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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Ron Capshaw: Sooter

99_ym_sooter_jmong.jpg
Art by Jen Mong 2023

Sooter

 

by Ron Capshaw

 

 

Chapter 1

 

June 12, 1938.  3pm.

 

The guard dogs who hatefully chased me through the Texas woods skidded to a stop before the mansion.  They strained so hard to get away that they broke their leashes and fled into the woods.  The soldiers threw their weapons down and followed.  Their officers didn’t order them back on pain of execution, but crossed themselves and ran.

          They must have heard the stories about the mansion all the way back to Berlin.

          Inside, I laughed that for all their Master Race posturing they were as superstitious as a common peasant.

Evil was man-made; created by capitalist greed.

I wouldn’t think that for long.

Because those things in the mansion didn’t want your money but something more fatal.

 

 

           Dallas Morning News, February 10, 1934

Billionaire Builds Mansion  in Texas

          Billionaire/Aviator/Film-Maker Cletus Sooter has built a three story mansion in his hometown of Mullin, Texas.

          Asked why he is leaving Hollywood after the success of his Great War film, Sky Raiders, which took 4 years and billions of dollars to complete, as well as the LA air races, he said,  “I’m tired of the phonies in Hollywood. And air races no longer interest me.  I need to reconnect with my roots.”

          But Sooter, known even in Hollywood for his reclusiveness, has not left his mansion as of yet, even though he brought several of his planes on the landing deck he installed on the roof of his mansion.

Still, some locals are not happy. 

          In reference to his private police guarding the Sooter mansion, rancher Amos Howard said, “Mr. Hollywood is not a law unto himself.  The rest of us ordinary folks have to abide by the laws of our town.”

          John Lance, the mayor of the town, had kinder words to say.  “I'm glad that Mr. Sooter wants no publicity and keeps to himself. It’s his property, and he has every right to protect it.”

          But rumors of wild parties and seances and witchcraft abound. This prompted Sheriff Tom Le Fernau to visit the mansion.

          Le Fernau said that Sooter’s aide, Hamilton Moore, and the technical advisor on his trench warfare film, assured the sheriff that the rumors were untrue.

          Le Farneu has told citizens to calm down.

          “Like it or not, Sooter spent a fortune on his mansion and is here to stay.  He merely wants his privacy and is not bothering anyone.  People need to mind their own business and get on with their day.”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

After the Nazis turned tail into the woods, I reconnoitered the mansion and tried to find Mom.

Fat chance.

Not only was the electricity out in the Sooter mansion but it was a literal maze.  The hallways on the first floor either led to a dead-end or went on forever, never bringing you back to the place you started from.

Luckily, Sooter had flashlights and weapons and bags of chocolate chip cookies everywhere.  As if he might need to shoot someone any moment while enjoying a light snack.

Did he know that the parachutes would drop from the sky before we “premature anti-fascists” did?

The mansion had a decayed smell, like nothing had lived there for a very long time. The rooms and hallways on the first floor were dusty and cob-webbed, which meant Sooter might have conquered his germaphobia and fired the spraying staff.

Or he was holed up somewhere more sanitary in the mansion.

Given the layout I may never know.

Which meant I may never find Mom.

But I had to know.  Because if she wasn’t here that meant she was intercepted and then stood up against the wall as a trouble maker.

Or, if the Nazis did their homework, executed her as the mother of one.

I would hope she was in one of the secret rooms I accidentally found when a foul odor in one of the hallways caused me to grow dizzy and I fell against one of the walls.

It opened into a room, where the smell was even stronger. 

I grew dizzy again and fell down again.

The room had an oxygen tent with no one in it, packages of chocolate chip cookies, and weapons.  Copies of horror pulps littered the floor.  Vines of some kind of herb were taped to every inch of the walls.

I grabbed one of the weapons.  It was a shotgun.  I filled my pockets with as many shells as I could carry.

I weaved to the wall opposite to the one I fell through and it opened.

With the shotgun propped against my right shoulder and my flashlight in my left hand I happily left.

 

          Another hallway.

          At the end of it was the Soldier.

          Before he darted into the darkness, I saw that he was dressed in a World War I uniform, right down to the Tommy helmet and Sam Browne belt.

 

          Without thinking I ran after the soldier, turning a corner into THEM.

          The soldier was the only one of them not crouched.  I saw now that he wore a gas mask.

          Those crouched in front of him wore the tattered uniforms of Sooter Security.

          They didn’t launch themselves at me until he grunted.

          There was no way to shoot at all of them.

          They galloped after me across the floor, the sides of the walls and the ceiling.

          As I ran, I now hoped that Mom hadn’t made it to the mansion.

          But something told me she did.

 

 

****

         

          I had to learn on the job about what worked, what didn’t.

          One that worked were the vines in the secret room.

          When some of them followed me into it before I could close the door they exploded.

          Wiping the blood and tissue out of my eyes, I sniffed the vines.

          Of course.

          I took as much as I could carry, preferring the dizziness to being those things’ lunch.

          I went into the hallway I entered the secret room from.

          I crushed pieces of the vines to serve as breadcrumbs so I could navigate the mansion and make my way back to the front door and the Nazis if things got too bad.

           I found another secret room.

          This one had no vines, no oxygen tent.  It wasn’t a room to hole up in.

          It was to send for help.

          It was hard to see how long he had been dead.

          Because, still seated in front of the short wave radio, his headphones still on, his hand still clutching the microphone, he had been drained dry after they ripped his throat out.

          Swallowing my bile, I peered closer

          He wasn’t dressed in the uniform of Sooter Security but an expensive double-breasted suit.

          He had Sooter’s pencil thin mustache, but Sooter had a full head of hair and this poor bastard had a toupee that still hung off his head.

          They hadn’t smashed the radio in uncontrolled fury.

          I looked at the back of it.

          The battery was gone.

          Those things that came at me didn’t have the rationality to do that. 

          I heard slithering sounds outside the secret door.

          I was pressing the opposite wall when I got my answer as to who took out the battery.

          There was a circular glass lens on the ground.

          The kind that were on gas masks.

 

*******

         

          Contrary to legend, they didn’t sleep during the day.  Or maybe they did and came at me in shifts to wear me down.

          It was working.

          Sleep was impossible even in a garlic-filled secret room because they howled and threw themselves at the door all day and night.

          We found each other in the dining room, with long tables and a fireplace.

          They kept a healthy distance away because of the garlic.

          I had left the windows covered in velvet curtains so a Nazi sniper couldn’t get me.

          But looking at that mass of fangs and claws and red veins and sickly green skin on the other side of the dining room I didn’t think a Nazi bullet would be such a bad fate.

          I began tearing down the curtains as I walked toward them.

          They saw shafts of sunlight coming closer, and fled, killing some of their own in the stampede.

          Bathed in sunlight, I grinned, the first genuine one since Dad and I were on the hilltop, giving, for one brief moment, the town its balls back.

 

          Chapter 3

 

          Forty-Eight Hours Before.

         

I suppose I should feel guilty.  Because I brought the war home with me.

After being chased by the SS out of England, a Nazi bullet through my lung and because of it, a determination to make amends with Dad, I went to the last place I thought the Nazis would invade.

Mullin, Texas.

Population 1300.

 

Dad didn’t care about my college-bred Marxism that sent Mom to her rosary beads, praying fervently I would renounce Stalin and embrace God.

Dad hadn’t believed in God since that first shelling in the trenches in a world war we were now calling the first one.

What enraged him was that I was going to fight alongside the British; the same people who treated us Irish like trash in the old country.

Like a lot of Americans, he thought the war in Europe was none of our business, and that we should keep our powder dry in case Hitler invaded America; and even then the Nazis had to be on Dad’s doorstep.

Which they practically were.

Even though I didn't think that Hitler was deluded enough to invade Texas. 

There no Jews here, no Jehovah’s Witnesses or Gypsies, or, with the exception of me, no communists.  Texas did have oil fields and was situated near the Gulf of Mexico, but I’m sure his generals warned him that my fellow Texans would take to the mountains and hills and forests and cause the Nazis to waste manpower policing the state rather than rolling North.

But as usual Hitler ignored them.

Dad and I were sitting on his front porch, drinking and not speaking to each other when we saw the parachutes dropping from the sky.   Then explosions, and three miles away from the town, we smelled it already burning.

 We looked at each other and nodded.  

 He tossed me a hunting rifle, a bag of ammo, grabbed his old carbine, and we went to see what was left of Mullin.

          Mom refused to stay behind.  Her Irish was up, and there was no talking her out of coming.

          And truth be told, I didn’t want to try.

          She needed to see what they were like.

 

*******

 

          I had no loyalty to this town that I left at the first opportunity.

          But seeing from the hilltop what the Nazis had done and were doing to it, I was angrier than I was when I saw the SS patrolling London after Churchill had been assassinated.

My town.  My fellow citizens.

Bloody cowboy hats smashed by their goose-stepping.

Bodies twitching on the ground, which the Nazis posed beside for the newsreel cameras.

When I saw the Nazis urinating on corpses I aimed my rifle at them.

Dad gently pushed my barrel down.

“Another time, boy.  We need to link up with the resistance that if I know my fellow residents they are already forming.”

After a couple of deep breaths I nodded.

We were in the act of leaving the hilltop when we saw the Barbed Wire Man.

We couldn’t tell who the corpse was entangled in the barbed wire in the center of town because the Nazis were recreationally using it for target practice.

I looked at Dad.

He nodded, jaw clenched.

He turned to Mom.

“Molly.  Don’t go home.  Go to the Sooter mansion.  If he is alive he’ll take you in.  There may even be some of his private police force left.”

She shook her head.

          “Go woman!  I’ll not have you raped and killed by this trash.”

          “You’ll soon follow behind?”

          Dad nodded, lying to her.

          There was no walking away from what we planned to do.

          Especially with the bombers flying overhead.

          After she left, Dad sighted the Germans.

          Then he did something that filled my heart with joy and is the way I always like to remember him.

He winked.

Fellow soldiers.

 

******

We were of one mind, picking the targets in the order of who angered us the most.  We shot the soldiers who pissed on the corpses.

Then those who fired into the Barb Wire Man

Then those who shot the citizens who cheered us.

Then we became more strategic, killing every officer we could find.

As expected, without leadership, the soldiers panicked.

They fired in all directions, killing not just the townies who hadn’t gotten to cover but a few of their own.

Then we shot the swastika flag hoisted in the town square off the pole.

More cheers.

Then the tank spotted us.

 

********

 

  I came to several feet away from the now disintegrated tree I had used as cover.  Other trees were on fire.   All I could hear was that familiar humming sound in my ears and everything was in slow motion.

I took an inventory of my body and found no injuries.

The same could not be said of Dad.

I found him several yards away.  No left arm and his legs were gone below the knees.

He died grinning fiercely, his middle finger extended on his remaining hand.

Tears welled up in my eyes.

Good old Dad.  Defiant to the end.

Dirt kicked up by my feet, and I turned and saw the soldiers coming up the hill fast, looking as enraged as their guard dogs.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

NOW.

There was no living with them.  I couldn’t find Mom until I got rid of them.

I expected to find the creatures slumbering somewhere dark and dank.  I canvassed the wine cellar and the basement.

But they weren’t there.

Which meant they were on the move.

It’s what Dad and or my former comrades in England would have done.

But those things running from the sunlight didn’t think much less think like a soldier.       

But there was one among them who could.  

The Gas Mask Man.

I hadn’t seen him since the hallway incident weeks—was it weeks?—ago.  But recalling that moment when the creatures would let me, I sensed something controlled about him.

Disciplined.

Strategic.

A trained soldier would seek higher ground.

And he had two floors above me to do it in.

I looked at the ceiling.

I swore I could hear laughter and then a scream.

That sounded like Mom.

 

******

         

        The second floor was even darker than the first floor.

        Like the first floor, there were weapons and flashlights all over the second floor.

        My flashlight was flickering and I could always use another gun so I picked the flashlight and gun up and then almost screamed

        The batteries had been taken out of the flashlight and the rifle barrel was clogged with dirt so that whoever fired it would blow their own face off.

        Luckily, I was able to find the generator with my flickering flashlight.

        Dear God, please don’t let them have chewed through its wires. 

        They hadn’t.

        It was simply a matter of flipping a switch.

        The lights came on, revealing that there were at least 10 in front of me, salivating and biting at the air.

They didn’t explode like they did when they touched the garlic or were exposed to sunlight, but they did throw their greenish arms over their eyes from the bright lights and scattered.

I fell to my knees.

Mom you need to signal me where you are because I can’t take much more of this.

Another day here and I would join the Nazis.

If the first floor with its stones and cobwebs and odor of decay was early Gothic, the second floor was more modern, but overkilled.  Sooter was so weird that he couldn’t just carpet the floor; he carpeted the walls and ceiling the chandeliers hung from.

I walked down the hallway, dropping garlic along the way.

I tried to open a door but it was barricaded shut.

I tried the door next to it and it opened.

It was a typical bedroom.  Carpeted, with dressers and a canopy bed.

There was a figure-shaped hole in the wall going into the barricaded room.

  I looked through it and saw that some of them did sleep during the day.

  I first saw the tuxedoed men, along with one dressed as a polo player hanging upside down by their taloned feet clutching into the rafters of the ceiling.  Their eyes were closed, fangs protruding from a contented smile on their faces.

I couldn’t see the women hanging from the ceiling because their flapper dresses covered their faces.

To my shame, I hoped that one of them was Mom so I could get the fuck out of here.

They weren’t.

I lifted their dresses up over their heads and saw green, but somehow beautiful faces.

Gin bottles and opium pipes littered the floor beneath them.

Conclusion:

One of those things had literally crashed their party from the next room.

    He-she-it could have just complained to the management about the noise.

I laughed in a creepy way I didn’t recognize, not caring if I woke up the Gatsby set or not.

None of them did.

I looked at the stairs going up to the third and final floor.

This is it Mom.  If you’re not here I’m done.

 

*****

 

It wasn’t hard to find the lab.  It took up two-thirds of the third floor. What was in the lab answered the question as to how those creatures fed themselves.  They couldn’t subsist on the four corpses who lay on the floor, their throats ripped out, their faces as white as their lab coats.

What slaked their thirst was a huge, still-bubbling vat of blood in the center of the lab with feeding tubes attached to it.

Their straws.

There seemed to be an endless supply.

Near the vat was a hospital bed and those fucking chocolate chip cookies.

There was a framed photo flung to the other side of the room.

It was a picture of Sooter, clad in a deep sea diver’s suit holding the helmet.  I peered closer and saw a feeding tube attached to it.  Next to him were the late four scientists.  Off to one side of them was a lab coat and clothes suspended in the air.

I knew why, thanks to my crash course in the lore.

Because vampires couldn’t be photographed.

 

********

I looked at the notes, the medical charts and learned that Mr. Millionaire was convinced fatal germs were in his blood, despite numerous tests showing his blood was normal except for a high sugar content.

To ease his mind, they prescribed a chicken diet, rich in Vitamin D.

One of the doctors wrote, “Patient will eat only one thing and it’s unhealthy.  And I wish he’d leave that fucking helmet off.”

I looked at the bubbling vat of blood.

Cooking no doubt to kill the “germs.”

Out with the impure, in with the pure.

I looked all over the lab.  I looked up and down the hallway and pressed the wall for secret rooms.

There weren’t any.

Mom wasn’t here.

Shamefully, I breathed a sigh of relief.   Because if the Gas Mask Man and his creatures hadn’t eaten her, they would have “turned” her into one of their own.  She may have even been one of those mutations crouched beside the Gas Mask Man my first day here.

I didn’t want to know.  I wanted to remember her as she was.  Before the parachutes.

Ok.  I am going to walk out of the mansion very carefully, clutching my garlic, grab all the guns I can carry and fight some humans.

Then I remembered there was one place I hadn’t looked.

The landing port on the roof.

 

******

He didn’t want them near his precious planes so he blew them up.  Bits of greenish skin and claws and airplane parts were all over the roof. 

I found Sooter on the other side of the roof, clad head to toe in that deep sea diver’s suit, his hand pressed down on the TNT plunger.

I walked over to him, angry at him for causing all this trouble, but admiring him for holding it together and blowing the would-be pilot vampires to Hell.

But he hadn’t gotten all of them.

Because his helmet was twisted around backwards.

 

******

I almost saluted the son of a bitch when I turned his body around and saw his face visible through the diver’s helmet.

He died smiling.

Defiant.  Just like Dad.

Explosions.

The mansion rocked.  Again and again.  Whatever was hitting it caused my roommates to shriek.

I went to the edge of the roof and looked down.

Just a matter of time.

The Nazis were back.

 

*********

The vampires were congregated by the first floor window facing the front court.

They left me alone when I joined them and even crouched at my feet.  Their focus was on the Nazis outside, who they hissed and growled at.  

Gas Mask Man appeared beside me.

“Got tired of cleaning up his messes, didn’t you?” I said, not looking away from the window.

The Gas Mask Man looked at me for a long time.

The Germans had brought lab-coated scientists and machine guns and tanks.  Attached to one of the tanks by a chain was enough left of Mom for me to recognize.

I shook with rage.

It was nighttime.  I could open the door and let the vampires slaughter the Nazis.

 But I wanted to get my hands dirty.

Bloody.

I turned to Gas Mask Man and said, “A favor.”

I exposed my throat.

Jen Mong is an artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. When not drawing or writing, she is reading; watching TV or movies; taking walks; listening to music; enjoying nature; and keeping company with family and friends.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2023