damn restaurant business…”
She smiled and nodded, but said nothing.
I thought I saw the imp there, under a table in the corner, quietly watching.
She looked over her shoulder, following my line of sight, then back at me.
“What is it?” she wanted to know.
I shook my head. It was gone. “Nothing, nothing. Let’s get that money counted, shall we?”
“You did a real nice job tonight,” I told her, after we were done counting and dividing up the tips. “Kind of brutal that they just threw you in on a Friday night with no training, though.”
She smiled. “Thanks. But I have been around the block a time or two,” she said. “It was actually kind of fun.”
“After a while it stops being fun. That’s when the drinks help.”
“Yes, I could see that,” she said. “Maybe you would be interested in getting some Kentucky Fried Chicken with me?”
I laughed. “Sure. Sounds better than my food. Let’s go!”

One of the great things about my hometown is that you can get fast food almost any time you want to, and the beach is only a mile away.
So, we finished cleaning and locked up the restaurant, then hopped in my car and headed west toward the beach. The KFC was still open but very quiet, but they cooked us up a fresh bucket of chicken and we ended up sitting on the beach in the moonlight eating fried chicken and cursing the fast food staff for forgetting our sporks.
“It’s a real shame,” Emily said. “I could really fuck up those mashed potatoes, but I am not going to eat them with my hands.”
She was staring the red and white styrofoam container down with real intensity. It made me laugh.
“What?” she said. “I love mashed potatoes, believe that. But this is our first date and I don’t want to scare you off…”
I stiffened a little bit. This was a date?
I had no idea.
“Fuck it,” she said. “Give me one of those beers.”
I had stopped for a six-pack at a 7-11 on the way out to the beach.
“Are you sure? I thought you said that you don’t drink.”
“Who are you, my sponser? Give me a beer, man.”
I shrugged and passed one to her and watch her slam down two thirds of it and let out a satisfying sigh, followed by a long belch, then an  adorable giggle.
“Yeah…” she said, and leaned back on her elbows, gazing up at the moon.
I hopped up, struck with inspiration.
I stumbled toward the Gulf of Mexico, and dug up a couple of spork-shaped seashells and rinsed them off in the water. I came back to Emily and held one out to her.
She looked at me with arched eyebrows and an amused half-smile.
I made a digging motion with one of the shells.
A moment later, I almost saw the light bulb over her head like in the cartoons, and she grabbed the mashed potato container and dug in happily.
“You are a genius,” she said, and grabbed for another beer.
It was dark, but my face probably got red again.
She was looking at me in a way that made me slightly uncomfortable, and excited at the same time. Her lips were greasy from the chicken, and glistened in the moonlight.
She reached out and ran her hand through my hair, then finished her beer in one professional sip.
“I would love the opportunity to make you miserable,” she said, and leaned in for a long kiss that tasted like beer and chicken gravy.

I expected it to be awkward the next time we worked together.
“I’m not wearing panties,” was the first thing she said to me upon arriving for her shift at work.
She sure made it hard to concentrate.
We spent the night flirting and getting to know each other better when we had the chance.
She watched me closely, and listened intently while I rambled on about comic books and horror movies. She seemed genuinely interested, and it was hard to believe that it wasn’t some kind of strange trick she was playing on me.
The whole night, I felt a strange new sense of happiness. Finally, I started to think, I found the one I have been looking for.
At the end of the night, we sat at the bar drinking and talking the night away, making plans for our future together.
“I just have to break up with my asshole boyfriend,” she said, late in the night, finishing a whiskey sour she had whipped up.
I recoiled as if I had been stung.
“You have a boyfriend?” I pulled away, felt myself shrinking into myself again. Defenses going up.
She sighed, long and sad. “Yes.”
“Fuck.”
She put her hand in mine and smiled at me. “But I don’t want to be with him any more. I want you. I want us. I found my soul mate at last…”
I smiled. “Who me?”
“Yes you, you jerk,” she said, and punched me in the shoulder, then kissed my mouth hard and passionately. “You are the one I want to be with.”
“When are you going to get rid of him?”
She looked away, but I thought I saw a single tear roll down her cheek. “I am working on it already. Just be patient, and we will be together soon, for real, okay?”
“Yes,” I said, but I felt really strange about it.
She must have seen my inner conflict. I know that I don’t hide it well.
“Hey,” she said, lifting my chin and running her hand through my hair. “You are the one I want to be with. Just be patient with me. I love you.”
She kissed me on the forehead, then gathered her purse and keys and headed out the door.
“See you next week!” she said and blew a kiss at me.
Then she was gone.
Eddie said, “She has a boyfriend you know.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I heard.”
“You know him. It’s Matt, the guy who has been doing our tile work.”
“Really? He doesn’t seem right for her.”
Eddie chuckled. “Yeah, I would be surprised if anyone could tame that girl. She seems dangerous.”
I nodded and looked at my feet.
“Be careful,” he said, shaking his head, then went back to counting his money.

The next Friday, she seemed kind of distant, and we were busier than usual, so we didn’t have a lot of time for small talk until the end of the night. I felt compelled to ask her about our status several times during the evening, but decided to bite my tongue and be patient, as I had promised.
“So when are you going to take me back to your apartment and fuck me?” she asked, at the end of the night.
Her frankness was startling and exciting. I spilled my drink.
My apartment was a shitty little hole, decorated with horror movie posters, comics,  and years worth of junk I had accumulated. And a monster lurking in the corner.
“Well…” I stuttered. “My apartment is kind of a mess, I don’t know…”
“I don’t really have much.”
“I don’t care about that. I just want to be together. I am more impressed with action figures.”
I felt a rush of something, a foreign emotion.
“I mean, what are we actually doing?”
She frowned, then rolled her eyes. “Don’t you want to be with me?”
“You know that I do,” I said. “but what about…you know?”
She sighed loudly. “I’m trying. I can’t seem to get rid of him.”
I could understand. I knew that I never wanted to let this woman go.
“Yes, but if we are going to be together, you need to let him go. I don’t want to be that guy…”
“I know,” she said, sniffing back tears and looking away. “It’s so hard.”
“Yes.”
We sat there in silence for a few moments, the mood destroyed.
“I do love you, you know,” she said. “I just need to figure this all out.”
“I understand,” I told her, even though I really didn’t. It seemed pretty simple from my point of view. “But I need to be the only one. The thought of sharing you is killing me. I love you too, Emily.”
“I have to go,” she said, and was gone before I could see the tears.
I thought about chasing her, but decided to pull another beer, and sit there drinking in silence.
The monster watched, crouched behind a counter, faint traces of a smile at the corners of it’s mouth.

Another week passed, agonizingly slow.
She only worked on Friday nights, and I had the whole week to wonder what she was up to, who she was with, what she was doing…
Occasionally I would get a random text message from her, but whenever I replied I rarely got an answer. All I could do was trust her, and believe she was doing what she said she was.

The next Friday, after work we were back in my apartment, both very tipsy, and she was walking around giggling and touching all of my things. Classic action figures and old books, she seemed genuinely appreciative.
I was following behind her, eyes peeled for the imp.
It was either gone, or hiding very well.
“Oh!” she said. “I love this!”
She was holding up my replica of the puzzle box from the movie Hellraiser, one of my prized possessions.
I never imagined that a woman would honestly appreciate the weird shit I was into. It was a great feeling.
Something moved in the corner, a blurred shape, but my attention was distracted by a long kiss from Emily.
I looked her in her eyes, and she bit her lower lip.
“This is the real thing, isn’t it?” I stammered. “You are really real.”
“No,” she said with a sly grin. “This is all a dream. You made me up.”
I knew it! I thought.
She laughed at the disappointment in my eyes, then took off her shirt and winked at me.
“I am real, silly boy. Come find out.”
God, she looked great. Everything I had always wanted.
“Tell me you love me again,” I said, pulling her close to me, and covering her neck with kisses.
She said nothing, and the terrified look on her face made me think that maybe she had seen the imp in the corner. I looked over my shoulder but saw nothing, looked back to see her trembling and near tears.
“You aren’t going to kill me, are you?”
“What?”
“I mean, no one knows where I am. All alone in your apartment, you are into all this scary stuff…” She waved her arm at my collection of weird stuff. “I don’t even really know you…”
The imp was standing right behind her suddenly, it’s pupils dilated into wide black pools, breathing heavily but silently.
I grabbed her away and pulled her down onto the bed and away from the hungry monster.
Her eyes were wide too, and she was obviously scared of me for some reason, but that kind of made it even more exciting.
Terrified or not, she was wet and ready, and I slid inside her as she gasped, then moaned.
Her long fingernails scratched the back of my head, and her multi-colored tattooed flesh lay out before me for the taking. I groped and caressed with equal measure, my passion for this woman unstoppable.
She was loud and squealed with what I hoped was pleasure, and squeezed the life out of me in one final thrust, and I rolled off her and lay next to her, gasping for breath.
She rolled over away from me, and I think she was crying.
Not exactly what I had been hoping for.

It was Sunday, my normal day off. But I had told Eddie that I would open up the restaurant for the tile guy, to finish up the job in the bathroom he had been working on forever.
He was there waiting for me in the parking lot behind the restaurant when I pulled up.
I had met him in passing a few times before, but never paid much attention until now.
Now that I was fucking his girlfriend.
He was waving at me from his pick-up truck. “Hey Joe! Over here!”
I parked and headed over to him.
“Hey, man,” he said, clapping me on the back like we were old pals or something.
“What’s up, dude?” I said.
“Hey thanks for coming out to let me in here. I have been trying to get this job finished forever, just never seem to have the free time.”
“Sure thing.”
We headed around to the back door of the restaurant and I unlocked it.
“All right,” I said, not wanting to enter this place on my one day off. “Just lock it up when you are finished.”
I forced a weak smile and turned to head back home to my bed.
“Hey,” he said, putting a hand on my shoulder. I shuddered to think what words were coming next. “Do you think Eddie would mind if I buy you a drink? I wanted to talk to you for a minute.”
“What, here? I hate being here on Sundays…”
“But you like to drink, right?”
I nodded.
“Come on in with me for one. It is the least I can do for you, after you have been so good to Emily.” He smiled and looked me directly in the eyes.
Shit. He knows.
Well, I thought, better to face him here where I know where all the exits and potential weapons are hidden.

Inside the restaurant was dark and quiet, the polar opposite of it’s normal swell of happily munching and slurping customers.
Matt and I made our way to the deserted bar, and I had a second to notice he hadn’t brought his tools in.
I slipped around the bar and pulled a beer for myself, trying to hide the fact that my hands were trembling. I took a long sip that helped to steady them, then asked him what he was drinking.
“I’ll just take a soda, thanks,” he said. “I am a recovering alcoholic, you know. So is Emily.”
I filled a glass with ice and soda and handed it across the bar to him.
He took a sip and sat there smiling at me.
“You probably already knew that, though.”
I nodded.
I finished my beer and pulled another one, looking everywhere but at the man seated across from me.
“You seem nervous,” he said, still smiling.
I shrugged, still not meeting his eyes.
“I just don’t really like to be at work on my day off, is all.”
“Take a load off,” he said, pulling out the bar stool next to him. “You work hard. You deserve it.”
That’s when I saw it. The imp was here with us, hiding behind a stack of dishes in the kitchen. I could only see it’s eyes and a bit of black flesh, but it was there, watching closely.
Somehow it made me feel safe.
I walked around and sat next to the guy, feeling inexplicably confident now.
He smiled wide, two rows of perfect white teeth. He clapped me on the back as if we were old buddies.
“Man, it sure was cool of Eddie and Susanne to give Emily this job. She has had a hard time of things lately.”
“She does a great job,” I said, looking back into the kitchen. The imp was gone now.
“Good to hear. She hasn’t been able to hold a steady job in years. Ever since the accident.”
I know I was meant to ask for further details, but I let it go.
“I worry about her,” he continued. “She is so sweet and naive. She was not meant for this world.”
He seemed to be thinking of her with genuine love and caring, it made me wonder why she had described him as such an asshole.
“Yes,” was all I could think to say.
“I would hate to think of anyone taking advantage of her, and her condition.”
He finished his soda and swirled the ice with his chewed up straw.
“Condition?” I asked. “She seems okay to me.”
He threw his head back and laughed, long and hard. I saw the imp scramble from the kitchen into the dining room underneath a table behind us.
“Man, she has everyone fooled, doesn’t she?” He was shaking his head.
Here it comes, I thought. I was right.
“You know you are not the only one, right?” If he was angry, he wasn’t showing it.
I stood, and moved to go re-fill my beer mug, but he placed his hand on my arm gently and stopped me.
“Come on, man. I have been with her for years. I know what she does to people. You are in love with her.”
I pulled away from his loose grasp and moved to the other side of the bar.
He was laughing still.
“Don’t worry, man. I am not mad about it. Like I said, I know what she does to people. Especially lonely young awkward men, like yourself. But I can promise you that she does not really love you.”
He stopped laughing now, and sat there smirking.
“She’s still just an innocent little girl who likes to bring home stray puppy dogs. She loves them for a little while, then forgets them. You are just her latest puppy dog.”
“I have to go,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Our conversation is not over.”
“Emily is a recovering addict, a user. She doesn’t just use substances, she uses people as well. I try to be as accepting as I can, because I know I am the one she loves truly. So I allow her to indulge her addictions occassionally. I promised I would never turn my back on her. Because she always comes back to me.”
He leaned in close, spoke softly.
“You have had your fun now, but it is time to let it go. Let her go. She never was yours, it was all part of her game. You need to move on.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I wont.”
He slid his bar stool out and stood.
“Well then,” he said. “I didn’t want it to come to this, but I guess I am going to have to kick your ass.”
He rolled up his sleeves.
The imp pounced on him then, from across the room, in a blur of motion.
I took a step back and watched, horrified and excited in equal measures.
He was struggling and whimpering as the beast clawed at him, hardly the tough guy who had threatened me only moments ago.

I should have been shocked and horrified, I know.
But I wasn’t. In fact, I had hoped something horrible would happen to him for weeks now.
That he would just go away.
I finished my beer and poured another one as I watched the imp methodically devour Matt’s body.  It paid no attention to me, just went about eating it’s fresh meal.
It took quite awhile, and I drained a few more glasses as the imp crunched bones and licked the blood off the floor.
Finally, nearly two hours later, I was very drunk and the body was gone without a trace.
The imp sat back looking satisfied and tired.
I went home, driving slowly and carefully, and immediately passed out.
My dreams were bloody and weird, and I sat up awake in the middle of the night in a panic, thinking I should have moved his truck from the parking lot. I was bound to be questioned for this, and I had no plan.
The clock said 2 AM, and I got in my car and headed the few blocks over to the restaurant.
His truck was gone.

I had been waiting all week to see her, had been resisting the urge to call her.
Now it was Friday, and she was an hour late.
Susanne was busily prepping to cover the dinner shift, as Eddie kept making phone calls and slamming his phone down frustratedly.
He came back to the kitchen to vent.
“No answer,” he said. “Did you scare her off?”
“I don’t think so.” I was chopping onions.
“Goddammit,” he said. “I am so sick of unreliable people. First her asshole boyfriend blows us off, and now she doesn’t show up! That’s it! I never should have given them a chance, couple of drunks.”
Earlier in the week, he had gone on a tirade about the tile guy not showing up on Sunday, and I had just shrugged. I hadn’t even seen the imp since that day.
I hadn’t seen or heard from Emily either, which was surprising.
Thoughts of her overwhelmed my head for the entire evening, as Susanne subbed for Emily in the dining room. I headed home quickly at the end of the shift, without even staying for a drink.
I was home, utterly alone.
No Idea what to do next.
That’s when the light tapping came, on my front door.
It was Emily, eyes red and hair wild.
I said nothing, let the door fall open.
“Matt is gone,” she said.
I nodded.
She fell into my arms, weeping, and I held her close, stroking her cheek and knotted hair.
After a few minutes, she got control of her sobs, then looked up at me.
“It’s okay,” I was saying. “Now we can be together, like we talked about all of those times.”
She sniffed and pulled away from me. Her eyes narrowed.
“Oh my god. It was you, wasn’t it?”
She pushed me away.
“No, no, it wasn’t me. What are you talking about?”
She held her head in her hands, sobbing.
I moved to hold her, and she jumped away from my touch, and looked up at me with such fury I stepped backward.
“It’s okay. We can be together now.” I moved in to embrace her, but she stopped me in my tracks with one ferocious look.
“Get the fuck away from me!”
“Emily,” I said, trying to stay calm. “I didn’t do anything to Matt. It…it was the imp…”
“What?!”
“You saw it here that night, too, didn’t you? It has been following me around for weeks now, causing me problems. I don’t know where it came from, or what it wants.” I started looking around the apartment for it, but it was nowhere to be seen.
She was keeping her distance and watching me with wide eyes.
“You saw it, didn’t you? That first night we came back here? You thought I was going to hurt you, but it was the imp. You saw it that night.”
“You’re fucking crazy.”
“You saw it, didn’t you?” I was throwing the pillows off the couch, looking for the demon.
“I saw you. I saw that weird look in your eyes, the same one you have now.”
Her sobs were under control and she was inching toward the front door.
“You killed him.”
And, as the words were said aloud they were made true.
It all came at me with the force of a knockout punch. Memories and blood.
I could see myself swinging the baseball bat from behind the bar at his head ; the deafening crack it made when it connected. I saw myself watching him spasm and bleed out on the unfinished tile floor of the restaurant. Watched myself wrapping his lifeless body in plastic and dragging it out to his truck. Hours scrubbing up the blood. I saw myself driving his truck out to a secluded swamp and watching it sink into nothing.
All these memories came flooding in, and I looked at Emily cowering in righteous fear.
I had killed him. There was no imp.
“Yes,” I said.
She just crumpled into a pile near my front door, saying “How could you do this to me?”
“I did it for us. So that we could be together. I thought that is what you wanted.”
Her eyes had gone dead, and she started laughing a humorless laugh.
How had this happened?
I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  Had I misunderstood everything?
I scanned the room for my demon, but we were alone. Both trembling with rage and sadness, for opposite reasons.
We stared each other down for a moment, and finally she stood and composed herself.
“I hate you,” she said, and slammed the door behind her.

I never saw her again, but I did see the imp one last time about an hour later, pointing and laughing at me as the police arrived and dragged me out of my apartment.

“No Place Like Home” a rejected sequel to Nightbreed.

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Last month, it was announced on Clive Barker’s official page that the publishers for the forthcoming anthology “Midian Unmade” were looking for submissions.
As a lifelong fan of Mr. Barker and his creations, I decided to write my own story for inclusion in this project.
Sadly, it was rejected.
Here it is.
I hope you enjoy it more than the editors did!

Nightbreed story September 2013
“No Place Like Home”
By Larry Darling Jr.

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God is a myth.
Oz was a hoax.
And Midian is burning…

In Midian, my name was Ogleon.
Before that, in the natural world, I had a different name but I don’t even remember it now.
Many of my friends didn’t get away when our home was destroyed, but I did.
I ran, instintctively and quickly, my gifts gave me the chance to escape the slaughter and I took it. I dispersed myself into smoke on the few occassions I was spotted by the invaders, then reformed into my sleek, scaly form and sped away to safety on four legs.
Running into the hills at night, the screams and crackling fire at my back, I felt more free than I had in all the years at Midian. I even took one of the straggling humans as my dinner, and it felt great, invigorating me with a feeling of life I had nearly forgotten in all these hidden years. I broke the law, sure, but the laws (and the law-makers) of the Nightbreed were all gone now anyway.
After my warm meal, I scurried up a tree and watched from far safety as the fires of Midian sputtered out and the screams of my people trailed off.
My eyesight is a gift, a clarity of sight not many others know.
Even from three hundred feet away, in the relative safety of my tree, I could see the scene of Midian’s demise as clear as if I were still there in harm’s way. I watched as Lylesburg and the others dispersed carrying hidden pieces of the baptizer under their wings and claws. I watched the Natural, the priest, as he burned with delight  ; the police and townsfolk as they gutted the city and killed any survivors.
I even watched the touching scene between Boone, the one who unmade our sanctuary, and his woman as she pleaded and died and was reborn. My ears could even hear the sound of her breathless promise “I’ll never leave you.”
I wanted to return and kill him myself for what he had done to us with his selfishness.
He had barged into our lives and brought our home down on our heads, all in a matter of days. A secret that had been kept for decades had come undone for the forbidden love between these two. It would have given me great satisfaction to end it for them, yank it away from them as they had done to us, but the risk was too great.
To return now, just to kill the one who had killed us all, would be noble, for sure. But I would surely die in the process.
And the sun was going to be coming up soon ; I could feel it.
I needed to find a new hiding place, until the sun disappeared again.

I watched the embers of Midian burn out until the heat of the rising sun on my back was nearly unbearable, then scrambled out of my tree and barrelled deep into further hills and forest, until I found a large rock outcropping to curl up under and out-wait the day.
Sleep would have been nice, but though my body was weary, my mind could not stop racing. Over and over the events of the evening replayed in my mind. The crumbling walls, the dying children , the screams of my terrified and helpless friends as they tried and failed their own escapes. I had seen too much to process already, it seemed, but as if that weren’t enough, my dreams and thoughts swirled with new and old ghosts.
As I tried to force my body and mind to rest, I kept seeing the visions of Boone (or Cabal, or whatever he called himself ) and his woman, the unconditional love and forgiveness in her eyes, the obvious connection between him growing stronger as he bit a chunk from her neck and made her like us, one of the Breed. As the sun made it’s journey overhead, I squirmed with these visions, which were joined with other sights. Faces I hadn’t seen or considered in years, names I had long forgotten…
A woman who had once looked at me the same way as Lori looked at Boone, said the same words to me.
“I’ll never leave you…”
A smile, a knife, a child.
My sleep was restless and haunted, and I woke with the forgotten woman’s name on my lips.
“Jenna.”
As soon as the name was on my lips, it all came flooding back to me, and I snapped my eyes open, wide awake. Before I had come here to Midian, unknown years in the past, I’d had a woman who professed such love to me as well. We’d had a life, a normal life once. A family. A child.
Of course!  I hadn’t always been Ogleon the lizard man, one of the NIghtbreed.
I had once had a real human life, and a woman who had loved me.
And, of course, she had killed me.

When the night finally fell at last, the sun fully gone, I burst from my hiding spot in a full sprint, hoping to clear my mind, shake it free from the ghosts that had taken over through the day.
I ran at top speed, and only then was my mind fully clear, finally free of the cluttered thoughts of love lost and deep regret that had tortured me all through my restless sleep.
It was only on the occasions when I stopped running, for drink or to catch my breath, that all of those thoughts could catch up.
But there the were, every time I rested, clouding my head.
My wife.
My child, he had only been a baby when I had left them all alone…
My whole previous life haunted me, called me back to it.
I ran for days, maybe weeks, deeper and deeper into the wilderness. I had the same struggles with sleep as I attempted to rest during the days, then when night fell I would just run and run, letting the wind against my face wipe away all of the guilt and shame, at least for the moment.
The nightmares evolved, and the faces of my lost tribe-mates faded over the passing of time. They were slowly replaced, usurped by the visages of the family I had lost before that one.
Soon, I no longer could see or even remember the faces of Lylseburg, or Peloquin, or the sweet Shuna Sassi anymore, only the face of my lost love, Jenna, and the wide eyes of the newborn son I had been forced to abandon a lifetime ago.
Somehow the memories were reshaping themselves, as they do.
The guilt and shame I felt seemed to be remembering things differently, forcing my thoughts of them to change. Deep down, I knew that there had been a reason I had been forced to leave my wife and child, but my selective memory never brought that up. My own brain gave me only smiles and loving looks to remember, not the screaming and stabbing that had forced me into the arms of Midian.
I ran and ran, through forest and hill, just trying to make it all go away.
I grew to enjoy the comfort of the deep forest, except when it came time to feed.
I resisted eating for as long as I could, some kind of forced memory of the old “Laws” I had lived under, forbidding the consumption of human meat. But, of course, the hunger always took over and won. And when I did finally feed it was always glorious and refreshing, the taste of human flesh in my teeth and warm blood on my chin was an invigorating experience every time.
It occurred to me to ask in those moments of feeding frenzy, why exactly we had always been forbidden this meat?
A nourishing meal that made us feel alive and powerful, that helped us to grow and develop our given powers,  yet the laws of the Baptizer had forbidden this. Maybe all this time underground we had been simply under the control of a different kind of sadist. Perhaps Baphomet himself was not much different than the controlling humans who had destroyed our home?
After a while, I stopped resisting the urges to feed. The Laws were forgotten, in fact my whole life in the moon tribes faded.
My new existence became one of pure survival and instinct.
Each morning I would find a new temporary home to rest in, and when the moon rose each night I would run, kill, and feed. All of my time and thoughts were focused on two things : staying alive and trying to outrun the demons of my past.
As the days passed and the nights flew by, I found myself feeling more free than I had in years. My home was deeper into the forest each day, and the sense of freedom I began to recognize grew with each feeding.
Maybe Midian had just been another type of prison, another arbitrary set of rules to keep the monsters in check and hidden from the rest of the world, after all. I wondered if the rest of the Nightbreed I had lived with underground felt this way, now that they had finally been set free to fly and hunt and live again.
As I learned to embrace my inner beast again, I found that my fond memories of the time I had spent under the earth with the other monsters was, after all, not that great. Before long, my thoughts never turned to them at all.
But an odd feeling surfaced, as I lived night after night as my true self, my monster finally unbound, unhidden. Although I feasted nightly on the flesh of unlucky human beings, and rarely changed from my beast form, I began to feel my humanity returning. My future required structure, I knew deep inside. I couldn’t very well run around the forest howling at the moon forever, without getting spotted or attacked. I had this deep instinctual craving for some kind of stable life, but it wasn’t the controlled rules of Midian I was yearning for.
It was something else entirely.

Over time, I found I could survive on the animals of the forest, but the overwhelming surge of beastly life never came from feeding on them. Only the fresh blood and flesh of humans gave that surge of power, of supreme being, that kept me going.
Unfortunately, as I migrated further into the safety of the forest, human flesh obviously became much more scarce.
One night, as I ran beneath the moon, trees and green bush flying past me as I hopped over logs and branches, I hit a small jackpot. A strange strong herbal smell wafted itself through the woods, and I picked up the scent immediately.
I followed it to a small encampment where two large men sat, coughing and laughing, and that sweet pungent scent permeated all the air around them, actually noticeably dulling my own sharp senses the longer I stalked them.
They were tending some kind of hidden garden here, the source of the sickly sweet intoxicating aroma, lovingly watered and relocated. They were tall leafy green plants, and as I watched the men harvested, dried, and smoked the plant, often times dozing off after eating large cooked meals.
I watched them for a few days, and they became my focus. The sweetness of the herb seemed to help block out my other painful memories, and these two future victims became my main concern.
On the third night, I took them easily, devouring one completely and viciously after a few days of patient starving. The second one watched the whole scene in stark disbelief until I made my move toward him. I ripped his throat out before he could speak, but left him alive to feed on in a leisurely fashion for the next few days.
For those days, I stayed predominately in my human form, trying to remember how to function as a Natural ;  up on two feet, cooking my food with fire and speaking the language of the humans.
It felt good, and comfortable after a while, and the sweet herb my victims had cultivated helped to clear my mind of all memories and just focus on the current situation, how to be human again. And if it was even possible…
After a few days and nights had passed, I had eaten the last of my meat, cooked like a civilized human being, and I had the guttural instinct telling me I should leave this place.
But now where would I go?
I had no idea or plan, I just ran through the night, out of the forest sanctuary instead of deeper into it. I didn’t realize my destination until I found myself peering in the windows of my former home, whispering out for my long lost wife and child, strange wetness at my eyes and a bizarre swelling of emotion inside me that could only be my own humanity.
I was home, at last.

I had no concept of how much time had actually passed since I had last been here, this place I had once called home. I knew it must have been several years, but the house still looked the same. The same yellow and blue paint job ; the same gravel driveway and mailbox shaped like a birdhouse.
It was dark, of course, and the night and neighborhood was still and very quiet.
The moon was half-full, bright and high in the sky.
I circled the house nervously a few times, peering through the windows like a criminal.
I saw my son’s room, still painted with a child’s mural on the wall, a trunk stacked with thin golden-spined books and plush toys. I smiled to myself. Maybe my time with the monsters hadn’t been as long as it seemed…
I extended my claws and scaled the outside wall of the house, and peeked into the master bedroom, where I had lain with my wife once upon a time.
I could see her in there, lying in bed, wrapped in blankets.
I watched her breathing for a few moments, suddenly nervous about our reunion.
The slow up and down movement of her breathing beneath the blankets calmed me as I watched, and I quietly descended the wall to gather my thoughts for a few seconds.
What exactly was I going to do?
Burst through the front door with a smile and wide arms, saying “Honey, I’m home!”
No, no that didn’t seem like the best plan, but I really didn’t have anything else. I crouched outside the house in the bushes, second-guessing and rethinking my impulsive plan.
Suddenly a light came on downstairs, and I could hear some shuffling around in the kitchen, a sickly phlegmy cough, and a huge sigh.
I watched as she switched the kitchen light off, and shuffled into the living room carrying a carton of ice cream, still wrapped in  a blanket.
She plopped herself on the couch and flipped on the television, staring at it with droopy eyes as she shoveled ice cream into her mouth.
I tapped lightly on the window with one of my still-extended claws, and whispered her name to the wind.
“Jenna.”
Tap tap tap.
“Jenna, it’s me. I’ve come home.”
Tap. Tap tap.
“I have missed you so…”
Tap…
Finally, she turned her head toward the window and saw me standing there, waving and trying to smile.
The look of absolute terror that arose on her face actually startled me, and I ducked back down into the bushes, and looked behind me for some monster lurking there.
But it was only me, alone in the shrubbery, hiding from myself.
I saw her creep slowly toward the window where I had been a moment ago and peering out into the darkness. She had shed her blanket as she hopped up from the couch to investigate, and although it was certainly the same woman I had loved long ago, she did not look the same.
Her hips were wider, breasts lower, and her face tragically wrinkled and worn ; she seemed a shadow of the woman I remembered. Time and the tragedy of life had certainly taken their toll on her.
It was okay, though. I knew that I could still love her.
She shook her head and rolled her eyes and sat back down in front of the flickering box with her bucket and spoon, and soon was snoring as I watched.

With a sudden surge of bravery, I decided to make my move.
I hadn’t been drawn all this way to cower in the bushes from my one true love. It was well past time for us to be reunited.
After all, what was I afraid of?
In my time I had seen all manner of horror and monsters, there was certainly nothing of that to fear here.
Lacking any further cohesive plan, I took a deep breath, smoothed my shirt, remembering to retract my claws, and strode up onto the front porch and knocked on the front door like a civilized human being.
I heard the rustle from inside, and some heavy steps toward the door, followed by the rough gravelly voice of my love, asking “Who is it?”
“Eric,” I answered, my former name finally remembered in a sudden flash. I was Eric again, not Ogleon, creature of the night.
“Open up, Jenna. I’m home.”
Silence from the other side, a muffled whimper.
Then the door slipped open a crack and the eyeball behind the door saw me, widened, and my lover’s scream pierced the night.
“No no no, it can’t be…” she was saying, backing away from the door, openly weeping and covering her own mouth.
So much for the enthusiastic homecoming I had expected.
“Hello, Jenna,” I said. “I have missed you so…”
“Stay the fuck away from me,” she croaked through tears, backing away.
This was not what I had expected, but maybe I should have.
“I’m not here to hurt you, Jenna,” I said, as she steadily inched away, bumping an end table.
She squeezed her wet eyes shut tight. “What the hell do you want from me?”
“I just want us to be together, to be a family again.”
She had backed herself into a corner, and just stood there whimpering with her eyes closed. I moved toward her, my hands raised in supplication.
She was shaking her head no.
I was so close to her now, looking her up and down. I could still see the woman I had loved all that time ago in her face, despite the aging.
“Eric, you are a monster. You don’t belong in this world. I killed you.”
She fell to her knees, sobbing, wrapping her trembling arms around her head.
“Oh god,” she said, “I killed you…”
I reached out and stroked her hair lightly, lovingly.
“That’s all in the past, Jenna. I forgive you. I can be human again. Look at me.”
She opened her eyes weakly, and looked up at me slowly, then let loose a horrified scream.
She pushed me away and ran clumsily into the open door of the bathroom, grabbing a razor blade and holding it out with both hands. I followed her, trying to remain calm. I knew she would take some convincing.
Then I saw myself reflected in the bathroom mirror.
The “human form” I had been practicing so proudly before my return was anything but appealing. My face was raged and patchy with rust-colored scales and odd hairs. My own eyes were yellow slits with a red pinpoint of pupil, and I could see my teeth were sharp and I was drooling on myself.
I had never been more wrong in my thought I could pass as human again. She was right ; I am a monster.
A raspy voice from behind me said, “Get the hell away from my wife,” and I felt cold metal pressing into my back. I could see Jenna’s eyes widen with relief in front of me.
“Roy!” she was saying to the man behind me. “Shoot him!”
I spun around and grabbed the gun from the man’s hand before he could obey her order, and sized him up. He was pudgy and middle-aged, trembling underneath a thick blanket. This man must have been the body I had observed snoring in the bed upstairs. Things were starting to make a different kind of sense, reality deviating far from the fantasy I had envisioned.
“What are you doing in my home?” I hissed at the man.
“Y-your home…? I have been paying the mortgage on this shithole for years now. Jenna, what is going on?” He was trembling, but stood his ground.
She addressed me instead, speaking evenly and softly. “Eric. Roy is my husband now. He has been for years. Twenty years, in fact. You are dead, I had to move on. You can’t just come back here like this. You have to go away. I spent years trying to forget you and what you became, and you can’t just barge in here like this. Please…just…leave me alone…”
It broke my heart, but she was right. This had been a very foolish venture.
“Twenty years…” I said under my breath, and felt my own tongue slip out and wet my lips.
I shook my head. I had to go back into the forest, this was no place for me.
I caught a glimpse of my own terrible countenance in the mirror again, and looked away quickly in disgust.
“I see,” I croaked at last, breaking the odd tense silence in the air at last. “I will leave.”
Roy breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and lowered his weapon and stepped aside. I brushed past him as he rushed to comfort my wife, his wife. They held each other and cried together.
I turned back to them.
“I just want to see my son one more time, before I go,” I said. “See what he looks like as a young man. Say goodbye to him. Please.”
These words made Jenna burst into a loud sob.
“Where is he?”
Roy stood up from Jenna and moved toward the bathroom door, blocking me from her.
“I heard all about you years ago, but I have to admit I didn’t really believe all of it,” Roy was saying to me. “Eric, right?”
“Ogleon.” I hissed at him.
“Okay, Ogleon, then.” The man was amazingly calm given the circumstances he found himself in. “I am going to have to ask you politely to leave now, and don’t ever come back.” He raised the shotgun slightly, but not in an threatening way. Just a reminder.
I smacked the gun from his hand, and it skitted across the tile floor.
“Where is my son?” I asked firmly, anger boiling up.
Roy’s composure had disappeared when I’d disarmed him, and they both stared back at me in silence.
“Answer me!”
FInally, from her crumpled position in the corner, Jenna said, “He’s gone, Eric.”
Any humanity I still retained vanished with those words.
“Gone?” I repeated.
“He was too much like you. He was a monster. We had to destroy him.”
She hung her head.
“You killed our son?”
“He was not well. He was dangerous. He did not belong on this earth. I am not sorry.”
Before I could stop myself, I had torn her throat out, and the last of her life gurgled out of her neck in a red waterfall. Roy hesitated a moment in shock, but moved for his weapon after a beat. He was fast for an old guy, I will give him that, but not fast enough.
My claws ripped through his flesh before he even reached the gun, and I was kneeling over him slurping his blood before he even stopped breathing.
In that quick moment, every thing finally made sense.
The humanity that I had struggled and yearned for was gone, with the life of my son. I could finally accept it.
I was a monster, they were right.
But so were they, just a different kind.
I knew finally that I didn’t belong anywhere ; not in Midian, not in the natural world, not even in the fires of hell.
I belonged only to the Night, and I ran out into it then, the warm nourishment of human blood strengthening me and the cold air rushing against me the only thing making me feel alive, despite the knowledge that I was actually long-dead.
Yes, I am a monster, but there are worse things to be.

Zombie Gang-Bangers From Utah

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Zombie Gang-Bangers from Utah
By Larry Darling Jr
2013

1.
Fucking Utah.
What am I doing in Utah?
Zombie apocalypse or not, who the hell even comes to Utah?

“Shhhhhh, sweetie,” came from the girl curled up next to me in the passenger seat of the stolen car I was driving.  It was a nice Lexus. I never could have afforded to drive one of these before the end of the world.
“Utah is beautiful, peaceful.  Just wait till you see the Great Salt Lake.  You will understand,” she was saying in a calm, sleepy voice.
God, I must have been talking out loud and not even realized it.
The girl, Sabella, snuggled up close next to me and closed her eyes again, sighing peacefully.
It made me smile a tired smile, against my will.  That is how amazing she was.
Feeling the soft hum of her breath next to me, I looked forward again, out the windshield, at the never-ending stretch of blank highway and flat land surrounding us.
I had been driving for days, and hadn’t even seen a zombie in hours.
Maybe Sabella had been right.
Maybe Utah was the perfect place to go, simply because no one else would think to go there.

A few hours later, the scenery slowly began to change.  We had finally made it through Nevada.  Instead of straight, rocky plains, mountains started to emerge.  I kept driving in silence as Sabella snored softly next to me.
Suddenly, a raw scream from the back seat startled me out of my driving-coma.
I snapped my head around to look at the screaming little kid strapped into the car-seat behind me.
Sabella immediately stirred herself awake and sat up next to me.
She reached her hand into the back seat with the care and confidence of a good Mommy, cooing, “What is wrong, little Mikey? Did my sweetie-pie have a bad dream?”
She was reaching back there and unbuckling his car-seat, pulling him into the front of the car with us.
He quieted down instantly as she placed sweet kisses all over his tiny face.
She reached into a bag and found a bottle to stick in his mouth, and then she was looking at me with wide, scared eyes.
“So,” she said, “Where are we?”
“How the fuck do I know?” I answered, honestly.
She just looked down, didn’t respond.
“I’m sorry,” I told her, putting my right hand on her thigh, “I just don’t know where we are or where we are going…”
I sighed, wishing I hadn’t drank my last beer two days ago.
“It’s okay,” she said, putting her left hand on my thigh, “We are getting close now.”
She was looking out the windows, vaguely smiling.
“This is starting to look familiar.  We’ll be at my brother’s place before you know it.”
She kissed my cheek, then, and I was convinced.
I kept driving.

Even later.
It was getting dark and the scenery hadn’t changed.
Sabella had rocked little Mikey back to sleep, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.
I just wanted to curl up in a tiny, fetal position in her arms and fall asleep to gentle strokes on my forehead and whispers that everything was going to be all right…
But no.
I was starting to detox, and panic.
I was out of painkillers, and alcohol, and we were almost out of gas.
I don’t think Sabella knew any of that.

I saw a sign for an exit, and decided to pull off the highway and see what we could scrounge up.  It looked like some tiny little po-dunk town, but at least they would have a 7-11, right?
The sun was just beginning to fall behind a chunk of rock on the horizon, and the whole world seemed to be washed in that fading pink glow.
I pulled off onto a bumpy, gravel road, apparently jostling Sabella and Mikey around enough that their eyes snapped open.
In front of us was an old country store, no corporate  convenience store like I had hoped, but I could see a single gas pump standing like a scarecrow, and a flashing neon sign that said  COLD BEER.  That was good enough for me.
I pulled the Lexus up next to the gas-pump, and put it in park, turning to Sabella.
She was looking up at me with those huge, innocent eyes, and so was the baby.
Their looks said, “Help us, please.  Save us.”
No pressure at all.
Sabella didn’t say anything, just continued to look at me, into my soul.  She grabbed my hands in hers and held all four of them together tightly.
I took a deep breath.
“So,” I began, “We are almost out of gas.  And everything else.  This place looks empty, pretty quiet.  And I haven’t even seen any of them since we crossed the state line.  Maybe the Mormons were right all along.  Maybe Utah really is the promised land.”
I forced a weak smile.
“It seems dangerous,” Sabella said, looking out the windshield, trying to see into the store.
I laid on the horn for about 30 seconds.  Rolled down the window and called out, “Hey!!! Anybody in there?  We need some fucking help!!!”
I looked back at Sabella and we both shrugged.
“All right,” I said.  “I’m going in.  Keep the doors locked until I get back.  Two minutes, tops.”
“Okay,” she said, and kissed me sweetly on the mouth.  “But take this with you.”
She reached into the back seat and withdrew a blood-stained baseball bat.
The same one we had used to bash her mother’s brains out with, two days ago, when I had arrived to pick her up for our second date. A lifetime ago, before we had become the people we are now.
Before the world had gone all George Romero on us.
But no sense dwelling on the past, I thought, as I took the bloody baseball bat, and kissed her on the forehead.
“Two minutes,” I promised again, and opened the door.

I crept into the quiet store, trying to scan in every direction, check every corner.  I had seen all the movies, and there was no denying that this was a real zombie apocalypse.  It had finally happened, just like we had always known it was going to.   At least I was prepared; I’d played all the video games and read all the books.  Nothing was going to jump out at me and rip my throat out, goddammit.
The store was empty, and obviously had been for a couple of days at least.  Some candy bars were scattered on the floor, and a shelf had been knocked over, but there were no signs of blood or bodies.  It was eerily quiet, and I wanted nothing but to gather the supplies and get the fuck out of there.
The power was still on, thankfully, keeping the beer cold.
I grabbed a frosty bottle of Michelob and slammed it down in one long gulp.  My hands had been shaking with withdrawal for the last 2 days, so badly that I was surprised Sabella hadn’t noticed.  Maybe she had, and just not said anything.  We didn’t really know each other that well, after all.
Now what I needed was a pharmacy.  Get some Lortabs or Vicoden in my system and everything would be just fine.  I scrounged around behind the cash register and pocketed some single-serving packets of tylenol and advil ; not even close, but they might ease my headache.
I filled a couple of bags with junk food ; chips and chocolate.  Grabbed some sodas, a gallon of milk, and a case of beer, and I was out of there.
I smiled at Sabella as I made my way back to the car, arms full of loot.  She looked at me gravely at first, then with a warm smile.  I guess I had been longer than two minutes.
“Were there any in there?” she wanted to know, as I unloaded my arms into the back seat.
“What?  Zombies?”
“No. Fucking ponies.”  She rolled her eyes.  “Of course, zombies.  Were there any?”
“Nope.  Not that I saw.  Lucky us, huh?” I said, cracking open another cold beer.
“Christ, did you get enough beer?” she asked mockingly, pawing through the plunder.
“Not fucking likely,” I said, taking a long sip with a smile.
“Did you get any cigarettes?” she asked, throwing her hands up.
“Fuck.”  I forgot the smokes ; the one vice I had actually quit a few years back.
“I’ll go in and get some,” she said, grabbing the baseball bat out of my hand.
“Suit yourself,” I said, popping the top off another Michelob and looking around at the silent evening.  I was feeling better already.
She hesitated.  “You sure there wasn’t any in there?”
She bit her bottom lip.
“What? Ponies?  I’m sure.”
“I hope there is a pony. I have always wanted to beat one to death,” she said, grinning, and disappeared into the store.
“Hey grab a map if you see one.  Maybe we can figure out where the hell we really are.”
The silence was truly bizarre.
The town we had fled from two days ago had been a full-tilt apocalyptic disaster.  Unstoppable undead roaming the streets, everywhere you looked.  Electricity was nonexistent.
Chaos ruled.
Everywhere you looked, someone was bleeding or screaming ; eating or being eaten.
We had barely made it out of Portland alive, stealing a car and flying down the interstate at speeds in triple digits.  Now, here we were, in the middle of nowhere, and all was clear.
I hadn’t had an actual plan when we had hauled ass after beating Sabella’s zombified mother to death.  Shit, I didn’t even know she had a kid until she insisted on running back into her house to grab him.  I had briefly considered leaving them both there for zombie-food and saving my own ass, but my mother always told me to only do what I could live with, and I didn’t think I could live with that.
Besides, we’d had a pretty sweet first date.  Maybe if I saved her and the kid I would at least get to second base, I had reasoned.
So the three of us had hauled ass out of town.
Sabella carrying the wailing child, me carrying the bat.
The city had gone insane by then, fucking zombies everywhere trying to bite everyone.
The Lexus had been parked in a lawn on the corner, still running and car alarm squealing.
The remains of a guy were in the driver’s seat still, missing some important pieces.  An undead girl was munching busily on his face until I swung the bat at the back of her head so hard that it merged into his with a loud crack, and the two bodies fell out of the car as one onto the curb.
We jumped in the car and took off.
I know that I must have ran over at least a baker’s dozen of them trying to get to the interstate ramp.
Sabella kissed me hard and sweet, and told me she had a brother in Utah named Henry and that we should go see him.  He was, by her description, a “fucking nutcase conspiracy-theorist who lived in the woods with a bunker and a shitload of weapons”.
It was better than any idea I had.
So here we were.
Fucking Utah.
Quiet as shit, and, somehow, scarier than hell.
“Hey, asshole, you weren’t even worried about me?”
Sabella was back, lighting up a smoke with a deep satisfied inhalation.  She was smiling.  I fugured that it must have been more of the playful sarcasm that she favored, that I hadn’t exactly figured out how to read yet.
This could still be considered our second date, for Christ’s sake.
“I told you there weren’t any in there,” I said, smiling back.  It seemed to me that she loved this zombie apocalypse shit as much as I did.
“Yeah but that’s always when one jumps out in the movies. Young girl wanders into a deserted store alone…”
She was chuckling as she sauntered up to me, hitting me with a playful punch, then sliding her arms around me.
“Too cliché,” I told her, sipping my beer and returning her embrace.  I wondered if we would have gotten along so well if we’d just had a normal second date.
She laughed, then handed me a folded up map of the area.  “If you can get us to the Great Salt Lake,” she said, “Then I know how to get to my brother’s house from there.”
I nodded and unfolded the map, trying to place where the hell we were.
“Weird, isn’t it?” she said.  “How quiet it is here.  Maybe it never even got here, whatever it is.”
“Zombie apocalypse,” I reminded her, not looking up from the map.
She laughed long and loud.  If I wasn’t more insane than she was, that laugh would have made me nervous.
“Yeah, I know that, but what caused it.  You know ; super-flu, government testing, some crazy viral outbreak, infected test monkeys…where did it come from?” She was looking up at the dark sky, blowing smoke rings.
“What difference does it make?”  I had never cared much for explanations for this shit in the movies.  “All we know is that it happened.  And it may have avoided Utah completely.”
I folded the map back up and opened the car door.  “I’m so glad I asked you out.”
“Why?  My sparkling personality?” she said dryly, looking up at me. “Or the fact that I led us to the motherfucking promised land?”
“The crying baby in the back seat, of course,” I said, winking.
She smiled weakly and slipped away from me.
“I know it’s a big burden, and you would be better off without us.  I don’t know how I will ever repay you.”
“Blow-job in the car?” I suggested.
Her eyes widened with shock, then she laughed slyly.  “Ok,” she agreed, “just not with my kid in the back seat.”
Wow.  She shocked me back.
“Seriously, it’s no trouble.  I’m just glad I could be here for you two.  I was just joking around…” I tried to convince her.
She looked up at me with a sweet smile and trusting eyes.
“Everything is going to be okay,” I promised her.
It was the biggest lie I ever told.

2.
The kid was wailing in the back seat and it was doing nothing for my headache.  We had been driving for what felt like forever to me.
The sun was up again, beating down on us, unmerciful.
Mountains would come and go on either side of us, disappearing into plains, then forming back into mountains again.  We never passed another occupied car, but I’d had to swerve around plenty of abandoned ones and could scarcely avoid the rotting remains that seemed to be everywhere.
I drank and drove, and wished Mikey would stop squealing for more than a minute at a time.
“Wendover!” Sabella cried out next to me, screaming to be heard over the wailing of her child.  “That’s it!  Wendover!  I remember now.”
A green sign announced the town as being ten miles away as we blew past it, and another underneath told of a rest stop just ahead.
Sabella could barely contain her excitement.  “I knew we would make it.  We should be able to see the Great Salt Lake from the rest-stop coming up.”
“Awesome.  I’ve got to piss anyway,” I told her half-hearted and drunkenly.  I had been slamming the Michelobs quite steadily as we drove along the eternal highway.  I should have stopped drinking by now, but it was all that was keeping me from tossing the kid out the window.
She could see my obvious tension and started kneading my shoulders.  She kissed my cheek lightly.
“I knew you would save us.  Thank you so much.”
I loosened up slightly ; at least Mikey had quieted down in the back seat.  Maybe everything was going to be all right…
I pulled off into the rest stop exit a little too abruptly and shook the kid into squealing again.
I hopped out of the car swiftly, to get away from the cries, and empty my bladder.
The smell smacked me in the face, almost knocking me down.
It was death and rot, mixed with heavily salted air and brackish water.  We had never been more mistaken than our hopes that this disaster had somehow avoided the state of Utah.
“Oh my god,” I heard Sabella say next to me, covering her mouth with her hand.
I couldn’t hold it in anymore.  I bent over and retched out everything I had ingested recently.  Candy-bars, Tylenol, and beer-foam.
From the rest area we had an unbelievable view of the Great Salt Lake, that was for sure.
The lake had become a giant tomb, a mass grave.
It was piled high with rotted bodies, floating atop with the lake’s natural salted buoyancy.  The dead lake stretched as far as we could see from our high vantage point, an ungodly mausoleum with bloated dead of such number it suggested the outbreak had actually likely started here, and been going on for months.  A few reanimated corpses wandered sluggishly around the shore of the hideous lake, aimless and lost.
Did they eat their own? I didn’t know, and couldn’t remember from any movies.  Flesh was flesh, I supposed. Brains were brains.
“Some promised land,” I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
Sabella was fanning the air in front of her face and trying not to breathe in, looking at me with watering eyes.
We got back into the car and rolled up the windows, pulling in deep breaths of reasonably fresh air.
She was crying now, and the baby took up a duet with her.  I briefly considered throwing the car into drive, and rolling right over the cliff to swiftly end it for us all.
Instead I said, “Fuck.  What do we do now?”
She was sobbing next to me, curled up against the passenger door.  “I don’t know.  I’m so sorry.”
I wanted to tell her it was okay, but I couldn’t.
This was light years worse than Portland had been, and infinitely worse than my pessimistic mind had actually expected.  The whole population of Utah was certainly floating on that lake, rotting under the sun.
“Give me one of those cigarettes,” I told her, and lit up in frustration for the first time in years.
She lit one too and tried to get her sobs under control.
“Maybe my brother is still alive…” she was saying, wiping at her tears and exhaling smoke in huge clouds.
“Not fucking likely,” I said, half-empty.
“Well, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know! You could start with shutting that fucking kid up!”
It had finally all gotten to me.  This was no video game, no shitty direct-to video movie.  We were fucked.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and all I could see was the corpse lake in my mind.  The smell was still lingering too; it felt like it was seeping into my pores.
Sabella pulled the baby into her arms and rocked him into bearable cries of intermittent despair, and she was looking at me with something like disgust.
“You know what,” she said, not really a question, her eyebrows arching.
“Fuck you.  I don’t know why I ever even trusted you.  We will go on without you.  We don’t need a chickenshit like you anyway.  It has only always been us anyway.  You don’t give a fuck about us.”
She started to open the door and get out, and I was trying to apologize, tell her it would be okay, we would get through this, when a gunshot rang out and the windshield shattered inward, raining glass on us.
I leaned toward her instinctively to cover her and the baby, and we all ended up in a pile on the ground as the passenger door swung open.
“Are you okay?” I asked her as we lay there, motionless.
“No,” she croaked, her eyes squeezed shut.  “What was that?”
“I think someone is shooting at us.”
“You think right,” boomed an echoing voice from behind us.  “Now get on your feet.”
I stood, wobbling, helping Sabella up, taking the suddenly silent Mikey from her and dusting him off.  He smiled up at me innocently, and looked all around with tiny wide eyes.  He was so quiet I was afraid we had crushed him.
Standing behind us, pointing a smoking shotgun in my face, was a huge person wearing ragged military fatigues and a gas mask.
“Oooh, a baby,” he said through the gas mask, clearly pleased.  “They love babies.  Give it to me.”
Sabella grabbed her child away from me, as if she thought I was going to just hand him over.  “Please, sir,” she said through tears.  “Help us.”
“I don’t think so, pretty,” he said.  Even though we couldn’t see his face, I suspected he was smiling.  “Give me the baby and come with me.”
“Or else what?” I asked.  “You’ll shoot us?  Go ahead.  Just get it over with”
“It doesn’t matter to me either way,” he said.  “It’s just as easy to turn her, dead or alive.  And you are just meat.”
What the fuck had just happened? I had just lost any semblance of control.
“The baby, though.  They like them best fresh.  Now hand it over.”  The voice sounded tinny and emotionless filtered through the mask.  He extended his arm and held the shotgun’s muzzle at Sabella’s forehead.
“Fuck you,” she spat, showing more of that self-righteous anger she obviously barely held in check most of the time.  “He’s my child!  You can’t have him.  Why don’t you help us, you asshole?”
The shot rang out deafeningly loud in the silence, and the splatter of chunky blood that flew out of the back of her skull splashed all over the hood of the car.  She dropped to her knees, still holding tight to little Mikey, even as her blood rained down on him.
My jaw dropped in complete shock, and I could not force myself to move.
The man wearing the gas mask swiftly reloaded his double-barrelled shotgun, and bent down to grab the wailing child from her arms before her lifeless body slumped over and dropped him.
He was pointing the gun at my head now, as I stood frozen with horror.
It was unnecessary ; I couldn’t have moved if I tried.  With his other gloved hand he was tickling the baby into peals of haunting laughter.
“Get down on the ground,” he told me, and somehow I managed to drop to my knees next to the slumped body of Sabella.
He walked around to the side of the car and strapped Mikey into the car-seat, as he was muttering something into a walkie-talkie.
I looked at Sabella’s body in disbelief.  Her eyes were wide with shock, and her long black hair was highlighted red with her own blood and gray chunks of brain.  She still had a look on her face like she was about take a swing at the man with the gun.  I should never have questioned her courage.
My own courage , I didn’t think even existed anymore.
With Mikey strapped into the car-seat, the man trudged back around to the front of the car and said, “Get up, tough guy.”
I stood.
“Put her in the car.  The back seat with the kid.”  He held out a mason jar.  “Put the rest of her in here.”  He pointed at the chunks of brain and shards of skull decorating the hood of the stolen lexus.
He pulled off the blood-spattered gas mask, and took a deep breath.  He had a thick, graying beard, and uneven brown teeth that he exposed with a twisted grin.  He lit a cigarette from a pack he had probably swiped from Sabella’s purse.
“I don’t get what the big deal is.  The smell really isn’t so bad once you get used to it.  It’s actually kind of nice.”  He was smiling ; fucking beaming.
I threw up on his shoes.
“You have to learn to adapt to the situations the world hands you, son,” the bearded man was saying to me as I tried to pull myself together.  He dragged deep on the cigarette, then lit another one with the butt.  “Make the best of things, that’s what we always say.  Just know that God has a plan for you, whatever it may be.”
I was gagging again, head spinning, unable to think, and he was laughing his ass off at me.
“Now get to work.  And don’t leave behind any of the brains.  You know they love that shit.”

3.
He was driving my stolen car, me in the passenger seat with red hands and an empty soul.  Mikey was in the back seat, unbelievably grinning happily next to the bloody body of his mother.  The jar full of Sabella’s brains and blood, her life and thoughts, sloshed in the seat between the driver and I.
I wanted only to die.  I felt so useless and filled with shame and sickness, I could hardly bear to keep my head up.  I had failed, failed miserably.  The old man who had won had sized me up after I had finished scraping Sabella’s insides from the hood of the car.  He looked like he was considering tying me up, but decided that it wasn’t even necessary.  I was beaten.  Just another walking dead.
He was talking into the walkie-talkie as he drove, laughing merrily and bragging to someone about his catch.
“I think the guy shit himself,” he was saying, bellowing laughter.  “And the woman, just wait till you see her!  God is good!”
He laughed again at something I couldn’t make out from the other end, nodding and saying, “Yeah, I will be home soon, and we can play.”
He drove for a while, chain-smoking in silence.  The baby in the back seat was amazingly quiet; whenever he did start to make a gurgle or a cry, the old man cooed him into content silence.  It was unbelievable.
I tried not to just sit there whimpering in the passenger seat, but I could hardly make sense of anything, much less formulate a plan.
After a stretch on the interstate, he pulled off on an exit, then onto a lumpy dirt road.  It seemed like miles we traveled on this vague path in silence, until we came upon a tall razor-wire fence hidden by trees.  He got out and pulled some trees to the side and unlocked a gate, slid it open.  If I’d had any semblance of hope left, I could have slid over into the driver’s seat and drove away.  Somehow that idea seemed even more futile.  Where would I go now, with the dead body of a beautiful woman and an orphan child in the back seat?  All I could think to do at this point was to roll over and die.  It seemed easier to just leave everything in the hands of this man.  At least he seemed to have a plan…
He seemed amused that I hadn’t tried anything when he slid back into the driver’s seat and drove slowly through the gate.
“At least you know when you are beaten,” he said, smiling.  “It won’t be so bad.  Everyone has a purpose.  Yours is just meat.  You should be happy to serve your purpose.”
The thick woods on either side of us disappeared slowly, as the road widened into a clearing and a tall gray industrial windowless building.  Writing on the wall by the front door read: Hill Air Force Base.
“Home sweet home,” the old man chided next to me, giving me a hard poke in the ribs.  I didn’t even respond.  “Let’s go.”
I managed to drag myself to my feet and get out of the car.  I was just ready to die and get it over with.
He unstrapped Mikey and pulled him out of the back seat, smiling his rotten smile at the baby.  He swung the child around as if he were just some weird old uncle who hadn’t seen him in a while.  The baby chuckled and smiled.
“Get the girl and come with me,” he told me.
I bent over and pulled Sabella’s corpse out of the car.  I hoisted her up over my shoulder, trying not to look into her dead eyes.  Her sticky, matted hair brushed against my face, as I hauled her over to the door where the man stood cradling Mikey.  He pounded on the heavy iron door with his gloved fist, rocking the baby in his other arm.  He still kept one watchful eye on me, not to mention his loaded shotgun was always within reach, strapped to his leg.
Another man on the other side wrenched the door open with what looked like great effort, and grinned an insanely joyous grin at his cohort holding the squirming baby.  This man looked less muscular, and younger than the one I had been riding with, and his teeth were sparkling white, eyes darting with mad intelligence.  Maybe I would be able to reason with him.
“Joseph!” he exclaimed.  “Look what you’ve brought us.  You truly are a worthy disciple.”
“Thank you, my lord John,” the older man said, bowing slightly and offering the baby to him.  “I hope I have done well enough to earn a new wife.”
John narrowed his eyes and nodded at my captor, then looked past him to me.  “Well lets see her, then.  She may be to my liking.  As you know I have need of a new wife as well, Joseph.”
“Yes, my lord.”  He turned to me as well.  “Meat, bring her here.”
I had no choice but to do as they asked.
“Who are you?” asked the younger man, John.  “I mean to ask who were you, before you ended up here, in the service of God?”
I shrugged under the weight of the dead woman.  All I could think about is what I should have done for her.  All the things she needed from me that I had failed to provide.
“He doesn’t even know who he was!” John clapped his hands together, cackling laughter.  “Do you see, Joseph?  His place is clear.  He was no one, and had no purpose in his previous life. He serves only to bring god closer to us.  God has delivered us this meat for a reason.  This is proof.”
“I told him as much,” Joseph said, looking like a puppy eager to impress its master.  He got a pat on the head as the other man stepped closer to me and Sabella.
“Yes,” he said, looking closely at Sabella’s body draped over my shoulder.  “She was quite beautiful, wasn’t she?  Too bad about the big hole in her head isn’t it?  Did you really have to shoot her in the face?”
“She wouldn’t shut up,” said Joseph, looking timid.
“Yes, of course.  Live women always tended to have that problem.  Perhaps that is why God saw fit to change all that.  We don’t have to listen to them anymore do we?  They do whatever we want them to now, don’t they?”
He was right next to me now, looking me up and down as he had Sabella.
“Was she your wife in life, Meat?” he asked, close enough that I could smell his breath.
“Did you love her and her running mouth?  Did you think that you would live happily ever after?  We all have a purpose to serve.  Yours was not to live happily ever after, in case you were wondering.”
He stepped away without waiting for any answers and stroked the head of the baby gently.
“Yes, Joseph, I will take her as my new deadwife.  You may use the remains of my last one as you will.  You have served me well.  Take her to be prepared and I will be there after I check on the farm.”  John gave orders with the confidence of someone who had never been denied.  “Give me the baby, and I will show these two to their purpose.”
Joseph handed Mikey to John, and took Sabella’s body away from me.  I could still feel the weight on my shoulders.  He went back for the jar on the seat of the Lexus, and shook it proudly for John as he passed by us , entered the barracks, and disappeared down a winding hallway inside.
“Well, Meat,” he said, smiling brightly at me.  “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”

4.
He led me down the long hallway, gently clicking and cooing to baby Mikey, who giggled with content pleasure as he smiled at me from over the shoulder of our captor.
I followed along behind John in silence, passing doorways  on the left and right.
Some were closed and locked, some curtained, and some open a crack.
Inside one I glanced over at was a red splatter and an unmade bed covered in assault rifles.
On the right I saw a group of dead eyes staring hungrily through a window.
“Come on now, keep up,” the man in front of me was urging, winding along this neverending corridor.
Savage grunts and moans were coming from an open doorway ahead on the left, and I shook my head, telling myself not to look.
I tried to force myself to move along with tunnel vision, but a voice from inside the room called out “John!” and the man in front of me stopped and turned toward the room, his hand still gently stroking the back of Mikey’s head.
“Ah, yes!” John said with a grin. “Brother Frank! Are you enjoying your new wife?”
Inside the room was a crazed sweaty man, breathing heavy, and forcefully thrusting himself in and out of what could only be described as the remains of a person.
It was a torso, at least, no arms or legs, but chains suspended it from the ceiling, and spread it’s leg stumps wide open for this man. The face was hard to make out under a crust of blood and bodily fluids, but I saw it’s eyes roll back in it’s head and the moans were coming from it as the man happily humped away. There were no teeth in it’s mouth, and a long line of pink drool dripped to the floor.
Frank groaned and spasmed, then pulled away from his toy, zipping his pants up messily and rushing over to John.
“Oh, she is wonderful!” Frank said, on his knees now in front of John and myself, pulling at the cuffs of John’s pant leg. “Thank you for all you have done!”
The zombie torso suspended from the ceiling in the room looked right at me, still a long trail of drool stringing from her toothless mouth.
John put his hand on the man’s forehead and told him to run along, then gestured for me to follow him.
Frank ran back into the room excitedly, his pants magically back around his ankles as he returned to his dangling undead toy. He punched her right in the face, squealing with glee, then looked over his shoulder at me and cackled laughter. Then he was behind her again, and the thing’s dead eyes were still locked with mine, holding the same empty expression as before.
“Come along, Meat,” John was saying.
“Some men just need their basest needs met to find joy. Brother Frank there is a simple man. Isn’t it nice that he has found happiness?”
He glanced back at me, the baby now asleep on his shoulder, and quickly wet his lips like a lizard.
“Well,” he said, “Isn’t it?”
“Nice,” I said. “Yes. Real nice.”
John smiled and walked on, urging me forward to a door that opened outside to a small abandoned airstrip. A few junky vehicles were parked haphazardly around the yard, and I saw that my stolen Lexus was now parked amonst them.
All the shrubbery and grass was tall and overgrown, and the stink in the air was heavy. A bit off in the distance I could see smoke reaching for the sky and a glint of orange fire.
“This way,” he said, heading toward a circle of large tents.
We passed a small fenced-in group of lethargic zombies, idly shuffling in circles. They were all the remains of males, groaning disinterestedly.
“Not a very excitable lot,” he said as we passed, waving his arm broadly at the contained monsters.
He smiled to himself then, looking up at me with dangerous eyes.
“Check this out,” he said, elbowing me in the ribs, more like a mischevious child now than a maniacal religious fanatic.
He shook the poor sleeping baby awake, and the cries instantly perked the interest of the shuffling zombies. They flocked over to us, on the other side of the fence, now moaning hungrily and groping at us.  John laughed gleefully, as the helpless child wailed.  At least thirty of the groaners were there now, on the other side of the fence, the allure of fresh baby flesh apparently enough to wake energy in all of the undead.
“Stop it,” I said weakly. “What is wrong with you…?”
He shot me an angry look, clearly offended.
“Wrong with me?” He snorted back a laugh. “There is nothing wrong with me, friend. I don’t want to eat this baby. Clearly there is something wrong with them.”
He waved his arm at the group of clamoring undead trapped behind the fence.
“Just let us go, please.”
“No.”

He led me on to a large tent, with a bug-eyed young man standing guard at the entrance.
“Evening, sir,” the guard nodded at John, and stepped aside to let him enter the tent, watching me closely with a sneer.
The inside of the tent was set up like a very dirty hospital waiting room.
There were gurneys everywhere.  Some were empty ; some with red lumps covered in blue sheets.
A man in scrubs and a mask over his mouth rushed over, and I could see instant compassion for the child in his eyes.
“Evening, Doctor,” said John, gently handing Mikey to the man.
The doctor called out for someone named Jan and motioned for her to come take the baby. Two more people dressed in scrubs rushed over and then were gone with the child through an opening in the back of the tent.
“Wait, wait! Where are they taking him?” I asked, but then someone was behind me, grabbing me by the arm and leading me away from John and the doctor.
“None of your GD business, Meat.” A man said into my ear, and it was Joseph behind me, squeezing my arm too hard and dragging me off to a corner. A few large dog kennels were stacked up in the corner of the tent, crouched and bent shapes stirring inside them. A large rusty bird cage stood empty in a corner, and Joseph pushed me into it, slammed a padlock on the door, and told me to “Shut the fuck up.”
“Good, she’s here,” John was saying to the doctor. “Let’s get her ready.”
John pulled the sheet from the gurney in front of them and revealed the body of Sabella, the woman I had failed to protect, still and pale.
She was stripped naked, and the hole in her skull was wet and black.
The doctor wheeled a cart over next to the gurney, and pulled out a hammer and adjustable wrench and handed them to John, who looked over at me with a glint of feverish excitement in his eyes.
The doctor leaned in and peeled Sabella’s dead lips back, revealing her teeth.

John raised the hammer and smashed it right into her mouth with a wet crack. The doctor’s gloved hand was reaching into her mouth and scooping out teeth and blood.  John leaned in with the wrench and one by one pulled the remaining teeth from their sockets.
“Sick, isn’t it?” a voice next to my bird cage whispered.
I looked down at a thin trembling man crouched in the dog kennel next to me.
“What the fuck are they doing?” I asked him.
“They use them for sex slaves, wives, don’t you know anything?”
“But she is dead, already.”
“Not for long.”
“But they shot her in the head. Blew her brains right out.” I shuddered, remembering how I had scooped them into the jar.
“Doesn’t matter. That’s what all those old zombie stories got wrong. Brains don’t matter. They function even better with out them. These are simply walking corpses. No brains, no chance of thoughts.”
Another doctor was rolling over a cart with a large metal contraption on top of it. John and the man in scrubs sat Sabella’s limp body up as two other nurses put the metal frame on her shoulders. It looked like some kind of primitive form of dental braces, a huge contraption meant to align teeth. They screwed it into her forehead, chains with hooks in her lips pulling her toothless mouth wide open.
It was sickening.
“Easy access,” the man in the cage next to me was whispering.
“Now they can put whatever they want in her mouth, with no danger.”
I think he was laughing, but I couldn’t tell.
“I want to keep the legs on this one,” John was saying now, holding a bone saw with one hand and stroking the tattoos on her left thigh with the other.
“The arms can go, though,” he said, and started sawing roughly at her armpit.
I closed my eyes hard, and tried to shut out the squeal of saw against flesh and bone, but when I opened them again I was still locked in a dirty old birdcage, and the woman I had tried to protect was now armless, toothless, and bloody ten feet away from me.
“A work of art,” John was saying, as he stood over the bloody remains of my date, and smiled proudly. I thought I heard the weasely man in the cage whisper the same words at the same time.
“Now, bring in ol’ Grampa!”
Another nurse rushed in with a zombie behind her on a chain with a muzzle. He was old, rotting horribly, missing patches of flesh all over his body, but still intact. Arms, legs, and teeth. A kind of sad knowledge lingered in his washed out eyes.
They led him over to the bed of the mutilated Sabella, and took the muzzle from his rotten mouth, and everyone stood back watching. The prisoner zombie leaned over her, sniffing at her and reaching into the gaping hole in her head, licking his bloody fingers.
Then he leaned in and bit the stump of her shoulder hungrily, and stood back up chewing happily on a chunk of her dead flesh.
John, Joseph and the nurses stood back and watched Sabella excitedly in strange silence as the old zombie chewed and swallowed, and reached out for more. I guess they did eat their own, after all, but she was already long dead, surely this wouldn’t bring her back.  If the zombies could in fact bring the dead back with a bite, then the world was truly doomed…
Sabella sat up with wide eyes and a loud moan, mouth held wide open with hooks, armless and undead.
“Beautiful,” said John, unzipping his pants.
“No. God, no,” I said under my breath as the weasel crouched in the cage next to me giggled and snorted.

5.
Some sort of violent commotion outside erupted suddenly, and I could hear the very clear sound of several gunshots in quick succession.
John was fumbling with his zipper as Sabella leaned toward him, her toothless jaw working hard and tongue reaching.
“What the fuck was that?” he asked the doctor next to him, panicky, and the doctor shrugged.
Suddenly a man wearing a gas mask, and holding a pistol in each hand burst through the entrance of the tent.
In between quick short breaths, he said , “They’re loose.”
“What?” screamed John, his cool composure lost, “How can this be?”
The man with the pistols shook his head, pulling the gas mask up to his forehead. “Something got the ones in the cage all riled up, and they broke it down. They are coming this way.”
Sabella caught his eye, squirming on the blood-soaked gurney in front of him. She grimaced through the wires, pushing her mouth toward him now.
Recognition was there in his eyes, and a very deep sadness, as he turned them up from Sabella to red-faced John.
“Where did you find her?” he asked, grabbing John by the collar. “Where?”
“Joseph brought her to me. You can have her if you like, just get those others rounded up before we lose control of this situation…”
“That is my sister, you fuck,” the man spat. “I can’t believe she made it all this way, and look what you did to her –”
He was obviously barely holding his emotions in.
“Oh my,” said John, shaking his head. “Your sister, huh. That is a predicament. Well, she was already dead when Joseph brought her to me, if it makes you feel any better…”
Outside the tent, a raw scream and bursts of automatic weapon blasts could be heard.
Sabella fell off the gurney, lunging at her brother, and rolled around on the dirty floor, bloody, pathetic and armless, still determined to bite someone.
The man, Sabella’s long lost brother, quietly lifted the pistol in his left hand and fired point blank into John’s eyeball, spraying red wetness from the back of his head.
The rest of the company in the tent gasped in horror, and Joseph screamed out “No!” and lunged directly at Sabella’s brother only to catch three bullets right to the throat. He fell to the ground with a thump and gurgled his last breaths.
“Jesus,” he said, under his breath, looking down at Sabella’s corpse rolling at him, gumming at his shoe with her deconstructed mouth. The two other doctors in the tent were slowly backing away, and the zombie John had referred to as “Grampa” was shuffling aimlessly toward the corner of the tent.
“What the hell is happening here?” someone called from the rear entrance of the tent, and Jan re-entered, holding a bottle in little Mikey’s mouth and gently rocking him.
Sabella’s brother quickly spun, pointing both pistols directly at head of the nurse holding his nephew.
“Don’t!” I called from my ridiculous birdcage trap, and he turned half of his attention to me, one eye and one gun.
“You’re Henry, right? Sabella’s brother?” I managed to ask.
He quickly looked at me with both eyes, narrowed them.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m Nick. I came here with her.” I nodded at Sabella’s body, flopping around there on the floor. “We were looking for you. She thought you could help us.”
He sniffed back something big, and squeezed his eyes shut for a brief moment.
“I should have,” he said, shaking his head.
I pointed over at Jan, trembling, nervously frozen in place. Something outside the tent exploded.
“That baby there is your nephew, his name is Michael.” I tried to smile, but I’m sure it must have looked horrifying.
He narrowed his eyes at me then, and slowly walked toward my rusty prison, still one eye on Jan and little Mikey. He looked right into me.
“This is ending now. I can’t believe I went along with it for this long. It’s all over now.” He was shaking his head, lips trembling. “They are coming.”
“Let me out of here,” I pleaded. “At least I can try to get them out of here before it all falls apart.”
He shook his head gravely and motioned with one of his pistols for Jan to come over to us with the baby.
“Give me my nephew,” he said, grabbing the child from her with a disgusted look. “Now, run for your life.”
Jan hesitated for a second, then tore off through the rear entrance of the tent. A few moments later we heard the screams, then silence.
He stood there cradling the child for a moment, looking down with an awkward half smile. The tent was vacant now, aside from Mickey and myself, the shady characters in the cages around me, Sabella rolling around on the floor moaning, and “Grampa” still idly shuffling in the corner.
“Do you have a plan?”
“No,” I admitted. “But I have a car. We could have a chance if you help to clear the way. Joseph had the keys to the car. And this cage.”
I nodded at the hulking lump of Joseph’s body, bleeding on the floor.
He bent over and sifted through the dead man’s pockets, withdrew the keys, and opened my cage.
“All right,” I said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“No, ” Henry said, shaking his head and handing Mikey over to me. “Get them out of here.”
“What? Come with us. We can all get away.”
“No point,” he said, bending down to help his flopping undead sister to her feet. “I deserve to die as much as the rest of them. I am no better than they are.”
He took a deep breath.
“Get them out of here. I will help you clear a path, at least.”
“Fair enough,” I said, and headed for the tent’s exit, Mikey under my arm, and tugging the remains of Sabella on a chain behind me.

It was no bullshit. Outside the relative peace of the hospital tent, chaos reigned.
The fence that had previously contained the listless zombies was down, trampled into the grass. It seemed like they were everywhere around the courtyard of this old air force base, some chewing on the fresh meat of the dead guards and some merely roaming in circles.
I tried my best to keep Mikey quiet and hidden, but his instinctual fear got the best of the little guy and he let out a long mournful wail.
Suddenly, all eyes were on us.
“Go!” shouted Henry over the chorus of haunting moans. He popped off a few bullets, slowing some of them down but not enough to really make a difference.
I saw the car a few hundred feet away, parked near that heavy iron gate, my sweet trusty stolen Lexus. We made our way along the outside wall of the barracks, trying to ignore the sounds of violence inside the building.
I shushed Mikey as we ran along behind Henry’s gunshots, dropping the intent zombies one by one. He was clearing a path, but the odds were clearly stacked against us.
I dragged Sabella along behind me, hearing her soft gurgling moans in my ear.
The click of the pistols hitting empty chambers was the next sound, and I pushed forward toward the Lexus as Henry started violently swinging the butts of his pistols at the attacking zombies.
His goal was accomplished, he got enough of them distracted from us for us to make it to the car. He shouted “Go! Go!” a couple of times behind us, and a few seconds later he was gone.

The horde was trailing hungrily behind us, and the zombified armless remains of Sabella squirming in the seat of the Lexus next to me, looking at me with her dead eyes and trying to bite at me with her toothless mouth.
I pushed her away repeatedly, cradling Mikey under my left arm and trying to steer with my right.
I managed to get the car started despite my shaky hands, kicked it into drive and ran over two panicky guards. I watched in the rear-view mirror as the zombies behind us stopped to munch on them.
Finally we reached the heavy iron door that hid this madhouse from the rest of the world.
I hopped out with the baby still under my arm, afraid if I left him in the front seat with his mother, that she would fucking try to eat him.
I slid the heavy door open and showed the way to what I had hoped was freedom.
Unfortunately, on the other side of the door was no promised land. There were a group of zombies waiting outside the gate, and the cries of little Mikey drew their immediate attention.
Behind us, too, the ones that had been distracted by the crushed guards were perking up and heading toward us again. Those whack-jobs had been right about at least one thing. These fuckers did love babies…
What kind of life was this kid going to have now?
His mother was now an armless and mindless zombie, and the rest of the world just wanted to fucking eat him.
“Shhh, shhhh,” I told him, watching as the circle closed around us.
Sabella was on the drivers side of the jeep now, bashing her head against the window.
I took a deep breath, wrapped little Mikey up tightly in his blanket, and set him down on the ground about ten feet from the gate.
I got back in the car, pushed Sabella over to the passenger seat with a heavy thud, and didn’t look back.
The zombies in front of the gate paid no attention to me as I jumped back into the Lexus and hauled ass.
Don’t look back, don’t look back.
But the baby’s cries had stopped, and I finally looked back and could only see a huge crowd of zombies chewing and munching happily.
I glanced at Sabella in the quiet car next to me, her toothless mouth held wide open with a cluster of hooks and wires. She didn’t judge me with those dead eyes.
She just wanted to eat me.
The road before me was clear, and the sunrise over the mountains seemed welcoming for the first time in recent memory.
I am not proud, but at least I am still alive.

From Beyond, by H.P. Lovecraft

523447_347031255380467_499100489_nOn today’s edition of Story Time, we have another classic from Howard Phillips Lovecraft, From Beyond. The story was written in 1920, but not published until fourteen years later, when it appeared in the June 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan.

Resonator - FromBeyond  Pic2Produced as a great freak out flick in 1986 by huge Lovecraft proponent Stuart Gordon, From Beyond is yet another story from the master that has stood the test of time.
Enjoy the complete story below!
From Beyond, small

From Beyond

by H. P. Lovecraft

Horrible beyond conception was the change which had taken place in my best friend, Crawford Tillinghast. I had not seen him since that day, two months and a half before, when he told me toward what goal his physical and metaphysical researches were leading; when he had answered my awed and almost frightened remonstrances by driving me from his laboratory and his house in a burst of fanatical rage. I had known that he now remained mostly shut in the attic laboratory with that accursed electrical machine, eating little and excluding even the servants, but I had not thought that a brief period of ten weeks could so alter and disfigure any human creature. It is not pleasant to see a stout man suddenly grown thin, and it is even worse when the baggy skin becomes yellowed or grayed, the eyes sunken, circled, and uncannily glowing, the forehead veined and corrugated, and the hands tremulous and twitching. And if added to this there be a repellent unkemptness, a wild disorder of dress, a bushiness of dark hair white at the roots, and an unchecked growth of white beard on a face once clean-shaven, the cumulative effect is quite shocking. But such was the aspect of Crawford Tillinghast on the night his half coherent message brought me to his door after my weeks of exile; such was the spectre that trembled as it admitted me, candle in hand, and glanced furtively over its shoulder as if fearful of unseen things in the ancient, lonely house set back from Benevolent Street.

That Crawford Tillinghast should ever have studied science and philosophy was a mistake. These things should be left to the frigid and impersonal investigator for they offer two equally tragic alternatives to the man of feeling and action; despair, if he fail in his quest, and terrors unutterable and unimaginable if he succeed. Tillinghast had once been the prey of failure, solitary and melancholy; but now I knew, with nauseating fears of my own, that he was the prey of success. I had indeed warned him ten weeks before, when he burst forth with his tale of what he felt himself about to discover. He had been flushed and excited then, talking in a high and unnatural, though always pedantic, voice. “What do we know,” he had said, “of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have. I have always believed that such strange, inaccessible worlds exist at our very elbows, and now I believe I have found a way to break down the barriers. I am not joking. Within twenty-four hours that machine near the table will generate waves acting on unrecognized sense organs that exist in us as atrophied or rudimentary vestiges. Those waves will open up to us many vistas unknown to man and several unknown to anything we consider organic life. We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight. We shall see these things, and other things which no breathing creature has yet seen. We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation.”

When Tillinghast said these things I remonstrated, for I knew him well enough to be frightened rather than amused; but he was a fanatic, and drove me from the house. Now he was no less a fanatic, but his desire to speak had conquered his resentment, and he had written me imperatively in a hand I could scarcely recognize. As I entered the abode of the friend so suddenly metamorphosed to a shivering gargoyle, I became infected with the terror which seemed stalking in all the shadows. The words and beliefs expressed ten weeks before seemed bodied forth in the darkness beyond the small circle of candle light, and I sickened at the hollow, altered voice of my host. I wished the servants were about, and did not like it when he said they had all left three days previously. It seemed strange that old Gregory, at least, should desert his master without telling as tried a friend as I. It was he who had given me all the information I had of Tillinghast after I was repulsed in rage.

Yet I soon subordinated all my fears to my growing curiosity and fascination. Just what Crawford Tillinghast now wished of me I could only guess, but that he had some stupendous secret or discovery to impart, I could not doubt. Before I had protested at his unnatural pryings into the unthinkable; now that he had evidently succeeded to some degree I almost shared his spirit, terrible though the cost of victory appeared. Up through the dark emptiness of the house I followed the bobbing candle in the hand of this shaking parody on man. The electricity seemed to be turned off, and when I asked my guide he said it was for a definite reason.

“It would be too much . . . I would not dare,” he continued to mutter. I especially noted his new habit of muttering, for it was not like him to talk to himself. We entered the laboratory in the attic, and I observed that detestable electrical machine, glowing with a sickly, sinister violet luminosity. It was connected with a powerful chemical battery, but seemed to be receiving no current; for I recalled that in its experimental stage it had sputtered and purred when in action. In reply to my question Tillinghast mumbled that this permanent glow was not electrical in any sense that I could understand.

He now seated me near the machine, so that it was on my right, and turned a switch somewhere below the crowning cluster of glass bulbs. The usual sputtering began, turned to a whine, and terminated in a drone so soft as to suggest a return to silence. Meanwhile the luminosity increased, waned again, then assumed a pale, outrè colour or blend of colours which I could neither place nor describe. Tillinghast had been watching me, and noted my puzzled expression.

“Do you know what that is?” he whispered, “That is ultra-violet.” He chuckled oddly at my surprise. “You thought ultra-violet was invisible, and so it is—but you can see that and many other invisible things now.

“Listen to me! The waves from that thing are waking a thousand sleeping senses in us; senses which we inherit from aeons of evolution from the state of detached electrons to the state of organic humanity. I have seen the truth, and I intend to show it to you. Do you wonder how it will seem? I will tell you.” Here Tillinghast seated himself directly opposite me, blowing out his candle and staring hideously into my eyes. “Your existing sense-organs—ears first, I think—will pick up many of the impressions, for they are closely connected with the dormant organs. Then there will be others. You have heard of the pineal gland? I laugh at the shallow endocrinologist, fellow-dupe and fellow-parvenu of the Freudian. That gland is the great sense organ of organs—I have found out. It is like sight in the end, and transmits visual pictures to the brain. If you are normal, that is the way you ought to get most of it . . . I mean get most of the evidence from beyond.”

I looked about the immense attic room with the sloping south wall, dimly lit by rays which the every day eye cannot see. The far corners were all shadows and the whole place took on a hazy unreality which obscured its nature and invited the imagination to symbolism and phantasm. During the interval that Tillinghast was long silent I fancied myself in some vast incredible temple of long-dead gods; some vague edifice of innumerable black stone columns reaching up from a floor of damp slabs to a cloudy height beyond the range of my vision. The picture was very vivid for a while, but gradually gave way to a more horrible conception; that of utter, absolute solitude in infinite, sightless, soundless space. There seemed to be a void, and nothing more, and I felt a childish fear which prompted me to draw from my hip pocket the revolver I carried after dark since the night I was held up in East Providence. Then from the farthermost regions of remoteness, the sound softly glided into existence. It was infinitely faint, subtly vibrant, and unmistakably musical, but held a quality of surpassing wildness which made its impact feel like a delicate torture of my whole body. I felt sensations like those one feels when accidentally scratching ground glass. Simultaneously there developed something like a cold draught, which apparently swept past me from the direction of the distant sound. As I waited breathlessly I perceived that both sound and wind were increasing; the effect being to give me an odd notion of myself as tied to a pair of rails in the path of a gigantic approaching locomotive. I began to speak to Tillinghast, and as I did so all the unusual impressions abruptly vanished. I saw only the man, the glowing machines, and the dim apartment. Tillinghast was grinning repulsively at the revolver which I had almost unconsciously drawn, but from his expression I was sure he had seen and heard as much as I, if not a great deal more. I whispered what I had experienced and he bade me to remain as quiet and receptive as possible.

“Don’t move,” he cautioned, “for in these rays we are able to be seen as well as to see. I told you the servants left, but I didn’t tell you how. It was that thick-witted house-keeper—she turned on the lights downstairs after I had warned her not to, and the wires picked up sympathetic vibrations. It must have been frightful—I could hear the screams up here in spite of all I was seeing and hearing from another direction, and later it was rather awful to find those empty heaps of clothes around the house. Mrs. Updike’s clothes were close to the front hall switch—that’s how I know she did it. It got them all. But so long as we don’t move we’re fairly safe. Remember we’re dealing with a hideous world in which we are practically helpless . . . Keep still!”

The combined shock of the revelation and of the abrupt command gave me a kind of paralysis, and in my terror my mind again opened to the impressions coming from what Tillinghast called “beyond.” I was now in a vortex of sound and motion, with confused pictures before my eyes. I saw the blurred outlines of the room, but from some point in space there seemed to be pouring a seething column of unrecognizable shapes or clouds, penetrating the solid roof at a point ahead and to the right of me. Then I glimpsed the temple-like effect again, but this time the pillars reached up into an aerial ocean of light, which sent down one blinding beam along the path of the cloudy column I had seen before. After that the scene was almost wholly kaleidoscopic, and in the jumble of sights, sounds, and unidentified sense-impressions I felt that I was about to dissolve or in some way lose the solid form. One definite flash I shall always remember. I seemed for an instant to behold a patch of strange night sky filled with shining, revolving spheres, and as it receded I saw that the glowing suns formed a constellation or galaxy of settled shape; this shape being the distorted face of Crawford Tillinghast. At another time I felt the huge animate things brushing past me and occasionally walking or drifting through my supposedly solid body, and thought I saw Tillinghast look at them as though his better trained senses could catch them visually. I recalled what he had said of the pineal gland, and wondered what he saw with this preternatural eye.

Suddenly I myself became possessed of a kind of augmented sight. Over and above the luminous and shadowy chaos arose a picture which, though vague, held the elements of consistency and permanence. It was indeed somewhat familiar, for the unusual part was superimposed upon the usual terrestrial scene much as a cinema view may be thrown upon the painted curtain of a theater. I saw the attic laboratory, the electrical machine, and the unsightly form of Tillinghast opposite me; but of all the space unoccupied by familiar objects not one particle was vacant. Indescribable shapes both alive and otherwise were mixed in disgusting disarray, and close to every known thing were whole worlds of alien, unknown entities. It likewise seemed that all the known things entered into the composition of other unknown things and vice versa. Foremost among the living objects were inky, jellyfish monstrosities which flabbily quivered in harmony with the vibrations from the machine. They were present in loathsome profusion, and I saw to my horror that they overlapped; that they were semi-fluid and capable of passing through one another and through what we know as solids. These things were never still, but seemed ever floating about with some malignant purpose. Sometimes they appeared to devour one another, the attacker launching itself at its victim and instantaneously obliterating the latter from sight. Shudderingly I felt that I knew what had obliterated the unfortunate servants, and could not exclude the thing from my mind as I strove to observe other properties of the newly visible world that lies unseen around us. But Tillinghast had been watching me and was speaking.

“You see them? You see them? You see the things that float and flop about you and through you every moment of your life? You see the creatures that form what men call the pure air and the blue sky? Have I not succeeded in breaking down the barrier; have I not shown you worlds that no other living men have seen?” I heard his scream through the horrible chaos, and looked at the wild face thrust so offensively close to mine. His eyes were pits of flame, and they glared at me with what I now saw was overwhelming hatred. The machine droned detestably.

“You think those floundering things wiped out the servants? Fool, they are harmless! But the servants are gone, aren’t they? You tried to stop me; you discouraged me when I needed every drop of encouragement I could get; you were afraid of the cosmic truth, you damned coward, but now I’ve got you! What swept up the servants? What made them scream so loud? . . . Don’t know, eh! You’ll know soon enough. Look at me—listen to what I say—do you suppose there are really any such things as time and magnitude? Do you fancy there are such things as form or matter? I tell you, I have struck depths that your little brain can’t picture. I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down demons from the stars . . . I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness . . . space belongs to me, do you hear? Things are hunting me now—the things that devour and dissolve—but I know how to elude them. It is you they will get, as they got the servants . . . . Stirring, dear sir? I told you it was dangerous to move, I have saved you so far by telling you to keep still—saved you to see more sights and to listen to me. If you had moved, they would have been at you long ago. Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you. They didn’t hurt the servants—it was the seeing that made the poor devils scream so. My pets are not pretty, for they come out of places where aesthetic standards are—very different. Disintegration is quite painless, I assure you—but I want you to see them. I almost saw them, but I knew how to stop. You are curious? I always knew you were no scientist. Trembling, eh. Trembling with anxiety to see the ultimate things I have discovered. Why don’t you move, then? Tired? Well, don’t worry, my friend, for they are coming . . . . Look, look, curse you, look . . . it’s just over your left shoulder . . . ”

What remains to be told is very brief, and may be familiar to you from the newspaper accounts. The police heard a shot in the old Tillinghast house and found us there—Tillinghast dead and me unconscious. They arrested me because the revolver was in my hand, but released me in three hours, after they found it was apoplexy which had finished Tillinghast and saw that my shot had been directed at the noxious machine which now lay hopelessly shattered on the laboratory floor. I did not tell very much of what I had seen, for I feared the coroner would be skeptical; but from the evasive outline I did give, the doctor told me that I had undoubtedly been hypnotized by the vindictive and homicidal madman.

I wish I could believe that doctor. It would help my shaky nerves if I could dismiss what I now have to think of the air and the sky about and above me. I never feel alone or comfortable, and a hideous sense of pursuit sometimes comes chillingly on me when I am weary. What prevents me from believing the doctor is one simple fact—that the police never found the bodies of those servants whom they say Crawford Tillinghast murdered.

Howard Philips Lovecraft (1890 — 1937)

the-eldritch-influence-the-life-vision-and-phenomenon-of-hp-lovecraft

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

For this edition of Story Time, we are proud to present a true classic, one of the most influential horror stories ever written. Penned in 1902, “The Monkey’s Paw” has been translated and adapted in many different variations, from one-act plays and radio dramas to an episode of The Simpsons and a recent “re-imagining” from the director of Donnie Darko.
The story is based on the famous “setup” in which three wishes are granted. In the story, the paw of a dead monkey is a talisman that grants its possessor three wishes, but the wishes come with an enormous price for interfering with fate.
Please enjoy the original story in it’s entirety right here on Horror Homework!

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

I.

Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnam
Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly.  Father and son
were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving
radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils
that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting
placidly by the fire.

"Hark at the wind," said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake
after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing his son from
seeing it.

"I'm listening," said the latter, grimly surveying the board as he
stretched out his hand.  "Check."

"I should hardly think that he'd come to-night," said his father, with
his hand poised over the board.

"Mate," replied the son.

"That's the worst of living so far out," bawled Mr. White, with sudden
and unlooked-for violence; "of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way
places to live in, this is the worst.  Pathway's a bog, and the road's a
torrent.  I don't know what people are thinking about.  I suppose because
only two houses in the road are let, they think it doesn't matter."

"Never mind, dear," said his wife, soothingly; "perhaps you'll win the
next one."

Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to intercept a knowing glance
between mother and son.  The words died away on his lips, and he hid a
guilty grin in his thin grey beard.

"There he is," said Herbert White, as the gate banged to loudly and heavy
footsteps came toward the door.

The old man rose with hospitable haste, and opening the door, was heard
condoling with the new arrival.  The new arrival also condoled with
himself, so that Mrs. White said, "Tut, tut!"  and coughed gently as her
husband entered the room, followed by a tall, burly man, beady of eye and
rubicund of visage.

"Sergeant-Major Morris," he said, introducing him.

The sergeant-major shook hands, and taking the proffered seat by the
fire, watched contentedly while his host got out whiskey and tumblers and
stood a small copper kettle on the fire.

At the third glass his eyes got brighter, and he began to talk, the
little family circle regarding with eager interest this visitor from
distant parts, as he squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke
of wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange
peoples.

"Twenty-one years of it," said Mr. White, nodding at his wife and son.
"When he went away he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse.  Now look
at him."

"He don't look to have taken much harm," said Mrs. White, politely.

"I'd like to go to India myself," said the old man, "just to look round a
bit, you know."

"Better where you are," said the sergeant-major, shaking his head.  He
put down the empty glass, and sighing softly, shook it again.

"I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers," said
the old man.  "What was that you started telling me the other day about a
monkey's paw or something, Morris?"

"Nothing," said the soldier, hastily.  "Leastways nothing worth hearing."

"Monkey's paw?"  said Mrs. White, curiously.

"Well, it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps," said the
sergeant-major, offhandedly.

His three listeners leaned forward eagerly.  The visitor absent-mindedly
put his empty glass to his lips and then set it down again.  His host
filled it for him.

"To look at," said the sergeant-major, fumbling in his pocket, "it's just
an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy."

He took something out of his pocket and proffered it.  Mrs. White drew
back with a grimace, but her son, taking it, examined it curiously.

"And what is there special about it?"  inquired Mr. White as he took it
from his son, and having examined it, placed it upon the table.

"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir," said the sergeant-major,
"a very holy man.  He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and
that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.  He put a spell
on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."

His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their
light laughter jarred somewhat.

"Well, why don't you have three, sir?"  said Herbert White, cleverly.

The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regard
presumptuous youth.  "I have," he said, quietly, and his blotchy face
whitened.

"And did you really have the three wishes granted?"  asked Mrs. White.

"I did," said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong
teeth.

"And has anybody else wished?"  persisted the old lady.

"The first man had his three wishes.  Yes," was the reply; "I don't know
what the first two were, but the third was for death.  That's how I got
the paw."

His tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group.

"If you've had your three wishes, it's no good to you now, then, Morris,"
said the old man at last.  "What do you keep it for?"

The soldier shook his head.  "Fancy, I suppose," he said, slowly.  "I did
have some idea of selling it, but I don't think I will.  It has caused
enough mischief already.  Besides, people won't buy.  They think it's a
fairy tale; some of them, and those who do think anything of it want to
try it first and pay me afterward."

"If you could have another three wishes," said the old man, eyeing him
keenly, "would you have them?"

"I don't know," said the other.  "I don't know."

He took the paw, and dangling it between his forefinger and thumb,
suddenly threw it upon the fire.  White, with a slight cry, stooped down
and snatched it off.

"Better let it burn," said the soldier, solemnly.

"If you don't want it, Morris," said the other, "give it to me."

"I won't," said his friend, doggedly.  "I threw it on the fire.  If you
keep it, don't blame me for what happens.  Pitch it on the fire again
like a sensible man."

The other shook his head and examined his new possession closely.  "How
do you do it?"  he inquired.

"Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud," said the sergeant-major,
"but I warn you of the consequences."

"Sounds like the Arabian Nights," said Mrs. White, as she rose and began
to set the supper.  "Don't you think you might wish for four pairs of
hands for me?"

Her husband drew the talisman from pocket, and then all three burst into
laughter as the sergeant-major, with a look of alarm on his face, caught
him by the arm.

"If you must wish," he said, gruffly, "wish for something sensible."

Mr. White dropped it back in his pocket, and placing chairs, motioned his
friend to the table.  In the business of supper the talisman was partly
forgotten, and afterward the three sat listening in an enthralled fashion
to a second instalment of the soldier's adventures in India.

"If the tale about the monkey's paw is not more truthful than those he
has been telling us," said Herbert, as the door closed behind their
guest, just in time for him to catch the last train, "we sha'nt make much
out of it."

"Did you give him anything for it, father?"  inquired Mrs. White,
regarding her husband closely.

"A trifle," said he, colouring slightly.  "He didn't want it, but I made
him take it.  And he pressed me again to throw it away."

"Likely," said Herbert, with pretended horror.  "Why, we're going to be
rich, and famous and happy.  Wish to be an emperor, father, to begin
with; then you can't be henpecked."

He darted round the table, pursued by the maligned Mrs. White armed with
an antimacassar.

Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it dubiously.  "I don't
know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said, slowly.  "It seems to
me I've got all I want."

"If you only cleared the house, you'd be quite happy, wouldn't you?"
said Herbert, with his hand on his shoulder.  "Well, wish for two hundred
pounds, then; that 'll just do it."

His father, smiling shamefacedly at his own credulity, held up the
talisman, as his son, with a solemn face, somewhat marred by a wink at
his mother, sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive chords.

"I wish for two hundred pounds," said the old man distinctly.

A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a
shuddering cry from the old man.  His wife and son ran toward him.

"It moved," he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object as it lay on
the floor.

"As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake."

"Well, I don't see the money," said his son as he picked it up and placed
it on the table, "and I bet I never shall."

"It must have been your fancy, father," said his wife, regarding him
anxiously.

He shook his head.  "Never mind, though; there's no harm done, but it
gave me a shock all the same."

They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their pipes.
Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man started nervously
at the sound of a door banging upstairs.  A silence unusual and
depressing settled upon all three, which lasted until the old couple rose
to retire for the night.

"I expect you'll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your
bed," said Herbert, as he bade them good-night, "and something horrible
squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your
ill-gotten gains."

He sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces
in it.  The last face was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it
in amazement.  It got so vivid that, with a little uneasy laugh, he felt
on the table for a glass containing a little water to throw over it.  His
hand grasped the monkey's paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand
on his coat and went up to bed.

II.

In the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed over the
breakfast table he laughed at his fears.  There was an air of prosaic
wholesomeness about the room which it had lacked on the previous night,
and the dirty, shrivelled little paw was pitched on the sideboard with a
carelessness which betokened no great belief in its virtues.

"I suppose all old soldiers are the same," said Mrs. White.  "The idea of
our listening to such nonsense!  How could wishes be granted in these
days?  And if they could, how could two hundred pounds hurt you, father?"

"Might drop on his head from the sky," said the frivolous Herbert.

"Morris said the things happened so naturally," said his father, "that
you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."

"Well, don't break into the money before I come back," said Herbert as he
rose from the table.  "I'm afraid it'll turn you into a mean, avaricious
man, and we shall have to disown you."

His mother laughed, and following him to the door, watched him down the
road; and returning to the breakfast table, was very happy at the expense
of her husband's credulity.  All of which did not prevent her from
scurrying to the door at the postman's knock, nor prevent her from
referring somewhat shortly to retired sergeant-majors of bibulous habits
when she found that the post brought a tailor's bill.

"Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he
comes home," she said, as they sat at dinner.

"I dare say," said Mr. White, pouring himself out some beer; "but for all
that, the thing moved in my hand; that I'll swear to."

"You thought it did," said the old lady soothingly.

"I say it did," replied the other.  "There was no thought about it; I had
just---- What's the matter?"

His wife made no reply.  She was watching the mysterious movements of a
man outside, who, peering in an undecided fashion at the house, appeared
to be trying to make up his mind to enter.  In mental connection with the
two hundred pounds, she noticed that the stranger was well dressed, and
wore a silk hat of glossy newness.  Three times he paused at the gate,
and then walked on again.  The fourth time he stood with his hand upon
it, and then with sudden resolution flung it open and walked up the path.
Mrs. White at the same moment placed her hands behind her, and hurriedly
unfastening the strings of her apron, put that useful article of apparel
beneath the cushion of her chair.

She brought the stranger, who seemed ill at ease, into the room.  He
gazed at her furtively, and listened in a preoccupied fashion as the old
lady apologized for the appearance of the room, and her husband's coat, a
garment which he usually reserved for the garden.  She then waited as
patiently as her sex would permit, for him to broach his business, but he
was at first strangely silent.

"I--was asked to call," he said at last, and stooped and picked a piece
of cotton from his trousers.  "I come from 'Maw and Meggins.'"

The old lady started.  "Is anything the matter?"  she asked,
breathlessly.  "Has anything happened to Herbert?  What is it?  What is
it?"

Her husband interposed.  "There, there, mother," he said, hastily.  "Sit
down, and don't jump to conclusions.  You've not brought bad news, I'm
sure, sir;" and he eyed the other wistfully.

"I'm sorry--" began the visitor.

"Is he hurt?"  demanded the mother, wildly.

The visitor bowed in assent.  "Badly hurt," he said, quietly, "but he is
not in any pain."

"Oh, thank God!" said the old woman, clasping her hands.  "Thank God for
that!  Thank--"

She broke off suddenly as the sinister meaning of the assurance dawned
upon her and she saw the awful confirmation of her fears in the other's
averted face.  She caught her breath, and turning to her slower-witted
husband, laid her trembling old hand upon his.  There was a long silence.

"He was caught in the machinery," said the visitor at length in a low
voice.

"Caught in the machinery," repeated Mr. White, in a dazed fashion, "yes."

He sat staring blankly out at the window, and taking his wife's hand
between his own, pressed it as he had been wont to do in their old
courting-days nearly forty years before.

"He was the only one left to us," he said, turning gently to the visitor.
"It is hard."

The other coughed, and rising, walked slowly to the window.  "The firm
wished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss,"
he said, without looking round.  "I beg that you will understand I am
only their servant and merely obeying orders."

There was no reply; the old woman's face was white, her eyes staring, and
her breath inaudible; on the husband's face was a look such as his friend
the sergeant might have carried into his first action.

"I was to say that 'Maw and Meggins' disclaim all responsibility,"
continued the other.  "They admit no liability at all, but in
consideration of your son's services, they wish to present you with
a certain sum as compensation."

Mr. White dropped his wife's hand, and rising to his feet, gazed with a
look of horror at his visitor.  His dry lips shaped the words, "How
much?"

"Two hundred pounds," was the answer.

Unconscious of his wife's shriek, the old man smiled faintly, put out his
hands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.

III.

In the huge new cemetery, some two miles distant, the old people buried
their dead, and came back to a house steeped in shadow and silence.  It
was all over so quickly that at first they could hardly realize it, and
remained in a state of expectation as though of something else to happen
--something else which was to lighten this load, too heavy for old hearts
to bear.

But the days passed, and expectation gave place to resignation--the
hopeless resignation of the old, sometimes miscalled, apathy.  Sometimes
they hardly exchanged a word, for now they had nothing to talk about, and
their days were long to weariness.

It was about a week after that the old man, waking suddenly in the night,
stretched out his hand and found himself alone.  The room was in
darkness, and the sound of subdued weeping came from the window.  He
raised himself in bed and listened.

"Come back," he said, tenderly.  "You will be cold."

"It is colder for my son," said the old woman, and wept afresh.

The sound of her sobs died away on his ears.  The bed was warm, and his
eyes heavy with sleep.  He dozed fitfully, and then slept until a sudden
wild cry from his wife awoke him with a start.

"The paw!"  she cried wildly.  "The monkey's paw!"

He started up in alarm.  "Where?  Where is it?  What's the matter?"

She came stumbling across the room toward him.  "I want it," she said,
quietly.  "You've not destroyed it?"

"It's in the parlour, on the bracket," he replied, marvelling.  "Why?"

She cried and laughed together, and bending over, kissed his cheek.

"I only just thought of it," she said, hysterically.  "Why didn't I think
of it before?  Why didn't you think of it?"

"Think of what?"  he questioned.

"The other two wishes," she replied, rapidly. "We've only had one."

"Was not that enough?"  he demanded, fiercely.

"No," she cried, triumphantly; "we'll have one more.  Go down and get it
quickly, and wish our boy alive again."

The man sat up in bed and flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs.
"Good God, you are mad!"  he cried, aghast.

"Get it," she panted; "get it quickly, and wish--Oh, my boy, my boy!"

Her husband struck a match and lit the candle.  "Get back to bed," he
said, unsteadily.  "You don't know what you are saying."

"We had the first wish granted," said the old woman, feverishly; "why not
the second?"

"A coincidence," stammered the old man.

"Go and get it and wish," cried his wife, quivering with excitement.

The old man turned and regarded her, and his voice shook.  "He has been
dead ten days, and besides he--I would not tell you else, but--I could
only recognize him by his clothing.  If he was too terrible for you to
see then, how now?"

"Bring him back," cried the old woman, and dragged him toward the door.
"Do you think I fear the child I have nursed?"

He went down in the darkness, and felt his way to the parlour, and then
to the mantelpiece.  The talisman was in its place, and a horrible fear
that the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated son before him ere he
could escape from the room seized upon him, and he caught his breath as
he found that he had lost the direction of the door.  His brow cold with
sweat, he felt his way round the table, and groped along the wall until
he found himself in the small passage with the unwholesome thing in his
hand.

Even his wife's face seemed changed as he entered the room.  It was white
and expectant, and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it.
He was afraid of her.

"Wish!"  she cried, in a strong voice.

"It is foolish and wicked," he faltered.

"Wish!"  repeated his wife.

He raised his hand.  "I wish my son alive again."

The talisman fell to the floor, and he regarded it fearfully.  Then he
sank trembling into a chair as the old woman, with burning eyes, walked
to the window and raised the blind.

He sat until he was chilled with the cold, glancing occasionally at the
figure of the old woman peering through the window.  The candle-end,
which had burned below the rim of the china candlestick, was throwing
pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls, until, with a flicker larger
than the rest, it expired.  The old man, with an unspeakable sense of
relief at the failure of the talisman, crept back to his bed, and a
minute or two afterward the old woman came silently and apathetically
beside him.

Neither spoke, but lay silently listening to the ticking of the clock.  A
stair creaked, and a squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall.
The darkness was oppressive, and after lying for some time screwing up
his courage, he took the box of matches, and striking one, went
downstairs for a candle.

At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he paused to strike
another; and at the same moment a knock, so quiet and stealthy as to be
scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.

The matches fell from his hand and spilled in the passage.  He stood
motionless, his breath suspended until the knock was repeated.  Then he
turned and fled swiftly back to his room, and closed the door behind him.
A third knock sounded through the house.

"What's that?"  cried the old woman, starting up.

"A rat," said the old man in shaking tones--"a rat.  It passed me on the
stairs."

His wife sat up in bed listening.  A loud knock resounded through the
house.

"It's Herbert!"  she screamed.  "It's Herbert!"

She ran to the door, but her husband was before her, and catching her by
the arm, held her tightly.

"What are you going to do?"  he whispered hoarsely.

"It's my boy; it's Herbert!"  she cried, struggling mechanically.
"I forgot it was two miles away.  What are you holding me for?  Let go.
I must open the door."

"For God's sake don't let it in," cried the old man, trembling.

"You're afraid of your own son," she cried, struggling.  "Let me go.  I'm
coming, Herbert; I'm coming."

There was another knock, and another.  The old woman with a sudden wrench
broke free and ran from the room.  Her husband followed to the landing,
and called after her appealingly as she hurried downstairs.  He heard the
chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the
socket.  Then the old woman's voice, strained and panting.

"The bolt," she cried, loudly.  "Come down.  I can't reach it."

But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in
search of the paw.  If he could only find it before the thing outside got
in.  A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he
heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage
against the door.  He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly
back, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically
breathed his third and last wish.

The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the
house.  He heard the chair drawn back, and the door opened.  A cold wind
rushed up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and
misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then
to the gate beyond.  The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet
and deserted road.

William Wymark Jacobs (September 8 1863 – September 1 1943)


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Nyarlathotep by H.P. Lovecraft

On this week’s edition of Story Time we dig deeper into the mythology created by Howard Phillips Lovecraft. This very short story, “Nyarlothotep” was inspired by a bad dream and was first published in The United Amateur in November 1920.
This is the first of Lovecraft’s works to include the god Nyarlathotep who ‘came out of Egypt’  and brought all kinds of chaos with him, but the character shows up again in some of Lovecraft’s later works.

Nyarlathotep . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will tell the audient void. . . .

I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago. The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing, such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night. I recall that the people went about with pale and worried faces, and whispered warnings and prophecies which no one dared consciously repeat or acknowledge to himself that he had heard. A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land, and out of the abysses between the stars swept chill currents that made men shiver in dark and lonely places. There was a daemoniac alteration in the sequence of the seasons-the autumn heat lingered fearsomely, and everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passed from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown.

And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences-of electricity and psychology-and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of cities might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it glimmered on green waters gliding under bridges, and old steeples crumbling against a sickly sky.

I remember when Nyarlathotep came to my city-the great, the old, the terrible city of unnumbered crimes. My friend had told me of him, and of the impelling fascination and allurement of his revelations, and I burned with eagerness to explore his uttermost mysteries. My friend said they were horrible and impressive beyond my most fevered imaginings; that what was thrown on a screen in the darkened room prophesied things none but Nyarlathotep dared prophesy, and that in the sputter of his sparks there was taken from men that which had never been taken before yet which shewed only in the eyes. And I heard it hinted abroad that those who knew Nyarlathotep looked on sights which others saw not.

It was in the hot autumn that I went through the night with the restless crowds to see Nyarlathotep; through the stifling night and up the endless stairs into the choking room. And shadowed on a screen, I saw hooded forms amidst ruins, and yellow evil faces peering from behind fallen monuments. And I saw the world battling against blackness; against the waves of destruction from ultimate space; whirling, churning; struggling around the dimming, cooling sun. Then the sparks played amazingly around the heads of the spectators, and hair stood up on end whilst shadows more grotesque than I can tell came out and squatted on the heads. And when I, who was colder and more scientific than the rest, mumbled a trembling protest about “imposture” and “static electricity”, Nyarlathotep drave us all out, down the dizzy stairs into the damp, hot, deserted midnight streets. I screamed aloud that I was not afraid; that I never could be afraid; and others screamed with me for solace. We sware to one another that the city was exactly the same, and still alive; and when the electric lights began to fade we cursed the company over and over again, and laughed at the queer faces we made.

I believe we felt something coming down from the greenish moon, for when we began to depend on its light we drifted into curious involuntary formations and seemed to know our destinations though we dared not think of them. Once we looked at the pavement and found the blocks loose and displaced by grass, with scarce a line of rusted metal to shew where the tramways had run. And again we saw a tram-car, lone, windowless, dilapidated, and almost on its side. When we gazed around the horizon, we could not find the third tower by the river, and noticed that the silhouette of the second tower was ragged at the top. Then we split up into narrow columns, each of which seemed drawn in a different direction. One disappeared in a narrow alley to the left, leaving only the echo of a shocking moan. Another filed down a weed-choked subway entrance, howling with a laughter that was mad. My own column was sucked toward the open country, and presently felt a chill which was not of the hot autumn; for as we stalked out on the dark moor, we beheld around us the hellish moon-glitter of evil snows. Trackless, inexplicable snows, swept asunder in one direction only, where lay a gulf all the blacker for its glittering walls. The column seemed very thin indeed as it plodded dreamily into the gulf. I lingered behind, for the black rift in the green-litten snow was frightful, and I thought I had heard the reverberations of a disquieting wail as my companions vanished; but my power to linger was slight. As if beckoned by those who had gone before, I half floated between the titanic snowdrifts, quivering and afraid, into the sightless vortex of the unimaginable.

Screamingly sentient, dumbly delirious, only the gods that were can tell. A sickened, sensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not hands, and whirled blindly past ghastly midnights of rotting creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low. Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-seen columns of unsanctified temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath space and reach up to dizzy vacua above the spheres of light and darkness. And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods – the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep.

“Lovecraft” by Ghoulish Gary Pullin.

Howard Philips Lovecraft (1890 — 1937)



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“Pigeons From Hell” by Robert E Howard

This week’s Story Time feature comes to us from author Robert E Howard, best known as the creator of the original Conan stories. “Pigeons From Hell” was written in late 1934 and published posthumously by Weird Tales in 1938. The story title derives from an image present in many of Howard’s grandmother’s ghost stories, that of an old deserted plantation mansion haunted by ghostly pigeons. Beloved by the likes of Stephen King and Joe R Lansdale, Pigeons From Hell is like something that William Faulkner might have written had he suffered from night terrors and been addicted to amphetamines.

The story follows two drifters who stay at an abandoned Southern Manse with unhappy results. Quicker than you can say “axe to the head” one is being held by the sheriff for murder. But things are not as cut and dry as they initially seem. The house has a reputation around these parts and the fair-minded sheriff tries to get to the bottom of things, only to find that even the darkest suspicions of the secrets the house held were selling it short.

“Pigeons from Hell” is one of Robert E. Howard’s best known short stories, and arguably one of the best stories he ever wrote. It’s also, sadly, the only one of Howard’s stories to get a reasonably faithful TV of film adaptation. Back in 1961, Boris Karloff hosted a television anthology series called “Thriller”. Think Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where a host introduces a new story every week. Thriller was more akin to the latter, with mystery, drama, and Gothic horror.
The “Pigeons from Hell” episode of Thriller is currently available for streaming on Netflix, and please enjoy the entire original short story below!

 

 

Chapter 1 — The Whistler in the Dark
Griswell awoke suddenly, every nerve tingling with a premonition of imminent peril.
He stared about wildly, unable at first to remember where he was, or what he was doing there. Moonlight filtered in through the dusty windows, and the great empty room with its lofty ceiling and gaping black fireplace was spectral and unfamiliar. Then as he emerged from the clinging cobwebs of his recent sleep, he remembered where he was and how he came to be there.
He twisted his head and stared at his companion, sleeping on the floor near him. John Branner was but a vaguely bulking shape in the darkness that the moon scarcely grayed. Griswell tried to remember what had awakened him. There was no sound in the house, no sound outside except the mournful hoot of an owl, far away in the piny woods. Now he had captured the illusive memory.
It was a dream, a nightmare so filled with dim terror that it had frightened him awake. Recollection flooded back, vividly etching the abominable vision. Or was it a dream? Certainly it must have been, but it had blended so curiously with recent actual events that it was difficult to know where reality left off and fantasy began.
Dreaming, he had seemed to relive his past few waking hours, in accurate detail. The dream had begun, abruptly, as he and John Branner came in sight of the house where they now lay. They had come rattling and bouncing over the stumpy, uneven old road that led through the pinelands, he and John Branner, wandering far afield from their New England home, in search of vacation pleasure.
They had sighted the old house with its balustraded galleries rising amidst a wilderness of weeds and bushes, just as the sun was setting behind it. It dominated their fancy, rearing black and stark and gaunt against the low lurid rampart of sunset, barred by the black pines. They were tired, sick of bumping and pounding all day over wood- land roads. The old deserted house stimulated their imagination with its suggestion of antebellum splendor and ultimate decay.
They left the automobile beside the rutty road, and as they went up the winding walk of crumbling bricks, almost lost in the tangle of rank growth, pigeons rose from the balustrades in a fluttering, feathery crowd and swept away with a low thunder of beating wings. The oaken door sagged on broken hinges. Dust lay thick on the floor of the wide, dim hallway, on the broad steps of the stair that mounted up from the hall.
They turned into a door opposite the landing, and entered a large room, empty, dusty, with cobwebs shining thickly in the corners. Dust lay thick over the ashes in the great fireplace. They discussed gathering wood and building a fire, but decided against it. As the sun sank, darkness came quickly, the thick, black, abso- lute darkness of the pinelands. They knew that rattlesnakes and copper- heads haunted Southern forests, and they did not care to go groping for firewood in the dark. They ate frugally from tins, then rolled in their blankets fully clad before the empty fireplace, and went instantly to sleep. This, in part, was what Griswell had dreamed.
He saw again the gaunt house looming stark against the crimson sunset; saw the flight of the pigeons as he and Branner came up the shattered walk. He saw the dim room in which they presently lay, and he saw the two forms that were himself and his companion, lying wrapped in their blankets on the dusty floor.
Then from that point his dream altered subtly, passed out of the realm of the commonplace and became tinged with fear. He was looking into a vague, shadowy chamber, lit by the gray light of the moon which streamed in from some obscure source. For there was no window in that room. But in the gray light he saw three silent shapes that hung suspended in a row, and their stillness and their outlines woke chill horror in his soul. There was no sound, no word, but he sensed a Presence of fear and lunacy crouching in a dark corner… .
Abruptly he was back in the dusty, high-ceilinged room, before the great fireplace. He was lying in his blankets, staring tensely through the dim door and across the shadowy hall, to where a beam of moonlight fell across the balustraded stair, some seven steps up from the landing. And there was something on the stair, a bent, misshapen, shadowy thing that never moved fully into the beam of light. But a dim yellow blur that might have been a face was turned toward him, as if something crouched on the stair, regarding him and his companion. Fright crept chilly through his veins, and it was then that he awoke—if indeed he had been asleep.

He blinked his eyes.
The beam of moonlight fell across the stair just as he had dreamed it did; but no figure lurked there.
Yet his flesh still crawled from the fear the dream or vision had roused in him; his legs felt as if they had been plunged in ice-water. He made an involuntary movement to awaken his companion, when a sudden sound paralyzed him.
It was the sound of whistling on the floor above.
Eery and sweet it rose, not carrying any tune, but piping shrill and melodious.
Such a sound in a supposedly deserted house was alarming enough; but it was more than the fear of a physical invader that held Griswell frozen. He could not himself have defined the horror that gripped him.
But Branner’s blankets rustled, and Griswell saw he was sitting upright. His figure bulked dimly in the soft darkness, the head turned toward the stair as if the man were listening intently. More sweetly and more subtly evil rose that weird whistling.
“John!” whispered Griswell from dry lips. He had meant to shout—to tell Branner that there was somebody upstairs, somebody who could mean them no good; that they must leave the house at once. But his voice died dryly in his throat.
Branner had risen. His boots clumped on the floor as he moved to- ward the door. He stalked leisurely into the hall and made for the lower landing, merging with the shadows that clustered black about the stair.
Griswell lay incapable of movement, his mind a whirl of bewilderment. Who was that whistling upstairs? Why was Branner going up those stairs?
Griswell saw him pass the spot where the moonlight rested, saw his head tilted back as if he were looking at something Griswell could not see, above and beyond the stair. But his face was like that of a sleepwalker.
He moved across the bar of moonlight and vanished from Griswell’s view, even as the latter tried to shout to him to come back. A ghastly whisper was the only result of his effort. The whistling sank to a lower note, died out. Griswell heard the stairs creaking under Branner’s measured tread. Now he had reached the hallway above, for Griswell heard the clump of his feet moving along it. Suddenly the footfalls halted, and the whole night seemed to hold its breath.
Then an awful scream split the stillness, and Griswell started up, echoing the cry.
The strange paralysis that had held him was broken. He took a step toward the door, then checked himself. The footfalls were resumed. Branner was coming back. He was not running. The tread was even more deliberate and measured than before.
Now the stairs began to creak again. A groping hand, moving along the balustrade, came into the bar of moonlight; then another, and a ghastly thrill went through Griswell as he saw that the other hand gripped a hatchet—a hatchet which dripped blackly. Was that Branner who was coming down that stair?
Yes!
The figure had moved into the bar of moonlight now, and Griswell recognized it.
Then he saw Branner’s face, and a shriek burst from Griswell’s lips. Branner’s face was bloodless, corpse-like; gouts of blood dripped darkly down it; his eyes were glassy and set, and blood oozed from the great gash which cleft the crown of his head!
Griswell never remembered exactly how he got out of that accursed house.
Afterward he retained a mad, confused impression of smashing his way through a dusty cobwebbed window, of stumbling blindly across the weed-choked lawn, gibbering his frantic horror.
He saw the black wall of the pines, and the moon floating in a blood-red mist in which there was neither sanity nor reason. Some shred of sanity returned to him as he saw the automobile beside the road.
In a world gone suddenly mad, that was an object reflecting prosaic reality; but even as he reached for the door, a dry chilling whir sounded in his ears, and he recoiled from the swaying undulating shape that arched up from its scaly coils on the driver’s seat and hissed sibil- antly at him, darting a forked tongue in the moonlight.
With a sob of horror he turned and fled down the road, as a man runs in a nightmare. He ran without purpose or reason. His numbed brain was incapable of conscious thought. He merely obeyed the blind primitive urge to run—run—run until he fell exhausted.
The black walls of the pines flowed endlessly past him; so he was seized with the illusion that he was getting nowhere. But presently a sound penetrated the fog of his terror—the steady, inexorable patter of feet behind him. Turning his head, he saw something loping after him—wolf or dog, he could not tell which, but its eyes glowed like balls of green fire. With a gasp he increased his speed, reeled around a bend in the road, and heard a horse snort; saw it rear and heard its rider curse; saw the gleam of blue steel in the man’s lifted hand. He staggered and fell, catching at the rider’s stirrup.
“For God’s sake, help me!” he panted. “The thing! It killed Branner—it’s coming after me! Look!”
Twin balls of fire gleamed in the fringe of bushes at the turn of the road. The rider swore again, and on the heels of his profanity came the smashing report of his six-shooter—again and yet again. The fire-sparks vanished, and the rider, jerking his stirrup free from Griswell’s grasp, spurred his horse at the bend. Griswell staggered up, shaking in every limb. The rider was out of sight only a moment; then he came galloping back.
“Took to the brush. Timber wolf, I reckon, though I never heard of one chasin’ a man before. Do you know what it was?”
Griswell could only shake his head weakly.
The rider, etched in the moonlight, looked down at him, smoking pistol still lifted in his right hand. He was a compactly-built man of medium height, and his broad-brimmed planter’s hat and his boots marked him as a native of the country as definitely as Griswell’s garb stamped him as a stranger.
“What’s all this about, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Griswell answered helplessly. “My name’s Griswell. John Branner—my friend who was traveling with me—we stopped at a deserted house back down the road to spend the night. Something———” at the memory he was choked by a rush of horror.
“My God!” he screamed. “I must be mad! Something came and looked over the balustrade of the stair—something with a yellow face! I thought I dreamed it, but it must have been real. Then somebody began whistling upstairs, and Branner rose and went up the stairs walking like a man in his sleep, or hypnotized. I heard him scream—or someone screamed; then he came down the stair again with a bloody hatchet in his hand—and my God, sir, he was dead! His head had been split open. I saw brains and clotted blood oozing down his face, and his face was that of a dead man. But he came down the stairs! As God is my witness, John Branner was murdered in that dark upper hallway, and then his dead body came stalking down the stairs with a hatchet in its hand—to kill me!”
The rider made no reply; he sat his horse like a statue, outlined against the stars, and Griswell could not read his expression, his face shadowed by his hat-brim.
“You think I’m mad,” he said hopelessly. “Perhaps I am.”
“I don’t know what to think,” answered the rider. “If it was any house but the old Blassenville Manor—well, we’ll see. My name’s Buckner. I’m sheriff of this county. Took a prisoner over to the county-seat in the next county and was ridin’ back late.”
He swung off his horse and stood beside Griswell, shorter than the lanky New Englander, but much harder knit. There was a natural manner of decision and certainty about him, and it was easy to believe that he would be a dangerous man in any sort of a fight.
“Are you afraid to go back to the house?” he asked, and Griswell shuddered, but shook his head, the dogged tenacity of Puritan ancestors asserting itself.
“The thought of facing that horror again turns me sick. But poor Branner———” he choked again.
“We must find his body. My God!” he cried, unmanned by the abysmal horror of the thing; “what will we find? If a dead man walks, what—”
“We’ll see.”
The sheriff caught the reins in the crook of his left elbow and began filling the empty chambers of his big blue pistol as they walked along. As they made the turn Griswell’s blood was ice at the thought of what they might see lumbering up the road with a bloody, grinning death- mask, but they saw only the house looming spectrally among the pines, down the road. A strong shudder shook Griswell.
“God, how evil that house looks, against those black pines! It looked sinister from the very first—when we went up the broken walk and saw those pigeons fly up from the porch———”
“Pigeons?” Buckner cast him a quick glance. “You saw the pigeons?”
“Why, yes! Scores of them perching on the porch railing.”
They strode on for a moment in silence, before Buckner said abruptly: “I’ve lived in this country all my life. I’ve passed the old Blassenville place a thousand times, I reckon, at all hours of the day and night. But I never saw a pigeon anywhere around it, or anywhere else in these woods.”
“There were scores of them,” repeated Griswell, bewildered.
“I’ve seen men who swore they’d seen a flock of pigeons perched along the balusters just at sundown,” said Buckner slowly. “Negroes, all of them except one man. A tramp. He was buildin’ a fire in the yard, aimin’ to camp there that night. I passed along there about dark, and he told me about the pigeons. I came back by there the next mornin’. The ashes of his fire were there, and his tin cup, and skillet where he’d fried pork, and his blankets looked like they’d been slept in. Nobody ever saw him again. That was twelve years ago. The blacks say they can see the pigeons, but no black would pass along this road between sundown and sunup. They say the pigeons are the souls of the Blassenvilles, let out of hell at sunset. The Negroes say the red glare in the west is the light from hell, because then the gates of hell are open, and the Blassenvilles fly out.”
“Who were the Blassenvilles?” asked Griswell, shivering.
“They owned all this land here. French-English family. Came here from the West Indies before the Louisiana Purchase. The Civil War ruined them, like it did so many. Some were killed in the War; most of the others died out. Nobody’s lived in the Manor since 1890 when Miss Elizabeth Blassenville, the last of the line, fled from the old house one night like it was a plague spot, and never came back to it—this your auto?”
They halted beside the car, and Griswell stared morbidly at the grim house.
Its dusty panes were empty and blank; but they did not seem blind to him. It seemed to him that ghastly eyes were fixed hungrily on him through those darkened panes. Buckner repeated his question.
“Yes. Be careful. There’s a snake on the seat—or there was.”
“Not there now,” grunted Buckner, tying his horse and pulling an electric torch out of the saddle-bag. “Well, let’s have a look.”
He strode up the broken brick walk as matter-of-factly as if he were paying a social call on friends. Griswell followed close at his heels, his heart pounding suffocatingly. A scent of decay and moldering vegetation blew on the faint wind, and Griswell grew faint with nausea, that rose from a frantic abhorrence of these black woods, these ancient plantation houses that hid forgotten secrets of slavery and bloody pride and mysterious intrigues. He had thought of the South as a sunny, lazy land washed by soft breezes laden with spice and warm blossoms, where life ran tranquilly to the rhythm of black folk singing in sunbathed cotton- fields. But now he had discovered another, unsuspected side—a dark, brooding, fear-haunted side, and the discovery repelled him. The oaken door sagged as it had before.
The blackness of the interior was intensified by the beam of Buckner’s light playing on the sill. That beam sliced through the darkness of the hallway and roved up the stair, and Griswell held his breath, clenching his fists. But no shape of lunacy leered down at them. Buckner went in, walking light as a cat, torch in one hand, gun in the other.
As he swung his light into the room across from the stairway, Griswell cried out—and cried out again, almost fainting with the intolerable sickness at what he saw.
A trail of blood drops led across the floor, crossing the blankets Branner had occupied, which lay between the door and those in which Griswell had lain. And Griswell’s blankets had a terrible occupant. John Branner lay there, face down, his cleft head revealed in merciless clarity in the steady light. His outstretched hand still gripped the haft of a hatchet, and the blade was imbedded deep in the blanket and the floor beneath, just where Griswell’s head had lain when he slept there.
A momentary rush of blackness engulfed Griswell. He was not aware that he staggered, or that Buckner caught him. When he could see and hear again, he was violently sick and hung his head against the mantel, retching miserably. Buckner turned the light full on him, making him blink. Buckner’s voice came from behind the blinding radiance, the man himself unseen.
“Griswell, you’ve told me a yarn that’s hard to believe. I saw something chasin’ you, but it might have been a timber wolf, or a mad dog. If you’re holdin’ back anything, you better spill it. What you told me won’t hold up in any court. You’re bound to be accused of killin’ your partner. I’ll have to arrest you. If you’ll give me the straight goods now, it’ll make it easier. Now, didn’t you kill this fellow, Branner? Wasn’t it something like this: you quarreled, he grabbed a hatchet and swung at you, but you dodged and then let him have it?”
Griswell sank down and hid his face in his hands, his head swimming.
“Great God, man, I didn’t murder John! Why, we’ve been friends ever since we were children in school together. I’ve told you the truth. I don’t blame you for not believing me. But God help me, it is the truth!”
The light swung back to the gory head again, and Griswell closed his eyes. He heard Buckner grunt.
“I believe this hatchet in his hand is the one he was killed with. Blood and brains plastered on the blade, and hairs stickin’ to it—hairs exactly the same color as his. This makes it tough for you, Griswell.”
“How so?” the New Englander asked dully.
“Knocks any plea of self-defense in the head. Branner couldn’t have swung at you with this hatchet after you split his skull with it. You must have pulled the ax out of his head, stuck it into the floor and clamped his fingers on it to make it look like he’d attacked you. And it would have been damned clever—if you’d used another hatchet.”
“But I didn’t kill him,” groaned Griswell. “I have no intention of pleading self-defense.” “That’s what puzzles me,” Buckner admitted frankly, straightening. “What murderer would rig up such a crazy story as you’ve told me, to prove his innocence? Average killer would have told a logical yarn, at least. Hmmm! Blood drops leadin’ from the door. The body was dragged—no, couldn’t have been dragged. The floor isn’t smeared. You must have carried it here, after killin’ him in some other place. But in that case, why isn’t there any blood on your clothes? Of course you could have changed clothes and washed your hands. But the fellow hasn’t been dead long.”
“He walked downstairs and across the room,” said Griswell hope- lessly. “He came to kill me. I knew he was coming to kill me when I saw him lurching down the stair. He struck where I would have been, if I hadn’t awakened. That window—I burst out at it. You see it’s broken.”
“I see. But if he walked then, why isn’t he walkin’ now?”
“I don’t know! I’m too sick to think straight. I’ve been fearing that he’d rise up from the floor where he lies and come at me again. When I heard that wolf running up the road after me, I thought it was John chasing me—John, running through the night with his bloody ax and his bloody head, and his death-grin!”
His teeth chattered as he lived that horror over again. Buckner let his light play across the floor.
“The blood drops lead into the hall. Come on. We’ll follow them.” Griswell cringed. “They lead upstairs.” Buckner’s eyes were fixed hard on him. “Are you afraid to go upstairs, with me?”
Griswell’s face was gray.
“Yes. But I’m going, with you or without you. The thing that killed poor John may still be hiding up there.”
“Stay behind me,” ordered Buckner. “If anything jumps us, I’ll take care of it. But for your own sake, I warn you that I shoot quicker than a cat jumps, and I don’t often miss. If you’ve got any ideas of layin’ me out from behind, forget them.”
“Don’t be a fool!” Resentment got the better of his apprehension, and this outburst seemed to reassure Buckner more than any of his protestations of innocence.
“I want to be fair,” he said quietly. “I haven’t indicted and condemned you in my mind already. If only half of what you’re tellin’ me is the truth, you’ve been through a hell of an experience, and I don’t want to be too hard on you. But you can see how hard it is for me to believe all you’ve told me.”
Griswell wearily motioned for him to lead the way, unspeaking. They went out into the hall, paused at the landing. A thin string of crimson drops, distinct in the thick dust, led up the steps.
“Man’s tracks in the dust,” grunted Buckner. “Go slow. I’ve got to be sure of what I see, because we’re obliteratin’ them as we go up. Hmmm! One set goin’ up, one comin’ down. Same man. Not your tracks. Branner was a bigger man than you are. Blood drops all the way—blood on the bannisters like a man had laid his bloody hand there—a smear of stuff that looks—brains. Now what———”
“He walked down the stair, a dead man,” shuddered Griswell. “Groping with one hand—the other gripping the hatchet that killed him.”
“Or was carried,” muttered the sheriff. “But if somebody carried him—where are the tracks?”
They came out into the upper hallway, a vast, empty space of dust and shadows where time-crusted windows repelled the moonlight and the ring of Buckner’s torch seemed inadequate. Griswell trembled like a leaf. Here, in darkness and horror, John Branner had died.
“Somebody whistled up here,” he muttered. “John came, as if he were being called.” Buckner’s eyes were blazing strangely in the light.
“The footprints lead down the hall,” he muttered. “Same as on the stair—one set going, one coming. Same prints—Judas!”
Behind him Griswell stifled a cry, for he had seen what prompted Buckner’s exclamation. A few feet from the head of the stair Branner’s footprints stopped abruptly, then returned, treading almost in the other tracks. And where the trail halted there was a great splash of blood on the dusty floor—and other tracks met it—tracks of bare feet, narrow but with splayed toes. They too receded in a second line from the spot. Buckner bent over them, swearing.
“The tracks meet! And where they meet there’s blood and brains on the floor! Branner must have been killed on that spot—with a blow from a hatchet. Bare feet coming out of the darkness to meet shod feet—then both turned away again; the shod feet went downstairs, the bare feet went back down the hall.”
He directed his light down the hall. The foot- prints faded into darkness, beyond the reach of the beam. On either hand the closed doors of chambers were cryptic portals of mystery.
“Suppose your crazy tale was true,” Buckner muttered, half to himself. “These aren’t your tracks. They look like a woman’s. Suppose somebody did whistle, and Branner went upstairs to investigate. Suppose somebody met him here in the dark and split his head. The signs and tracks would have been, in that case, just as they really are. But if that’s so, why isn’t Branner lyin’ here where he was killed? Could he have lived long enough to take the hatchet away from whoever killed him, and stagger downstairs with it?”
“No, no!” Recollection gagged Griswell. “I saw him on the stair. He was dead. No man could live a minute after receiving such a wound.”
“I believe it,” muttered Buckner. “But—it’s madness! Or else it’s too clever—yet, what sane man would think up and work out such an elaborate and utterly insane plan to escape punishment for murder, when a simple plea of self-defense would have been so much more effective? No court would recognize that story. Well, let’s follow these other tracks. They lead down the hall—here, what’s this?”
With an icy clutch at his soul, Griswell saw the light was beginning to grow dim.
“This battery is new,” muttered Buckner, and for the first time Griswell caught an edge of fear in his voice.
“Come on—out of here quick!”
The light had faded to a faint red glow. The darkness seemed straining into them, creeping with black cat-feet. Buckner retreated, pushing Griswell stumbling behind him as he walked backward, pistol cocked and lifted, down the dark hall.
In the growing darkness Griswell heard what sounded like the stealthy opening of a door. And suddenly the blackness about them was vibrant with menace. Griswell knew Buckner sensed it as well as he, for the sheriff’s hard body was tense and taut as a stalking panther’s.
But without haste he worked his way to the stair and backed down it, Griswell preceding him, and fighting the panic that urged him to scream and burst into mad flight. A ghastly thought brought icy sweat out on his flesh. Suppose the dead man were creeping up the stair behind them in the dark, face frozen in the death-grin, blood-caked hatchet lifted to strike?
This possibility so overpowered him that he was scarcely aware when his feet struck the level of the lower hallway, and he was only then aware that the light had grown brighter as they descended, until it now gleamed with its full power—but when Buckner turned it back up the stairway, it failed to illuminate the darkness that hung like a tangible fog at the head of the stair.
“The damn thing was conjured,” muttered Buckner. “Nothin’ else. It couldn’t act like that naturally.”
“Turn the light into the room,” begged Griswell. “See if John—if John is———” He could not put the ghastly thought into words, but Buckner understood. He swung the beam around, and Griswell had never dreamed that the sight of the gory body of a murdered man could bring such relief.
“He’s still there,” grunted Buckner. “If he walked after he was killed, he hasn’t walked since. But that thing———”
Again he turned the light up the stair, and stood chewing his lip and scowling. Three times he half lifted his gun. Griswell read his mind. The sheriff was tempted to plunge back up that stair, take his chance with the unknown. But common sense held him back.
“I wouldn’t have a chance in the dark,” he muttered. “And I’ve got a hunch the light would go out again.”
He turned and faced Griswell squarely.
“There’s no use dodgin’ the question. There’s somethin’ hellish in this house, and I believe I have an inklin’ of what it is. I don’t believe you killed Branner. Whatever killed him is up there—now. There’s a lot about your yarn that don’t sound sane; but there’s nothin’ sane about a flashlight goin’ out like this one did. I don’t believe that thing upstairs is human. I never met anything I was afraid to tackle in the dark before, but I’m not goin’ up there until daylight. It’s not long until dawn. We’ll wait for it out there on that gallery.”
The stars were already paling when they came out on the broad porch. Buckner seated himself on the balustrade, facing the door, his pistol dangling in his fingers. Griswell sat down near him and leaned back against a crumbling pillar. He shut his eyes, grateful for the faint breeze that seemed to cool his throbbing brain. He experienced a dull sense of unreality. He was a stranger in a strange land, a land that had become suddenly imbued with black horror. The shadow of the noose hovered above him, and in that dark house lay John Branner, with his butchered head—like the figments of a dream these facts spun and eddied in his brain until all merged in a gray twilight as sleep came uninvited to his weary soul. He awoke to a cold white dawn and full memory of the horrors of the night. Mists curled about the stems of the pines, crawled in smoky wisps up the broken walk. Buckner was shaking him.
“Wake up! It’s daylight.”
Griswell rose, wincing at the stiffness of his limbs. His face was gray and old. “I’m ready. Let’s go upstairs.”
“I’ve already been!” Buckner’s eyes burned in the early dawn. “I didn’t wake you up. I went as soon as it was light. I found nothin’.”
“The tracks of the bare feet———”
“Gone!”
“Gone?”
“Yes, gone! The dust had been disturbed all over the hall, from the point where Branner’s tracks ended; swept into corners. No chance of trackin’ anything there now. Something obliterated those tracks while we sat here, and I didn’t hear a sound. I’ve gone through the whole house. Not a sign of anything.”
Griswell shuddered at the thought of himself sleeping alone on the porch while Buckner conducted his exploration.
“What shall we do?” he asked listlessly. “With those tracks gone there goes my only chance of proving my story.”
“We’ll take Branner’s body into the county-seat,” answered Buckner. “Let me do the talkin’. If the authorities knew the facts as they appear, they’d insist on you being confined and indicted. I don’t believe you killed Branner—but neither a district attorney, judge nor jury would believe what you told me, or what happened to us last night. I’m handlin’ this thing my own way. I’m not goin’ to arrest you until I’ve exhausted every other possibility. Say nothin’ about what’s happened here, when we get to town. I’ll simply tell the district attorney that John Branner was killed by a party or parties unknown, and that I’m workin’ on the case. Are you game to come back with me to this house and spend the night here, sleepin’ in that room as you and Branner slept last night?”
Griswell went white, but answered as stoutly as his ancestors might have expressed their determination to hold their cabins in the teeth of the Pequots: “I’ll do it.”
“Let’s go then; help me pack the body out to your auto.”
Griswell’s soul revolted at the sight of John Branner’s bloodless face in the chill white dawn, and the feel of his clammy flesh.
The gray fog wrapped wispy tentacles about their feet as they carried their grisly burden across the lawn.

Chapter 2 — The Snake’s Brother
Again the shadows were lengthening over the pinelands, and again two men came bumping along the old road in a car with a New England license plate. Buckner was driving. Griswell’s nerves were too shattered for him to trust himself at the wheel. He looked gaunt and haggard, and his face was still pallid. The strain of the day spent at the county-seat was added to the horror that still rode his soul like the shadow of a black-winged vulture. He had not slept, had not tasted what he had eaten.
“I told you I’d tell you about the Blassenvilles,” said Buckner. “They were proud folks, haughty, and pretty damn ruthless when they wanted their way. They didn’t treat their slaves as well as the other planters did—got their ideas in the West Indies, I reckon. There was a streak of cruelty in them—especially Miss Celia, the last one of the family to come to these parts. That was long after the slaves had been freed, but she used to whip her mulatto maid just like she was a slave, the old folks say… . The Negroes said when a Blassenville died, the devil was always waitin’ for him out in the black pines.
“Well, after the Civil War they died off pretty fast, livin’ in poverty on the plantation which was allowed to go to ruin. Finally only four girls were left, sisters, livin’ in the old house and ekin’ out a bare livin’, with a few blacks livin’ in the old slave huts and workin’ the fields on the share. They kept to themselves, bein’ proud, and ashamed of their poverty. Folks wouldn’t see them for months at a time. When they needed supplies they sent a Negro to town after them.
“But folks knew about it when Miss Celia came to live with them. She came from somewhere in the West Indies, where the whole family originally had its roots—a fine, handsome woman, they say, in the early thirties. But she didn’t mix with folks any more than the girls did. She brought a mulatto maid with her, and the Blassenville cruelty cropped out in her treatment of this maid. I knew an old man years ago, who swore he saw Miss Celia tie this girl up to a tree, stark naked, and whip her with a horsewhip. Nobody was surprised when she disappeared. Everybody figured she’d run away, of course.
“Well, one day in the spring of 1890 Miss Elizabeth, the youngest girl, came in to town for the first time in maybe a year. She came after supplies. Said the blacks had all left the place. Talked a little more, too, a bit wild. Said Miss Celia had gone, without leaving any word. Said her sis- ters thought she’d gone back to the West Indies, but she believed her aunt was still in the house. She didn’t say what she meant. Just got her supplies and pulled out for the Manor.
“A month went past, and a black came into town and said that Miss El- izabeth was livin’ at the Manor alone. Said her three sisters weren’t there any more, that they’d left one by one without givin’ any word or explanation. She didn’t know where they’d gone, and was afraid to stay there alone, but didn’t know where else to go. She’d never known anything but the Manor, and had neither relatives nor friends. But she was in mor- tal terror of something. The black said she locked herself in her room at night and kept candles burnin’ all night… .
“It was a stormy spring night when Miss Elizabeth came tearin’ into town on the one horse she owned, nearly dead from fright. She fell from her horse in the square; when she could talk she said she’d found a secret room in the Manor that had been forgotten for a hundred years. And she said that there she found her three sisters, dead, and hangin’ by their necks from the ceilin’. She said something chased her and nearly brained her with an ax as she ran out the front door, but somehow she got to the horse and got away. She was nearly crazy with fear, and didn’t know what it was that chased her—said it looked like a woman with a yellow face.
“About a hundred men rode out there, right away. They searched the house from top to bottom, but they didn’t find any secret room, or the re- mains of the sisters. But they did find a hatchet stickin’ in the doorjamb downstairs, with some of Miss Elizabeth’s hairs stuck on it, just as she’d said. She wouldn’t go back there and show them how to find the secret door; almost went crazy when they suggested it.
“When she was able to travel, the people made up some money and loaned it to her—she was still too proud to accept charity—and she went to California. She never came back, but later it was learned, when she sent back to repay the money they’d loaned her, that she’d married out there.
“Nobody ever bought the house. It stood there just as she’d left it, and as the years passed folks stole all the furnishings out of it, poor white trash, I reckon. A Negro wouldn’t go about it. But they came after sunup and left long before sundown.”
“What did the people think about Miss Elizabeth’s story?” asked Griswell.
“Well, most folks thought she’d gone a little crazy, livin’ in that old house alone. But some people believed that mulatto girl, Joan, didn’t run away, after all. They believed she’d hidden in the woods, and glutted her hatred of the Blassenvilles by murderin’ Miss Celia and the three girls. They beat up the woods with bloodhounds, but never found a trace of her. If there was a secret room in the house, she might have been hidin’ there—if there was anything to that theory.”
“She couldn’t have been hiding there all these years,” muttered Griswell. “Anyway, the thing in the house now isn’t human.”
Buckner wrenched the wheel around and turned into a dim trace that left the main road and meandered off through the pines.
“Where are you going?”
“There’s an old Negro that lives off this way a few miles. I want to talk to him. We’re up against something that takes more than white man’s sense. The black people know more than we do about some things. This old man is nearly a hundred years old. His master educated him when he was a boy, and after he was freed he traveled more extensively than most white men do. They say he’s a voodoo man.”
Griswell shivered at the phrase, staring uneasily at the green forest walls that shut them in. The scent of the pines was mingled with the odors of unfamiliar plants and blossoms. But underlying all was a reek of rot and decay. Again a sick abhorrence of these dark mysterious woodlands almost overpowered him.
“Voodoo!” he muttered. “I’d forgotten about that—I never could think of black magic in connection with the South. To me witchcraft was always associated with old crooked streets in waterfront towns, overhung by gabled roofs that were old when they were hanging witches in Salem; dark musty alleys where black cats and other things might steal at night. Witchcraft always meant the old towns of New England, to me—but all this is more terrible than any New England legend—these somber pines, old deserted houses, lost plantations, mysterious black people, old tales of madness and horror—God, what frightful, ancient terrors there are on this continent fools call ‘young’!”
“Here’s old Jacob’s hut,” announced Buckner, bringing the automobile to a halt.
Griswell saw a clearing and a small cabin squatting under the shadows of the huge trees. The pines gave way to oaks and cypresses, bearded with gray trailing moss, and behind the cabin lay the edge of a swamp that ran away under the dimness of the trees, choked with rank vegetation.
A thin wisp of blue smoke curled up from the stick-and-mud chimney. He followed Buckner to the tiny stoop, where the sheriff pushed open the leather-hinged door and strode in. Griswell blinked in the comparative dimness of the interior. A single small window let in a little daylight.
An old Negro crouched beside the hearth, watching a pot stew over the open fire. He looked up as they entered, but did not rise. He seemed in- credibly old. His face was a mass of wrinkles, and his eyes, dark and vital, were filmed momentarily at times as if his mind wandered. Buckner motioned Griswell to sit down in a string-bottomed chair, and himself took a rudely-made bench near the hearth, facing the old man.
“Jacob,” he said bluntly, “the time’s come for you to talk. I know you know the secret of Blassenville Manor. I’ve never questioned you about it, because it wasn’t in my line. But a man was murdered there last night, and this man here may hang for it, unless you tell me what haunts that old house of the Blassenvilles.”
The old man’s eyes gleamed, then grew misty as if clouds of extreme age drifted across his brittle mind.
“The Blassenvilles,” he murmured, and his voice was mellow and rich, his speech not the patois of the piny woods darky. “They were proud people, sirs—proud and cruel. Some died in the war, some were killed in duels—the menfolks, sirs. Some died in the Manor—the old Man- or———” His voice trailed off into unintelligible mumblings.
“What of the Manor?” asked Buckner patiently.
“Miss Celia was the proudest of them all,” the old man muttered. “The proudest and the cruelest. The black people hated her; Joan most of all. Joan had white blood in her, and she was proud, too. Miss Celia whipped her like a slave.”
“What is the secret of Blassenville Manor?” persisted Buckner.
The film faded from the old man’s eyes; they were dark as moonlit wells.
“What secret, sir? I do not understand.”
“Yes, you do. For years that old house has stood there with its mystery. You know the key to its riddle.”
The old man stirred the stew. He seemed perfectly rational now.
“Sir, life is sweet, even to an old black man.”
“You mean somebody would kill you if you told me?”
But the old man was mumbling again, his eyes clouded. “Not somebody. No human. No human being. The black gods of the swamps. My secret is inviolate, guarded by the Big Serpent, the god above all gods. He would send a little brother to kiss me with his cold lips—a little brother with a white crescent moon on his head. I sold my soul to the Big Serpent when he made me maker of zuvembies ———”
Buckner stiffened.
“I heard that word once before,” he said softly, “from the lips of a dying black man, when I was a child. What does it mean?”
Fear filled the eyes of old Jacob.
“What have I said? No—no! I said nothing.”
“Zuvembies,” prompted Buckner.
“Zuvembies,” mechanically repeated the old man, his eyes vacant. “A zuvembie was once a woman—on the Slave Coast they know of them. The drums that whisper by night in the hills of Haiti tell of them. The makers of zuvembies are honored of the people of Damballah. It is death to speak of it to a white man—it is one of the Snake God’s forbidden secrets.”
“You speak of the zuvembies,” said Buckner softly.
“I must not speak of it,” mumbled the old man, and Griswell realized that he was thinking aloud, too far gone in his dotage to be aware that he was speaking at all. “No white man must know that I danced in the Black Ceremony of the voodoo, and was made a maker of zombies and zuvem- bies. The Big Snake punishes loose tongues with death.”
“A zuvembie is a woman?” prompted Buckner.
“Was a woman,” the old Negro muttered. “She knew I was a maker of zuvembies—she came and stood in my hut and asked for the awful brew—the brew of ground snake-bones, and the blood of vampire bats, and the dew from a nighthawk’s wings, and other elements unnamable. She had danced in the Black Ceremony—she was ripe to become a zuvembie—the Black Brew was all that was needed—the other was beautiful—I could not refuse her.”
“Who?” demanded Buckner tensely, but the old man’s head was sunk on his withered breast, and he did not reply. He seemed to slumber as he sat.
Buckner shook him. “You gave a brew to make a woman a zuvembie—what is a zuvembie?”
The old man stirred resentfully and muttered drowsily.
“A zuvembie is no longer human. It knows neither relatives nor friends. It is one with the people of the Black World. It commands the natural demons—owls, bats, snakes and werewolves, and can fetch darkness to blot out a little light. It can be slain by lead or steel, but unless it is slain thus, it lives for ever, and it eats no such food as humans eat. It dwells like a bat in a cave or an old house. Time means naught to the zuvembie; an hour, a day, a year, all is one. It cannot speak human words, nor think as a human thinks, but it can hypnotize the living by the sound of its voice, and when it slays a man, it can command his life- less body until the flesh is cold. As long as the blood flows, the corpse is its slave. Its pleasure lies in the slaughter of human beings.”
“And why should one become a zuvembie?” asked Buckner softly.
“Hate,” whispered the old man. “Hate! Revenge!”
“Was her name Joan?” murmured Buckner.
It was as if the name penetrated the fogs of senility that clouded the voodoo-man’s mind. He shook himself and the film faded from his eyes, leaving them hard and gleaming as wet black marble.
“Joan?” he said slowly. “I have not heard that name for the span of a generation. I seem to have been sleeping, gentlemen; I do not remember—I ask your pardon. Old men fall asleep before the fire, like old dogs. You asked me of Blassenville Manor? Sir, if I were to tell you why I cannot answer you, you would deem it mere superstition. Yet the white man’s God be my witness———”
As he spoke he was reaching across the hearth for a piece of firewood, groping among the heaps of sticks there. And his voice broke in a scream, as he jerked back his arm convulsively. And a horrible, thrashing, trailing thing came with it.
Around the voodoo-man’s arm a mottled length of that shape was wrapped, and a wicked wedge-shaped head struck again in silent fury. The old man fell on the hearth, screaming, upsetting the simmering pot and scattering the embers, and then Buckner caught up a billet of firewood and crushed that flat head. Cursing, he kicked aside the knotting, twisting trunk, glaring briefly at the mangled head. Old Jacob had ceased screaming and writhing; he lay still, staring glassily upward.
“Dead?” whispered Griswell.
“Dead as Judas Iscariot,” snapped Buckner, frowning at the twitching reptile. “That infernal snake crammed enough poison into his veins to kill a dozen men his age. But I think it was the shock and fright that killed him.”
“What shall we do?” asked Griswell, shivering.
“Leave the body on that bunk. Nothin’ can hurt it, if we bolt the door so the wild hogs can’t get in, or any cat. We’ll carry it into town tomorrow. We’ve got work to do tonight. Let’s get goin’.”
Griswell shrank from touching the corpse, but he helped Buckner lift it on the rude bunk, and then stumbled hastily out of the hut. The sun was hovering above the horizon, visible in dazzling red flame through the black stems of the trees. They climbed into the car in silence, and went bumping back along the stumpy train.
“He said the Big Snake would send one of his brothers,” muttered Griswell.
“Nonsense!” snorted Buckner. “Snakes like warmth, and that swamp is full of them. It crawled in and coiled up among that firewood. Old Jacob disturbed it, and it bit him. Nothin’ supernatural about that.”
After a short silence he said, in a different voice, “That was the first time I ever saw a rattler strike without singin’; and the first time I ever saw a snake with a white crescent moon on its head.”
They were turning in to the main road before either spoke again.
“You think that the mulatto Joan has skulked in the house all these years?” Griswell asked. “You heard what old Jacob said,” answered Buckner grimly. “Time means nothin’ to a zuvembie.”
As they made the last turn in the road, Griswell braced himself against the sight of Blassenville Manor looming black against the red sunset. When it came into view he bit his lip to keep from shrieking. The suggestion of cryptic horror came back in all its power. “Look!” he whispered from dry lips as they came to a halt beside the road. Buckner grunted. From the balustrades of the gallery rose a whirling cloud of pigeons that swept away into the sunset, black against the lurid glare… .

Chapter 3 –The Call of Zuvembie
Both men sat rigid for a few moments after the pigeons had flown.
“Well, I’ve seen them at last,” muttered Buckner.
“Only the doomed see them perhaps,” whispered Griswell. “That tramp saw them———” “Well, we’ll see,” returned the Southerner tranquilly, as he climbed out of the car, but Griswell noticed him unconsciously hitch forward his scabbarded gun.
The oaken door sagged on broken hinges. Their feet echoed on the broken brick walk. The blind windows reflected the sunset in sheets of flame. As they came into the broad hall Griswell saw the string of black marks that ran across the floor and into the chamber, marking the path of a dead man. Buckner had brought blankets out of the automobile. He spread them before the fireplace.
“I’ll lie next to the door,” he said. “You lie where you did last night.”
“Shall we light a fire in the grate?” asked Griswell, dreading the thought of the blackness that would cloak the woods when the brief twilight had died.
“No. You’ve got a flashlight and so have I. We’ll lie here in the dark and see what happens. Can you use that gun I gave you?”
“I suppose so. I never fired a revolver, but I know how it’s done.”
“Well, leave the shootin’ to me, if possible.”
The sheriff seated himself cross-legged on his blankets and emptied the cylinder of his big blue Colt, inspecting each cartridge with a critical eye before he replaced it.
Griswell prowled nervously back and forth, begrudging the slow fading of the light as a miser begrudges the waning of his gold. He leaned with one hand against the mantelpiece, staring down into the dust-covered ashes. The fire that produced those ashes must have been built by Elizabeth Blassenville, more than forty years before. The thought was depressing. Idly he stirred the dusty ashes with his toe. Something came to view among the charred debris—a bit of paper, stained and yellowed. Still idly he bent and drew it out of the ashes. It was a note-book with moldering cardboard backs.
“What have you found?” asked Buckner, squinting down the gleaming barrel of his gun. “Nothing but an old note-book. Looks like a diary. The pages are covered with writing—but the ink is so faded, and the paper is in such a state of decay that I can’t tell much about it. How do you suppose it came in the fireplace, without being burned up?”
“Thrown in long after the fire was out,” surmised Buckner. “Probably found and tossed in the fireplace by somebody who was in here stealin’ furniture. Likely somebody who couldn’t read.”
Griswell fluttered the crumbling leaves listlessly, straining his eyes in the fading light over the yellowed scrawls. Then he stiffened.
“Here’s an entry that’s legible! Listen!”
He read: “‘I know someone is in the house besides myself. I can hear someone prowling about at night when the sun has set and the pines are black outside. Often in the night I hear it fumbling at my door. Who is it? Is it one of my sisters? Is it Aunt Celia? If it is either of these, why does she steal so subtly about the house? Why does she tug at my door, and glide away when I call to her? Shall I open the door and go out to her? No, no! I dare not! I am afraid. Oh God, what shall I do? I dare not stay here—but where am I to go?’”
“By God!” ejaculated Buckner. “That must be Elizabeth Blassenville’s diary! Go on!”
“I can’t make out the rest of the page,” answered Griswell. “But a few pages further on I can make out some lines.”
He read: “‘Why did the Negroes all run away when Aunt Celia disappeared? My sisters are dead. I know they are dead. I seem to sense that they died horribly, in fear and agony. But why? Why? If someone murdered Aunt Celia, why should that person murder my poor sisters? They were always kind to the black people. Joan———’”
He paused, scowling futilely. “A piece of the page is torn out. Here’s another entry under another date—at least I judge it’s a date; I can’t make it out for sure. ”
‘———the awful thing that the old Negress hinted at? She named Jacob Blount, and Joan, but she would not speak plainly; perhaps she feared to———’ Part of it gone here; then: ‘No, no! How can it be? She is dead—or gone away. Yet—she was born and raised in the West Indies, and from hints she let fall in the past, I know she delved into the mysteries of the voodoo. I believe she even danced in one of their horrible ceremonies—how could she have been such a beast? And this—this horror. God, can such things be? I know not what to think. If it is she who roams the house at night, who fumbles at my door, who whistles so weirdly and sweetly—no, no, I must be going mad. If I stay here alone I shall die as hideously as my sisters must have died. Of that I am convinced.’”
The incoherent chronicle ended as abruptly as it had begun.
Griswell was so engrossed in deciphering the scraps that he was not aware that darkness had stolen upon them, hardly aware that Buckner was holding his electric torch for him to read by. Waking from his abstraction he started and darted a quick glance at the black hallway.
“What do you make of it?”
“What I’ve suspected all the time,” answered Buckner. “That mulatto maid Joan turned zuvembie to avenge herself on Miss Celia. Probably hated the whole family as much as she did her mistress. She’d taken part in voodoo ceremonies on her native island until she was ‘ripe,’ as old Jacob said. All she needed was the Black Brew—he supplied that. She killed Miss Celia and the three older girls, and would have gotten Elizabeth but for chance. She’s been lurkin’ in this old house all these years, like a snake in a ruin.”
“But why should she murder a stranger?”
“You heard what old Jacob said,” reminded Buckner. “A zuvembie finds satisfaction in the slaughter of humans. She called Branner up the stair and split his head and stuck the hatchet in his hand, and sent him downstairs to murder you. No court will ever believe that, but if we can produce her body, that will be evidence enough to prove your innocence. My word will be taken, that she murdered Branner. Jacob said a zuvembie could be killed … in reporting this affair I don’t have to be too accurate in detail.”
“She came and peered over the balustrade of the stair at us,” muttered Griswell. “But why didn’t we find her tracks on the stair?”
“Maybe you dreamed it. Maybe a zuvembie can project her spirit—hell! Why try to rationalize something that’s outside the bounds of rationality? Let’s begin our watch.” “Don’t turn out the light!” exclaimed Griswell involuntarily.
Then he added: “Of course. Turn it out. We must be in the dark as”—he gagged a bit—”as Branner and I were.”
But fear like a physical sickness assailed him when the room was plunged in darkness. He lay trembling and his heart beat so heavily he felt as if he would suffocate.
“The West Indies must be the plague spot of the world,” muttered Buckner, a blur on his blankets. “I’ve heard of zombies. Never knew before what a zuvembie was. Evidently some drug concocted by the voodoo-men to induce madness in women. That doesn’t explain the other things, though: the hypnotic powers, the abnormal longevity, the ability to control corpses—no, a zuvembie can’t be merely a mad-woman. It’s a monster, something more and less than a human being, created by the magic that spawns in black swamps and jungles—well, we’ll see.”
His voice ceased, and in the silence Griswell heard the pounding of his own heart. Outside in the black woods a wolf howled eerily, and owls hooted. Then silence fell again like a black fog.
Griswell forced himself to lie still on his blankets. Time seemed at a standstill. He felt as if he were choking. The suspense was growing unendurable; the effort he made to control his crumbling nerves bathed his limbs in sweat. He clenched his teeth until his jaws ached and almost locked, and the nails of his fingers bit deeply into his palms. He did not know what he was expecting. The fiend would strike again—but how?
Would it be a horrible, sweet whistling, bare feet stealing down the creaking steps, or a sudden hatchet-stroke in the dark?
Would it choose him or Buckner?
Was Buckner already dead?
He could see nothing in the blackness, but he heard the man’s steady breathing.
The Southerner must have nerves of steel. Or was that Buckner breathing beside him, separated by a narrow strip of darkness?
Had the fiend already struck in silence, and taken the sheriff’s place, there to lie in ghoulish glee until it was ready to strike?—a thousand hideous fancies assailed Griswell tooth and claw. He began to feel that he would go mad if he did not leap to his feet, screaming, and burst frenziedly out of that accursed house—not even the fear of the gallows could keep him lying there in the darkness any longer—the rhythm of Buckner’s breathing was suddenly broken, and Griswell felt as if a bucket of ice-water had been poured over him. From somewhere above them rose a sound of weird, sweet whistling… . Griswell’s control snapped, plunging his brain into darkness deeper than the physical blackness which engulfed him. There was a period of absolute blankness, in which a realization of motion was his first sensation of awakening consciousness. He was running, madly, stumbling over an incredibly rough road. All was darkness about him, and he ran blindly. Vaguely he realized that he must have bolted from the house, and fled for perhaps miles before his overwrought brain began to function. He did not care; dying on the gallows for a murder he never committed did not terrify him half as much as the thought of returning to that house of horror. He was overpowered by the urge to run—run—run as he was running now, blindly, until he reached the end of his endurance. The mist had not yet fully lifted from his brain, but he was aware of a dull wonder that he could not see the stars through the black branches. He wished vaguely that he could see where he was going. He believed he must be climbing a hill, and that was strange, for he knew there were no hills within miles of the Manor. Then above and ahead of him a dim glow began. He scrambled toward it, over ledge-like projections that were more and more taking on a disquieting symmetry. Then he was horror- stricken to realize that a sound was impacting on his ears—a weird mocking whistle. The sound swept the mists away.
Why, what was this?
Where was he?
Awakening and realization came like the stunning stroke of a butcher’s maul. He was not fleeing along a road, or climbing a hill; he was mounting a stair.
He was still in Blassenville Manor! And he was climbing the stair!
An inhuman scream burst from his lips.
Above it the mad whistling rose in a ghoulish piping of demoniac triumph. He tried to stop—to turn back—even to fling himself over the balustrade. His shrieking rang un- bearably in his own ears. But his will-power was shattered to bits. It did not exist. He had no will. He had dropped his flashlight, and he had for- gotten the gun in his pocket. He could not command his own body. His legs, moving stiffly, worked like pieces of mechanism detached from his brain, obeying an outside will. Clumping methodically they carried him shrieking up the stair toward the witch-fire glow shimmering above him. “Buckner!” he screamed. “Buckner! Help, for God’s sake!”
His voice strangled in his throat. He had reached the upper landing. He was tottering down the hallway. The whistling sank and ceased, but its impulsion still drove him on. He could not see from what source the dim glow came. It seemed to emanate from no central focus.
But he saw a vague figure shambling toward him. It looked like a woman, but no human woman ever walked with that skulking gait, and no human woman ever had that face of horror, that leering yellow blur of lunacy—he tried to scream at the sight of that face, at the glint of keen steel in the uplifted claw-like hand—but his tongue was frozen.

Then something crashed deafeningly behind him; the shadows were split by a tongue of flame which lit a hideous figure falling backward. Hard on the heels of the report rang an inhuman squawk. In the darkness that followed the flash Griswell fell to his knees and covered his face with his hands.
He did not hear Buckner’s voice. The Southerner’s hand on his shoulder shook him out of his swoon. A light in his eyes blinded him. He blinked, shaded his eyes, looked up into Buckner’s face, bending at the rim of the circle of light. The sheriff was pale.
“Are you hurt? God, man, are you hurt? There’s a butcher knife there on the floor———” “I’m not hurt,” mumbled Griswell. “You fired just in time—the fiend! Where is it? Where did it go?”
“Listen!”
Somewhere in the house there sounded a sickening flopping and flapping as of something that thrashed and struggled in its death convulsions.
“Jacob was right,” said Buckner grimly. “Lead can kill them. I hit her, all right. Didn’t dare use my flashlight, but there was enough light. When that whistlin’ started you almost walked over me gettin’ out. I knew you were hypnotized, or whatever it is. I followed you up the stairs. I was right behind you, but crouchin’ low so she wouldn’t see me, and maybe get away again. I almost waited too long before I fired—but the sight of her almost paralyzed me. Look!”
He flashed his light down the hall, and now it shone bright and clear. And it shone on an aperture gaping in the wall where no door had showed before.
“The secret panel Miss Elizabeth found!” Buckner snapped. “Come on!”
He ran across the hallway and Griswell followed him dazedly. The flopping and thrashing came from beyond that mysterious door, and now the sounds had ceased. The light revealed a narrow, tunnel-like corridor that evidently led through one of the thick walls. Buckner plunged into it without hesitation.
“Maybe it couldn’t think like a human,” he muttered, shining his light ahead of him. “But it had sense enough to erase its tracks last night so we couldn’t trail it to that point in the wall and maybe find the secret panel. There’s a room ahead—the secret room of the Blassenvilles!”
And Griswell cried out: “My God! It’s the windowless chamber I saw in my dream, with the three bodies hanging—ahhhhh!”

Buckner’s light playing about the circular chamber became suddenly motionless. In that wide ring of light three figures appeared, three dried, shriveled, mummy-like shapes, still clad in the moldering garments of the last century. Their slippers were clear of the floor as they hung by their withered necks from chains suspended from the ceiling.
“The three Blassenville sisters!” muttered Buckner.
“Miss Elizabeth wasn’t crazy, after all.”
“Look!” Griswell could barely make his voice intelligible. “There—over there in the corner!” The light moved, halted.
“Was that thing a woman once?” whispered Griswell. “God, look at that face, even in death. Look at those claw-like hands, with black talons like those of a beast. Yes, it was human, though—even the rags of an old ballroom gown. Why should a mulatto maid wear such a dress, I wonder?”
“This has been her lair for over forty years,” muttered Buckner, brooding over the grinning grisly thing sprawling in the corner. “This clears you, Griswell—a crazy woman with a hatchet—that’s all the authorities need to know. God, what a revenge!—what a foul revenge! Yet what a bestial nature she must have had, in the beginnin’, to delve into voodoo as she must have done———”
“The mulatto woman?” whispered Griswell, dimly sensing a horror that overshadowed all the rest of the terror. Buckner shook his head.
“We misunderstood old Jacob’s maunderin’s, and the things Miss Elizabeth wrote—she must have known, but family pride sealed her lips. Griswell, I understand now; the mulatto woman had her revenge, but not as we’d supposed. She didn’t drink the Black Brew old Jacob fixed for her. It was for somebody else, to be given secretly in her food, or coffee, no doubt. Then Joan ran away, leavin’ the seeds of the hell she’d sowed to grow.”
“That—that’s not the mulatto woman?” whispered Griswell.
“When I saw her out there in the hallway I knew she was no mulatto. And those distorted features still reflect a family likeness. I’ve seen her portrait, and I can’t be mistaken.
There lies the creature that was once Celia Blassenville.

Robert E Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936)

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The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe

This week’s edition of Story Time is coming to you right before the dreaded corporate holiday Valentines Day. What better story to share with the class than this classic tale of slow dread by everyone’s favorite lovelorn lunatic, Mr. Poe!

And here, as an added bonus, print and cut out this sweet valentine from thinkin-lincoln.com!
This story was first published in 1843 in The Pioneer and is the story of a madman who murders an old man and then hides the body underneath the floorboards. It is one of Poe’s most famous stories and is a true classic.
And now, we proudly bring you Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” below. Enjoy!

***

True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily – how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded – with what caution – with what foresight – with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it – oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly – very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously – cautiously (for the hinges creaked) – I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights – every night just at midnight – but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers – of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back – but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out – “Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; – just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief – oh, no! – it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself – “It is nothing but the wind in the chimney – it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel – although he neither saw nor heard – to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little – a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it – you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily – until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open – wide, wide open – and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness – all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? – now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! – do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me – the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once – once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye – not even his – could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out – no stain of any kind – no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all – ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock – still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, – for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, – for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search – search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: – It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness – until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; – but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased – and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound – much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath – and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly – more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men – but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed – I raved – I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder – louder – louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! – no, no! They heard! – they suspected! – they knew! – they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now – again! – hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! here, here! – It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Poe, by Ghoulish Gary Pullin

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 — 1849)

 


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Dagon, by H.P. Lovecraft

Welcome to this week’s edition of Story Time, where we are proud to republish a classic horror story that has found it’s way to the public domain. This time, we bring you another great one from Howard Phillips Lovecraft!

Lovecraft wrote Dagon in the summer of 1917 and the story was first published in November 1919 in W. Paul Cook’s amateur journal The Vagrant.  In 1923  Dagon was published in Weird Tales. It was the first time one of Lovecraft’s tales appeared in the magazine, but many more would follow.

I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below. Do not think from my slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or a degenerate. When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death.

It was in one of the most open and least frequented parts of the broad Pacific that the packet of which I was supercargo fell a victim to the German sea-raider. The great war was then at its very beginning, and the ocean forces of the Hun had not completely sunk to their later degradation; so that our vessel was made legitimate prize, whilst we of her crew were treated with all the fairness and consideration due us as naval prisoners. So liberal, indeed, was the discipline of our captors, that five days after we were taken I managed to escape alone in a small boat with water and provisions for a good length of time.

When I finally found myself adrift and free, I had but little idea of my surroundings. Never a competent navigator, I could only guess vaguely by the sun and stars that I was somewhat south of the equator. Of the longitude I knew nothing, and no island or coast-line was in sight. The weather kept fair, and for uncounted days I drifted aimlessly beneath the scorching sun; waiting either for some passing ship, or to be cast on the shores of some habitable land. But neither ship nor land appeared, and I began to despair in my solitude upon the heaving vastnesses of unbroken blue.

The change happened whilst I slept. Its details I shall never know; for my slumber, though troubled and dream-infested, was continuous. When at last I awaked, it was to discover myself half sucked into a slimy expanse of hellish black mire which extended about me in monotonous undulations as far as I could see, and in which my boat lay grounded some distance away.

Though one might well imagine that my first sensation would be of wonder at so prodigious and unexpected a transformation of scenery, I was in reality more horrified than astonished; for there was in the air and in the rotting soil a sinister quality which chilled me to the very core. The region was putrid with the carcasses of decaying fish, and of other less describable things which I saw protruding from the nasty mud of the unending plain. Perhaps I should not hope to convey in mere words the unutterable hideousness that can dwell in absolute silence and barren immensity. There was nothing within hearing, and nothing in sight save a vast reach of black slime; yet the very completeness of the stillness and homogeneity of the landscape oppressed me with a nauseating fear.

The sun was blazing down from a sky which seemed to me almost black in its cloudless cruelty; as though reflecting the inky marsh beneath my feet. As I crawled into the stranded boat I realised that only one theory could explain my position. Through some unprecedented volcanic upheaval, a portion of the ocean floor must have been thrown to the surface, exposing regions which for innumerable millions of years had lain hidden under unfathomable watery depths. So great was the extent of the new land which had risen beneath me, that I could not detect the faintest noise of the surging ocean, strain my ears as I might. Nor were there any sea-fowl to prey upon the dead things.

For several hours I sat thinking or brooding in the boat, which lay upon its side and afforded a slight shade as the sun moved across the heavens. As the day progressed, the ground lost some of its stickiness, and seemed likely to dry sufficiently for travelling purposes in a short time. That night I slept but little, and the next day I made for myself a pack containing food and water, preparatory to an overland journey in search of the vanished sea and possible rescue.

On the third morning I found the soil dry enough to walk upon with ease. The odour of the fish was maddening; but I was too much concerned with graver things to mind so slight an evil, and set out boldly for an unknown goal. All day I forged steadily westward, guided by a far-away hummock which rose higher than any other elevation on the rolling desert. That night I encamped, and on the following day still travelled toward the hummock, though that object seemed scarcely nearer than when I had first espied it. By the fourth evening I attained the base of the mound which turned out to be much higher than it had appeared from a distance, an intervening valley setting it out in sharper relief from the general surface. Too weary to ascend, I slept in the shadow of the hill.

I know not why my dreams were so wild that night; but ere the waning and fantastically gibbous moon had risen far above the eastern plain, I was awake in a cold perspiration, determined to sleep no more. Such visions as I had experienced were too much for me to endure again. And in the glow of the moon I saw how unwise I had been to travel by day. Without the glare of the parching sun, my journey would have cost me less energy; indeed, I now felt quite able to perform the ascent which had deterred me at sunset. Picking up my pack , I started for the crest of the eminence.

I have said that the unbroken monotony of the rolling plain was a source of vague horror to me; but I think my horror was greater when I gained the summit of the mound and looked down the other side into an immeasurable pit or canyon, whose black recesses the moon had not yet soard high enough to illuminate. I felt myself on the edge of the world; peering over the rim into a fathomless chaos of eternal night. Through my terror ran curious reminiscences of Paradise Lost, and of Satan’s hideous climb through the unfashioned realms of darkness.

As the moon climbed higher in the sky, I began to see that the slopes of the valley were not quite so perpendicular as I had imagined. Ledges and outcroppings of rock afforded fairly easy foot-holds for a descent, whilst after a drop of a few hundred feet, the declivity became very gradual. Urged on by an impulse which I cannot definitely analyse, I scrambled with difficulty down the rocks and stood on the gentler slope beneath, gazing into the Stygian deeps where no light had yet penetrated.

All at once my attention was captured by a vast and singular object on the opposite slope, which rose steeply about an hundred yards ahead of me; an object that gleamed whitely in the newly bestowed rays of the ascending moon. That it was merely a gigantic piece of stone, I soon assured myself; but I was conscious of a distinct impression that its contour and position were not altogether the work of Nature. A closer scrutiny filled me with sensations I cannot express; for despite its enormous magnitude, and its position in an abyss which had yawned at the bottom of the sea since the world was young, I perceived beyond a doubt that the strange object was a well-shaped monolith whose massive bulk had known the workmanship and perhaps the worship of living and thinking creatures.

Dazed and frightened, yet not without a certain thrill of the scientist’s or archaeologist’s delight, I examined my surroundings more closely. The moon, now near the zenith, shone weirdly and vividly above the towering steeps that hemmed in the chasm, and revealed the fact that a far-flung body of water flowed at the bottom, winding out of sight in both directions, and almost lapping my feet as I stood on the slope. Across the chasm, the wavelets washed the base of the Cyclopean monolith; on whose surface I could now trace both inscriptions and crude sculptures. The writing was in a system of hieroglyphics unknown to me, and unlike anything I had ever seen in books; consisting for the most part of conventionalised aquatic symbols such as fishes, eels, octopi, crustaceans, molluscs, whales, and the like. Several characters obviously represented marine things which are unknown to the modern world, but whose decomposing forms I had observed on the ocean-risen plain.

It was the pictorial carving, however, that did most to hold me spellbound. Plainly visible across the intervening water on account of their enormous size, were an array of bas-reliefs whose subjects would have excited the envy of Dore. I think that these things were supposed to depict men-at least, a certain sort of men; though the creatures were shewn disporting like fishes in waters of some marine grotto, or paying homage at some monolithic shrine which appeared to be under the waves as well. Of their faces and forms I dare not speak in detail; for the mere remembrance makes me grow faint. Grotesque beyond the imagination of a Poe or a Bulwer, they were damnably human in general outline despite webbed hands and feet, shockingly wide and flabby lips, glassy, bulging eyes, and other features less pleasant to recall. Curiously enough, they seemed to have been chiselled badly out of proportion with their scenic background; for one of the creatures was shewn in the act of killing a whale represented as but little larger than himself. I remarked, as I say, their grotesqueness and strange size, but in a moment decided that they were merely the imaginary gods of some primitive fishing or seafaring tribe; some tribe whose last descendant had perished eras before the first ancestor of the Piltdown or Neanderthal Man was born. Awestruck at this unexpected glimpse into a past beyond the conception of the most daring anthropologist, I stood musing whilst the moon cast queer reflections on the silent channel before me.

Then suddenly I saw it. With only a slight churning to mark its rise to the surface, the thing slid into view above the dark waters. Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds. I think I went mad then.

Of my frantic ascent of the slope and cliff, and of my delirious journey back to the stranded boat, I remember little. I believe I sang a great deal, and laughed oddly when I was unable to sing. I have indistinct recollections of a great storm some time after I reached the boat; at any rate, I know that I heard peals of thunder and other tones which Nature utters only in her wildest moods.

When I came out of the shadows I was in a San Francisco hospital; brought thither by the captain of the American ship which had picked up my boat in mid-ocean. In my delirium I had said much, but found that my words had been given scant attention. Of any land upheaval in the Pacific, my rescuers knew nothing; nor did I deem it necessary to insist upon a thing which I knew they could not believe. Once I sought out a celebrated enthnologist, and amused him with peculiar questions regarding the ancient Philistine legend of Dagon, the Fish-God; but soon perceiving that he was hopelessly conventional, I did not press my inquiries.

It is at night, especially when the moon is gibbous and waning, that I see the thing. I tried morphine; but the drug has given only transient surcease, and has drawn me into its clutches as a hopeless slave. So now I am to end it all, having written a full account for the information or the contemptuous amusement of my fellow-men. Often I ask myself if it could not all have been a pure phantasm-a mere freak of fever as I lay sun-stricken and raving in the open boat after my escape from the German man-of-war. This I ask myself, but ever does there come before me a hideously vivid vision in reply. I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed, worshipping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on the submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind-of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium.

The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!

Howard Philips Lovecraft (1890 — 1937)

Portrait of H.P. Lovecraft by Junji Ito


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“The Bodysnatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born in 1850 in Edinburgh. Although Stevenson studied Engineering and Law at Edinburgh University, he had always had a love of writing and this was the path he eventually followed.“The Bodysnatcher” was first published in the Pall Mall Gazettte in 1884 and although the story is a work of fiction it was said to be inspired by true events.

Please enjoy this classic from the author of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, right here on Horror Homework!

Every night in the year, four of us sat in the small parlour of the George at Debenham – the undertaker, and the landlord, and Fettes, and myself. Sometimes there would be more; but blow high, blow low, come rain or snow or frost, we four would be each planted in his own particular arm-chair. Fettes was an old drunken Scotchman, a man of education obviously, and a man of some property, since he lived in idleness. He had come to Debenham years ago, while still young, and by a mere continuance of living had grown to be an adopted townsman. His blue camlet cloak was a local antiquity, like the church-spire. His place in the parlour at the George, his absence from church, his old, crapulous, disreputable vices, were all things of course in Debenham. He had some vague Radical opinions and some fleeting infidelities, which he would now and again set forth and emphasise with tottering slaps upon the table. He drank rum -five glasses regularly every evening; and for the greater portion of his nightly visit to the George sat, with his glass in his right hand, in a state of melancholy alcoholic saturation. We called him the Doctor, for he was supposed to have some special knowledge of medicine, and had been known, upon a pinch, to set a fracture or reduce a dislocation; but beyond these slight particulars, we had no knowledge of his character and antecedents.

One dark winter night – it had struck nine some time before the landlord joined us – there was a sick man in the George, a great neighbouring proprietor suddenly struck down with apoplexy on his way to Parliament; and the great man’s still greater London doctor had been telegraphed to his bedside. It was the first time that such a thing had happened in Debenham, for the railway was but newly open, and we were all proportionately moved by the occurrence.

‘He’s come,’ said the landlord, after he had filled and lighted his pipe.

‘He?’ said I. ‘Who? – not the doctor?’

‘Himself,’ replied our host.

‘What is his name?’

‘Doctor Macfarlane,’ said the landlord.

Fettes was far through his third tumbler, stupidly fuddled, now nodding over, now staring mazily around him; but at the last word he seemed to awaken, and repeated the name ‘Macfarlane’ twice, quietly enough the first time, but with sudden emotion at the second.

‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘that’s his name, Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane.’

Fettes became instantly sober; his eyes awoke, his voice became clear, loud, and steady, his language forcible and earnest. We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, ‘I am afraid I have not been paying much attention to your talk. Who is this Wolfe Macfarlane?’ And then, when he had heard the landlord out, ‘It cannot be, it cannot be,’ he added; ‘and yet I would like well to see him face to face.’

‘Do you know him, Doctor?’ asked the undertaker, with a gasp.

‘God forbid!’ was the reply. ‘And yet the name is a strange one; it were too much to fancy two. Tell me, landlord, is he old?’

‘Well,’ said the host, ‘he’s not a young man, to be sure, and his hair is white; but he looks younger than you.’

‘He is older, though; years older. But,’ with a slap upon the table, ‘it’s the rum you see in my face – rum and sin. This man, perhaps, may have an easy conscience and a good digestion. Conscience! Hear me speak. You would think I was some good, old, decent Christian, would you not? But no, not I; I never canted. Voltaire might have canted if he’d stood in my shoes; but the brains’ – with a rattling fillip on his bald head – ‘the brains were clear and active, and I saw and made no deductions.’

‘If you know this doctor,’ I ventured to remark, after a somewhat awful pause, ‘I should gather that you do not share the landlord’s good opinion.’

Fettes paid no regard to me.

‘Yes,’ he said, with sudden decision, ‘I must see him face to face.’

There was another pause, and then a door was closed rather sharply on the first floor, and a step was heard upon the stair.

‘That’s the doctor,’ cried the landlord. ‘Look sharp, and you can catch him.’

It was but two steps from the small parlour to the door of the old George Inn; the wide oak staircase landed almost in the street; there was room for a Turkey rug and nothing more between the threshold and the last round of the descent; but this little space was every evening brilliantly lit up, not only by the light upon the stair and the great signal-lamp below the sign, but by the warm radiance of the bar-room window. The George thus brightly advertised itself to passers-by in the cold street. Fettes walked steadily to the spot, and we, who were hanging behind, beheld the two men meet, as one of them had phrased it, face to face. Dr. Macfarlane was alert and vigorous. His white hair set off his pale and placid, although energetic, countenance. He was richly dressed in the finest of broadcloth and the whitest of linen, with a great gold watch-chain, and studs and spectacles of the same precious material. He wore a broad-folded tie, white and speckled with lilac, and he carried on his arm a comfortable driving-coat of fur. There was no doubt but he became his years, breathing, as he did, of wealth and consideration; and it was a surprising contrast to see our parlour sot – bald, dirty, pimpled, and robed in his old camlet cloak – confront him at the bottom of the stairs.

‘Macfarlane!’ he said somewhat loudly, more like a herald than a friend.

The great doctor pulled up short on the fourth step, as though the familiarity of the address surprised and somewhat shocked his dignity.

‘Toddy Macfarlane!’ repeated Fettes.

The London man almost staggered. He stared for the swiftest of seconds at the man before him, glanced behind him with a sort of scare, and then in a startled whisper, ‘Fettes!’ he said, ‘You!’

‘Ay,’ said the other, ‘me! Did you think I was dead too? We are not so easy shut of our acquaintance.’

‘Hush, hush!’ exclaimed the doctor. ‘Hush, hush! this meeting is so unexpected – I can see you are unmanned. I hardly knew you, I confess, at first; but I am overjoyed – overjoyed to have this opportunity. For the present it must be how-d’ye-do and good-bye in one, for my fly is waiting, and I must not fail the train; but you shall – let me see – yes – you shall give me your address, and you can count on early news of me. We must do something for you, Fettes. I fear you are out at elbows; but we must see to that for auld lang syne, as once we sang at suppers.’

‘Money!’ cried Fettes; ‘money from you! The money that I had from you is lying where I cast it in the rain.’

Dr. Macfarlane had talked himself into some measure of superiority and confidence, but the uncommon energy of this refusal cast him back into his first confusion.

A horrible, ugly look came and went across his almost venerable countenance. ‘My dear fellow,’ he said, ‘be it as you please; my last thought is to offend you. I would intrude on none. I will leave you my address, however – ‘

‘I do not wish it – I do not wish to know the roof that shelters you,’ interrupted the other. ‘I heard your name; I feared it might be you; I wished to know if, after all, there were a God; I know now that there is none. Begone!’

He still stood in the middle of the rug, between the stair and doorway; and the great London physician, in order to escape, would be forced to step to one side. It was plain that he hesitated before the thought of this humiliation. White as he was, there was a dangerous glitter in his spectacles; but while he still paused uncertain, he became aware that the driver of his fly was peering in from the street at this unusual scene and caught a glimpse at the same time of our little body from the parlour, huddled by the corner of the bar. The presence of so many witnesses decided him at once to flee. He crouched together, brushing on the wainscot, and made a dart like a serpent, striking for the door. But his tribulation was not yet entirely at an end, for even as he was passing Fettes clutched him by the arm and these words came in a whisper, and yet painfully distinct, ‘Have you seen it again?’

The great rich London doctor cried out aloud with a sharp, throttling cry; he dashed his questioner across the open space, and, with his hands over his head, fled out of the door like a detected thief. Before it had occurred to one of us to make a movement the fly was already rattling toward the station. The scene was over like a dream, but the dream had left proofs and traces of its passage. Next day the servant found the fine gold spectacles broken on the threshold, and that very night we were all standing breathless by the bar-room window, and Fettes at our side, sober, pale, and resolute in look.

‘God protect us, Mr. Fettes!’ said the landlord, coming first into possession of his customary senses. ‘What in the universe is all this? These are strange things you have been saying.’

Fettes turned toward us; he looked us each in succession in the face. ‘See if you can hold your tongues,’ said he. ‘That man Macfarlane is not safe to cross; those that have done so already have repented it too late.’

And then, without so much as finishing his third glass, far less waiting for the other two, he bade us good-bye and went forth, under the lamp of the hotel, into the black night.

We three turned to our places in the parlour, with the big red fire and four clear candles; and as we recapitulated what had passed, the first chill of our surprise soon changed into a glow of curiosity. We sat late; it was the latest session I have known in the old George. Each man, before we parted, had his theory that he was bound to prove; and none of us had any nearer business in this world than to track out the past of our condemned companion, and surprise the secret that he shared with the great London doctor. It is no great boast, but I believe I was a better hand at worming out a story than either of my fellows at the George; and perhaps there is now no other man alive who could narrate to you the following foul and unnatural events.

In his young days Fettes studied medicine in the schools of Edinburgh. He had talent of a kind, the talent that picks up swiftly what it hears and readily retails it for its own. He worked little at home; but he was civil, attentive, and intelligent in the presence of his masters. They soon picked him out as a lad who listened closely and remembered well; nay, strange as it seemed to me when I first heard it, he was in those days well favoured, and pleased by his exterior. There was, at that period, a certain extramural teacher of anatomy, whom I shall here designate by the letter K. His name was subsequently too well known. The man who bore it skulked through the streets of Edinburgh in disguise, while the mob that applauded at the execution of Burke called loudly for the blood of his employer. But Mr. K-was then at the top of his vogue; he enjoyed a popularity due partly to his own talent and address, partly to the incapacity of his rival, the university professor. The students, at least, swore by his name, and Fettes believed himself, and was believed by others, to have laid the foundations of success when he had acquired the favour of this meteorically famous man. Mr. K-was a BON VIVANT as well as an accomplished teacher; he liked a sly illusion no less than a careful preparation. In both capacities Fettes enjoyed and deserved his notice, and by the second year of his attendance he held the half-regular position of second demonstrator or sub-assistant in his class.

In this capacity the charge of the theatre and lecture-room devolved in particular upon his shoulders. He had to answer for the cleanliness of the premises and the conduct of the other students, and it was a part of his duty to supply, receive, and divide the various subjects. It was with a view to this last – at that time very delicate – affair that he was lodged by Mr. K-in the same wynd, and at last in the same building, with the dissecting-rooms. Here, after a night of turbulent pleasures, his hand still tottering, his sight still misty and confused, he would be called out of bed in the black hours before the winter dawn by the unclean and desperate interlopers who supplied the table. He would open the door to these men, since infamous throughout the land. He would help them with their tragic burden, pay them their sordid price, and remain alone, when they were gone, with the unfriendly relics of humanity. From such a scene he would return to snatch another hour or two of slumber, to repair the abuses of the night, and refresh himself for the labours of the day.

Few lads could have been more insensible to the impressions of a life thus passed among the ensigns of mortality. His mind was closed against all general considerations. He was incapable of interest in the fate and fortunes of another, the slave of his own desires and low ambitions. Cold, light, and selfish in the last resort, he had that modicum of prudence, miscalled morality, which keeps a man from inconvenient drunkenness or punishable theft. He coveted, besides, a measure of consideration from his masters and his fellow-pupils, and he had no desire to fail conspicuously in the external parts of life. Thus he made it his pleasure to gain some distinction in his studies, and day after day rendered unimpeachable eye-service to his employer, Mr. K-. For his day of work he indemnified himself by nights of roaring, blackguardly enjoyment; and when that balance had been struck, the organ that he called his conscience declared itself content.

The supply of subjects was a continual trouble to him as well as to his master. In that large and busy class, the raw material of the anatomists kept perpetually running out; and the business thus rendered necessary was not only unpleasant in itself, but threatened dangerous consequences to all who were concerned. It was the policy of Mr. K-to ask no questions in his dealings with the trade. ‘They bring the body, and we pay the price,’ he used to say, dwelling on the alliteration – ‘QUID PRO QUO.’ And, again, and somewhat profanely, ‘Ask no questions,’ he would tell his assistants, ‘for conscience’ sake.’ There was no understanding that the subjects were provided by the crime of murder. Had that idea been broached to him in words, he would have recoiled in horror; but the lightness of his speech upon so grave a matter was, in itself, an offence against good manners, and a temptation to the men with whom he dealt. Fettes, for instance, had often remarked to himself upon the singular freshness of the bodies. He had been struck again and again by the hang-dog, abominable looks of the ruffians who came to him before the dawn; and putting things together clearly in his private thoughts, he perhaps attributed a meaning too immoral and too categorical to the unguarded counsels of his master. He understood his duty, in short, to have three branches: to take what was brought, to pay the price, and to avert the eye from any evidence of crime.

One November morning this policy of silence was put sharply to the test. He had been awake all night with a racking toothache – pacing his room like a caged beast or throwing himself in fury on his bed – and had fallen at last into that profound, uneasy slumber that so often follows on a night of pain, when he was awakened by the third or fourth angry repetition of the concerted signal. There was a thin, bright moonshine; it was bitter cold, windy, and frosty; the town had not yet awakened, but an indefinable stir already preluded the noise and business of the day. The ghouls had come later than usual, and they seemed more than usually eager to be gone. Fettes, sick with sleep, lighted them upstairs. He heard their grumbling Irish voices through a dream; and as they stripped the sack from their sad merchandise he leaned dozing, with his shoulder propped against the wall; he had to shake himself to find the men their money. As he did so his eyes lighted on the dead face. He started; he took two steps nearer, with the candle raised.

‘God Almighty!’ he cried. ‘That is Jane Galbraith!’

The men answered nothing, but they shuffled nearer the door.

‘I know her, I tell you,’ he continued. ‘She was alive and hearty yesterday. It’s impossible she can be dead; it’s impossible you should have got this body fairly.’

‘Sure, sir, you’re mistaken entirely,’ said one of the men.

But the other looked Fettes darkly in the eyes, and demanded the money on the spot.

It was impossible to misconceive the threat or to exaggerate the danger. The lad’s heart failed him. He stammered some excuses, counted out the sum, and saw his hateful visitors depart. No sooner were they gone than he hastened to confirm his doubts. By a dozen unquestionable marks he identified the girl he had jested with the day before. He saw, with horror, marks upon her body that might well betoken violence. A panic seized him, and he took refuge in his room. There he reflected at length over the discovery that he had made; considered soberly the bearing of Mr. K-’s instructions and the danger to himself of interference in so serious a business, and at last, in sore perplexity, determined to wait for the advice of his immediate superior, the class assistant.

This was a young doctor, Wolfe Macfarlane, a high favourite among all the reckless students, clever, dissipated, and unscrupulous to the last degree. He had travelled and studied abroad. His manners were agreeable and a little forward. He was an authority on the stage, skilful on the ice or the links with skate or golf-club; he dressed with nice audacity, and, to put the finishing touch upon his glory, he kept a gig and a strong trotting-horse. With Fettes he was on terms of intimacy; indeed, their relative positions called for some community of life; and when subjects were scarce the pair would drive far into the country in Macfarlane’s gig, visit and desecrate some lonely graveyard, and return before dawn with their booty to the door of the dissecting-room.

On that particular morning Macfarlane arrived somewhat earlier than his wont. Fettes heard him, and met him on the stairs, told him his story, and showed him the cause of his alarm. Macfarlane examined the marks on her body.

‘Yes,’ he said with a nod, ‘it looks fishy.’

‘Well, what should I do?’ asked Fettes.

‘Do?’ repeated the other. ‘Do you want to do anything? Least said soonest mended, I should say.’

‘Some one else might recognise her,’ objected Fettes. ‘She was as well known as the Castle Rock.’

‘We’ll hope not,’ said Macfarlane, ‘and if anybody does – well, you didn’t, don’t you see, and there’s an end. The fact is, this has been going on too long. Stir up the mud, and you’ll get K-into the most unholy trouble; you’ll be in a shocking box yourself. So will I, if you come to that. I should like to know how any one of us would look, or what the devil we should have to say for ourselves, in any Christian witness-box. For me, you know there’s one thing certain – that, practically speaking, all our subjects have been murdered.’

‘Macfarlane!’ cried Fettes.

‘Come now!’ sneered the other. ‘As if you hadn’t suspected it yourself!’

‘Suspecting is one thing – ‘

‘And proof another. Yes, I know; and I’m as sorry as you are this should have come here,’ tapping the body with his cane. ‘The next best thing for me is not to recognise it; and,’ he added coolly, ‘I don’t. You may, if you please. I don’t dictate, but I think a man of the world would do as I do; and I may add, I fancy that is what K-would look for at our hands. The question is, Why did he choose us two for his assistants? And I answer, because he didn’t want old wives.’

This was the tone of all others to affect the mind of a lad like Fettes. He agreed to imitate Macfarlane. The body of the unfortunate girl was duly dissected, and no one remarked or appeared to recognise her.

One afternoon, when his day’s work was over, Fettes dropped into a popular tavern and found Macfarlane sitting with a stranger. This was a small man, very pale and dark, with coal-black eyes. The cut of his features gave a promise of intellect and refinement which was but feebly realised in his manners, for he proved, upon a nearer acquaintance, coarse, vulgar, and stupid. He exercised, however, a very remarkable control over Macfarlane; issued orders like the Great Bashaw; became inflamed at the least discussion or delay, and commented rudely on the servility with which he was obeyed. This most offensive person took a fancy to Fettes on the spot, plied him with drinks, and honoured him with unusual confidences on his past career. If a tenth part of what he confessed were true, he was a very loathsome rogue; and the lad’s vanity was tickled by the attention of so experienced a man.

‘I’m a pretty bad fellow myself,’ the stranger remarked, ‘but Macfarlane is the boy – Toddy Macfarlane I call him. Toddy, order your friend another glass.’ Or it might be, ‘Toddy, you jump up and shut the door.’ ‘Toddy hates me,’ he said again. ‘Oh yes, Toddy, you do!’

‘Don’t you call me that confounded name,’ growled Macfarlane.

‘Hear him! Did you ever see the lads play knife? He would like to do that all over my body,’ remarked the stranger.

‘We medicals have a better way than that,’ said Fettes. ‘When we dislike a dead friend of ours, we dissect him.’

Macfarlane looked up sharply, as though this jest were scarcely to his mind.

The afternoon passed. Gray, for that was the stranger’s name, invited Fettes to join them at dinner, ordered a feast so sumptuous that the tavern was thrown into commotion, and when all was done commanded Macfarlane to settle the bill. It was late before they separated; the man Gray was incapably drunk. Macfarlane, sobered by his fury, chewed the cud of the money he had been forced to squander and the slights he had been obliged to swallow. Fettes, with various liquors singing in his head, returned home with devious footsteps and a mind entirely in abeyance. Next day Macfarlane was absent from the class, and Fettes smiled to himself as he imagined him still squiring the intolerable Gray from tavern to tavern. As soon as the hour of liberty had struck he posted from place to place in quest of his last night’s companions. He could find them, however, nowhere; so returned early to his rooms, went early to bed, and slept the sleep of the just.

At four in the morning he was awakened by the well-known signal. Descending to the door, he was filled with astonishment to find Macfarlane with his gig, and in the gig one of those long and ghastly packages with which he was so well acquainted.

‘What?’ he cried. ‘Have you been out alone? How did you manage?’

But Macfarlane silenced him roughly, bidding him turn to business. When they had got the body upstairs and laid it on the table, Macfarlane made at first as if he were going away. Then he paused and seemed to hesitate; and then, ‘You had better look at the face,’ said he, in tones of some constraint. ‘You had better,’ he repeated, as Fettes only stared at him in wonder.

‘But where, and how, and when did you come by it?’ cried the other.

‘Look at the face,’ was the only answer.

Fettes was staggered; strange doubts assailed him. He looked from the young doctor to the body, and then back again. At last, with a start, he did as he was bidden. He had almost expected the sight that met his eyes, and yet the shock was cruel. To see, fixed in the rigidity of death and naked on that coarse layer of sackcloth, the man whom he had left well clad and full of meat and sin upon the threshold of a tavern, awoke, even in the thoughtless Fettes, some of the terrors of the conscience. It was a CRAS TIBI which re-echoed in his soul, that two whom he had known should have come to lie upon these icy tables. Yet these were only secondary thoughts. His first concern regarded Wolfe. Unprepared for a challenge so momentous, he knew not how to look his comrade in the face. He durst not meet his eye, and he had neither words nor voice at his command.

It was Macfarlane himself who made the first advance. He came up quietly behind and laid his hand gently but firmly on the other’s shoulder.

‘Richardson,’ said he, ‘may have the head.’

Now Richardson was a student who had long been anxious for that portion of the human subject to dissect. There was no answer, and the murderer resumed: ‘Talking of business, you must pay me; your accounts, you see, must tally.’

Fettes found a voice, the ghost of his own: ‘Pay you!’ he cried. ‘Pay you for that?’

‘Why, yes, of course you must. By all means and on every possible account, you must,’ returned the other. ‘I dare not give it for nothing, you dare not take it for nothing; it would compromise us both. This is another case like Jane Galbraith’s. The more things are wrong the more we must act as if all were right. Where does old K-keep his money?’

‘There,’ answered Fettes hoarsely, pointing to a cupboard in the corner.

‘Give me the key, then,’ said the other, calmly, holding out his hand.

There was an instant’s hesitation, and the die was cast. Macfarlane could not suppress a nervous twitch, the infinitesimal mark of an immense relief, as he felt the key between his fingers. He opened the cupboard, brought out pen and ink and a paper-book that stood in one compartment, and separated from the funds in a drawer a sum suitable to the occasion.

‘Now, look here,’ he said, ‘there is the payment made – first proof of your good faith: first step to your security. You have now to clinch it by a second. Enter the payment in your book, and then you for your part may defy the devil.’

The next few seconds were for Fettes an agony of thought; but in balancing his terrors it was the most immediate that triumphed. Any future difficulty seemed almost welcome if he could avoid a present quarrel with Macfarlane. He set down the candle which he had been carrying all this time, and with a steady hand entered the date, the nature, and the amount of the transaction.

‘And now,’ said Macfarlane, ‘it’s only fair that you should pocket the lucre. I’ve had my share already. By the bye, when a man of the world falls into a bit of luck, has a few shillings extra in his pocket – I’m ashamed to speak of it, but there’s a rule of conduct in the case. No treating, no purchase of expensive class-books, no squaring of old debts; borrow, don’t lend.’

‘Macfarlane,’ began Fettes, still somewhat hoarsely, ‘I have put my neck in a halter to oblige you.’

‘To oblige me?’ cried Wolfe. ‘Oh, come! You did, as near as I can see the matter, what you downright had to do in self-defence. Suppose I got into trouble, where would you be? This second little matter flows clearly from the first. Mr. Gray is the continuation of Miss Galbraith. You can’t begin and then stop. If you begin, you must keep on beginning; that’s the truth. No rest for the wicked.’

A horrible sense of blackness and the treachery of fate seized hold upon the soul of the unhappy student.

‘My God!’ he cried, ‘but what have I done? and when did I begin? To be made a class assistant – in the name of reason, where’s the harm in that? Service wanted the position; Service might have got it. Would HE have been where I am now?’

‘My dear fellow,’ said Macfarlane, ‘what a boy you are! What harm HAS come to you? What harm CAN come to you if you hold your tongue? Why, man, do you know what this life is? There are two squads of us – the lions and the lambs. If you’re a lamb, you’ll come to lie upon these tables like Gray or Jane Galbraith; if you’re a lion, you’ll live and drive a horse like me, like K-, like all the world with any wit or courage. You’re staggered at the first. But look at K-! My dear fellow, you’re clever, you have pluck. I like you, and K-likes you. You were born to lead the hunt; and I tell you, on my honour and my experience of life, three days from now you’ll laugh at all these scarecrows like a High School boy at a farce.’

And with that Macfarlane took his departure and drove off up the wynd in his gig to get under cover before daylight. Fettes was thus left alone with his regrets. He saw the miserable peril in which he stood involved. He saw, with inexpressible dismay, that there was no limit to his weakness, and that, from concession to concession, he had fallen from the arbiter of Macfarlane’s destiny to his paid and helpless accomplice. He would have given the world to have been a little braver at the time, but it did not occur to him that he might still be brave. The secret of Jane Galbraith and the cursed entry in the day-book closed his mouth.

Hours passed; the class began to arrive; the members of the unhappy Gray were dealt out to one and to another, and received without remark. Richardson was made happy with the head; and before the hour of freedom rang Fettes trembled with exultation to perceive how far they had already gone toward safety.

For two days he continued to watch, with increasing joy, the dreadful process of disguise.

On the third day Macfarlane made his appearance. He had been ill, he said; but he made up for lost time by the energy with which he directed the students. To Richardson in particular he extended the most valuable assistance and advice, and that student, encouraged by the praise of the demonstrator, burned high with ambitious hopes, and saw the medal already in his grasp.

Before the week was out Macfarlane’s prophecy had been fulfilled. Fettes had outlived his terrors and had forgotten his baseness. He began to plume himself upon his courage, and had so arranged the story in his mind that he could look back on these events with an unhealthy pride. Of his accomplice he saw but little. They met, of course, in the business of the class; they received their orders together from Mr. K-. At times they had a word or two in private, and Macfarlane was from first to last particularly kind and jovial. But it was plain that he avoided any reference to their common secret; and even when Fettes whispered to him that he had cast in his lot with the lions and foresworn the lambs, he only signed to him smilingly to hold his peace.

At length an occasion arose which threw the pair once more into a closer union. Mr. K-was again short of subjects; pupils were eager, and it was a part of this teacher’s pretensions to be always well supplied. At the same time there came the news of a burial in the rustic graveyard of Glencorse. Time has little changed the place in question. It stood then, as now, upon a cross road, out of call of human habitations, and buried fathom deep in the foliage of six cedar trees. The cries of the sheep upon the neighbouring hills, the streamlets upon either hand, one loudly singing among pebbles, the other dripping furtively from pond to pond, the stir of the wind in mountainous old flowering chestnuts, and once in seven days the voice of the bell and the old tunes of the precentor, were the only sounds that disturbed the silence around the rural church. The Resurrection Man – to use a byname of the period – was not to be deterred by any of the sanctities of customary piety. It was part of his trade to despise and desecrate the scrolls and trumpets of old tombs, the paths worn by the feet of worshippers and mourners, and the offerings and the inscriptions of bereaved affection. To rustic neighbourhoods, where love is more than commonly tenacious, and where some bonds of blood or fellowship unite the entire society of a parish, the body-snatcher, far from being repelled by natural respect, was attracted by the ease and safety of the task. To bodies that had been laid in earth, in joyful expectation of a far different awakening, there came that hasty, lamp-lit, terror-haunted resurrection of the spade and mattock. The coffin was forced, the cerements torn, and the melancholy relics, clad in sackcloth, after being rattled for hours on moonless byways, were at length exposed to uttermost indignities before a class of gaping boys.

Somewhat as two vultures may swoop upon a dying lamb, Fettes and Macfarlane were to be let loose upon a grave in that green and quiet resting-place. The wife of a farmer, a woman who had lived for sixty years, and been known for nothing but good butter and a godly conversation, was to be rooted from her grave at midnight and carried, dead and naked, to that far-away city that she had always honoured with her Sunday’s best; the place beside her family was to be empty till the crack of doom; her innocent and almost venerable members to be exposed to that last curiosity of the anatomist.

Late one afternoon the pair set forth, well wrapped in cloaks and furnished with a formidable bottle. It rained without remission – a cold, dense, lashing rain. Now and again there blew a puff of wind, but these sheets of falling water kept it down. Bottle and all, it was a sad and silent drive as far as Penicuik, where they were to spend the evening. They stopped once, to hide their implements in a thick bush not far from the churchyard, and once again at the Fisher’s Tryst, to have a toast before the kitchen fire and vary their nips of whisky with a glass of ale. When they reached their journey’s end the gig was housed, the horse was fed and comforted, and the two young doctors in a private room sat down to the best dinner and the best wine the house afforded. The lights, the fire, the beating rain upon the window, the cold, incongruous work that lay before them, added zest to their enjoyment of the meal. With every glass their cordiality increased. Soon Macfarlane handed a little pile of gold to his companion.

‘A compliment,’ he said. ‘Between friends these little d-d accommodations ought to fly like pipe-lights.’

Fettes pocketed the money, and applauded the sentiment to the echo. ‘You are a philosopher,’ he cried. ‘I was an ass till I knew you. You and K-between you, by the Lord Harry! but you’ll make a man of me.’

‘Of course we shall,’ applauded Macfarlane. ‘A man? I tell you, it required a man to back me up the other morning. There are some big, brawling, forty-year-old cowards who would have turned sick at the look of the d-d thing; but not you – you kept your head. I watched you.’

‘Well, and why not?’ Fettes thus vaunted himself. ‘It was no affair of mine. There was nothing to gain on the one side but disturbance, and on the other I could count on your gratitude, don’t you see?’ And he slapped his pocket till the gold pieces rang.

Macfarlane somehow felt a certain touch of alarm at these unpleasant words. He may have regretted that he had taught his young companion so successfully, but he had no time to interfere, for the other noisily continued in this boastful strain:-

‘The great thing is not to be afraid. Now, between you and me, I don’t want to hang – that’s practical; but for all cant, Macfarlane, I was born with a contempt. Hell, God, Devil, right, wrong, sin, crime, and all the old gallery of curiosities – they may frighten boys, but men of the world, like you and me, despise them. Here’s to the memory of Gray!’

It was by this time growing somewhat late. The gig, according to order, was brought round to the door with both lamps brightly shining, and the young men had to pay their bill and take the road. They announced that they were bound for Peebles, and drove in that direction till they were clear of the last houses of the town; then, extinguishing the lamps, returned upon their course, and followed a by-road toward Glencorse. There was no sound but that of their own passage, and the incessant, strident pouring of the rain. It was pitch dark; here and there a white gate or a white stone in the wall guided them for a short space across the night; but for the most part it was at a foot pace, and almost groping, that they picked their way through that resonant blackness to their solemn and isolated destination. In the sunken woods that traverse the neighbourhood of the burying-ground the last glimmer failed them, and it became necessary to kindle a match and re-illumine one of the lanterns of the gig. Thus, under the dripping trees, and environed by huge and moving shadows, they reached the scene of their unhallowed labours.

They were both experienced in such affairs, and powerful with the spade; and they had scarce been twenty minutes at their task before they were rewarded by a dull rattle on the coffin lid. At the same moment Macfarlane, having hurt his hand upon a stone, flung it carelessly above his head. The grave, in which they now stood almost to the shoulders, was close to the edge of the plateau of the graveyard; and the gig lamp had been propped, the better to illuminate their labours, against a tree, and on the immediate verge of the steep bank descending to the stream. Chance had taken a sure aim with the stone. Then came a clang of broken glass; night fell upon them; sounds alternately dull and ringing announced the bounding of the lantern down the bank, and its occasional collision with the trees. A stone or two, which it had dislodged in its descent, rattled behind it into the profundities of the glen; and then silence, like night, resumed its sway; and they might bend their hearing to its utmost pitch, but naught was to be heard except the rain, now marching to the wind, now steadily falling over miles of open country.

They were so nearly at an end of their abhorred task that they judged it wisest to complete it in the dark. The coffin was exhumed and broken open; the body inserted in the dripping sack and carried between them to the gig; one mounted to keep it in its place, and the other, taking the horse by the mouth, groped along by wall and bush until they reached the wider road by the Fisher’s Tryst. Here was a faint, diffused radiancy, which they hailed like daylight; by that they pushed the horse to a good pace and began to rattle along merrily in the direction of the town.

They had both been wetted to the skin during their operations, and now, as the gig jumped among the deep ruts, the thing that stood propped between them fell now upon one and now upon the other. At every repetition of the horrid contact each instinctively repelled it with the greater haste; and the process, natural although it was, began to tell upon the nerves of the companions. Macfarlane made some ill-favoured jest about the farmer’s wife, but it came hollowly from his lips, and was allowed to drop in silence. Still their unnatural burden bumped from side to side; and now the head would be laid, as if in confidence, upon their shoulders, and now the drenching sack-cloth would flap icily about their faces. A creeping chill began to possess the soul of Fettes. He peered at the bundle, and it seemed somehow larger than at first. All over the country-side, and from every degree of distance, the farm dogs accompanied their passage with tragic ululations; and it grew and grew upon his mind that some unnatural miracle had been accomplished, that some nameless change had befallen the dead body, and that it was in fear of their unholy burden that the dogs were howling.

‘For God’s sake,’ said he, making a great effort to arrive at speech, ‘for God’s sake, let’s have a light!’

Seemingly Macfarlane was affected in the same direction; for, though he made no reply, he stopped the horse, passed the reins to his companion, got down, and proceeded to kindle the remaining lamp. They had by that time got no farther than the cross-road down to Auchenclinny. The rain still poured as though the deluge were returning, and it was no easy matter to make a light in such a world of wet and darkness. When at last the flickering blue flame had been transferred to the wick and began to expand and clarify, and shed a wide circle of misty brightness round the gig, it became possible for the two young men to see each other and the thing they had along with them. The rain had moulded the rough sacking to the outlines of the body underneath; the head was distinct from the trunk, the shoulders plainly modelled; something at once spectral and human riveted their eyes upon the ghastly comrade of their drive.

For some time Macfarlane stood motionless, holding up the lamp. A nameless dread was swathed, like a wet sheet, about the body, and tightened the white skin upon the face of Fettes; a fear that was meaningless, a horror of what could not be, kept mounting to his brain. Another beat of the watch, and he had spoken. But his comrade forestalled him.

‘That is not a woman,’ said Macfarlane, in a hushed voice.

‘It was a woman when we put her in,’ whispered Fettes.

‘Hold that lamp,’ said the other. ‘I must see her face.’

And as Fettes took the lamp his companion untied the fastenings of the sack and drew down the cover from the head. The light fell very clear upon the dark, well-moulded features and smooth-shaven cheeks of a too familiar countenance, often beheld in dreams of both of these young men. A wild yell rang up into the night; each leaped from his own side into the roadway: the lamp fell, broke, and was extinguished; and the horse, terrified by this unusual commotion, bounded and went off toward Edinburgh at a gallop, bearing along with it, sole occupant of the gig, the body of the dead and long-dissected Gray.

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (1850 — 1894)


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