You May Know Him as a Ghoul
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
(This short story is a repost. It has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)
Blaise DeBeulah awoke to the rising of the sun and switched on the radio beside his bed. “Dark Eyes” by the Vincent Lopez Orchestra was playing. The beautiful melody brought a smile to his face, making him forget for the moment that had to get out of bed, get dressed, and face another distasteful day. He was just drifting off to a warm, intoxicating dreamland awash in saxophones and violins, when Bertha DeBeulah came bursting into the room.
“Get out of that bed, you lazy slug!” she commanded. “Do you think the world owes you a life of comfort and ease?”
“No, mother. The world doesn’t owe me anything. I’m getting up now.”
“Your brothers and sisters are hungry! They want fresh meat! Now!”
“I’m doing the best I can, mother. I’m not feeling very well.”
“Well, isn’t that just too bad?
“I was out last night until dawn. Fresh meat isn’t so easy to come by anymore.”
“I don’t want to hear any of your feeble excuses! And when I say fresh meat, I mean fresh! The longer a body has been buried, the worse it tastes! After a body has been dead three or four days, the embalming fluid ruins the taste! The ones you’ve been dragging home have been anything but fresh!”
“I know mother. I’m doing the best I can. I hang around the cemetery all day long, waiting for a funeral, but they have been few and far between.”
“I told you I don’t want to hear any lame excuses! If there haven’t been any funerals, you have to do the killing yourself! How about some nice, juicy, muscular gravediggers?”
“Would those be for you to eat, or for the brothers and sisters, mother?”
“Don’t you get fresh with me! I’ll tell your papa, Benedictus DeBeulah, you smarted out to me and he’ll knock your block off!”
“Yes, I know, mother. I know. He has knocked my block off so many times that my head no longer sits straight on my shoulders.”
“Well, it serves you right! And if you don’t bring home some fresh meat—and I mean fresh—I’ll let the brothers and sisters eat you!”
“I’m not exactly fresh, mother. I’m two hundred and thirty-seven years old.”
“You don’t have to tell me how old you are, Mr. Smarty Britches! I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it any time I choose!”
“Yes, mother, I know. You’d be doing me a blessing.”
“What was that?”
“I said I’ll be on my way as soon as I find my shoes.”
Though he was two hundred and thirty-seven years old, Blaise DeBeulah could pass for nineteen whenever he wanted to. He wrapped himself in a long trench coat and a scarf that, thanks to the icy wind, allowed him to cover the lower part of his face. He topped off the invisible man look with a broad-brimmed hat worn low over the eyes. Dressed in this way, he could pass for anybody, anywhere, without attracting any particular kind of attention.
To get to the cemetery, he had to pass through downtown. Since it was a college town, there were always lots of interesting people around his own age (not two hundred and thirty-seven, but nineteen), and he enjoyed seeing them and walking among them. He might even pass for one of them: a tall, well-dressed, rather stately young man, dignified and poised, aloof and intriguing.
He liked to linger outside a malt shop where people his age gathered. It had a red-and-white awning and exuded attractive smells such as cinnamon, chocolate and peppermint. The thing that attracted him most, though, was the music that was piped out to the sidewalk: the romantic dance bands and orchestras, the velvet-voiced crooners, the bouncy girl singers, the snappy dance numbers. It was like nothing he had heard before in his two hundred and thirty-seven years of a ghoul’s life.
He longed to go inside the malt shop, to sit at the counter and order a drink, maybe strike up a conversation with someone and end up slow-dancing on the dance floor with everyone watching. It was not going to happen, though. He had a ghoul’s hands and a ghoul’s legs. When people saw his face, they would know it was a ghoul’s face and they would run screaming from the place in terror. He would be more embarrassed than he could possibly imagine. Somebody would call the police and they would come and take him away and lock him up. He couldn’t let that happen.
With a lump of regret in his throat, he passed on to the cemetery, the music sounding in his head long after he could still hear it.
One small, poor-looking funeral was in progress on a hillside. A dozen or so black-garbed mourners gathered around an open grave. A priest said a prayer and when he was finished the mourners dispersed and a man standing by with a shovel began filling in the grave.
Blaise moved on. He wasn’t going to dig in the dirt with his hands just to get a freshly buried body. It would taste like embalming fluid, anyway, he was sure, and the brothers and sisters would gag. They could always tell a body that had been embalmed from one that hadn’t. He’d have to look elsewhere.
He knew that if he didn’t find a really fresh corpse he’d have to kill a man or a woman, or maybe a child, on his own. He hated the killing; he didn’t even like killing animals. He’d almost rather die himself.
He came to another funeral, a much larger one this time. A prominent man, a person of some fame, had died. There were maybe two hundred mourners on their feet around a dark-wood casket that gleamed in the sun. Some of the mourners cried and some smiled and laughed as if they were at a cocktail party. A holy man gestured over the casket with his arms and when the service was finished the people let out a gasp of relief like children released from school. They moved away quickly, some of them lighting cigarettes, toward cars dispersed along a scenic hillside.
Blaise stood behind a tree and watched. After a few minutes, all the mourners were gone and the casket was left unattended in the sun. The gravediggers hadn’t appeared yet to finish their job. The funeral director was nowhere to be seen; he was off someplace, probably having a cigarette or a nip from a bottle.
Without thinking what he was doing, Blaise approached the casket and lifted the lid. The deceased was an old man with a mottled face and a bald head. He appeared to have been ninety years old or older.
He scooped the old man up in his arms and, balancing the body against his right shoulder, managed to reclose the lid with his left hand. If all went well, the gravediggers would come and bury the empty casket, never suspecting that the body inside had been purloined.
He couldn’t exactly walk back through the streets of the town carrying a dead body, so he took it to the designated hiding place, a scooped-out trench along the north wall, hidden behind some bushes. He covered the body with dead leaves as an extra precaution and when he was finished he left the cemetery.
From a payphone downtown he called Daedalus, Bertha DeBeulah’s factotum, with his usual message in code: Some lovely peaches are to be had at the north wall. Daedalus would go and collect the body as soon as it was safe, take it back to the house and drop it down the meat chute in the kitchen wall, to the brothers and sisters who dwelt below.
Blaise walked the rest of the way home, then, relieved that he had delivered a body without having to kill it on his own and relieved, also, that he wouldn’t have another confrontation with Bertha DeBeulah at least for a day or two. Maybe something cataclysmic would happen in the meantime, such as a meteor colliding with earth.
He spent the rest of the day locked in his room, catching up on his sleep and dreaming about what his life might have been like if he had been born into a real family instead of a family of ghouls. He might have been one of those sleek college boys popping up soda pop rickeys to his heart’s delight. He might have driven a car and carried books under his arm.
About nine o’clock that night, he was listening to music on the radio when he heard a terrible commotion downstairs. He went to the top of the banister and looked down. Bertha DeBeulah and Benedictus DeBeulah were fighting, yelling at each other, throwing objects across the room. It was nothing new. He went back to his room and shut the door.
The fighting was not to be ignored, though. Bertha DeBeulah and Benedictus DeBeulah were engaged in all-out war, causing the old house to quake on its foundations. Blaise went downstairs, thinking to separate them and get them to stop fighting, but he could see it was no use. They were mad with rage. When he tried to get between them to pull them apart, Benedictus DeBeulah pushed him so hard against the wall that he went through to the next room.
“Stop it!” Blaise cried. “If you don’t stop it, I’m going to call the people from the insane asylum to come and get you and lock you up, where you belong! Then where would the brothers and sisters be?”
“I’m sick and tired of her!” Benedictus DeBeulah roared. “I’m going to kill the evil old bitch once and for all! Satan will be happy when she finally arrives in hell!”
“Kill me?” Bertha DeBeulah screeched. “I don’t think so! Not if I kill you first!”
Blaise could see they meant to do each other seriously bodily harm. He was going to run to the neighbors for help, but then he remembered they lived in a swamp and there weren’t any neighbors for miles.
Bertha DeBeulah and Benedictus DeBeulah had each other around the neck. There is nothing on earth like two old ghouls fighting to the death. They may destroy the earth, but one of them will live and the other one die.
Benedictus DeBeulah’s strength proved superior in the end, however. He pried Bertha DeBeulah’s fingers from around his neck and reared back and knocked her block off with so much force that her head flew off her shoulders and hit the wall like a bloody cabbage.
Bertha DeBeulah wasn’t finished yet, though. Her headless body rose up from the floor and produced from the air a ball of flame, a gift from her beloved Satan. She directed the ball squarely at the midsection of Benedictus DeBeulah and he became the ball of flame. He ran through the house, arms flailing, but he wasn’t able to extinguish the flames that engulfed him. He grabbed the dining room curtains and pulled them down on top of him. The curtains helped to extinguish the flames and keep the rest of the house from catching on fire, but they were of no use to Benedictus DeBeulah. He was not only clearly dead, but really most sincerely dead.
When it was all over, Blaise gathered up the charred remains of Benedictus DeBeulah and the headless remains of Bertha DeBeulah and dragged them into the kitchen and threw them down the meat chute. The brothers and sisters wouldn’t know that they were eating their own mother and father, but if they did know they wouldn’t care. Fresh meat is fresh meat.
After Blaise rested and had a cooling drink of water and some onions and herbs (he was trying to take up a vegetarian diet), he became fully aware of his good fortune. For the first time in his life, he was free of family exigencies, free to do as he pleased rather than as he was told.
He would buy a phonograph and all the latest recordings. He would buy a car and learn to drive and find the best tailor in town and have some stylish suits made to order. He would get to know some of those young college students and invite them to parties. He would tell them of his experiences in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. They would love him. They would find him fascinating.
Just as he was contemplating his life to be, he heard the brothers and sisters howling below-stairs like the wild animals they were. They were well-fed, so what was wrong with them now? He would just ignore them and tomorrow, or maybe the next day, he would have a special treat for them.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp