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Broomstick

Broomstick image 1

Broomstick ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a re-post on my website.) 

She was old and stayed shut up inside her castle high on a lonely mountaintop. There was one night in the year, though, that she had to go out into the world, and that night was Halloween. She wouldn’t be much of a witch if she didn’t fly on Halloween.

As the sun sank behind the mountains in the west, she woke up her old black cat, Lucifer, who was sleeping in front of the fire, and told him to get up and have a snack and wash his face in preparation for leaving.

“I’m not going with you this time,” he said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“I’ve seen enough of the world. I’ve flown with you on countless Halloweens. I just want to be left in peace.”

“Well, suit yourself,” she said. “You’ll be missing a good time.”

“I’ll guard the castle while you’re gone,” he said, going back to sleep.

As she flew off on her broomstick, she realized she hadn’t flown since the previous Halloween. She really needed to get out more. She was a little wobbly at first, as if she might fall off, but soon she hit her stride and did a couple of loop-the-loops and reverse maneuvers to prove to herself that she still could.

After she had flown a good distance away from her castle, she felt an urgent need to do something bad, to cause some mischief and mayhem, as witches do on Halloween. Seeing a church in a village, she threw a ball of fire that caused the steeple to burst into flame. Then, outside the village, she caused some railroad tracks to buckle so that the next train to come along would derail. She turned a cow standing in a field into stone and two small children into white mice. Feeling less than fulfilled, she redirected a creek so that it would flood some farmland. These things were nothing, though, compared to what she did next: Hovering over the roof of a maternity hospital, she cast a spell that would cause the next baby to be born to have two heads. Now there was a fiendish accomplishment!

As good a time as she was having, she felt that something was missing. In the old days of her witchery, she always had somebody with her; if not a victim, then a fellow witch. Doing bad things just wasn’t as much fun if there wasn’t somebody along to tell her how terrible she was. She needed to hunt up the old gang to see what they were up to.

She flew on until she came to the environs of her youth, the place where she got her start as a witch. The forests, mountains, and rivers all looked the same. The village was much the same but had grown shabbier and poorer. The witches’ nightclub, Eye of Newt, was still there, thank goodness! She went inside, carrying her broomstick in her hand.

A hunchback dwarf greeted her at the door. She recognized him at once.

“Raphael, is that you?” she said.

The dwarf squinted up at her in the dim light. “Have we met?” he asked.

“It’s Mignonette, the witch. Don’t you remember me?”

“Oh, yes! Mignonette! Of course, I remember you, but I thought you were dead.”

“Not yet.”

“My eyes are not what they used to be.”

“Any of the old crowd here?”

“I think you’ll find a few of them at the table in the corner.”

As she made her way through the crowd to the last table against the wall, nobody turned to look at her. There was a time when she could command an entire room with her presence.

Two witches and a ghoul were sitting at the table. She recognized the two witches from the long-ago, but she didn’t know the ghoul.

“And who might you be?” one the witches, the one known as Hildegard, asked.

“Why, it’s Mignonette,” she said. “Your old friend.”

“I don’t remember anybody by the name of Mignonette,” Hildegard said stubbornly.

“Why, of course you remember her!” the other witch said. (Her name was Carlotta.) “There was the time that Mignonette was the toast of the town.”

“Oh, yes, I remember now,” Hildegard said. “She tried to kill me once.”

“Only once?” the ghoul asked, standing to hold the chair out for Mignonette as she sat down.

He was Erich, a holdover from the Third Reich. (People always wanted to hear the stories about his association with Herr Hitler.) He wore a top hat and pince nez. With his long, emaciated body, skin the color of ivory and black circles around his eyes, he was every inch the ghoul.

“I’m so happy to make your acquaintance, mademoiselle,” he said in his smooth continental accent, taking Mignonette’s hand in his own and kissing it.

“Likewise, I’m sure,” Mignonette said.

He motioned for the waiter and ordered a round of witches’ brew.

“So, I’m wondering where all our old friends are this evening,” Mignonette said. “Ethelbert, Lulu, Patsy, Lucille, Laverne and the others.”

“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Carlotta asked.

“Heard what?”

“Lucille and Patsy are dead. Ethelbert got married and went back to the Old Country. Lulu’s in a hospital for the criminally insane and, last I heard, Laverne was in jail for something or other.”

“So, it’s just the two of you left in our little coven?” Mignonette asked.

“I’m afraid so.”

“There are lots of new young witches coming along,” Carlotta said, ever the optimist. “I’m thinking we can recruit some of them to join us in our crusade of evil.”

At the mention of young witches, they all turned to look at the crowd that was hemming them in against the wall. The young witches were nothing like the older generation, which included Mignonette, Carlotta and Hildegard. They were sleek and didn’t go in for scary ugliness as the older generation had done. They had done away with the long black dresses, pointed hats, green skin, facial hair, and warts. Some of them didn’t even look like witches. They seemed to be more interested in flaunting their assets than in casting spells and riding around on broomsticks.

“I’m afraid things have changed,” Hildegard said.

“The old ways are still the best,” Mignonette said. “We can still have fun doing what we always did.”

“My motto exactly!” Erich said.

“It’s the one night in the year that witches should be having a good time.”

“Yes, yes, that’s so true,” Hildegard said.

“You’re not going to sit here all evening and drink witches’ brew, are you?”

“Well,” Carlotta said, “Hildegard and I were thinking about kidnapping a couple of teenagers from lovers’ lane and scaring the hell out of them. Make them think we’re going to kill them and then let them go at the last minute.”

“We’ve done all that,” Mignonette said. “Time and again. Maybe it’s time of think of other things to do.”

“Like what?”

“May I make a suggestion?” Erich asked. “Forget your teenagers. Some friends of mine, fellow ghouls, are getting up a party in the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost for around midnight. It’ll be a lot of fun. Skeletons dancing around a fire and that sort of thing. I’d be happy for the three of you lady witches to accompany me. And you won’t have to fly on your broomsticks. I have my car outside.”

“Can you imagine three witches and a ghoul in a car on Halloween night?” Carlotta said. “What do we do if a policeman stops us?”

“You either turn him into a toad or we tell him we’re on our way to a costume ball,” Erich said.

“It really isn’t any of his business,” Hildegard said.

“You three run along,” Mignonette said. “I don’t think I’ll come along.”

“Why not?” Carlotta asked.

“I think my time as a witch has passed. Do you know that I haven’t even left my castle since last Halloween night? My black cat, Lucifer, didn’t feel like coming with me tonight. It just isn’t the same without him.”

“Oh, I haven’t had a black cat for years,” Hildegard said.

“I have another suggestion,” Erich said. “The two of you run along and I’ll stay here with Mignonette. I’ll even lend you my car. You know how to drive, I trust?”

“Well, I like that!” Hildegard said. “She’s still doing it, after all these years! Stealing away all the men!”

“I’m not stealing away anybody,” Mignonette said.

“It’s parked just down the street,” Erich said. “You can’t miss it. It’s a 1932 Cadillac V16 Fleetwood sedan. The keys are in the ignition.”

“Let’s go,” Carlotta said. “I haven’t been to a cemetery party in years. We’ll have the pick of the men there.”

After Hildegard and Carlotta were gone, Erich ordered more drinks and moved his chair over as close to Mignonette as he could get. He put his arm around her waist and whispered in her ear.

“My place is very cozy,” he said. “I have embalming fluid.”

“Why me?” she asked. “I’m just as old and ugly as they are.”

“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re different.”

“I’m not.”

“Wouldn’t you like to see my collection of Nazi memorabilia?”

“If I go with you, will you tell me all about Herr Hitler?”

“Would you be surprised if I told you I have his body in a trunk in my bedroom?”

“What for?”

“We’re going to try to bring him back to life.”

“Who is?”

“Come along with me and you can meet them.”

She blushed and pulled the brim of her hat down farther so her eyes were hidden. He stood up and took her by the hand.

She hadn’t had a passenger behind her on her broomstick for many years, especially a man. As he leaned forward and put him arms around her waist, she felt a quickening in her blood that she thought was long dead. He was a gentleman, she could see, and a Nazi gentleman at that. It was turning out to be a very fine evening after all.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween tree

All Hallow’s Eve ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This is a re-post on my website.)

Farnsworth ate the liver and onions without tasting. When his mother was satisfied he had eaten enough, she let him go. He ran upstairs and put on his costume.

He was a ghost this year, same as last year. Next year he would try to dig up something different; more than two years as the same thing was boring.

The false face still had dried spit around the mouth, but he didn’t care. It was his spit. He put it on and checked himself in the mirror. Something was missing. Oh, yes, the old derby hat. It was the one thing that made his costume look just a little bit creepy and scary. Without the hat, the costume was just a cheap little-kid’s getup.

Mother was in the living room and heard him come down the stairs.

“Come here, Farnie,” she said, “and let me look at you.”

He stepped reluctantly into the living room.

“You be careful now, won’t you?” she said.

“We’ve already been all through that!” he said.

“Just a couple of years ago you wanted me to take you around trick-or-treating in the car. What was wrong with that?”

“Nobody does that anymore.”

“Who are you going with?”

“I already told you. Some friends from school.”

“What are their names?”

“Charlie, Eric, and Stan.”

“I’m going to call their parents and speak to them.”

“Please don’t do that!”

“As young as you are, you need adult supervision.”

“I think Charlie’s older sister is coming along.”

“How old is she?”

“I don’t know but she’s in high school.”

“That’s not exactly an adult.”

“We’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

“Be home by nine-thirty. Ten at the latest. You have school tomorrow.”

“No, I don’t,” he said as he went out the door. “Tomorrow is Saturday.”

He was glad to finally be out of the house. He breathed deeply of the cool air that smelled of the fallen leaves and began running. Trick-or-treaters were already in his neighborhood in twos and threes, even though it wasn’t all-the-way dark yet. The littlest kids were accompanied by their mothers.

He met his friends at the corner by the park. Eric was a skeleton, Stan a hobo, and Charlie the Long Ranger. Charlie’s sister, Oda May, was smoking a cigarette. She wore a tight tweed skirt that came to below her knees and a boy’s jacket. In her hand was a gorilla mask.

“You had that same stupid ghost costume last year,” Eric said.

“So what?” Farnsworth said.

“Let’s get going,” Charlie said. “All the good candy will be gone.”

Oda May flipped away her cigarette and put on the gorilla mask and they headed for the neighborhood on the other side of the park where all the best houses were.

A few of the houses were dark, meaning stay away, but most were brightly lit. Oda May was the leader of the little group. She chose the houses and rang the doorbells or knocked as fitted the occasion. When people opened their doors and saw her in her gorilla mask and tight skirt, as tall as a grown woman, they looked alarmed and readily forked over the candy. After an hour or so on the same street, their bags were getting heavy.

“And that’s how it’s done,” Oda May said as she sat down on the curb, hefting the bag of candy appreciatively between her legs. She lit a cigarette without taking off the gorilla mask.

“Where to now?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t know about you punks,” Oda May said, “but I’m going to go meet my boyfriend.”

“What about us?” Stan asked.

“You’re on your own. I’ve played nursemaid long enough.”

“It’s all right,” Charlie said. “We don’t need her.”

“And don’t you dare follow me!” she said, and then she was gone, carrying her bag of candy.

“Leave the mask on!” Charlie called after her. “Your boyfriend might like you better that way!”

“What will she do with all that candy?” Farnsworth asked.

“Probably give it to her boyfriend.”

“Who is her boyfriend, anyway?” Eric asked. “Why don’t we get to meet him?”

“He’s a criminal, I think,” Charlie said. “She doesn’t want me to see him because she’s afraid I’ll tell on her. I think he’s really terrible looking, like a convict.”

“I’d like to see him,” Stan said.

“Hey, I stole some of her cigarettes when she wasn’t looking,” Charlie said, passing them around and lighting them.

Farnsworth took a puff and began coughing, causing the others to laugh.

“I’ll bet you haven’t ever smoked before, have you?” Charlie said.

“I’ve smoked plenty!” Farnsworth said.

“It tastes terrible!” Stan said, taking the smoke into his mouth and blowing it out.

“Why do people like doing that?” Eric asked. He threw his cigarette down and spit on the ground.

“Oh, you big babies!” Charlie said. “I like to smoke! I inhale it all the way down into my lungs. Tastes so good! So smooth!”

“My mother says smoking is bad for you,” Farnsworth says. “She used to smoke but she quit.”

“Are you always going to listen to what she says? They’re always going to be telling you not to do things you want to do!”

“Why are we just standing here?” Eric said. “Let’s get going before all the candy is gone.”

They went into a neighborhood they didn’t know. After a couple of houses, a gang of older kids began chasing them to steal their candy, so they ran down an alley to get away. When they came out the other end they were almost downtown, so they kept going in that direction.

“This is just like The Wizard of Oz,” Stan said, “with the Wicked Witch after us.”

“This is nothing like The Wizard of Oz,” Farnsworth said.

They stopped at a delicatessen, where an old man ran them out with a broom as soon as they walked through the door.

“Ain’t givin’ away no candy here,” he said. “If you want to buy something, then buy. Otherwise don’t come in here in no spook disguises.”

“How’s that for hospitality?” Charlie said.

“Let’s play a trick on him,” Stan said. “It’s ‘trick or treat,’ remember?”

They were going to throw a brick through the front window, but no bricks were available, so they put chewing gum on the back side of the door handle and ran down the street giggling.

They had better luck at a tavern. A large man in an apron was standing outside the door, handing out candy from a plastic pumpkin.

“Yous kids need to be home in bed,” he said, as he threw handfuls of candy into their bags.

At a bakery a woman gave them day-old cupcakes, which they ate on the spot. A girl at a music store gave them each a miniature harmonica wrapped in plastic. Somebody at a fruit market gave them apples. They weren’t so quick to eat the apples but stowed them away in their bags.

“You have to check for razor blades before you eat them,” Charlie said knowingly, but the others didn’t know what he was talking about.

They came to a bright oasis of light that was a movie theatre. A crowd was milling about, waiting for the next feature to begin.

“Do you see what I see?” Charlie said.

Standing in line at the ticket booth was a person not to be missed, a woman wearing a gorilla mask and a tight tweed skirt. It was Oda May and she wasn’t alone, either.

“She’s got a kid with her,” Stan said.

“That’s no kid,” Farnsworth said.

“Oh, my god!” Charlie said.

They could see clearly that the person accompanying Oda May wasn’t a child but a fully grown man of a child’s size. He was dressed in a cowboy costume, including large white hat, chaps, boots, spurs, and guns and holsters. Oda May was leaning over to him with her hand on his shoulder.

“Her boyfriend is a tiny cowboy?” Eric said.

“It’s a midget,” Charlie said. “She’s dating a midget. And he must be thirty years old. I am definitely going to tell on her now.”

When it was Oda May and the midget’s turn at the ticket booth, Oda May went around behind him, put her arms around his waist and lifted him up. After he had paid for the tickets and had them in his hand, she set him back on the ground and the two of them went into the theatre, seemingly oblivious to all else except each other.

“Now I’ve seen everything,” Charlie said. “Can you imagine what their children will be like? I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Let’s go,” Eric said. “We’ve spent enough time here. If we’re going to do any more trick-or-treating, let’s do it before all the candy is gone.”

It was starting to rain and Stan figured it was about time to go home, so they worked their way over to his house, stopping to trick-or-treat at all the houses that still had their porch lights on.

Now, the interesting thing about Stan was that his father was an undertaker and the family lived above the funeral parlor. It was a subject of endless fascination to Stan’s friends.

“I think I’m going to call it a night,” Stan said when they were at the corner near his house. “Thanks for walking me home.”

“Do you mean you’re not going to ask us in after we’ve come all this way?” Charlie said.

“Do you have a body in a casket we can look at?” Eric asked.

“Stan’s right,” Farnsworth said. “I should be getting home, too.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Charlie said. “I don’t think I can wait until I get home.”

“Oh, all right!” Stan said. “You can come in but you have to wipe your feet first.”

They were delighted to discover that Stan’s parents were out for the evening and they had the house to themselves. Stan took them down to the basement to show them around but made them promise not to touch anything. First he showed them the room where the embalming was done and then the adjoining room with its cabinets full of jars and bottles where the bodies were dressed and prepared for burial. The most impressive part of the tour, though, was the casket room, where more than fifty caskets were opened up for display. After removing their shoes, they were each allowed to lie in a casket with the lid closed to see how it felt. They were all subdued afterwards.

“I’m going to be cremated,” Charlie said. “That’s the best way.”

“I’m not ever going to die,” Eric said. “It’s too awful.”

“It’s only awful for living people,” Stan said. “Dead people don’t know anything that’s going on.”

“I need to get home,” Farnsworth said. “It’s after ten o’clock.”

He walked part of the way home with Charlie and Eric, but they left him and he had to walk the last four blocks alone. He held his bag of candy, his treasure, in his arms because it was so heavy and the bottom was a little soggy and might easily break through. He was a little afraid that the older kids would jump out at him and try to rob him, but he encountered no one. Everybody seemed to have gone home.

His mother was waiting for him at the door in her bathrobe. “Did you have a good time?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Now I can breathe easy. My baby is home.”

Without saying anything else, he took his bag of candy and went upstairs and locked himself in the bathroom and weighed himself on the bathroom scale, first with the candy and then without. He weighed eleven pounds more with the candy. It was the best Halloween ever.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp 

Without Sin

Without Sin image x

Without Sin ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Paranormal Horror Anthology and is a re-post on my website.) 

The service ended. All the mourners departed, and the caretaker, whose name was Lemon, was left alone. He stood beside the open grave, his hands in his pockets, looking off into the distance. He was waiting for the two grave diggers to come and finish the job.

He approached the coffin. The lid had not yet been secured; he lifted it and looked inside. The deceased was a woman with artificial-looking red hair, about fifty years old. He wondered, as he always did, what had taken her. She looked healthy enough. He had heard of many suicides—something inexplicable in the air, perhaps, that made people melancholy and want to do away with themselves. Maybe she was one of those.

She was wearing a necklace with one fairly large red stone, apparently a ruby, and several smaller ones. It could be a real ruby or it could be colored glass. Her family looked prosperous enough. They wouldn’t want her to go to her eternal glory wearing fake stones. She was also wearing a wedding ring with a medium-sized diamond and some smallish earrings, no doubt worth a lot of money. He shook his head in amazement, as he had many times before, at the foolishness of people. Burying precious jewelry forever in the ground where it will never do anybody any good.

He heard someone coming and closed the lid. He looked up and saw the two gravediggers coming toward him. Drexel was the older of the two and out in front. He walked with a swagger wherever he was, even when no one was around. He thought he was cock of the walk and wasn’t bothered one bit that he displaced dirt and buried dead people for a living. The profession, for him, had certain advantages. He had few rules and could always do the job no matter how drunk he was.

The other gravedigger was as much a boy as a man. His name was Lanier. He lived with his mother in town. People believed him simple-minded but he was a good worker and never complained or caused trouble. He was happy to work as a gravedigger and looked up to Drexel, who was his third or fourth cousin. The two of them got along well because Drexel didn’t mistreat Lanier and Lanier always did as he was told without question.

“Where the hell have you been?” Lemon asked.

“Around,” Drexel said. “We’re here now.”

“I could have you fired in a flash for not being here when you’re supposed to be.”

“Well, we’re here now,” Lanier said in the cheeky tone he used only when he was backing up Drexel.

“What have we got here?” Drexel asked, pointing toward the coffin.

“A good lady, waiting for you to send her off to her eternal slumber,” Lemon said.

Drexel raised the lid and looked inside. “Looks like she’s already started on that,” he said with a little laugh.

Lanier looked away when the lid was opened. He didn’t like looking at dead people.

“That’s a ruby necklace she’s wearing around her neck,” Drexel said. “Must be worth something, if I know my jewelry.”

“Not this time,” Lemon said.

“What do you mean ‘not this time’?”

“I mean the good lady keeps her jewelry.”

“How is it that you get to say? You’re not the only one here.”

“Every living thing on earth is part of a hierarchy,” Lemon said.

“Part of a what?”

“In the hierarchy of things, the caretaker of the cemetery is above the gravedigger in all matters.”

“That’s crazy talk.”

“Nevertheless, it seems this woman is a distant relative of my mother’s. I don’t want to defile her person at a time when she is most unable to prevent it.”

“You haven’t got a mother.”

 “Very well, then. We’ll let a coin toss decide the matter.” He reached into his pocket and took out a coin. “Call it,” he said.

“Tails,” Drexel said.

“Very well. If the coin lands on its tail, we take the goods, bury the lady, and nobody is any the wiser. If, however, the coin lands on its head, the lady goes to her eternal slumber fully equipped.”

He flipped the coin into the air and made no attempt to catch it when it came down. It landed at his feet.

“Hah!” Drexel said. “It’s tails! I want the ruby necklace. I have a dear friend that it would look very good on.”

“I saw it first!” Lemon said. “The necklace is mine. And I’m not so stupid as to give it to somebody who might wear it in public and have it recognized.”

“Oh, and what are you going to do with it?”

“I’ll sell it to the acquaintance of mine in the faraway city who pays a good price and doesn’t ask questions, as with the other stuff. You see, there’s a way to remount a stone like that so the lady herself would never recognize it.”

“Says you!”

“A worthy rejoinder, if I ever heard one!”

“You talk like a damn fool. Let’s get the goods before somebody comes and get the old dame in the ground and get it over with.”

Lemon opened the coffin again and took hold of the necklace and gave it a tug. He couldn’t see how to get it off and didn’t want to break it, so he slipped it off over the dead woman’s head. Once he had the necklace in his hands, he held it up to his own neck, waggled his hips and took a few mincing steps.

“Oh, what a lovely girl!” Drexel said with a sneer.

Lanier had turned his back on Drexel and Lemon and didn’t want to think about what they were doing. He knew they were doing something bad and he wanted no part of it, although he did nothing to stop it.

“I’m going over there,” he said and walked quickly away out of sight.

“That boy is without sin,” Lemon said, “rather like those three little monkeys: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”

Drexel removed the woman’s wedding ring with a devilish chortle and put it in his pocket. When he tried to remove the earrings, though, he couldn’t see how to get them off.

“There’s a little thing in back that releases them,” Lemon said.

He helped Drexel turn the woman partway over so they could see the backs of her ears. She was as stiff as a pillar of salt and didn’t bend at the joints.

“She’s really truly dead,” Lemon said.

“I think I hear someone coming,” Drexel said.

He let the woman fall back into place and took out the pruning shears. He cut off the woman’s earlobes neatly and wrapped them, earrings and all, in a rag and put it in his pocket along with the wedding ring.

“The good woman will arrive at the gates of heaven with her earlobes missing,” Lemon said. “St. Peter will take one look at her and believe she has met with an accident.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Drexel said. “When you’re dead, nothing matters.”

“Nevertheless, she shall be welcomed with open arms!”

Drexel whistled for Lanier to come back and began to secure the lid of the coffin.

“One moment!” Lemon said. “I wish to bid the good lady the fond farewell that she so richly deserves.”

He bent over and kissed the dead woman full on the lips. Drexel did the same and, not to be outdone, licked her lips and squeezed her breast.

“Ah-ah-ah!” Lemon said. “There’ll be no necrophilia in my presence.”

“As if you yourself don’t engage in the practice every chance you get!”

Lanier returned and they secured the lid and lowered the coffin into the grave. Before they were finished replacing all the dirt, another service began in another part of the cemetery. They tidied up the gravesite, cleared away their tools and left unnoticed.

Two days later Lemon and Drexel were both dead.

When Lemon failed to appear to perform his duties as caretaker, the cemetery owner and his assistant went looking for him, expecting to find him in a drunken stupor. Instead they found him in the caretaker’s cottage, lying on the bed in full woman’s rigging, including dress, stockings, shoes and curly red wig. Around his neck was the ruby necklace he filched from the dead woman. They thought to revive him but on closer inspection discovered he had been dead long enough to stiffen. His tongue was swollen out if his mouth and his eyes and ears were seeping old blood.

As for Drexel, an old farmer saw him standing in the middle of an empty field with his arms outraised. When the farmer went to him to find out who he was and what he was doing, Drexel was babbling and insensate. While the farmer was asking Drexel useless questions, he fell dead at the farmer’s feet. The farmer looked through Drexel’s clothing to try to find some clue to his identity and discovered the handkerchief containing the earlobes with the diamond earrings attached and the wedding ring.

The woman with the ruby necklace had sickened and died with alarming suddenness. Her doctors didn’t know how to treat her illness because they didn’t know what the illness was. How or where she contracted it was never known. It was obviously an illness that came about through contact with one infected, rather than through the air. Had the lady led a secret life of some kind?

Lanier never touched the woman or her jewelry, so he escaped the illness. His mother forced him to abandon his profession as grave digger, however, as she suspected that Lemon’s and Drexel’s deaths had something or other to do with acts they performed on a dead body when nobody was around. The thought sickened her.

When Lanier was asked what Lemon and Drexel were doing on that last day in the cemetery that might have made them sick, he shrugged his shoulders and smiled his benign smile. They were always doing and saying things that didn’t interest him, he said. He was in another part of the cemetery tending to some flowers he had planted, minding his own business while other people minded theirs.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Mademoiselle Lulu

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Mademoiselle Lulu ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Danse Macabre and is a re-post on my website.)

A family of the living dead resided in a fine old house on a ten-acre estate outside the town of Harmony Hill. Their name was Farrier and they were a mother and her seven children. People said that Mrs. Farrier was hundreds of years old, although her age had never been verified. The children were five males (Cottonwood, Maurice, Eustace, Junius, and Percy) and two females (Lulu and Esther). Mrs. Farrier’s husband and the father of the brood of seven had long ago departed for the other realm. Mrs. Farrier ate him one evening for dinner.

Most of the people of the town of Harmony Hill knew about the Farriers, but few of them had ever seen the Farriers. There were those who believed that the Farriers were nothing more than an old wives’ tale or a story told around campfires. Everybody had, of course, seen the fenced-in ten-acre estate that belonged to the Farriers with its mysterious old house, but people had been led to believe (by whom, nobody knew) that a very old witch-like woman lived there in seclusion with her two strange daughters.

The truth was that, long ago, the town had come to an agreement with the Farriers; to wit, the town and its people would not bother the Farriers on their estate if the Farriers did not bother the town. If the Farriers should ever go back on their agreement and eat anybody from the town, the town would go after the Farriers with a vengeance, burn down their house and cut off their heads. Cutting off the head was the most commonly known method of killing the flesh-eating living dead.

Mrs. Farrier had learned to control her family of flesh-eaters and make them stay out of the town. The family had developed a system whereby they could have the requisite number of flesh-bearers to eat without putting themselves in danger by letting their appetites run away with them. Eustace and Junius were the most accomplished—and the subtlest—hunters in the family, so they, in general, went out on nighttime hunting excursions. They fed themselves on the “game” they were able to bag and, by daybreak every morning, took the remainder home to their mother, who took a generous portion for herself and distributed the remainder to her other children.

Of the other Farrier children, Percy and Lulu had the most rampant, the most uncontrollable, appetites. They were more likely than not to go into the town and eat the first person that came to hand without ever considering the consequences.

Percy was cunning, very strong and capable of tearing a victim to shreds with one hand tied behind his back. He was also an insensate beast with frightening, blank eyes, a wild man who could not be controlled. His brothers had no other choice but to keep him chained in the basement. His personality—his “self”—had been entirely subverted to his appetite for flesh. He was worse than any wild animal.

Lulu was very fat and hardly ever left her boudoir in the upper floor of the old house. When she was hungry, she paced the floor and sometimes picked up heavy objects and threw them against the wall. Appetite was for her a physical pain. When she wasn’t eating, though—when her appetite was satisfied—she simpered around the room in her satins and silks, a Chinese fan in her hand, and engaged in lengthy conversations with people who existed only in her imagination; in this way she dealt with her loneliness and isolation.

The other Farrier children—Esther, Cottonwood and Maurice—were docile enough as long as they had enough flesh to eat, although they themselves didn’t possess the penchant for killing. They were content to stay in the background and not bother their mother or their brothers. After they had fed, they would remain on their beds, bloated and happy, for hours or sometimes even days at a time, their blank eyes staring at nothing.

Eustace and Junius were not happy with the arrangement of going out almost every night, in all weathers, to get flesh for themselves and the rest of the family. Since they had to stay out of the town, they had to travel a long way to go to another town. And it was more than just a matter of plucking the first person they saw off the street. They couldn’t kill indiscriminately, as they would have done in a world more favorable to them. They had to plan their strikes with subtlety and finesse. The idea was to make disappearances seem random: a man here and a woman there; a child the next night thirty miles from where they had been the night before; hikers in the mountains sleeping around a campfire; lovers trysting in a deserted country cemetery; hobos waiting at night for a freight train; a drunk making his painful way home after drinking all night in a tavern.

Junius had heard stories about a conclave of the living dead in the Metropolis. For him, the principle attraction of the Metropolis was that there were millions of flesh-bearers living there, milling around on the streets at all hours of the day or night, ripe for the taking. If he could make his way to the Metropolis and become a member of the conclave, he imagined there would be no end of flesh to eat, and he wouldn’t have to spend the better part of every night looking for it. He told his brother Eustace about the conclave, and Eustace agreed that life for the two of them would certainly be easier in the Metropolis. What were they going to do about the rest of the family, though? They would not be able to just run off and leave the others behind, defenseless and with no way of getting flesh for themselves.

After lengthy conversations on the matter, Eustace and Junius agreed that they would go to the Metropolis to live, but first they would abide at home for a while and teach their two younger brothers, Cottonwood and Maurice, the skill of locating, stalking and killing the prey that was necessary to their continued existence. After Cottonwood and Maurice became adept at providing for the family, Eustace and Junius would go to the Metropolis and, in time, they would send for the others, where they would all live the easy life that was to be had there.

Cottonwood and Maurice were dismayed when they learned they were to go hunting with their older brothers, but Junius gave them a lecture about assuming the responsibilities of adulthood. They couldn’t go their entire lives expecting flesh to be brought to them by someone else; they needed to learn to be self-sufficient so they would never have to depend on anybody else. Maurice sniffled and looked at Cottonwood and nodded his head grudgingly, as if to say that, as much as he disliked the idea, he had to admit that he agreed with the logic of the argument.

Eustace and Junius decided not to tell their mother that they were taking Cottonwood and Maurice hunting with them. She would not have been receptive to a different way of doing things and, besides, she was resting in her room until the time that she could feed and was not to be disturbed.

The four of them—Junius, Eustace, Cottonwood and Maurice—set out from home at about eleven o’clock on a balmy moonlit night in the middle of October. They would make a detour around the mountain, covering a range of about twenty miles, and come back toward home from the other direction. They were certain to find at least two or three flesh-bearers out on such a warm and agreeable night.

They had gone a dozen or so miles and were nearing the hamlet of Benbow. Maurice was complaining about his feet hurting because he wasn’t used to walking so far, when Junius with a wave of the hand bade him to be still. He could smell a flesh-bearer nearby; he believed he had spotted movement at the edge of a clump of trees.

As they were closing in on their supposed prey, Eustace stopped and held out his hand for his brothers to halt. He had an uneasy feeling about what lay ahead. He was about to motion to the others to turn around and go back the way they had come, when there was a loud yell, like a signal, and then another yell from another direction. Before they had a chance to take cover, there was a blast of gunfire coming at them. They had walked into an ambush.

Eustace and Junius, with their lightning reflexes born of years of experience, seemed to the eyes of the flesh-bearers to melt into the earth—that’s how fast they disappeared—while Cottonwood and Maurice simply stood where they were, not understanding what was happening. They were knocked down by bullets and then a group of flesh-bearers—at least ten or twelve of them—swarmed over them and cut off their heads with axes, cheering and laughing the whole time. Eustace and Junius had no other choice but to stand in the darkness and helplessly watch their two younger brothers being slaughtered.

When dawn came, they made their way forlornly back home. Not only did they not have any flesh, but they were going to have to tell their mother and their sisters, Esther and Lulu, that their family had, in the course of the night, been diminished by two.

Their mother accepted the news with equanimity at first, but after her initial shock had passed she became enraged. She began screaming uncontrollably, calling Eustace and Junius every name she had at her command. She struck both of them repeatedly about the head, face and shoulders with her fists and kicked at their legs. She spit and swore and frothed at the mouth. She was as dismayed that Cottonwood and Maurice were dead as she was that no flesh had been brought home.

Esther, who was waiting in the other room to begin her feeding, heard the disturbance and came running. When she saw her mother pummeling her two older brothers, she became frightened and began flailing her arms. Her eyes rolled up into her head and she jumped up and down repeatedly, moaning in a kind of archaic ecstatic chant.

When Junius and Eustace had recovered themselves to a degree and retreated to the far side of the room, they began hurling objects at their mother—a book, a metronome, a marble bust of Nero. Junius picked up a chair and threw it at her, hitting her in the head and knocking her down. She was stunned for a moment, but she soon stood up again and re-entered the fray with renewed vigor.

Reading a romance in her boudoir upstairs, Lulu heard the terrible row that was taking place below stairs. It sounded as if all the forces of hell had been unleashed upon the house. She crept down the stairs slowly, faint with hunger and frightened, but nevertheless determined to discover the source of the disturbance.

She was used to seeing her family members hurling objects at each other, but never before with such anger and vehemence. Her mother had a gash in her forehead oozing purplish liquid and was jerking crazily as though she had taken leave of her senses. Junius, always so dapper and calm, was disheveled and screaming epithets at his mother and hurling anything he get could get his hands on across the room at her. Eustace was lying on the floor behind a table, cradling his arm, bellowing in pain and frustration. Esther was standing in the corner—or rather jumping up and down in the corner—screeching and pulling her hair out by handfuls.

More than anything, Lulu wanted the screaming to stop. Without thinking about what she was doing, she went into the kitchen and picked up the meat cleaver her mother used for dismembering prey, took it back into the parlor and, with one powerful stroke, cut off Esther’s head. Her eyes went blank as if a lamp had been extinguished and her head fell to the floor with a melon-like thud. A spray of foul-smelling black-and-purple matter spewed from the stub of her neck; her body fell over like a collapsing wall.

Seeing what Lulu had done, her mother went for her like a madwoman, hands upraised like claws. She managed to get her hands around Lulu’s neck in an attempt to strangle her but Lulu pulled free and swung the meat cleaver at her in a powerful backhanded motion and cut off her head. Her head left her body and sailed across the room and smashed against the wall. Her body, after she fell, continued to writhe and jerk as with an electric shock.

Having dispatched her sister and her mother, Lulu had no intention of stopping there. She raised the meat cleaver over her head and ran toward Junius. Understanding her intention, he made a valiant attempt to get away but it was no good. She caught him with the meat cleaver across the back of his neck. His head separated from his body as he fell against the wall, purple matter spewing out the hole where his head had been.

Eustace was still lying on his back on the floor behind a table, groaning and emitting intermittent screams. As Lulu approached him, she knew he didn’t see her. His eyes were covered with a gauzy scum and he had lapsed into a sort of stupor. He never saw the meat cleaver as it took off his head, a coupe de grace if there ever was one.

Lulu pulled the four bodies one by one—along with their severed heads—across the room and pushed them into the enormous fireplace. When she had all four of them—her mother, sister and two elder brothers—arranged in the fireplace like stacked firewood, she poured a can of gasoline over them and set fire to them. The fire took hold very fast and in just a few minutes the flames consumed the bodies.

Worn out from her exertions and weak from not having fed at the customary time, Lulu went to the door and went outside. The sky was just brightening with the rising sun and the birds were singing cheerily in the trees. The beauty of the landscape was not lost on her.

She hadn’t been outside the house for so long that just the simple act of walking along the ground felt good. She walked a short distance into the woods until she heard a sound that made her hide behind a tree. When she was sure she hadn’t been seen, she looked around the tree and spotted a hunter carrying a gun, a brown-and-white dog by his side. Before the hunter even knew what was happening, she crept up on him and ate him in the flash of an eye. The dog, not understanding where his master had gone, approached her shyly, wagging his tail. She reached down and patted him on the head and told him to run along home.

Her appetite sated for the moment, she went back to the house, climbed the stairs to her boudoir and had a good rest. When she awoke, she packed her clothes and a few books and keepsakes into two trunks. She dressed herself in a long, flowing black dress that came down to her ankles and an enormous black hat with a veil that hid her face.

When she went down to the basement to unchain her only remaining brother, Percy, she was sure he didn’t know who she was, but he seemed grateful to be out of his chains. She looked into his clouded eyes and pointed toward the door to let him know he was free to leave. When he nodded his head to show that he understood what she was saying, she put her arms on his shoulders in a kind of embrace and helped him to his feet. He needed to be allowed to leave the house or he would starve to death; go into the town if he must.

She called a taxi and, as the taxi man was loading her trunks, she closed the front door and locked it, probably for the last time. The house already had a forlorn, abandoned feel. As the taxi was driving away, she took a last look over her shoulder at the house and saw that a wisp of smoke was still rising from the chimney.

She went to the Metropolis, not to join the conclave of flesh-eaters, but to arrange to go abroad. With the money her father had left her before her mother ate him, she engaged a lavish stateroom on one of the finest passenger ships in the world. She hired a personal maid to help her with her clothes and carry out small errands.

Her destination for the moment was not definite, but she planned on sailing into every port city in the world. When she got tired of traveling, she would settle down for a time in one of the European capitals. She might someday return home, but she couldn’t see herself living by herself in that lonely old house.

While traveling, she rarely had occasion to leave her stateroom, but anytime she appeared in public she always wore the long black dress and the hat with the veil. She effected a slight foreign accent when she spoke, causing her fellow shipmates to refer to her as Mademoiselle Lulu. Everybody knew there was some secret thing about her, but nobody could figure out what it was. She was mysterious; she wasn’t like anybody else. People could gossip all they wanted but they would never know her truth.

At every port of call where passengers were allowed to go ashore for a few hours or an entire day, Lulu was always among them. She loved being in a new place and seeing sights she had never seen before but, most of all, she loved the abundance of flesh-bearers that were always in those places. She always had her fill. Unencumbered by family, she was living the kind of existence she had always dreamed about.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Dracula 1931

Dracula 1931 ~ 

Fog so thick you can cut it with a knife. Howling wolves (“Listen to them! Children of the Night! What music they make!”). Giant spider webs. Welcome to Dracula’s crumbling castle high in Transylvania’s scenic Carpathian Mountains. How much more creepy atmosphere could you ask for?

"I bid you welcome."

“I bid you welcome.”

Some of the "brides" go after Renfield.

Some of the “brides” go after Renfield.

One of the delightful features of Dracula's castle.

One of the delightful features of Dracula’s castle.

David Manners in some pretty frightening knickers and Helen Chandler, Dracula's latest love interest.

David Manners in some pretty frightening knickers and Helen Chandler, Dracula’s latest love interest.

Dracula contemplating his boxes of dirt.

Dracula contemplating his boxes of dirt.

Where I’m Going

Where I'm Going image 1

Where I’m Going ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Willis was a few minutes late. Worried that he was in a wreck, his mother stood at the door and watched for him. When she saw his old familiar green Ford pull into the driveway, she felt the relief in her abdomen through her legs all the way down to her toes. She smiled, picked up a wooden spoon to stir the spaghetti boiling on the stove, and waited for him to come in.

When he opened the door and stepped into the kitchen, she felt the little blast of cold air at her back and turned from the stove to greet him. Her smile faded, though, when she saw he had someone with him.

Willis smiled across the kitchen at her and took off his coat. “Mother,” he said. “This is my friend Sten. He’s going to be staying with us for a few days.”

Sten smiled shyly and stepped forward and shook her hand. “I hope it’s not an inconvenience,” he said.

“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” she said.

With the three of them seated at the table, she avoided looking directly at Sten. She had developed an instant dislike for him based somehow on the set of his mouth and the unfamiliarly of his eyes but more on the fact of his being an intruder in her home. She smiled, though, because that’s what she thought a mother should do. Smile and it will soon be over.

“Did you have an interesting day today, dear?” she asked.

“More interesting than most,” Willis said.

When she looked at him, the most familiar person in the world to her, he looked different somehow. His eyes had a spark in them and his skin seemed to have taken on a glow she had never seen before. Instead of asking what was the matter with him, she asked, “Is there anything you want to tell me?”

Willis took a deep breath and set down his fork. “I quit the factory today,” he said. He smiled foolishly like an eight-year-old boy blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.

“All right,” she said, “what’s the joke?”

“No joke,” he said. “It’s true.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I quit my job today. Do you want me to spell it out for you?”

“Why on earth would you do that?”

“Don’t you think sixteen years in a factory is long enough?”

“I thought you liked your job.”

“I’ve always loathed it!”

“You never told me that.”

“Well, I guess it was all right in the beginning, but I came to hate it after a while. I want to do something else with the rest of my life.”

“And what would that be?”

“I don’t know yet, but it’ll come to me.”

“You surprise me,” she said.

“I’ve never done that before, have I?”

She looked at Sten, believing he must have something to do with it. “Did you quit the factory today, too?” she asked.

“Sten doesn’t work at the factory, mother” Willis said.

“Nope,” Sten said. “Never worked in the factory.”

“What do you do, then? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Sten doesn’t need to work,” Willis said.

“Can’t Sten answer for himself?”

“No, I, uh, never found it necessary to work for a living,” Sten said.

“Sten is an artist,” Willis said. “Like I’ve always wanted to be.”

“He paints pictures?” she asked.

“Not exactly.”

She wiped her mouth and pushed her plate aside. There would be no more dinner for her.

“Did the two of you just meet?” she asked.

Willis and Sten looked at each other and laughed. “Of course not, mother!” Willis said. “How old-fashioned and quaint you are!”

“Well, I don’t think I like that,” she said, feeling herself on the verge of tears. “Why ‘old-fashioned and quaint’?”

“I’ve known Sten since the day I was born,” Willis said. “We share the same skin.”

“How is it I’ve never met him?”

“It doesn’t matter, mother. Everything will be sorted out in the end.”

“What will be sorted out? What end?”

“Finish your dinner, Sten,” Willis said. “We’ve got lots to talk about.”

When they finished eating, Willis stacked the dishes for her to wash and he and Sten went upstairs and shut themselves away in Willis’s room.

The next morning she was in the kitchen when Willis came down alone.

“Where’s your friend?” she asked.

“He was a little late waking up,” Willis said. “He’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“Who is he?” she asked.

“He’s my friend. His name is Sten.”

“I know that, but what I don’t know is why he’s here.”

“He’s my guest.”

“You never had a guest before,” she said.

“This is my house, too, isn’t it? Just as much as it is yours?”

“If you put it that way, yes, it is.”

“Well, then. What more is there to say?”

She was prevented from asking further questions by the arrival of Sten from upstairs.

“I’ve starving,” he said, sitting down familiarly at the table.

She cooked the breakfast and set it on the table and busied herself while they ate. With their heads together, Willis and Sten talked in low voices and occasionally laughed. It bothered her that they seemed so intimate together and she didn’t know what they were saying. They seemed to have forgotten she was in the room.

“It’s almost eight-thirty,” she said in a loud voice. “You’re going to be late for work.”

Not go-ing!” Willis said in a sing-song voice and he and Sten laughed in their private way.

After breakfast they put on their coats and left. “Won’t be here for lunch,” Willis said. “Expect us for dinner, though.”

All day her nerves were on edge, wondering what had got into her Willis. He was always such a good boy, so steady and reliable. Never did anything erratic or impulsive before. From high school he went to work in the factory and never uttered a single word of complaint in all those years. What could have made him change so much?

She opened the door to Willis’s room and went inside with the intention of tidying up, but everything was perfect. Bed neatly made. Clothes hung up. Shoes perfectly aligned in the closet. Dresser and chest of drawers straight and neat. Floor clean. Not a speck of dust anywhere.

She sighed heavily and sat down on the bed and ran her hands over the beautiful light-green chenille bedspread that Willis had picked out on his own. As she sat on the bed, she thought of Willis and Sten in the bed together, their whispering and intimacy. What did it mean when two grown men slept in the same bed together? She had no experience with such matters. Maybe she hadn’t known Willis as well as she thought all those years.

She fixed fried chicken for dinner, Willis’s favorite, and she hoped above hope that when he came home he would be alone, but it wasn’t to be. At a few minutes before six, about the time he would have come home from work if he had gone to work, Willis and Sten came in the back door. They were laughing and seemed happy.

“Where did you go all day if you didn’t go to work?” she asked.

“This morning we went to a museum,” Willis said. “Then we had lunch in a restaurant and after that we went to a movie. Then we did some shopping.”

“I’m exhausted,” Sten said, pretending to collapse into a chair. “This son of yours has a lot more energy than I do!”

“Is that what you’re going to do every day for the rest of your life?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Willis said. “Maybe.”

That evening they left again without telling her where they were going. To keep herself from witnessing their happiness and to keep from knowing what time they returned, she took a sleeping pill and retired early, locking the door to her bedroom.

She slept until nine o’clock the next morning and when she awoke and went downstairs, Willis and Sten were in the kitchen, putting away the groceries they had just bought.

“What’s all this?” she asked, indicating the bags on the table.

“It was Sten’s idea,” Willis said. “He has some notion that he needs to contribute to your table.”

“It’s the way I was brought up,” Sten said. “I can’t take without giving in return.”

She wanted to object but could find nothing to object to. Without speaking a word, she made a pot of tea and set about cooking the breakfast.

After Willis and Sten went on in this way for almost two weeks, Willis’s mother decided the time had come to confront him while Sten was taking a bath.

“How much longer is he going to be here?” she asked.

“I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it.”

“I want him gone.”

“It bothers you to see me happy, doesn’t it?” he said.

He makes you happy?”

“Taking control of my life is what has made me happy.”

“I have the feeling he’s taking you away from me. You’re all I have in the world. I want us to be as we were.”

“Did you really expect me to remain in a state of arrested adolescence forever? People do change, you know, mother! It’s the only way to stay alive.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Do you want him to leave?”

“If it can be done tactfully,” she said. “I would rather not offend him.”

“If you want him gone, then you must want me gone, too.”

“No. I want him to go and you to stay.”

“If he goes, I will go, too.”

The next morning Willis and Sten loaded Willis’s suitcases into his car. Sten shook Willis’s mother’s hand, thanked her for her hospitality and went out the door, leaving two one-hundred dollar bills on the kitchen table.

“Where will you go?” Willis’s mother asked him.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I’ll let you know when I get there.”

She watched the car until it was out of sight and then she sat down at the table and had breakfast. Willis will be back, she thought, and when he comes back he will be without Sten. It’s not that easy to leave your life behind and the only home you’ve ever known. He will choose his mother over his friend.

Weeks went by and she heard nothing. She thought about Willis all the time and wondered where he was and how he was faring. She blamed herself for his sudden change and for his leaving. She sat and pondered over his picture for hours and wondered where she had gone wrong. Had she been too smothering, too possessive, or had she been too lax in letting him have his own way? She didn’t know what she was. People rarely see themselves as they are.

She thought how alike Willis and Sten were. How had she failed to see it before? They were the same age, height, coloring and build. They even walked alike and spoke in the same way. After a while they became indistinguishable in her mind. When she thought of Sten she saw Willis and when she saw Willis in her mind’s eye she also saw Sten. There they were, side by side, just alike. No, wait a minute. They’re not two. They’re one. Two become one.   

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Andrew Magenti

Andrew Magenti image b

Andrew Magenti ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Necrology Shorts Magazine and is a re-post on my website.)

For as long as I live I won’t forget the night the young master was born. It was during a night of the worst thunderstorms I ever witnessed in all my life. All the fury of the heavens was unleashed upon us. The rain, thunder, lightning and wind tore at the old house on the outside, and the mistress’s screams tore at the inside. I don’t know which was more terrifying.

The mistress had the midwife with her and two women from the town. All night long the women toiled over the mistress and silently wept to witness her agony.  Around three o’clock in the morning, at the height of the storm, the mistress was delivered of the child. Those of us who had heard her screams through the long night and seen the bundles of bloody rags being brought from her room were at a loss to explain how the mistress could still be alive. Toward dawn, while the storm was still raging, the women placed the tiny bundle in the mistress’s arms and withdrew without a word.

When the master was sure his wife was safely delivered of the child and the women had left, he went into his wife’s room. Thinking her asleep, he crept to the bed without making a sound and pulled back the coverlet. The room was dark—a sudden flash of lightning afforded him his first look at the newborn child. He recoiled as with an electric shock and bellowed like a wounded animal at what he saw. He ran downstairs and out of the house and was insensible and unable to speak for several hours.

Grotesque as the child was, we all thought it would die right away but, in spite of all our predictions to the contrary, it lived and began to grow.  The mistress nursed it as she would a normal child. When it was three or four weeks old, it began to grow a coat of lustrous brown fur all over its body. Those of us who had seen the child every day from the beginning were less horrified at its appearance than we had been at the first, and all agreed that it was better looking with the fur than without. The mistress named it Andrew after a beloved departed uncle and told all of us firmly that, when referring to the child, we would use the personal pronouns he and him, rather than it. We all liked the name Andrew and it seemed to go well with the last name, which was Magenti.

When the mistress looked at Andrew, she didn’t see the monster that other people saw. He was fine just as he was—her darling boy. She had him moved into her room from the nursery so she could be with him and watch out for him all the time. Being of a religious bent, she believed that he was the way he was because God made him that way—for a reason. God knew the reason, even if she didn’t, and it was not up to her to question the workings of the Lord. It was her job to be a mother to the poor little thing and protect him from those who would hurt him.

The master didn’t like being in the same room with Andrew. He avoided looking at Andrew or having any kind of contact with him. By mutual consent, he never shared the mistress’s bed again. He believed she was responsible for Andrew, saying loudly and frequently that there never had been any freaks in his family but she obviously had some dark taint in her lineage that she should have told him about before he married her. If he had only known, he would have followed a different path.

As Andrew became older, his appearance changed. His head, which had been very large and elongated at birth, became rounder and more proportionate to his body. His face took on definition and didn’t seem the half-formed face that it once was. His amber eyes, which had once looked like expressionless fish eyes peering out of raw slits that never closed, became very large and expressive and had about them a haunting quality that was part human, part animal—eyes unlike any I had ever seen before or will ever see again.

There were times when the master and the mistress argued over Andrew’s fur. The master wanted all of it shaved off, believing that shaving was the one thing that could be done to give Andrew at least the appearance of being human, but the mistress wouldn’t hear to it. She knew that underneath the fur was pale pink skin like that of a pig and shaving it off would be a cruel denuding and a thwarting of nature. She did agree, as a concession, to have the fur trimmed around Andrew’s mouth and over his eyes to give him, she said, a more civilized appearance.

The mistress had all of Andrew’s clothes custom-made at great expense, including a long cloak with a cape attached in which he could place his hands that were like an animal’s paws but nevertheless as flexible as human hands. With the cloak was an odd tri-cornered hat with an opaque black net attached that could be let down when necessary, allowing Andrew to see where he was walking but keeping anyone from seeing Andrew’s face underneath.

The mistress believed that Andrew should not be kept prisoner in the house, that he should see something of the world, if only a small part of it. She was fond of taking him on little excursions in her closed carriage—visits to an old aunt and uncle in the next county—or to witness the beauty of the countryside in the spring or fall. Occasionally she would take him with her on shopping trips to town, where he, never leaving her side for a second, would draw the stares and gasps of the curious, swathed all in black as he was from head to toe.

For obvious reasons, Andrew wasn’t able to go to school the way other children did, so the mistress undertook to educate him herself. She set aside an attic room as a schoolroom, and there she spent three or more hours every day teaching him to read. (He learned to read and to write in a peculiar scrawl, but I never knew of him to speak a word, other than to make sounds in his throat.)

She bought picture books for him so that he could know about places like Africa, China, and the South Pole. He especially liked books about elephants, tigers, and curious animals like anteaters and lemurs. She read to him from the novels of Charles Dickens and the poetry of John Keats. On his birthday she presented him with a leather-bound volume of Keats’s poems for his very own to keep always.

The master awoke one morning in the spring saying he had a funny feeling in his head. When he tried to go about his daily business, he collapsed on the floor and we carried him upstairs to his bed. The doctor came as soon as he was called, but there was nothing he or anybody could do. The master died that night of what turned out to be a massive hemorrhage to the brain. He was barely forty-five years old.

He was laid out in the parlor in his elegant mahogany coffin banked with lilies and roses, looking more handsome and spruce than he ever had in life. A tiny smile on his lips and a hint of roses in his cheeks told us that dying might not have been what he would have chosen for himself at that particular time in his life, but, now that it had come upon him, all was well. Happy I live and happy I die.

A photographic studio in town offered a service they called postmortem or memento mori photography, meaning they would travel to wherever you wanted them to go (for a handsome fee) with their photographic equipment and photograph a deceased person before he or she was laid to rest. This gave friends and family the chance to own a likeness of the person in death without having to rely entirely on memory.  The marriage of death and photography made perfect sense and proved a lucrative enterprise for those engaged in it.

The mistress engaged the photographer and his assistant to come to the house and photograph the master in his coffin on the day before the funeral. The men set up their equipment and took one shot of the master from the front and another from an angle and a third one from the doorway so that the whole room was included. Then they took a photograph of the mistress standing in front of the coffin in her fancy black silk dress with her hand resting on the satin edge of the coffin. When the photographic assistant asked the mistress if she wanted any other photographs taken, she brought Andrew down from upstairs and stood him in front of the coffin where she had stood.

Dressed in his black wool suit and stiff white collar and black cravat, perfectly tied, Andrew looked like something that wasn’t real but only imagined. To the photographer and his assistant, he appeared to be half-child and half-beast, but neither of them flinched or made a move to indicate that they were not accustomed to seeing such sights every day. Andrew looked straight into the camera with his strangely luminous eyes, his huge incisors slightly overlapping his lower lip, waiting for the man to take the photograph that would have unexpected consequences for him, the mistress and all of us.

Two weeks after the master’s death, the picture of Andrew appeared on the cover of a cheap periodical called The Nocturne, a paper that catered to the vulgar tastes of the masses. We discovered later that the photographic assistant had stolen a copy of the picture from his employer and sold it to the highest bidder, making enough money that he was able to go to the city and begin his own photographic establishment.

Many people who saw Andrew’s picture on the cover of The Nocturne wanted to know if it was a hoax or if such a creature really did exist. If he did exist, they wanted to see him with their own eyes. The Nocturne didn’t go so far as to publish Andrew’s name or where he lived, but many who knew about the master and mistress’s strange freak child —but had never seen him—knew it had to be the same child.

A newspaper reporter appeared on the doorstep, waving a copy of The Nocturne as though it was his pass to enter. He wanted to write a story for his paper, he said, about the life of the strange child that everybody was talking about. We turned him away without his story, but he swore he would be back.

Next came two men claiming to be doctors. They wanted to examine Andrew and explain to the world from a scientific standpoint how such a phenomenon had come to be. When we asked to see their credentials, they blustered and threatened to bring the law into the matter and force us to let them examine Andrew.

After the episode with the “doctors,” there came many other people, curiosity-seekers and the ghoulish who just wanted to laugh and marvel at Andrew as if he was a feature in a freak show. People would gather on the lawn and stare at the front door, hoping to catch a glimpse of something they could tell their friends about. The mistress said she had never wished more fervently in her life to own a shotgun and to know how to use it.

The people would not stay away, no matter how discourteous we were to them. There were those who would have walked right through the front door without so much as a knock as if it was their right to do so. The mistress had a ten-foot-tall iron fence installed all the way around the house. She hired a detective agency to keep some of its agents on the premises at all times. She believed the interest in Andrew would eventually fade and die when the idle masses had something else to occupy their time.

The fence and the detective agency men were effective in keeping people away from the house. Life resumed as it had been before the master died and before Andrew’s picture was published in The Nocturne. The mistress believed that soon people would forget and she would no longer need to retain the men guarding the house. The fence would be enough to discourage unwelcome visitors.

On an evening in late summer, several months after the master had died, we had finished with dinner; the mistress and Andrew were in the parlor. The mistress was seated at the piano, trying to work out a difficult passage in the Chopin piece she was trying to learn by heart. Andrew was seated next to the open window looking through a picture book. The air was stifling and humid and had been all day, but a thunderstorm that was brewing had brought with it a welcome suggestion of cooler air.

About the time the thunder and lightning began in earnest and the rain began pelting the house, there was a knock at the door. The young maid, the one named Alberta, went to the door as she had been instructed to do.

When Alberta opened the door a few inches and looked out into the darkness to see who was knocking, she was knocked off her feet and slammed against the wall. She regained her feet and began screaming hysterically. We all went running to see what was the matter.

Two dark, hooded figures had come into the house, silent and swift. They seemed to know the layout of the house because they moved with certainty, without hesitation. They went into the parlor where Andrew was, while the rest of us stood in stunned silence and watched them. One of the figures picked Andrew up in its arms; the other stood back as if to keep us at bay, but we did nothing. We just stood and stared, so shocked were we at what we were witnessing.

When they were making for the front door, the mistress made to put herself in their way to keep them from leaving with Andrew, but the other figure—the one not carrying Andrew—grabbed her arms and moved her out of the way as easily as if she had been stuffed with straw. While he held her arms in his gloved hands, he leaned into her face and said one sentence: He belongs to us.

They went out into the night, into the pouring rain. We all went running blindly after them but there was no use. They were lost from sight immediately, as if they had vanished into the air. We went to get a light and followed them a half mile or so away from the house in the direction in which we thought they had gone, but the rain and darkness kept us from seeing anything at all. We discovered the detective agency men unconscious in a ditch but still breathing. We carried them into the house out of the rain and tried to revive them.

When we called the county sheriff and told him what had happened, he came at once, bringing with him eight men. The sheriff questioned each one of us in turn. We all told him what we had seen but we weren’t able to give him any kind of a description of the hooded figures because every part of them was covered. When he asked me what Andrew said or did when he was being abducted, I could only answer that Andrew made not a single sound. When he asked me if Andrew seemed to be a willing participant in his own abduction, I could only answer that of that I wasn’t sure.

The sheriff’s men searched the area for any clues but found none. In the daylight, after the rain had ceased, even more men were brought onto the scene. The search went on for several days, but not a single shred of evidence was ever turned up. After that, the mistress hired private investigators to try to find Andrew and bring him back, but their search also was fruitless. There was no trail to follow and nothing to go on; no basis for a real investigation.

Nothing of Andrew was ever turned up. One year after his abduction, the mistress sold the house and all her belongings. She turned over all her holdings to the church and went into a convent to escape the unhappy world. She died in the convent two years later of a heart ailment. She was laid to rest beside the master in the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost on the edge of town. An ornate granite monument marks their resting place.

Several years after the mistress died, the night watchman of the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost, who I had known since childhood, sent me a message and asked me if I could come to see him. When I went to his room, he handed me a little leather-bound book that I did not at first recognize. I opened the book and saw that it was a volume of the poetry of John Keats. Then I remembered that Andrew had once owned a volume of poems exactly like the one I held in my hand.

When I asked the night watchman what this was all about, he said the book was left on the mistress’s grave and he, knowing I was the mistress’s step-brother, wanted me to have it before it was ruined by being left outdoors in the rain. I asked him if he had seen who left the book and he smiled and nodded his head.

I knew then that Andrew was alive. I knew also that I had to find him and talk to him. I wanted to know what happened on the night of his abduction. Most of all, though, I wanted to know where he had been and what he had seen in the intervening years.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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