Black Petals Issue #85, Autumn, 2018

Napper's Holler-Chapter 5-Entryway

Home
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Bottle Music-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Bridge to Forever-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Door County Getaway-Fiction by Roy Dorman
It's Out There-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Napper's Holler-Chapter 4-Continuing Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Napper's Holler-Chapter 5-Continuing Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Napper's Holler-Chapter 6-Continuing Fiction by A. M. Stickel
The Gift-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Gifted Ones-Fiction by David Powell
The Seeker-Fiction by Ken Hueler
Blood/Brain Barrier-6 Poems by Will H. Blackwell, Jr.

entryway2.jpg

Entryway

 

 

 At the crossroads stands a stooped, hooded figure, barely visible in the twilight gloom. Whip cracks urge restless horses on, whereupon the misshapen passenger’s head turns first to watch the creaky wagon depart, and then toward the deeper gloom of a forest known to lonely trappers as Piney Woods.

 As the clatter dies away, the traveler shoulders a lumpy sack, leans on a crooked walking stick held in gloved fingers, and sighing, shuffles up the smaller trail, a passage so narrow that overhead interlacing boughs cut off most of the dim light. Underfoot, pungent leaves and needles rustle, fallen branches crackle, and bramble-studded vines threaten each halting step. Owls hoot from the thicket and crickets chirp. With each step the cloaked traveler takes, silence settles and cool mist rises ever higher, until even the twinkling starlight is dulled…    

After about an hour, the burbles of a stream interrupt the quiet, and the figure cocks an ear to listen, then turns from the path to slake a growing thirst. The traveler brushes back the cloak’s hood and kneels to drink. Reflected in the water, and cruelly exposed by the waxing moon, a glimpse of a distorted face elicits a howl of despair. From the sack, shaking hands draw forth a rendering lovingly executed in a former existence lived a world away—a miniature self portrait.

 

    

Sent to the New World for a cure, hah! Master Marcus Keri, age fifteen, tossed and turned, abed in the Seaside Inn’s best room, his first night ever beyond the confines of his ancestral estate. In the next room his loyal servant, Albert, snored away, oblivious to the youngster’s disquiet.    

Supple artist’s hands, like his mother’s, explored the changes distorting his body. I’d have been tall, my hair the same auburn as mother’s twin, Edward…and similarly irresistible to women. Marcus grinned at the thought of Uncle Edward’s infamous exploits. At thirty, he’s more like an older brother…a really wicked one, though.

During Marcus’ thirteenth birthday gala, his uncle had taken him aside and gifted him a vial of the elixir he swore was the secret of his own success. The youth kept the vial near. As instructed, he drank a drop of the potion mixed with a dram of water every full moon, after which he felt safe to polish his masculine prowess by charming pretty servant girls.    

Father hopes for the best, yet…I know I’ll never see home again, whether I survive or perish from these deformities. Almighty God, why have you cursed me?

All at once, the youth sat up in bed. What if Edward’s formula is, instead, a slow-acting poison? As father’s only cousin and with his sister—my mother—dead at fifteen birthing me, he’d inherit everything!   

Marcus arose and wrote to his father by candlelight, rolled and sealed the note with wax, then rapped on Albert’s door, whereupon Albert, wiping the sleep from his eyes, emerged to his charge’s summons.

“Old friend, you’re the only man I’d trust to take this to my father. If you hurry, you can be back before the ship departs. I’m bound by the obedience a son owes his father to seek a cure in the New World. I should take him these words—and this vial—myself, but I’d only slow you down. Once he reads my note, he must send you back with a reply…or even accompany you here. Make haste!”

Albert bowed, grabbed his cloak and satchel, placing therein both items from his young master, and sped off on horseback to complete his errand.

 

 Pulled from his bed by his cousin’s angry retainers, a disheveled Edward Lovecraft faced Marcus’ father, Lord Keri, who stood before him waving a note, Albert at his side.

“In my sister’s name, Cousin, I demand to know why you’ve thus ill-used me…” whined Edward.

Marcus’ father, his face distorted with rage, responded, “For your dead sister Edwina’s sake I’ve borne your profligacy, you wanton wastrel! In order to gain his inheritance you repaid me by poisoning the nephew who worshipped you.”

Edward’s face fell, and he sank into a nearby chair, head in hands, begging in a choked voice, “Kindly send your retainer from the room. Your ears alone shall hear my defense.”

“The whole truth? None of your obfuscations?” When Edward nodded, Lord Keri’s bluster abated; he motioned Albert toward the hallway with a look that said: Remain just outside, ready to use force if necessary.

“I promise on my dear sister’s memory,” Edward continued, his voice low, “had it not been for my selfishness, she and I would not have been parted.”

“You were never parted. She insisted you come live with us as part of our marriage contract…” objected Lord Keri. “What has this to do with Marcus?”

“I was too fond of my twin, Edwina, and she of me,” confessed Edward, “and the result was our son, Marcus. Your own desire for her worked to spare her from shame when my parents quickly consented to your union. You provided our son a fine inheritance and name… We had not counted on her death in childbirth. This loss led me to more vile pursuits, which have not given me the expected solace.”

Lord Keri turned with a groan and strode to the fireplace, drawing the ornamental family sword from its scabbard displayed on the mantle. “I’ll have my solace—your head, incestuous fool!”

“I deserve to die, Cousin, but…doesn’t Marcus deserve the truth?” Shaking, Edward pointed to the portraits of his sister and her son which overhung the mantle and scabbard on either side of the Keri ancestral coat of arms.

“What is your version of the truth, then?” cried the offended lord, lowering the sword, while waving the vial Marcus had sent with Albert. “The circumstances of Marcus’ begetting are hardly his fault. He has proved to be the most devoted and gifted son a man could want, despite his infirmity. As your father’s sole survivor, your inheritance was always assured, so why would you have poisoned your own flesh and blood? If you truly loved Edwina, do you think she would have approved of you killing her child and yours?”

“You do not understand the nature of Marcus’ heritage, Cousin. The vial is not poison, but an antidote. Should he fail to take it, his physical changes will progress to the point where he is no longer human during the full moon. His unfortunate deterioration is the result of sibling union in which some of the worst characteristics of our forefathers bred true. At fifteen, I discovered one in my desire for Edwina and hers for me, though innocent of their full extent. I’ve since had access to their more terrible aspects in records passed to me upon Father’s death, which both you and Marcus should read.” Edward drew forth an ornate chest from under a brick at the edge of the massive fireplace. It held a book.

After reading, the facts began to sink in, leaving Marcus’ foster father little choice. “You, Edward, must accompany Marcus to the New World. I cannot put faithful Albert in harm’s way. I will write orders for you to deliver to Marcus. Waste no time. Pack what you need, and the vial and book as well…and…take him my undying love. Follow my instructions, or else! Captain Swift is my man and the Aviva my ship. I’m advising him to watch your every move.”

 

The dawn of departure brought Edward to the Seaside Inn. Marcus, handed the proof of his heritage—cautioning note, damning book, and precious vial—offered Edward a bestial glare and snarling growl, his incisors displayed. Edward couldn’t help but recall an illegal dog fight he’d once attended, where he’d wagered and lost a sizable sum. Losing this wager meant instant death. Instinct urged him to put up his guard and back away slowly, yet he stood stock still, touched Edwina’s silver cross on its chain around his neck, and said, “Our dear cousin sends you his undying love.”

Marcus, his human side victorious, said in a tight voice, “Here’s your chance, not so much to find me a cure as to save your own soul, by proving yourself the father you ought to have been. From now on, let us address each other, man to man—‘Edward’ and ‘Marcus’—out of respect for the nobleman who affords us both mercy: Lord Keri.”

“Agreed, Marcus.” Edward extended his hand, and, after a moment of hesitation, Marcus took it.

Fascinated by the hubbub of departure, Marcus permitted Edward and the other passengers to precede him up the Aviva’s gangplank. Unlike Edward, he did not bother to inspect the owner’s quarters adjoining Captain Swift’s, where they would be settled for the duration of the voyage, but stood at the rail. Trunks, bags, food, water and rum kegs, live animals, and gear were loaded by sweaty handlers. Tearful goodbyes followed. The sails were hoisted and tie-lines released. Aviva cleared the harbor’s calm waters, and began rising and falling with the ocean’s natural rhythm.

Edward and Marcus were soon united in mutual misery, stomachs queasy and sea-legs wanting. Captain Swift’s cook and crew became their saviors—the former with broth and ginger tea, the latter with tall tales and stoic hard work.

“Edward,” said Marcus on the fifth night, “Charlie One-Eye took me down into the hold today and I heard those creatures the crew talks about; the things were rubbing their bodies along the hull, seeking a weak spot in the wood.”

 “Aha! You must mean the fabled fish folk, with their ‘lantern eyes, green scales, and razor teeth,’” teased Edward. “Rum makes sailors prone to exaggeration and superstition. Surely you don’t believe in fish folk?”

“Y…yes, I think they exist and are even uglier than I am, although they’re not evil…merely trying to survive.”

Edward, reaching for his son’s hand in the dark, addressed the problem. “Marcus, do you think you’re evil just because of the way you look? I’m the evil one here…and yet there’s hope for my salvation. You are that hope.”

Marcus’ voice became a harsh whisper. “Hope? I’m an abomination. If I can’t be healed, when the time comes I want you to do the right thing…Father. Even with the antidote, during the full moon such a thirst comes over me…I know I’d rend to satisfy my bloodlust, and rape to procreate more of my kind.”

“You’ve already overcome your seasickness. You can resist your baser urges too. I’m learning to control mine, and, in the process, truly become your father. Take heart.”

“I’ll try, Father, I promise.”

So do I, thought Edward, but said only, “Good night and rest safe.”

 

“Land Ho!” rang the cry on the grey evening of arrival in the New World. Too late! A storm had battered the Aviva in the night; limping along, sails torn, hull leaking, she listed and wobbled. Hands had been swept overboard, and the passengers were weak from hanging on and heaving up their insides. With a shudder, she breached…and ran aground.    

Shipwrecked upon the shore of the New World under a full moon, antidote and most of their goods lost, Edward lay amidst the gnawed bodies of disemboweled men and bleeding women.  Yet, one of his dearest possessions remained. Facing a matured Marcus, who rose before him fearsomely fanged and furred, he pulled the pistol with one silver bullet from its hiding place in his shirt, and made his choice. Farewell, my son. May God have mercy on both our souls.

 

The exquisite portrait before his golden gaze, the wild man thing gripping it cannot quite remember whether this depicts Marcus or Edward. His instincts tell him to cross the stream toward the forbidden burial ground set aside by the local savages. Once there, he clambers up a tree to rest at last next to a naked corpse upon the highest platform, and to feast on the funeral food left at the tree’s foot. Other animals have had their share already. Above all, he craves rest.

 His wounded right hand throbs, a gleaming silver crucifix in its clawed grasp. One arm of this sacred object points to heaven, one to hell... and the other two?—east to a home, forever gone, and west to the entryway he will follow to a refuge destined to shelter the lost and outcast, someday to be marked by a sign reading simply: “Napper’s Holler.

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications