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
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.
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.
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!”
grabbed his cloak and satchel, placing therein both items from his young
master, and sped off on horseback to complete his errand.
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.
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.”
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
“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!”
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
“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.”
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
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.
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.”
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
“Y…yes, I think
they exist and are even uglier than I am, although they’re not evil…merely
trying to survive.”
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.”
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.”
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,
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.
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.
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
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.”