A short story by AD Bane
“The following story may be fact as much as fiction, though I don’t now know. I know the scars are there to say it’s true; I know my memory doesn’t lie – though whether or not it recalls something from waking or sleeping is still the question. I write it down now, either way; and though I don’t wish to relive that night, I won’t soon forget it, either.”
– My journal, October 2nd, 2012
Late in the summer of my twenty-first year, I’d come home from work late at the old sawmill just up the road, and I was just sitting down to watch television and eat my meagre supper, when there came a knock at the door. There were only two logical persons that should be calling so late in the evening, I reasoned as I arose from my armchair to see to the door: the first being my mother, who frequently came by to chat with me about all the marvellous and intricate workings of the world; and the second was my dear friend, Alex Dunlam, who’d been among my most favorite acquaintances for time out of mind. Not knowing which it was, but suspecting one or the other, I was eager to find out. But as it happened this was neither. When I opened the door I found myself looking at a very funny person. He was rather too short for himself: he wore a very nice jacket but it was all scrunched up about his neck; and his hair was the most frightful mess, as you wouldn’t believe. In fact, now as I think back upon it, it occurs to me that at the time I was reminded a little of a lion I once saw in a cartoon who’d only recently gone through the sort of machinery that you see in a factory – first been rolled out, then fluffed, then shaken until his teeth rattled, then baked at one-hundred-forty degrees; and then, after all that, he came out of all of this looking a little like the world’s loneliest, most destitute person. To say truth, I was rather alarmed I should find such a gremlin there on my doorsill, and I would’ve thrown him out at once, if not for the unmistakable fact that I recognized him, though from where I couldn’t rightly say at that moment. My alarm was still greater when, as his first words to me, he said, “Oh, I’m frightfully shaken, so I am. Have you anything to drink?”; and never being one to leave a guest standing on the step when I in fact did have quite a collection of spirits in my cabinet, I asked him in at once and took out two glasses for us both. “I’m frightfully sorry,” was all he would say for some time; and then, when he did find himself, it was through teeth that chattered as happily as a chipmunk. “You’d better tell me your name and your story,” I said when I’d poured a glass of whiskey for each of us. We both sat down in the kitchen before the stove, and this is what he related to me.
“I was only just on my way to come visit you,” he said—
And of course I interrupted him, and I said, “But you haven’t told me your name, man; and I’m not expecting you, or have any idea who you are.”
“Oh, but of course,” answered he. “I’m Edward Almost. Eddy to you, if you want.”
“Alright, Eddy,” I concluded: I did think his name a bit suspicious but at that point I was not going to split hairs with a man such as himself; and in the state he was in.
“Well, as I was saying,” he began again, “I was only just on my way—” The chatter in his teeth and the shake in his hands, even the alarm in his eyes, had subsided a little, and he was able to continue unmolested: “—to visit you. I said to myself, ‘Now Eddy, it’s been a very long time since you were up to visit your old friend, Mister Bane.’ And so it was. I made good time, too, for last summer my legs became very accustomed to climbing the hill to your house, and—” But I simply had to interrupt him again: it was just too much. “You’ve never been to my house before,” I said quite frankly, “least not while I, too, was here.”
“Ah, but I have,” he replied even more frank; “and that is part of the story, see.”
“Very well,” I relented, certain by now he must be a friend of Alex’s who’d been put up to this. And he went on:
“I was climbing the hill when I felt very strongly that something wished me not to come. It was just as if a firm hand in the dark was placed upon my chest, and it seemed at the same time that all the warmth was drawn suddenly from the air and I was left standing, as if naked, with the moon creeping over the hills behind me. It was the most dreadful feeling, I can assure you! But I persisted, all the same, and when I’d come again over the rise of the hill I felt the same thing, just as if there was a firm hand on my chest and a voice in my ear that bade me not to go on. At the same time I saw – or I rather thought that I saw – dark shadows all round about your house, perhaps the shapes of tall men going this way and that, as if pacing a wall that they cannot breach. Even as I watched I saw one quite clearly tinkering with the latch of your window, trying to get it open. I was alarmed almost beyond the limit of my nerves!”
“Preposterous!” I cried violently at this, never meaning any harm by it: I simply had had enough! “Mister Almost,” I said snidely, “—if that is your real name: I will NOT stand by while you make such a fool of me! I do not know you, and, while I sensed at first that I may have had seen you before, I now am quite sure I have done no such thing. And in any event, what you say of shadows about my house trying to get in I know nothing; but it seems even more likely than the rest!”
“Oh, do hear me out!” Almost now pleaded. “I beg of you, let me finish, and then you may judge me mad or not.”
I conceded at last, but only on the very derisive demand that he hurry it along, as I had other things to do with my night and no desire to hear tales far taller than the books with my name on the cover.
“Well,” he continued then. “The real reason you knew my face (though of course you have not guessed it yet), is that I am in fact you.”
“Good-night!” I cried in my most boisterous and irate tone, rising from my chair. Of course my face was red and my fists were clenched, for you can imagine the outrage I was experiencing at this point.
“No, don’t be so brash!” replied Almost hastily. “Ignore that for now, if you will, and do let me explain how it is that I come to be in this state.”
Yet again I relented (though I don’t now know why), and I reclined again to my chair and my whiskey. “Very well,” I said, resigned. “How did it happen?”
“Well,” said he, “when I saw the man tampering with your window-latch I cried out, I was so alarmed. ‘Good man!’ I said. ‘Do get away from there at once and leave this property, and do not come again!’ But this stranger only looked at me; then he was waggling an accusatory finger, and he replied, ‘At once? At once!’ Then two of his fellows accosted me! I found myself scuffling upon the ground with them, and getting my face ground in the dust and the dirty. Then they shoved gravel down my shirt, and it was all tooth and nail from then on. Finally, with a mighty heave, I thrust one off, and the other fled – to where I don’t know. I looked up, but these others were making about the edge of the house and I had no more desire to follow them. So I came to the door at once and knocked hard, hoping you’d answer quickly.”
I’m sure my jaw was hanging open at this point, and I couldn’t have had it shut to save my life. I simply looked at this strange fellow who seemed to have misplaced his mind as well as his home and wondered how I’d get him out of my house.
“Now, as for us being the same,” he said. “Have you not a looking-glass?”
“Oh yes,” I answered, and I brought at once a finely-crafted glass set in silver that had been my late wife’s. In it I looked at my own face, then that of the stranger. I imagined myself with that same dazzled mop of dark hair and my jacket all pulled up about my neck, and I must admit, I did suppose there was a sort of resemblance there. “What does it all mean?” I asked. “And who do you suppose are these men who’ve come at my home in such shifty ways?”
It wasn’t that I believed him exactly; but I certainly wondered how he’d defend his absurd story.
“They’re vandals, I suppose,” he replied gravely. “I suspect they want only to see you put quite out of countenance—”
“You’ve done that well enough on your own!” I replied sternly.
“—but it is my job – nay, my duty, I suppose – to see to it that this old house of yours stands true to the end,” he finished. “I am, after all, your grounds manager.”
“But I have no grounds manager,” I replied, flabbergasted.
Just then there came another knock at the door. Who else could be calling so late, I wondered? Surely, this time it must be Alex! I hoped he might be able to spread some light on this madman who’d slunk his way into my sitting room. But as I arose to get the door the stranger said sharply, “Don’t answer it.”
“What?” I implored: who would dare to tell me such a thing, even someone who I had opened the door for not twenty minutes prior to? And now I could see Alex standing on the step, smiling as he always was: he was happy to see me.
“Don’t let him in,” Almost replied. “It’s not your friend. In fact, it is one of those shadow-men of whom I spoke, and he now waits for you to open the door so he can come in and murder us.”
“But it’s Alex!” I cried, reaching for the knob.
“No!” And the stranger was on me so fast I had not the time to turn the knob, even though my hand were already upon it. In a mighty vice he turned my arm – and indeed my whole body – away from the door, and he whispered fierce as a lion in my ear, “Don’t touch it as you value your life: that is not your friend!”
Now, as you can imagine, I was quite shaken and frustrated, and I let myself to be led once more into the kitchen where I was let down into my chair. Outside the door I could now hear my friend calling to me, imploring me to let him come in and offer him a glass. And here I was, thinking I’d now been taken hostage by a dangerous criminal.
When I had recovered my wit again (no mean feat when you have so nearly had it stolen irreversibly from you), I said to my uninvited guest, “Then tell me what this is all about!” To tell the truth, I was nearly in tears from the exertion he had put on me.
He gave a long sigh, and at last he assented to giving a story more outlandish than any before this point. “That thing standing on your porch right now,” he said, “indeed all the things have are even now prowling in the shadows outside and would surely tear you into many pieces if you went out to them, are vampires.”
“Vampires!” I cried, perceptibly outraged.
But he stopped me with a look that made my heart quell and a raised finger to his lips. “Yes, vampires,” he said. “They tear the flesh and take the soul, for they are evil beings and they seek only evil here on Earth. They serve only their wicked master, the Devil himself.”
“Then they have taken Alex!” I cried in sudden anguish and torment at the thought – for some part of me wanted to believe it was true. “They’ve made him one of their own!”
But again this Mister Almost silenced me with a raised finger. “They have not,” he corrected me. “They only look like he does, nothing more. They want you to go out to him now, if you would, and there they would devour you wholly.”
“Then I must stay inside!” I replied, for none of the words of this stranger now seemed very stranger at all: indeed, I found myself believing every one more and more as each second passed.
“Yes, you must,” he affirmed.
I cannot say what terrible fit of desperation it was that came upon me. Perhaps I wanted only that it would become all a dream from which I could awake to my normal life; perhaps I wondered in that moment if it would not be better to be standing there on the porch with Alex. Whatever transpired in my thought, I arose suddenly and ran to the door, flinging it open. “Come in, come in!” I cried quite loudly. “Oh Alex, do come in out of the cold and the dark! I shall at once put the kettle on for you, and we shall have tea presently – or coffee, if you’d prefer.” But in that instant – that one terrible instant – I knew all my foolish dreams were for naught, and that the true terror standing before me – not Alex, my friend, but a fiend in his form – would be my undoing. I looked into its eyes and there was nothing there but cold, dark, and misery in the enth degree: and something worse: the love of hatred, death, and murder such as only the friends of the devil can endure. I knew it was my death. I knew I had met the most miserable end that I could have, and it was my fault and mine alone because I had refused to listen to one who offered me the most assured council. “Arthur!” the voice of Alex said now; but it didn’t exactly sound like my friend: it was all wrong, deep and gravelly to the feel; and when it came upon me it was with a stench of death and burnt onions. I felt his teeth on my neck, and then I felt cold all over, as if the very warming life within me were being drawn away, stolen by this horrible being!
The next moment I couldn’t quite understand what had come to pass. Surely I was still alive, but how? I was lying on the floor of my kitchen, I thought, and standing in the doorway was surely the vampire in the form of Alex. His teeth were bared, his eyes lashing like angry tongues of fire; the nails of his hands seemed to have turned into claws like blades perhaps as long as my own hands from heel to fingertip! But in between Alex and I now was the stranger, his back to me. He seemed to have become at least a third of the metre taller: he was now on a level with the attacker. His hair was still wild and unkempted, but it seemed to me that he had thrown down his jacket and beneath he had on no shirt. Long and grisled tangles of his dark hair fell to his shoulders, but this didn’t cover the folded wings that were printed on his back – angel wings they seemed to me; and now, as I watched, they seemed to unfurl before me until I was certain they wouldn’t fit in my little kitchen. “You cannot come into this house!” the stranger cried in a clear voice, stumping his boot on the floor and lifting his fists as if he’d box the intruder. “I say, this house is protected by the one you people are all so afraid of, and if you want this man’s flesh you must first come through me.” And with these words there appeared in his hand a long sword, the hilt of which it seemed to me was pure gold and the blade cast of some bright metal that I couldn’t look at for long. “I’m who wasn’t born!” he cried again. “Don’t you understand? I’m not from here. You know who I am!”
I can’t rightly say for all the moments before – surely there’d been a time when I had wished this weird stranger gone from my house without another sip of my whiskey – but in that moment I desired nothing more than his presence, and I sent out a prayer as best I knew how that he might prevail in this war for my undying soul. I’m not an especially religious person; I wasn’t sure to what name I should address my plea. I tried God, but it sounded too general. I tried the Man Jesus, but it sounded blasphemous. I tried imploring the Christ, but then I thought that perhaps that was blasphemous to use in prayer what has so often become a curse word. I even prayed to the Virgin and Child, but then I thought myself silly, for I am no Catholic. No, I needed something truly higher. Well, the answer was in front of me the whole time.
“I don’t know who you are, but you’re a wonderful man to come to my aide!” I cried. “I’m no use against demons, but I believe in you. Take him down for us both!”
I must’ve fainted then, for some time later I was awakening in my chair before the stove again. The door was closed, the intruder in Alex’s form gone. The stranger – this Mister Almost – was before me holding a glass to my lips: he’d heated the whiskey and added something to it, something herbal that wakened by mind. And the fire it kindled in my throat was a welcome thing. It even served to dull the pain at the back of my neck where the dreadful teeth of the Alex-fiend had pierced my flesh.
“Are you alright?” Almost inquired. He’d put his jacket back, the wings on his flesh hidden from sight; and if his steady hand had ever held a sword there was no sign of it now.
“I think so,” I replied weakly: I knew not what else to say.
“Well,” he said then, “the shadow-men have gone. Doubtless they will come again, but for the present you have your peace.”
“And Alex?” I cried, quite beside myself with the slowly awakening memories.
“Quite well, I’m sure,” replied Almost. “At home watching television, I’d warrant. And now I too must surely be off.”
“Can’t you stay?” I implored: I wasn’t so eager to see him off now. Those shadows beyond my window and that dreadful fiend standing on the step were still too fresh in my mind.
But he replied: “No, there is business I must attend to. But I will come again, I think. Yea, perhaps sooner than you might guess.”
He had another glass before he left. Then he bid me farewell; and as he stood on the doorstep, he turned back and said, “You may not remember much of this tomorrow: you may not recall my face at all. Certainly pieces of tonight will find their places in the books on your shelves, and that’s as it should be. Don’t try to face the demons alone, Arthur.”
“Who are you?” I asked one last time. “It seems to me I recall, as I lay on the floor, unable to move, the monster at my door called you ‘Michael’.”
He smiled a little, though it seemed to me a sad and forlorn kind of smile. “Some still call me that,” he said. “You may too some day, Mister Bane. Goodnight to you.”
I watched him leave into the night. I have never seen him since, though I never give up hoping. Yet I have remembered all these years how a man like myself who can describe all the vast worlds in a myriad of colours was helpless against the fiend at my door; if not for the stranger who came before I surely would be dead – if, in fact, it wasn’t all a dream from the start. But no, if you look closely enough you can still see at the nape of my neck two perforatory scars, all that now remains as a resolute reminder of what took place that night.
This work is written by AD Bane and published by adbane.com. It is solely the property of ADBane.com and may not be reproduced in part or in whole for any reason except at the exclusive permission of the author. © 2013 ADBane.com