This is the 16th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “P“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “P” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — Gary Broxson
(2,750 words – approx. reading time: about 10 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Good evening, old friend. No, don’t get up. I beg your pardon for disturbing such peaceful rest, but I felt compelled to pay you a visit on this bone-cold night.” The visitor shuddered against the wind and extracted and ornate flask from inside the breast pocket of his overcoat. With gloved and practiced hands, he spun the cap off and knocked back a drink.
“Ahhhh,” his breath plumed into the night air. “That should warm things up,” he said, pounding his chest with his free hand. “You must forgive my manners, old chap. How rude of me not to offer you a nip against a brisk night like this. After all, this is a toast, a toast to long life and fortune. Mine, not yours, of course. You, my unfortunate friend, seem to have an early appointment with the conqueror worm.”
The visitor took a short swig and then ceremoniously tipped a portion of the liquor onto a gray headstone before him. It splattered and melted some of the snow that adorned the monument like frosting on a granite cake. In the dim moonlight, a few capital letters were revealed. It read ALL.
“Cognac,” the visitor said reverentially, considering the flask. “Not that rotgut Spanish wine you were so enamored with. But then, old boy, you would drink a wino’s piss direct from its fleshy fountain if you thought it would get you besotted.” He laughed heartily at his crude characterization.
“Humor,” the visitor started, “that’s one advantage I had over you. Your writing was always so bleak, so gothic. Why not tickle the old funny bone every now and then, eh?” He waited as if expecting a reply. “Because you didn’t have it in you – that’s why. You wrote with an unhappy pen and poisoned ink. I could write comedy and bring joy to others, and you could not.”
The visitor took another long pull from the flask. “No!” The man shouted at the tomb. “The slanderous, fallacious critique you wrote about my first book of poetry was not funny, not funny at all, Mr. Tomahawk Man. Isn’t that what they called you? Did you think yourself so clever when you destroyed a fellow writer’s piece de resistance? A writer you once called friend.”
“You, you sick fiend, even suggested in your musings on my work that I should take a gun to my head. Mercifully, you demurred as it would prove to be a waste of gun powder. Ha- ha-ha- ha- ha- ha-ha-hah! Not funny.” The foreign sound of staccato laughter echoed eerily in the churchyard cemetery. “And now I have the last laugh. Hah!”
“Hey, Pal. Keep it down will ya’.” The visitor turned to see a beat cop standing behind him, twirling a baton. “What brings you out on a night like this anyway?” The policeman inquired.
“Words, words, words…” the visitor whispered to himself, then suddenly, “Officer, please forgive me for my irreverence. It’s just that I was sharing a final laugh with a dear friend too early gone.”
The officer sniffed at the lingering trace of alcohol and replied, “Seems you’re sharing a bit more than a guffaw. But I’ll leave you to it. Just keep it down.” He crossed himself quickly and then slapped the baton into his palm to punctuate his message and then retreated.
The visitor waited for the cop’s footfalls to fade and then turned back to the snow-capped stone. “It seems my association with you continues to cause me dismay. As it did to all those that dared tread within your vile shadow.”
The visitor smiled, “How’s Virginia? Have you run into her in the nether world? Such a sweet girl. For girl she was. Thirteen, or was she in prime puberty at fourteen when you eloped with your dear cousin? You promised that girl the life of a lady but what did you ever give her? While you penned your foolish, foulish poetry, your child bride lay dying of consumption in the next room with only a house cat across her chest to keep her warm. Pathetic.”
The visitor paused for a moment as if allowing his words to sink in. Then, with tearful eyes, he continued, “It wasn’t enough that you allowed your own wife to suffer and die without even a sonnet to remember her. You had to have Lenore, my Lenore, your balm of Gilead. You seduced her with your wit and charm and even grew that absurd mustache to tickle her fancies.”
“But did you have to immortalize your affair with my wife in your crow poem? That, old friend, was the final straw. From that day on, the day I killed our lost Lenore, I have planned your demise. No, you need not act so astonished. Your oxygen reserves are limited. She confessed all to me as I methodically tortured and blinded her precious black cat with my penknife, and then I made sure both feral felines perished in the house fire.”
“I considered a dozen ways to dispatch you, even as I mourned with you and shared the immense pain and loss we have both realized since you entered my wife. Ha, you see, even in this lowly state of woe, I, unlike you, can produce pearls of jocularity. Even a loathsome pun is more humor than you could ever generate.”
“Imagining and plotting your death, for example, was an opus of hilarity. My first thought was to pay off a zookeeper and lock you in a cage with an amorous orangutan. But then I realized you might enjoy the company too much, you lecherous inbreeder.”
“Then I thought to seal you up alive in my basement like the unfortunate fool in one of your fanciful stories. A few glasses of wine and you would perhaps help me with the bricks and mortar. I believe you actually had a predilection for death. It seems to suit you.”
“I conjured once to dress you in a coat stolen from the sanatorium bin. I would revel in seeing you suffer from the red pestilence. But a lingering demise from consumption would only make you more insufferable as there would be those wretched fools that pitied you.”
“You must appreciate that I needed a way to exact supreme revenge with impunity. Ah, and there it was, so simple, so obvious. I had merely to suffer through your loquacious and rambling narrative submissions to understand your deranged psyche. Upon taking the role as your editor and friend, it appeared to me that you were not so much afraid of dying as you were of being mistaken for dead and being interred six feet deep alive and ticking.”
“Afraid so much that you even proposed that there should be a string tied to your finger, threaded up through an air tube in your casket and connected to a silver bell. If it rang without cause of brush or breeze the sexton would be duty-bound to exhume you and attempt revival. Paranoid folly.”
“It was my observant eye, the one you called evil and vulture-like when you drank, that noticed your weakness, the doorway to your demise. Following a fevered night of writing, you would face the new day with a blackened tongue. How could you not notice such a thing? Perhaps after all your transgressions, you could not bear to look at yourself in a mirror. I surmised that in your struggle to fill more and more pages with pompous prose and pious poetry you nervously chewed the tip of your quill.”
“Accounting for your arrogance, it would take only a simple act of flattery to trick you into imbibing gallons of tainted ink. In an elaborate ruse, I convinced you that only you and one other unnamed author would be contestants to compete for a generous prize of $400.”
“The rules were simple: you would have a single night to write your own obituary and eulogy. A panel of judges, I explained, would be ready to announce victory within a week. You avaricious fool. You would sell out your craft for a penny a page, even if it meant your own demise.”
”You dipped, you wrote, you chewed your quill late into the evening hours. I watched secretly from an ally until the candles dimmed in your writing window. How could you know that the ink I provided my lone contestant was spiked with the paralytic venom of the poison-dart frog? A costly potion not easily attained, but well worth its weight in revenge.”
“You should have seen yourself bounding down the streets after midnight. I followed as you accosted patrons at every open pub. Your words were slurred beyond recognition, for the potion causes extreme delirium at first. They pushed the drunken sot away time and time again. I laughed inwardly as the barman clubbed you with his truncheon. You lay in the mud outside the Usher Inn Tavern for hours. I watched breathlessly as your breathing shallowed and your ink-black tongue protruded like a dead goat.”
“A patrolman found you at dawn and summoned medics to haul you to Washington Hospital noting your great distress. As Literary Executor of your estate, I was notified immediately. Oh, you should have seen the false concern on my face as I visited your bedside. Tears, real tears, flowed from my eyes as the physician pronounced you deceased.”
“I ran from the place, some thought in utter anguish, but truly it was to keep my heart from bursting with laughter. I made immediate provisions for your funeral and was happy to read your recently completed eulogy to full pews the next day. It was good, really good, and I was lauded for my gracious words and eloquence.”
“At my urging, the gravediggers made great haste in preparing your pit. There was no time for a silver bell on a string, or even an air tube. I asked that they bury you shallow as I hoped you might be able to hear my final toast to you, old friend, even as your oxygen wanes.”
You see, the poison-dart frog has a unique effect on its victims: hysteria, followed by extreme paralysis to the point of comatose resembling death. Not a whisker of your ridiculous mustache moved when the physician placed a mirror under your nose. Ha-ha. So you see I’ve won. I’ll write your biography and publish your pabulum. I’ll be rich and I will have the leisure and the latitude to portray you as the dullard and drunkard you were in my memoirs.”
The visitor drained the flask then tipped it over the fresh grave. “Sorry old friend, not a drop left for you.” From within the earth, a muffled sound arose; it was a bell.
“What’s this?” asked the visitor. He looked around expecting to find an obvious answer. The bell rang again. The man knelt, then slowly bent to place an ear to the frozen ground like a hunter tracking buffalo. There it was a second time, the unmistakable sound of a tinkling bell underground.
“How delightful. You’ve managed to smuggle a bell into your tomb. But how could that be? You were stripped and embalmed. I accounted for your valuables, of which there were few.” The visitor stared blindly at the tombstone.
At that moment the clock tower struck twelve. The iron church bells tolled thunderously, unsettling the still, midnight air of the cemetery. The visitor stood in alarm, placing his gloved hands over his ears. He walked away erratically, the rising ring of the bells followed him like a howling banshee.
To escape the bone-shaking peel of the church bells, the man ran into the nearest tavern. A jangling bell above the door announced his entrance. The cook, sticking his head out from the kitchen, wagged a bronze hand-bell on the counter informing the waiter that a meal was ready to serve. The man spun around; bells, bells, bells, rang and chimed all around him. A fire brigade sped down Main street; its alarms clanging; more bells, as it raced to some unknown inferno.
Laughter. Odd, angry, high-pitched laughter bubbled up from the man’s throat. “Is this your attempt at humor?” he screeched. He searched his coat for the flask with his family crest imprinted upon it–a snake biting a heal that, in turn, crushes the serpent. It was empty. He threw it to the ground. Patrons stared, some backed away, some left; the bell above the tavern door jangled again and again and again.
“Hey, Pal. I thought I told you to keep it down. Now you are causing a public disturbance.” The policeman had been summoned and was once again twirling his baton in front of the visitor.
“Words, words, words… bells, bells, bells,” the man mumbled. “Officer, can’t you hear them?” He grabbed the cop by his lapels and screamed into his face, “The bells. Can’t you hear the damnable bells?”
The policeman pushed the man off him. “That’s it, Bub. I’m running you in. Come with me.”
“Yes, yes, please take me to a quiet place, any place away from this madness. But first you must stop the bells, the bells, the god damned bells. They are ringing in my head, and they won’t stop. And if, kind sir, you can stop these unstoppable bells, I will make a confession…”
The officer swung his baton at the raging man; the bells stopped and the man dropped.
“Nice swing, Shmitty. You really rang his bell, ” the barman exclaimed. “I had to pop me a lunatic just like that two nights ago.”
The policeman grinned as though he had hit a home run. “Here, help me pick him up, boys. Ooh, that eye, did I do that?” he asked.
“He’s been in here a few times before.” Shmitty, the barkeep served this information like a top-shelf drink. “Some big-wheel editor or writer. His name is Griswold. He already had a pretty lazy eye, it looks like you just put it on the dole. These writer-types tend to go bat-shit crazy all the time. The stuff they write, they must all be a little loony, right?”
“Looks like you are going to be alright Mr. Rufus Griswold,” the doctor said, reading a clipboard chart at the foot of his patient’s bed. Flipping a page, he added, “You will probably suffer from random headaches and dizzy spells for some time and …ooh, that eye; it’s quite an eyesore,” he ad-libbed, chuckling at his own pun.
Rufus Griswold had lost his sense of humor that day and did not laugh or even smile at the doctor’s lame attempt at humor.
The physician continued. “I might suggest you hire a man to assist you; to keep an eye on you, per se, should you need aid.” Regarding and disregarding this unintentional pun, the doctor semi-successfully stifled his laugh this time, masking it in a sharp cough.
Dear Journal, You have been my only true friend and confidant in these last twenty odd years. You alone, know my indiscretions and my triumphs. Am I mad? I ask you this on each and every page. You never answer.
Alas, the question and the answer are no longer relevant. My time is up. I can sense the end is near. I am an old man now and I believe that we are presented with one providential gift at our end. We feel our fate. It is a fearful thing at first, but as my final days draw nearer, it becomes a comfort.
I have seen my demise. Each and every night. At the midnight hour, my chamber door creaks opens, ever so slightly, ever so softly. I see and hear nothing for my eyes and ears are dim, but I sense the presence of evil, of putrid death. In my mind I hear the old rusty-throat of the bells and I know, they are tolling for me.
I also know that it is my caretaker, Eddy Poe, that is shadowing my door, death’s door, each night. He has taken to reading the volumes of forgotten lore that adorn my library. He is enamored with the tomes and poems of my departed partner and celebrated author, Brant Allread, the man I once knew and loved and have often murdered in my dreams. For I slay him in my mind every time a bell rings. Yes, I live only with his death, and that is my greatest comfort. May we all In Pace Requiescat.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
People Problems <<Link
Permeability Police <<Link
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