Virginia W. - 9/14/2008 4:00 PM ET
Very well written. Good use of a short story in Horror.
|YOU COULDN'T CALL IT DESERTION, exactly, when Hump and his pals lit out from old Banks' army. They aimed to come back, pretty soon, and whatever they scrounged in the countryside they'd turn in—sure they would.
The first thing they came across was a stash of rotgut whiskey, and when Hump woke up the next morning with a pounding head and a mouth that tasted like an over-used latrine, the others were gone. Left him behind, the bastards. So he set out on his own—and promptly got lost.
"Ah, the hell with it," Hump muttered, and plodded on down the narrow path through the hot, humid Louisiana dusk, past the giant magnolias and live oaks, all bearded with great dripping clumps of Spanish moss. Hell of a country, thought Hump, who had grown up on the streets of New York City.
Half an hour later, Hump, hungry, thirsty, and with sore feet, stopped for a breather. He was more lost than ever, not even on any kind of a path, much less a road, anymore. The last daylight had faded. He saw a dark mass looming through the dense vegetation and began to push his way towards it.
The house was big—two stories. You'd expect a house to be in some kind of a clearing, but this one had a wild tangle of trees and bushes growing right up alongside of it. The fields and a road must be around to the other side. That could wait, though. First thing was to scout the place out, see who might be there, and more to the point, what might be there for the taking. He made his way softly towards the darkened building.
He almost stepped into a small, fetid pool and jumped back. He wanted to stay out of water like that—there might be leeches in it. Leeches—ugh! He hated those little bastards worse than anything, worse than rats, worse than snakes. Damn bloodsuckers. Scarcely five feet from the edge of the pool he found the side of the house. Hump felt his way along the moldering boards in the dark.
Rounding a corner, he found a set of stairs leading up. He felt the boards sag under his weight as he climbed. The steps led to a decaying verandah before a large but shabby door that looked like the main entrance to the house. Hump hauled out his pistol and reached for the doorknob. It wouldn't turn. With a muttered oath, Hump stepped back and aimed a kick with his dirty boot at the lock plate. A second kick and the door flew open. It was even darker inside. Hump yelled into the gloom. "Hey! Hey! Anybody here?" Silence answered him. "If there's any of you damn rebs in here," he shouted, "you better come out now before I find you! You hear me?"
Satisfied the house was deserted, Hump holstered his pistol and struck a match. With the people gone it wasn't likely there'd be much left behind to grab, but it was worth a look-see. Anyhow, it was a chance to spend the night inside. There might be mice, but there wouldn't be any snakes, and sure as hell no leeches. The flickering matchlight revealed an entry hall -- but not the deserted, empty ruin Hump expected. He saw furniture, even pictures on the wall, though he couldn't make out what they were. On a side table stood a candelabra with three candles in it. Hump lit them. The place was dusty, and there were some water streaks on the wallpaper, but it looked like there might still be a lot of stuff here. Hump cheered up considerably. He turned to an archway on his right.
"Welcome." The deep, raspy voice came from behind him, and Hump spun around, drawing his revolver. "What the hell..."
"Please. Do not be alarmed. Welcome to my home. My name is Malverais. The weapon is not necessary."
"Says you. Come out into the light."
A tall, emaciated old man stepped from the arch opposite. He coughed and hobbled stiffly into the hall.
"Huh!" said Hump. "You don't look like you're in such good shape. What happened? They leave you behind?"
"It is true that I have taken no nourishment for... some time," the old man replied. "No, no one left me. This is my home, and I offer you such hospitality as I am able to."
"You got anything to eat here?" Hump asked roughly.
"I am afraid not. There is no food in the house. But perhaps... You are not a drinking man, I suppose?"
"Drinks? Sure. Get it out. And get a move on." Malverais slowly turned to the archway behind him. Impatiently, Hump shoved him into the room. Like the entry hall, this parlor was fully furnished but dirty and neglected. A musty odor as of things long dead pervaded the room. Hump lit more candles and snarled, "Come on, come on. Get out the bottle."
His host replied calmly, "One moment, sir," and shuffled painfully to an elaborately carved cabinet. He turned back to Hump with a dusty corked bottle in one hand and two wine goblets in the other. "I think you will find...."
"Gimme that," growled Hump. Snatching the bottle, he smashed its neck against a marble-topped table, then tipped the bottle up and guzzled, dribbling liquor over his stubbled chin and onto his greasy shirt front.
"All right, that's better," he muttered. "Now let's see what else you got." He grabbed Malverais by the arm and shook him. "What else you got for me, old man? And don't hold nothing back, you hear me? You hold out on me and I'll kill you."
"Yes, yes, certainly," the other replied. "Would you care to see the rest of my house?"
"Yeah, let's go. I..." As he shoved the old man towards the arch, Hump felt a wave of dizziness. Suddenly, he couldn't feel his feet; then they went out from under him and he fell to his knees. A strangled sound came from his throat, and he toppled over. Malverais gazed serenely upon the unconscious man for a moment, then slowly and silently left the room.
When Hump awoke, still in the faint candlelight, he was too weak to stand up. Dragging himself to a foul-smelling, moth-eaten sofa, he pulled himself up onto it. As he tried to sit up, he saw Malverais in the archway. "What'd you do to me, you old bastard?"
Silently, Malverais moved towards him. Fumbling for his pistol, Hump said, "I'll get you for that, you son of a bitch."
Malverais had nearly reached him when Hump finally got his revolver out and fired. At this range he couldn't miss. The crash of the pistol hurt his ears, and through the smoke he saw Malverais still coming towards him. He couldn't have missed! He pulled the trigger again. And again. Still the stooped figure drifted towards him.
The last thing Hump felt was the incredible strength with which Malverais swept his gun arm aside and pinned him to the sofa. The last things he saw were Malverais' glowing eyes and his sharp, glistening fangs.
Comments 1 to 1 of 1
Comments 1 to 1 of 1