The Last Ride by Paul Melniczek She lifted up her head and peered outside through the frosted window. Wrinkled eyes gazed into the bright sky, and a smile came over the old womanís face when she saw the full moon, shining away in all itís harvest glory, a perfect background setting for All Hallowís Eve. A loud purring reached her ears as a black cat leaped up on the table next to the rocking chair she was sitting in. "Yes, my sweets. Isnít that a pretty night we have in store for us? Old man moon looks down on us with a wink in his eye tonight." The cat stared at her with deep green eyes, attention fixed on every word. "You know what this night means, donít you, Trickster?" The cat let out a soft meow, listening to his master. "It is the passing of an age, that is what. Many long years, happy memories, but there is an ending to every story, good and bad. Olí Madge here has seen it all, yes I have." The old woman pushed herself up from the chair, one gnarled hand stroking the silken fur of Trickster. There was a creaking noise as old bones cracked within the ancient body, stiff joints groaning in protest at the effort made by her to straighten up. "Ah, this craggy old girl ainít what she used to be. Need a dose of the ointment before I go, thatíll fix me for a little while." Madge walked over towards a large oaken trunk that was filled with an assortment of herbs, spices, animal parts, jarred collections of insects, packaged powders, and numerous other odds and ends. They were the tools of her trade. Rummaging through the contents, she found a sachet containing some brown colored leaves, and when she opened it a sweet odor wafted outwards. "Hmm, this will do fine." The crone went over to a wooden cabinet which had vials of liquid scattered about the shelves. She grabbed a tube with a bubbly fluid inside with a purple tinge to it, and then poured the leaves in. Wispy curls of vapor rose up, and the old woman drank deeply. A look of revulsion crossed her face at the bitter taste, but she shook it off. "Not the fountain of youth, but it bestows on me a glimmer of strength, and that is all I need." She smacked her dry lips together, and smiled with glee. Madge hobbled over to the great stone fireplace that warmed the cottage, and a black cauldron was resting above the burning flames. A green liquid boiled away in a frenzy, fat bubbles oozing from the surface. She stirred the mixture with a metal ladle. "Double, bubble, toil and trouble!" "Double, bubble, toil and trouble!í Cackling with delight, the old woman churned the foul broth with renewed vigor. The cauldron hissed in answer, and the brew began to fizzle over. "Ha ha, thatís it. A ghastly potion for a ghostly night!" Madge nodded to herself, and the flames danced before her, casting lurid shadows on the walls of the cottage. The image behind the cat grew in size, reaching the proportions of a great beast which was many times the felineís actual body shape. Trickster growled, his dark mane bristling. The master made a gesture in the air, and the front door burst open as the black cat sprang into the night, the transformation beginning to take place. A howl echoed from the woods outside, and Madge shouted in response, the language old and archaic. "Rejoice in the wild, my pet. The night calls. Until the sun comes up, when you must return." A gust of wind blasted against the cottage, slamming the door shut with a loud crash. The old womanís wizened face had a trace of sadness on it, and she let out a deep sigh. "It is almost time, must make haste." Madge opened the closet and reached inside, tenderly bringing out a worn garb, black as the night. A tear trickled from the corner of an eye, moistening the callused cheek beneath. "So many years, where have they all gone? How will I be able to face the next one, knowing that my time is done?" She pulled the raiment tightly about herself, cherishing the feel of the familiar outfit. The cloak gave her comfort and security. "Such little time, and too many things to fill it with, Ďtis a pity." There was an upper shelf inside the closet, and from this she brought out a rumpled black hat, pointed at the top in the shape of a narrow cone. "Hee hee hee," she chuckled. "A pointed cone for a crooked crone." She set the hat on her head, and brushed back the strands of silver hair that lay tangled down to her shoulders. She began to feel much younger and stronger, but it was only wishful thinking. Potions could give her a teasing of both, but that was it. Madge crossed to the other side of the room, wooden floor boards creaking underneath her musty black boots. The heels clicked softly with her passing. A reading desk sat in the corner, and a dusty tome sprawled along the top. Strange words and symbols were etched onto the crinkled pages, the lettering written in blood. She leafed through until she found the proper incantation, then closed the book with a snap. "Long ago, I could recite nearly every line of verse in half that script. But now....." The old woman shook her head, again being overcome with remorse. "Moreís the pity, old hag, Iíve had my turn. The wheels of time roll on without stopping, and my moment has arrived to step aside. Only fond memories, no regrets." The old womanís gaze wandered the trappings of the cottage, her domain for countless years. Yes, fate had treated her well, there was no denial. "And now, my friend, who has served me so well these many years. Will you answer the summons yet again, on this night of all nights? Madge spread her arms wide in appeal, pale yellow eyes closed in concentration. The wind picked up outside, and tree branches scratched against the window panes, bent stick arms moving in wooden animation, responding to the surge of dark power that was building within the cottage. There was a flash of brilliance radiating from a section of stone next to the fireplace, and a secret panel was revealed. From the compartment emerged a long broom, stark in opaque blackness, levitating towards the old woman. "Ha ha ha, come to me! It is our time again. The sisters await!" The broom continued floating, and it came within the croneís eager grasp as it throbbed with power, pulsating with diabolical energy. Madge held the broom up triumphantly, and opened the front door. A strong breeze was blowing, and fallen leaves covered the mossy earth. Sinister figures crouched within the surrounding shadows, lurking among the trees. It was Halloween night, and spirits of the nights had awakened in unholy celebration. Madge sat astride the enchanted broom, and up she flew to meet with her fellow sisters of the coven. This was her last time as the coven leader, and a new one would be sworn in this Hallowís Eve. She gazed up at the awaiting sky, spotting others of her wicked brethren. It was Halloween night, and for the last time, into that magical night, rode the form of the witch, on her last moonlight ride. The End
Unholy Womb by Steven E. Wedel The horror began on a day Danny believed to be a perfect prelude to autumn. Autumn was his favorite season; the air was charged with electricity, harvest smells filled the breezes and gave the first winter goose pimples. But most of all the season led to The Day. Halloween. It was because of the coming holiday that Danny was walking along the sidewalk of Ash Street in his little town of Windfall, Illinois. A breeze sent leaves scurrying around his feet with a sound like old bones knocking together. Danny was going to get a pumpkin for his Halloween jack-o-lantern. For as long as he could remember, he had been getting pumpkins from Farmer Sutton. Of all the farmers that grew pumpkins around Windfall, Farmer Sutton was Danny's favorite. They had an agreement through an old friendship between the farmer and Danny's father; Danny got the privilege of going through the entire pumpkin patch before the majority was trucked off to market and the rest picked over by the townspeople that came to Sutton's farm for their jack-o'-lanterns. Danny didn't think he would have any trouble securing two pumpkins from his friend this year. The sidewalk he was traveling on showed cracks and was crumbling in places as he neared the edge of town. The walk soon petered out completely and Ash Street changed from a paved avenue to a dirt road. Danny kept walking. He had forgotten about the rundown little shack he had to pass on his way out of town--until he looked up and saw the ramshackle building where Voodoo Charlie lived. He hurried to the other side of the road. The dwelling was gray from lack of paint, and only about as large as Danny's father's tool shed. Bowed two-by-fours held a sagging roof over a packed-dirt porch. The shingles remaining on the building were of rotted pine; a rusty stove pipe pointed crookedly at the sky. As Danny crept past, a little white dog left his place in front of the door and ran under the fence and across the road to bark at Danny's heels. Danny knew from previous journeys that the dog wouldn't bite him, so his only worry was that the noise the little cur made would bring his owner from the shack, but Voodoo Charlie didn't come out of the house. Danny made two more turns and then Sutton's farm came into view; acres of gold, with small splotches of just-ripening pumpkins under the waving corn stalks. A quarter of a mile up the dirt road was the driveway that led to the pale green farmhouse. Coming from the direction of the drive, and less than half the distance, was a shuffling scarecrow. Danny's heart increased its pace as he realized he would have to confront Voodoo Charlie after all. For the second time, Danny crossed the road to be as far away as possible from the old man. As Danny crossed the road, Voodoo Charlie stopped walking. He stood on his side of the dirt lane and watched the boy advance. The closer Danny came to the waiting figure, the more features he recognized: the stained tan pants, the yellow shirt with black buttons and a limp collar, the dusty brown shoes, and dark, withered skin of the hands and wrists. Voodoo Charlie's short gray hair curled close to his scalp. There were bags under his eyes and deep lines marked his chocolate-brown face like cracks on a dirty egg. As Danny passed he could see the few remaining teeth in the mouth, rotted black and yellow. A pink tongue licked the gaping, crooked holes. "Goin' ta git yer Hallereen punkin?" Voodoo Charlie asked in his cracked voice. Danny tried to answer, but only managed to croak a positive response. He didn't stop walking. "Git a biggun," he heard as he passed by the ancient black man. He continued up the road, a little faster than before. Danny upped his brisk pace until he turned onto the dirt driveway leading to the little farmhouse. Heck, the Sutton's golden retriever, greeted him halfway up the drive. Mrs. Sutton appeared on the porch of the house and a smile spread over her plump, farm-wife face. "Hi, Mrs. Sutton," Danny said, hopping onto the porch beside the woman. "Hello, Danny," she answered. "Come on in. I just took an apple pie out of the oven a little while ago. I don't think Gene's ate it all yet." She turned to lead him into the house. The dog followed behind Danny, tail wagging as if he, too, wanted a piece of pie. "No, Heck, you can't come in. Go on." Mrs. Sutton shooed the dog off the porch. He began to chase one of the chickens that had wandered to the front of the house. Mrs. Sutton shook her head at the dog's antics. "Spoiled rotten," she whispered to Danny. Inside the kitchen, they found Farmer Sutton sitting at the table eating a piece of steaming pie. He had obviously just come in from the fields; dust coated his faded bib overalls and red flannel shirt, the sleeves of which were rolled up past his elbows. His blue eyes lit up and his whiskery face split into a grin when he saw Danny. "Hi there, boy," he boomed. "The old lady there was just telling me today that you'd probably be over soon. For once she was right." He winked at Danny. Mrs. Sutton, who had gone to a cupboard to get a plate for Danny's pie, turned at the remark--she too was smiling. "Watch what you say, old man. I just might take a rolling pin to your head." Danny noticed the huge pumpkin on the counter top near the sink. It was two pumpkins actually, Siamese twins, grown together to form one vegetable. They had grown together at an angle so that when one sat directly upright, the other was tilted. The odd gourd was still green on much of its surface. "Do you like it?" Farmer Sutton asked. Danny nodded, his mouth full of pie. "We thought we'd carve two faces in it, like on Truth or Consequences, one happy, one sad. What do you think?" "That'll look good," Danny replied, thinking it would be a good time to make his request for an extra pumpkin. Mrs. Sutton spoke before he could. "I guess I'll go out and finish hanging up the laundry now that Gene got rid of that nutty black man." Danny tried hard to swallow a mouthful of pie, but by the time he got it down, Mrs. Sutton had already gone out the back door. "Voodoo Charlie was here?" he asked the farmer. "Yes, he was here. Again, I should say." Gene Sutton shook his head. "I don't know what it is about that old man; we haven't bothered him, but he's been hanging around a lot lately. I've lost count of the times I've caught him in the fields. He started coming around just after I fertilized last winter, then he stopped until I started planting. Since then he's been coming around every few weeks. I'll see him just meandering through the fields. "It's not just here, either. All the other farmers I've talked to have told me he's been around their farms, too." He paused in his speech, then snorted, "I said we hadn't bothered him, that's true, but not completely. When I was a boy about your age I bothered him plenty--me and every other boy in town, most of the girls, too. Do the kids still tease him?" "Some," Danny said. "He doesn't come into town much." He paused, ate another bite of pie, then asked, "How old do you think he is?" "I don't know. He looked exactly the same when I was a kid, and that was, well, a while back." "Why does everyone call him Voodoo Charlie?" "Because he's so weird, I guess. There used to be stories about him stealing dead babies from their graves to use in his evil potions," Farmer Sutton smiled, but immediately the man's laughter died and his face took on a troubled look. The past four or five years had seen a rash of grave robbing in the area, all the victims being infants. The crimes had stopped just shortly before the previous winter. "I better get back to work," Farmer Sutton said. "When you finish there you can just help yourself to the pumpkins. I'm sure you'll find one you like." He got up from his chair and turned toward the back door. His hand was turning the knob before Danny found the courage to speak. "Mr. Sutton?" The farmer turned back to face him. "Would you mind if I took two pumpkins this year? There's this girl, and she asked me to carve one for her." Danny rushed the last words. The farmer grinned broadly, winked, and said, "Sure, you take as many as you need." Danny wolfed down the last few bites of apple pie and hurried to the pumpkin fields. It took him nearly two hours to find two pumpkins that would suit the faces he was planning to put on them. He carried them to the house and put them on the back porch. For the first time he wondered how he would get them all the way home. Mrs. Sutton provided the answer. "Think you can get them home in this?" She brought a rusty red wagon with squeaky wheels from the barn. "Yes, thanks," Danny said, relieved to see the squeaking relic. He put the pumpkins in and took up the handle. "Well, thanks for the pumpkins. I better get home." The sun was already nearing the horizon and his shadow was long and dark. The air had taken on a nippy coolness. "Okay, Danny. Have a nice Halloween." "I will. You too." Mrs. Sutton waited until Danny was nearly out of earshot before calling, "I hope your little girlfriend likes her pumpkin, too!" Blushing from neck to hair, Danny only waved and hurried on up the drive. He could hear the woman laughing as she went inside the house. Back on the road, he forced the blush off his face and concentrated on hurrying home. He crossed to the other side of the road long before he reached Voodoo Charlie's shack. He hoped with every ounce of his being that he would not see the old black man. He willed the wheels of the wagon to be silent while he passed. As soon as the ramshackle dwelling came into view Danny saw the man in a rocking chair on the front porch. Voodoo Charlie rocked steadily and looked in the direction Danny came from, as if waiting on the boy. The squeaking wheels brought the dog from his place at the old man's feet. He slipped under the fence and ran up the road, barking. The dog began his usual pouncing and nipping at Danny's heels. Danny saw the smile on Voodoo Charlie's face as he grew closer. When Danny began to pass the house, the rocking chair ceased its motion. "Gotcha two ub'em, huh?" Voodoo Charlie asked. "Yes." Danny never slowed his pace. "Gude." The ancient black man grinned his rotted grin. "You have a gude Hallereen, you an all da utter kiddies. I know dat I sho will. Trick or treat!" he crowed, his voice cracking as he laughed hysterically. He slapped his skinny knees and rocked madly. The rest of the journey home passed without problems. Danny took the vegetables to his room on the second floor and put them on his window sill to finish ripening. Two weeks later, on a Saturday, Danny's parents went to the grocery store for the week's shopping, leaving Danny home alone. The pumpkins were ripe enough for carving. Danny took a short butcher knife and went upstairs to cut out the hideous faces he had stored in his imagination. He discovered Voodoo Charlie's trick almost too late. Halfway across his room he detected movement from the direction of his window. He stopped and looked. His eyes widened as he saw a figure standing among the broken shards of one of the pumpkins. The beast was just over eight inches tall and dull orange in color, like the rind of the pumpkin it had hatched from. It crouched on bowed legs, its potbelly tightening and relaxing as it breathed. Leathery wings, tipped with small black horns, rippled on its back. The hands and feet of the creature all ended in long, curved nails. Danny could see tiny muscles bulging on the small arms and legs. The orange head was about the size of a ping pong ball, thick lips curled away from lethal yellow fangs. Pointed ears swept back from the side of the head; they twitched as the thing studied Danny. Two more black horns, slightly longer than those on the wings, protruded from the forehead in direct line with the bulbous, tan-colored eyes. The bat-goblin let out a squeaky battle cry and hopped from the window sill, its wings flapping. It came soaring through the room toward Danny's throat. Danny did the only thing he could think of; he swung the knife as the creature drew close, stepping out of the way at the same time. The knife missed completely, but the step back kept the thing from getting his throat. The needle-sharp teeth sank into his arm instead. Danny gasped in pain. The knife flew from his fingers. He tried to tear the monster off his arm by pulling on it just below its wings, but the teeth had a firm hold. The creature clawed at his flesh, leaving bloody scratches. Danny released the thing's torso and tugged sharply on one of the legs. The limb tore away from the body with a sound like raw meat on Styrofoam; yellow goo trailed from the ragged end. The creature's potbelly swelled with blood. Danny dropped the leg and went into a frenzy. He grabbed at the beast, pulling off the remaining limbs, the wings, and bits of the torso in gory handfuls that he dropped to the floor. Soon all that was left on his arm was the small, horned head, still sucking. Danny could feel the blood being drawn from his arm and watched as it drained out the ragged stump of the monster's throat. Danny took the monster's head in his hand, squeezing while be pulled upward and away until it was dislodged from his arm. The fangs tore away small ribbons of flesh and the jaw began to snap loudly as it tried to get the teeth into Danny's fingers. Danny dropped the head to the floor. The teeth continued to click together. He stomped on it with his sneakered foot. It made a sound like a chicken bone breaking; more yellow fluid oozed onto the carpet, mingling with the blood dripping from Danny's fingers. Voodoo Charlie did it! Voodoo Charlie did it! The thought pulsed in his head until it finally burned away the shock. Danny rubbed his eyes, trying to clear his head. He could smell blood drying on his arm. He let his hands drop to his sides and his eyes found the window and the pumpkin that had not yet hatched. Danny stepped carefully over the pieces of his vanquished enemy and looked for the butcher knife. He found it on the floor beside his bed. He took the short knife to the window, gripping it tightly. He examined the pieces of the broken womb first, poking at them with the point of the knife before touching them with his fingers. The shards were dry and brittle, cracking and breaking into several more pieces at his touch. Danny noticed that there was none of the stringy pulp or small seeds that were supposed to be inside a pumpkin. He scraped the pieces to the floor and examined the other vegetable. The orange skin still had several lighter patches on its rough surface. Cracks made dark veins on places where the pumpkin was completely ripe. Danny slid the point of the knife into the top of the orange globe a few inches from the stem and cut a circle. When the cut was complete, he withdrew his blade and lifted the top off the pumpkin. The green stem continued on the inside of the vegetable, glistening moistly, unlike the dried stub on the outside. It coiled round and round to the small orange body lying in a fetal position on its back at the bottom of the pumpkin. The unborn monster was surrounded in a thin covering of orange pulp speckled with shriveled, tan seeds. The green umbilical cord went through the pulp and between the creature's knees to attach to its stomach. The monster itself was not yet fully developed, but like the pumpkin's ripeness, the time was very close. The eyes were oversized, puss-filled bubbles, as were the tips of the fingers and toes where the claws would soon break through. The horns on its head were not yet as long as the previous creature's and looked much more delicate; the horns on the wing tips were the same. The thing did not move as Danny peered into the womb. Danny thought for a moment about what to do with the monster before he decided on the obvious conclusion. He pushed the point of his knife through the pulp and into the chest of the beast. Voodoo Charlie's creation did not even twitch as the knife sank home. The odor released from the body when the demon was aborted caused Danny to gag. He gave the knife a sharp jab, felt it pin the monster to the bottom of its womb, and then staggered back, the smell making him think of the "dead baby" jokes he had heard in school. "What about the other pumpkins?" Danny thought. The hundreds Farmer Sutton had grown, the thousands the other farmers around Windfall had raised and sent to market? Danny remembered Farmer Sutton telling him that the old Negro had been to all the farms around the town. Would people all over the country be getting a nasty trick courtesy of Voodoo Charlie this Halloween? What about the unusual pumpkin that had been sitting on the Sutton's kitchen counter? Danny left the house at a run, not bothering to wash the blood from his arm or even to leave his parents a note explaining where he had gone. A cold wind blew in his face as he ran along the sidewalk of Ash Street. He pounded hundreds of multicolored leaves beneath his feet dodging an elderly man raking his front lawn and nearly colliding with a little girl on a tricycle. Soon the town dropped behind him. An extra burst of speed carried him past Voodoo Charlie's shack before the little white dog could even get under the fence to nip at his heels. Danny turned the corner onto the road where Farmer Sutton lived and the little farmhouse sprang into view. Danny's run became a dead stop, and then a hurried but nervous walk when he saw the bent form of the ancient black man standing at the head of the Sutton's driveway. Voodoo Charlie was watching the house. He seemed to be waiting on something. Did he want to hear the screams of the farmer and his wife when their pumpkin hatched? Screams, Danny thought, that might be symbolic of the screams heard all over the nation. Danny forced himself to take the steps that brought him closer to the bent form of Voodoo Charlie. He must have heard Danny's labored breathing and nervous steps approaching on the road. Voodoo Charlie turned to face him, and for a moment Danny thought sure the old man could taste his fear, the pink tongue licked the cracked lips through a hole where the teeth were missing. Voodoo Charlie smiled at him, and Danny looked away. "Yer jest in time, boy," Voodoo Charlie said. "I think yer farmer friend is bout to have hisself a set o'twins." The old man began to cackle. Danny sidled quickly past him and hurried up the drive. When the screams began, Danny started running toward the house; Voodoo Charlie laughed harder. Danny stepped onto the front lawn as Mrs. Sutton ran out of the house, her skirt flying around her knees. The screen door banged against the side of the house and then slammed closed. Heck bounded from the other side of the porch. Mrs. Sutton was screaming and waving her pudgy arms frantically. One of the orange pumpkin-monsters hung from her neck, its body swelling as it drained the blood from the woman. Heck saw the creature hanging from his mistress' neck and tried to jump high enough to tear it away, but Mrs. Sutton's movements prevented him from getting a hold on it. Over the woman's screams and the dog's barking Danny could still hear Voodoo Charlie cackling. The monster burst. Danny was still several feet from the struggling group, but he was close enough to see the bloated body of the creature explode, and close enough to be sprayed by the flying goo. He wiped his face and hurried to where Mrs. Sutton had slumped to the ground. Only the small orange head remained, still clinging to the woman's neck by its teeth, blood pumping from its throat. Heck was nosing at the head; Danny pushed him away and bent over Mrs. Sutton. He carefully pried the sucking head loose from her neck, but even as it came free he felt the strained pulse in the farm wife's throat flutter and die. Danny stomped the head to mush under his foot while tears leaked from his eyes. He hurried to the house, already sure what he would find. From the living room he could see the body of Farmer Sutton sprawled over the kitchen table, the broken pieces of the Siamese twin pumpkin scattered around him. The remains of his killer were splattered around the room; yellow specks, like mucus, clung to the walls and appliances. The head continued pumping a thin trickle of blood from the back of the farmer's neck onto the table where it ran off and fell to the pool spreading across the linoleum floor. Danny silently left the house. It was quiet outside; the cold wind made the only sound. The golden retriever joined Danny on the porch of the farmhouse; Danny absently patted his head and then went slowly down the steps, avoiding the corpse lying a few feet away, and started back up the drive. The dog followed him a short way, then turned and went back. Danny let him go. Voodoo Charlie was nowhere in sight. What about the pumpkins? Danny thought. How long before reports started coming in of people attacked by little orange creatures that hatched from their Halloween jack-o-lanterns? What about Voodoo Charlie? Would he be caught and punished? At the edge of the driveway Danny found a crumpled heap of clothing: a yellow shirt with black buttons, a pair of almost-worn-out tan pants, and two dusty brown shoes. All that was left of Voodoo Charlie. Almost. A gust of October wind rocked Danny on his feet, and as it blew past he heard the dry, cackling laughter of the old black man and the hoarse words, "Happy Hallereen!"
"Satanís Fall" by Robert Lyle The devil on the fiery porch. He was back again that year, the same as he had been for five years running, keeping the majority of Trick or Treaters behind an imaginary line of uneasiness drawn at the edge of the curb with his Hell-red grin and burning cauldrons. It was a scene from Faust, only this was no play; this was my neighborhood. It wasnít just kids who lingered apprehensively in the street, but parents as well. In a place where the definition of Halloween was more like cardboard skeletons and plastic jack-o-lanterns, a guy with a penchant for fire and pitchforks could be extraordinarily scary. Really young children were hurried past the residence altogether via lawns on the opposite side of the street, hopefully distracted by candy long enough to save them from the psyche-scarring nightmares certain to result from even the smallest glimpse of him. This left only the few - the brave - to make the journey and collect one of the candy bars given out by the devil basking in the red glow of the doorway. Trick or Treating in the 1970ís wasnít the flirt with death that it can be today. At that time, in most suburban settings, people lived in the same house for years and made the effort to get to know their neighbors and their neighborís children. It was a safe haven from the malicious world beyond; a stronghold of sterile thoughts and selective ideals. That is why it was more alarming when the occasional anti-Cleaver odd balls, like the Warren family, managed to infiltrate the peaceful utopia and upset the balance of neatly trimmed lawns and Tupperware parties. Especially when at Halloween their oldest son Wayne Warren painted himself red, donned horns, and sat on a throne between two flaming cauldrons on their sunken porch. My first encounter with him was when my father volunteered to secure one of Satanís fat candy bars on my behalf. I watched wide-eyed at the curb while my mother yakked up the other neighborhood mothers about the sick nature of the affair. Later that night, as I spread my bounty out upon the living room floor, she snatched the King Size Snickers that the devil had given and tossed it into the trash. Only later did I understand the action, although to my knowledge no one had ever reported any ill-effects from his confectionery treats. The greasepaint devil quickly became a milestone of bravery for the youth of our neighborhood. As we got older, our worth was measured upon whether we had Trick or Treated his house on our own. For most of the neighborhood kids, it was a confrontation with their own childhood fears; a rite of passage. But my own eventual encounter with him reckoned with more than mere cultural demonspeak. For me it was not a conquest, but a beginning; a passageway to a haunted life well beyond the October ritual. And after what it indirectly wrought upon my life and the life of my childhood friend, Dan Rutgers, I came to realize that I had more in common with Wayne Warren than anyone would ever know. I was old enough to Trick or Treat on my own. I had been for a few years - having entered the seventh grade - but had thus far chosen to skip the devilís house despite my Samhain freedom. And as the candy collectors stood entwined in trepidation at the end of his lawn that night, I looked on, ready to cast away silly childhood fears. In the recessed front porch of the tan-stone house, the devil sat on a black throne, pitchfork in hand and grinning like a madman. On either side of him a cauldron belched hot flames, which illuminated the entire alcove with a yellow-red glow that brought a little piece of Hell right there to our suburban street. Dark music, probably borrowed from the Omen soundtrack, boomed from somewhere on the porch like a theme for a black mass, while Sounds of the Haunted House crept out of the homeís dark windows. They were opened just enough to let in some of the autumn air, which was uncharacteristically cool for Texas even in late October. Every once in a while, the devil would bark out something to the effect of "come on up kids" or just let out a string of vein-chilling laughs that echoed off of the houses and faded into the night air like a horde of goblins. As a fan of the horror film classics, somewhere inside I had begun to admire his mastery of Halloween, but the fear of something I did not fully understand still outweighed this association. The man behind the red face was something real, and thatís what made him scary to me, even if some people simply wrote him off as a self-aggrandizing jerk. "Are we going up there?" Dan asked me as I stood at the curb siphoning the last bits of courage from my body. Dan was a few years older and several inches taller, but we were two boys made from the same mold. We had been best friends for six years now, both possessing a fever for Hot Wheels, Big Jims, and superheroes. I could see his own reservation just under the green skin of his Incredible Hulk face. His mother was an inferno preaching Baptist and though I could not understand at the time, he grappled with issues far deeper than my own regarding the fiendish display. "Yeah," I answered, although I had yet to top off my courage tank. Our mutual friend, Bob, spoke from behind his Planet of the Apes mask. "Yaíll can go if ya want, but I ainít. My brother says that guyís a goon and he donít wanna have ta kick his butt when he finds a razor blade in my candy bar." "I ainít gonna eat the candy," I replied, stating what I thought was obvious. The music boomed forth with a new strain and I looked hard at the real fire, the past prime teenager in the red makeup, and the iron gates which stood open at the porchís arc. "Well, he ainít gonna kill us or anything. Heís been doing this ever since I can remember and lots of kids have gone up there." I nudged my head toward two older kids who had just been up to Satan. "They just went. And if they did then Iím going. Dan, you coming?" Getting a yes from Dan, I put my foot onto the devilís brown lawn and began the approach. I tried to imagine what I saw across the street the other three-hundred sixty-four days out of the year. A stony looking house with a dark porch and some skinny druggie guy coming and going in his beat up Camero. Sometimes kissing or beating his girlfriend a little, but always giving me a chin-up nod as if to say I was cool. It was just Wayne WarrenÖnot the devil. Telling myself this made it a little better, but on Halloween this guy was just plain different. Just plain scary. And as I neared I tried the customary cool nod, but Wayne didnít nod back. Instead he grinned like a mental patient and let out a laugh that resonated in the sunken porch as if it sunk all the way down to Hell. Dan, in an attempt at proper All Hallows etiquette, moved up beside me, held out his bag, and muttered "trick or treat" which sounded ridiculous under the circumstances. "Heh, heh, heh," Wayne cackled and threw a Chunky bar into his bag. Then he focused on me and my spirit-gummed wolfman face. "Something special for you my friend!" he said, reaching down beside his seat. He pulled out something, gazed at it a moment and then threw it into the sack I held open in front me as if it were my empty soul waiting for him to fill. I didnít get a good look at it, but I didnít care. Iíd have a better look as soon as Dan and I got out of the yard. Without any more explanation, Wayne stoked one of the cauldron fires, spit, and turned his attention to a group of approaching teenagers. Dan and I hurried back to the curb where Bob waited. "Letís go next door and check out whatever it was he gave me," I said. Squatting down under a street lamp, Dan and I pulled out our devilís booty. "Just a regular candy bar, but maybe thereís a razor blade in it?" he said ripping into the package and breaking the Chunky into several pieces finding nothing but chocolate inside. Bob removed his Cornelius mask. "Whatíd you get?" I pulled out the weird item Wayne had thrown into my bag and held it up in the bath of white street light. "It looks like a tooth or maybe a horn," I said, not having seen anything like it before. The thing was about three inches in length, jagged at one end and tapering into a curved point at the other. But instead of bone or enamel, it was made from a semi-transparent material with what looked like microscopic electronic components inside. "Let me check it out," Dan said grabbing it from me. "That stuff in there looks like this computer board that my dad showed me." I took it back and looked again beyond its translucent surface. "Computers are a lot bigger than this," I said authoritatively. Bob squinted at it. "Thatís weird. I bet my brother knows what it is." "Maybe we should ask him?" I suggested. Bobís brother Ronnie rolled the horn-thing between his fingers as he looked at it under the desk lamp. "Looks like it came from a robot or something. Yaíll are a bunch of goons." He tossed it back at me. "Maybe it come from that alien that crashed over in Motor Valley," he added making a spooky whoooo sound. "Huh?" all three of us replied. Ronnie laughed. "I guess yaíll were still in diapers. A few years ago, the cops and everybody went out there when something crashed in the woods between Motor Valley Road and Screaming Bridge. Supposedly, they found a blown up flying saucer, but never found any aliens. When that idiot Wayne Warren was still going to school, I heard a rumor about how he and a friend of his were out there drinking one night and found some flying saucer parts. I think that was about the time he started dressing up like Satan on Halloween. Maybe heís giviní out those UFO parts instead of candy; cheap ass. I think itís all bullshit." With that Ronnie left Bobís room. We all looked again at the thing. "Pretty cool story, man. We oughta go out there and check it out. Maybe this did come from a space ship," I suggested. Dan nodded. "I ainít never seen anything like it." "Yaíll are crazy," Bob said, looking suspiciously at us both. Anything good was usually off limits. Itís the tradeoff for having parents that give a shit about you. I wasnít allowed in the creek, not allowed to attend spin-the-bottle parties, not allowed in the yard of the kid who talked like a sailor with a belly full of gin, not allowed to ride my bike to Dairy Queen, and basically not allowed to venture beyond the small quadrant of my neighborhood. Motor Valley was definitely off my childhood map. As a result, I spent half my youth in the creek or making bike runs out of the quadrant and the other half making up plausible excuses for why I was late. So a trip to Motor Valley with my usual accomplice, Dan, was nothing too exceptional. But the possibility of dead alien creatures was, and thatís why this mission was going to happen regardless of any potential consequences. Bob, however couldnít go. He was grounded for getting caught with a pack of his dadís cigarettes. Looking back, I canít blame him for finding a way out. Motor Valley got its name from the motocross track that was built on the west end of its expanse. Except for a few ill-repaired roads that cut through it, the valley was mostly brushy Texas woods and low lying flat land which collected water to create the closest thing to a bog Central Texas could have. If something did crash in there, it was no wonder that collecting all the pieces was difficult. But since the time of the crash, which I later dated at September 30, 1972 by searching old newspapers, much of the water had been irrigated out to subsidize a local cattle feed farm making it possible to get around in the area without sinking in muck. Dan and I biked down the road past the old junior high school and out across Highway 10 where a few industrial buildings and a bar called The Firehose stood like holdouts against the concept of renovation. These were the last few constructs of civilization before Motor Valley took over. As we reached the end of the industrial stretch, we right turned onto Motor Valley Road, which sloped down a gradual incline until it eventually curved south and cut right through the center of the valley itself. Few cars ever came this way unless they were there to dump something or to take a short cut to Highway 10 and Dan and I pedaled down the center of the curbless macadam as if we owned it. Off to the side, either in the gullies or along the occasional dirt paths that spidered away from the road, we saw discarded relics of prosperity littering the land like pock marks. Old washing machines, tread-bare tires, skeletal couches, and limbless dolls, in their abandoned afterlife, serving as shelters for the dark crawling creatures which hid underneath. We stopped pedaling to coast the hill. "Did you remember the horn thing?" Dan huffed. "Yeah." "Youíre gonna be grounded forever if your mom finds out about this." I nodded dramatically. "What did you tell your mom we were doing?" "Going to Dairy Queen and the arcade." "I hope your mom and my mom donít talk for some reason before we get back. You know how my mom is always calling to find out where I am. I told her I was just going to the arcade. She doesnít want me going over to the Dairy Queen. She heard a story on the news where this guy went into a Dairy Queen in Lubbock and whipped out his pecker and got thrown in jail!" Dan laughed. "Sounds like what Jimmyís cousin did at his birthday party." "Didnít some girl kick him in the nads when he did?" "Yeah. He had to stay in bed for two weeks." "Excellent!" We made the curve and headed onto the long stretch of Motor Valley Road. After more than a half mile, we made it to the narrow side road which led down to Screaming Bridge. Iím sure that wasnít its original name, but that was the name it went by. One of those tragic lover suicide stories went along with it. We had heard plenty about it, but had yet to make the trip out. I guess it took potential dead aliens to make it worthwhile. Turning left, we pedaled up the side road whose name was a mystery since it had no street sign. As we crunched along its crumbling blacktop, the trees began to grow thicker, leaning over the road to form a canopy. They cast a shadow across the road like a dark tunnel. Bony branches were beginning to emerge from the clusters of leaves, which were falling away with each cool gust of autumn wind. For a moment I thought of the forest in Oz, but such a pleasant thought quickly faded. I was positive that any beasts lurking in these thorn-ridden groves would not be singing or dancing. In fact, they were not even chirping or growling. It was oddly silent, which was even more disturbing. As we neared Screaming Bridge, the asphalt turned to sandy loam making it difficult for our bicycles despite the fact that they were the rugged Huffy models with plastic gas tanks screwed to the crossbar to emulate motorcycles. We decided to park them out of sight and go the rest of the way on foot. The bridge was nothing, really. A dirt road that ended in a huge drop filled with sun-faded beer cans and other less identifiable trash. After taking a piss off of its edge, we headed south in the direction Ronnie had told us the UFO had supposedly crashed. I checked my pocket for the lockblade knife I had bought with my allowance prior to my last hunting trip with my father. I was no stranger to the country, having been brought along on numerous deer hunts since I was old enough to walk. But in spite of my self-proclaimed exploration expertise and my determination to expose the mystery locked away in Motor Valley, my heart beat hard against my ribs. There was something about the place that seemed deceptive, maybe even evil, which I had not encountered in any of my previous rural expeditions. Crisscrossing the area, we began to look for any signs ofÖwell, whatever signs there might be of a flying saucer crash. But the undergrowth was thick and I soon realized that there would be little hope of finding anything without knowledge of the exact impact location. We wandered on though, scanning for burnt trees or any other peculiar markings. After about thirty minutes, Dan signaled me over to a dense clump of trees where he had spotted something. "Check this out," he said, directing my vision past the branches to a dilapidated shack standing in a clearing twenty-five yards away. It wasnít a UFO, but at least it was something other than trees and rocks. Dan looked openly disturbed by the possibility of who - or what - might be making it a home. "I wonder if anyone lives there? I donít see any cars," I remarked. "I thought I saw something move by that window," Dan said solemnly. I looked at the filmy window. "I donít know how you could have, look how dirty it is." "Yeah, maybe I was seeing things. I think we better get out of here. Search back over closer to the bridge." "Letís not worry about it," I retorted, trying to look at the situation logically. "If anybody does live there, theyíll probably be real old and we could always outrun Ďem." Dan nodded, but I could tell he wasnít wholeheartedly backing me on the decision. "Letís go thisÖ" I began as I heard the sound of a stick crack behind us. I spun around. Just feet from us stood a man. He looked old, but his unkempt appearance made an accurate guess at his age impossible. His hair was a brownish gray and poked out from his head like wild grass, framing a dirty unshaven face. A demented smile revealed several missing teeth from the brown rotted mess inside his mouth. He was scratching himself through a convenient hole in his ratty overalls with a handful of long, curling nails as he leered at us. We started to bolt. "Hold on youngins! You boys caint just come pokin round out here without talkin to ol Licky." The man made a scrunching gesture with his face, which looked like the epileptic wink of a madman. We halted our retreat. I fished for something good to say. "My dadís looking for some firewood right back there," I said, pointing in no particular direction. "We were just looking around." "You caint fool ol Licky. I knows yer out here by yerselves. If yer dad was around ya wooden look sa scared," he said, this time fully protruding his tongue and circling it around his lips in a nervous motion. "Really, sirÖ" Dan began. But the old man cut him off. "My feelins might get hurt if ya keep lyin boy." "Weíre sorry, but we have to get back home soon," I added as if I were quoting from the repertoire of Wally Cleaver. "Not bafore ya come on in and have a drink with Licky. I wanna show ya somethin." He began to walk towards us. Now to this day I canít tell you why we went into that weirdoís shack, but I guess we feared more what would happen if we didnít follow his wishes than what would happen if we did. Maybe I had more faith in my knife than I should have. Regardless, I kept my eyes on the old man as he led us into the leaning gray shanty. "You boys like co-colas?" he asked as we followed him inside. "Uh, yeah," I said, knowing full well that Dan was a strict 7-Up drinker, but under the circumstances figuring it wouldnít matter. The first thing that struck us sour about the inside of the shack was the smell. Worse than the smell of Licky himself, it was like the musty smell of an old house exponentially worsened until it reached near organic putrefaction. A snail of nausea slinked across my gut as the first thick waft of stench rolled into my lungs. The cramped single room of the shanty was as rotted on the inside as it was on the outside. The exposed boards of the ceiling were completely gray and covered with cobwebs. An old rickety cot was shoved into one corner, a brownish stain covering its sagging middle. Over at the opposite end was a broken-down stove, resembling a leper with its rust-eaten porcelain finish. A tattered beige couch sat rotting against the long wall, almost hidden by countless piles of old water-stained magazines. They looked mostly like Playboys and Hustlers as far as I could tell. To our right sat a dusty old wooden crate. It looked to me like a coffin used back in the 1800ís. A fat rat sniffed around its base. But the most shocking aspect of the shack was the wallpaper. Old pin-up style nudie pictures had been cut from countless magazines and stuck to every visible inch of wall. Superimposed on top of this layer were random pictures of goats and other wild beasts, taken from magazines I was not familiar with. They were all faded by the damp and rotting conditions. I had seen plenty of naked pictures in my grandfatherís garage so I wasnít too shocked. But Danís religious background didnít seem to be mixing well with the mass of nude women and goats. "You boys wouldnít be lookin fer a UFO would ya?" Licky asked as he began digging in a dirty box near the stove. I peeled my eyes from a cherry-nippled blonde. "Why would you think that?" I asked. "Iíve caught plenty a curious peoples diggin round here like moles. They think theyís gonna find some kinda alien body." "Why would they think that?" I asked dumbly. "A smart boy like you sure ta know about the UFO crash over here." Licky said pulling out two dusty bottles from the box. "Why else ya be out here nosin round?" "Well, weíve heard about it I guess, but I didnít know about alien bodies." "These are good co-colas," he said popping the caps off the dirty Coke bottles with his teeth and handing one each to Dan and I as he made another 360 around his chops with his tongue. I discreetly knocked a dirt dauberís nest off the side of my bottle and took a drink. Actually, I let the liquid touch my lips making it appear that I had taken a drink, not letting any of it slip into my mouth. Dan did the same. "Howdoya like ol Lickyís place? You boys got names?" "Uh, Jim," I said making one up. Dan delivered one too. "And Horace." Under any other circumstance, I would have busted out laughing. But the unsettling atmosphere suppressed any such reactions. "I used ta have a granddaddy name Horace. Loved him to death that ol bugger. Silly as a whistle though. Cut his own arm off one night thinkin it was rattler." The old man laughed loudly and moved his arm around like it was a snake. I glanced back at the door. I felt better knowing that we stood closer to the door than Licky. I noticed Dan still staring queasily at the exotic wallpaper with a clash of curiosity and horror as if he were looking at a car wreck. "Did you see the UFO crash?" I asked, trying to conceal my nervousness. "Well not exactly. I come here after that." "Youíre looking for the UFO too?" "No, them rangers hauled that off. Iís waitin for somethin. A horn." With that my heart went flatline. The thing in my pocket was in some way connected to the old man. I began to realize that maybe what Wayne Warren had said about finding some flying saucer parts may have been true. "You ainít happen ta see a horn out there have ya?" he said moving to the wooden crate. "Was it a real UFO from outer space?" Dan finally kicked in. "Yep. From a planet so far away that them stupid scientists ainít seen it yet." "You never answered bout that horn," his twang suddenly growing menacing. Our faces began to flush. "You little clever dickins know somethin, donít ya?" He ran his hand across the crate like he was caressing the skin of a lover. "What horn?" "Fess up boy. If you got the horn, ya cainít resist it. I knows cuz I found the other one when I worked fer the sheriffís office and we was out here cleanin up after the crash. I found somethin else too that the rest of em never saw." Fear finally slapped my common sense. I pulled the clear horn thing out of my pocket. "I got this trick or treating," I said as I threw it to the floor behind Licky and bolted for the door. Dan turned to follow, but a deep bark stopped us mid-way. A large dog stood growling outside. We looked back at Licky fully expecting him to move in for the kill right then. "Colossus! Simmer down!" he yelled gruffly. "Heís just a tad grumpy if ya know what I mean? Ya donít gotta be scared of him or ol Licky. I like you boys," he said picking up the horn. "What do you want from us?!" I demanded. "Now youngin donít get all upset. You brung me this here horn that I been looking for." "Does that have something to do with the UFO?" I asked, trying to calm down. "Whereíd ya get it?" "From some guy dressed up like the devil on Halloween." "Heh heh! I knew it!" he said with a lick. "I knew itíd find its way back here one way or another. Dressed like the devilÖgoddamn!" He seemed excited by the fact that Wayne had been dressed like Satan. I wasnít sure what the connection was between him and this old man, or if there even was one, but somehow we had been transporting something very important. "Does that belong to an alien?" Dan asked. "Some folks might call him an alien," he began, "but it really belongs to the devil. Iíve been keepin his body here since his space craft wrecked waitin for this other horn to turn up. Sometimes it takes the dickins for things to work out. But they always do! Now I can get the rewards I deserve!" "The devil?" I asked skeptically. Licky patted the wooden crate. "Yes sir, heís in here." We were speechless. "I bet you boys would like to see him, wouldnít ya?" I shook my head slowly as tears began to well in my eyes. Dan just stood frozen as if he were looking down upon Virgilís nine rings of hell. "Well here he is!" Licky yelled as he flung open the crateís lid. Its old hinges screeched like dying animal. Inside lay the body of a creature. It was a brownish red and shriveled like the corpse of a mummy. It had arms and legs and a human-shaped torso, but they were thin and wiry. Its pointed chin and bulbous forehead made it appear like a reddish version of the little gray aliens that people always claim to see. A set of pointed teeth were thrust forward from the retracted lips, opposing the huge sunken sockets in whose valleys rested closed eyes. I could smell the acrid odor of age filling the room as if the beast were centuries old, having soaked up the stench of death and decay for an eternity. We were repulsed, though neither Dan nor I could take our eyes from the entombed thing. "Just like in the storybooks. ĎCept he donít come from no Hell, heís from up there," Licky said pointing to the sky. "Been coming here longer en you and I can figure!" he exclaimed. "Donít cha like em?!" Thatís when I noticed the horn. The creature had one horn identical to the one I had been given. A jagged hole at the other side of his head made it apparent that he had once possessed two. "At last, I can raise him again! Iíll be made a prince of the sky when he sees what ol Lickyís done fer em!" the old man said, drooling a line of spit onto the creatureís chest as he began to fit the missing horn back in place. The dog outside barked and we remained trapped between two rapidly off balancing evils. Licky laughed as the component finally clicked into place. A faint whir became audible from the coffin as he pulled back. "Look close boys, ya brung back ol Nick!" The thing began to move, not mechanically like a robot as I would have thought, but more like an organic being that had been sleeping for a long time. It sat upright as the eyes began to open. Their dark menisci looked like black mirrors as they focused on our white faces. Its skin became more supple and its lips rolled back down over his teeth. The thing smiled a grin that was beyond pure evil, that seemed to crawl through my eyes, down my throat, and squeeze the bloody pulp of my heart like a constrictor. But I resisted and so did Dan. Breaking our gaze, we ran for the door as the beast jumped from the crate. I had been used somehow to bring the horn back to the creature. It seemed to explain my complete lack of good judgment when we followed Licky into the shack. I had been possessed by something much the way Wayne Warren had been, dressing up like the devil, probably unknowingly waiting for some adventurous kid to take the horn from him like the wind carries a seed to its final destination, where it could root and produce seed of its own. "Ainít you a beaut!" Licky cried. The devil responded with a snap of his clawed hand. Blood splattered the nude-papered wall as the old man chortled and fell to the ground, callously beheaded despite his service. "Shit!" I screamed as Dan and I burst through the door and tripped over the dog. We both hit the ground, along with the dog, in a whirlwind of confusion and gnashing teeth. I felt a few bites hit my arms, but when the devil crashed through the door the dog yelped and darted into the trees. The creature smiled again and looked at us. It was one of those split seconds between reactions when the mind and body are trying to get into sync, when the true perspective of time is lost. For a few endless seconds the foul beast stood above us and before we could pull ourselves up to run, he turned and headed into the woods. He spun his neck around to look at us one more time as he blended into the countryside and disappeared. Dan and I ran in the opposite direction, back toward our bikes. We said nothing as we careened through the branches and undergrowth gouging at us with fingery thorns as if it were reluctant to let us leave. It wasnít until we had pedaled all the way back to Motor Valley Road that I finally broke the silence and confronted the reality of what had taken place. "Do you think it was the devil?!" Dan, terror etched into his face, shook his head. "If it was an alien and thereís more of themÖ" He began to cry. I could feel my hands trembling on the handle grips. The reality of aliens and devils or something that was both was too much for my young mind. "We canít tell anyone," I said. "I donít ever want to talk about it again." "We wonít." "Never," was the last clear word I heard before he fell into a repetitive mumble. If it was the devil, alien or otherwise, and we were responsible for bringing him to lifeÖ I grappled with the thought. The thought that has slowly wrested the life from me over the years like a patient serpent subduing its prey. The same thought that was responsible for the phone call I just received. I gently sat the telephone receiver back into the cradle. It had been Danís sister on the line. He was found dead in his car that morning. He had been missing for weeks. She asked me if I had any idea why he would have driven out to a remote spot in Motor Valley and put a gun to his head. I told her I didnít know.
SKN-3 by Steven E. Wedel Children crowded the dirty street, some carrying bags or sacks of treats given by local residents, or stolen from other children in other parts of the borough. Older kids sat on the curb smoking pot or whatever their pusher sold them last. No mothers would call these kids home as the evening grew steadily darker. Screams filled the night, but that was not unusual for this neighborhood. Jack-o-lanterns that had not yet been smashed by the marauding children of the ghetto still glowed dully in the dirty night. Reluctantly, the trick-or-treaters and drug users and pushers moved aside to let a battered old Mercury chug past them. The long brown Mercury stopped in front of the house where Dr. Daniel Stillson had set up his medical practice. A tall white man got out from the driver's side, and a huge Negro from the passenger side. The black man opened a back door and began pulling another white man from the seat. The driver came around the car to help his companion. The man they extracted from the car was unconscious. He was well-dressed, in a tailored gray suit, though his silk tie had come untucked from under his suit coat and flapped in the gentle breeze as the other two men, supporting him between them, dragged him through the yard to the front door of Dr. Stillson's home office. A scowling jack-o-lantern watched them from inside the window. Once on the porch, the black man knocked heavily on the front door. A curtain in the window flickered the door was pulled open and the three men admitted. The door closed quickly behind them. "Bring him in here," Dr. Stillson said, waving for the other men to follow him. Daniel Stillson was a medium-sized man of about forty-five, though he looked at least ten years older due to life in the city's slums. He was losing his dark hair at the crown, but his eyes still burned with unspent life. Tonight they shone even brighter than usual. Tonight he was a man on the brink of revenge. The doctor led his guests into his examination room, the cleanest room in the house, and also the kitchen. White linoleum covered the floors, and the many cabinets on the walls were painted white, though in many places the paint was faded and stained. The sink in the corner had rust stains around the drain, and the table where the doctor sat to talk with his patients was propped up by chipped bricks because one of the legs had been broken off by a patient who had gotten angry over a price. The only other piece of furniture in the room was the steel examination table, and it was unremarkable except for the fact that tonight it was equipped with pieces of nylon rope tied to each of the four legs. "Undress him and put him on the table," Dr. Stillson instructed. "Then tie his wrists and ankles with those ropes. Make sure you get them tight. Stretch him out so he can't move." He stood by and watched as his orders were carried out. When he was satisfied, he tossed a bottle of pills to each of the two men. "Remember," he warned, "You don't know anything." "Right," they both agreed. "Good. Now go." The doctor dismissed them and the two hurried out of the house. Dr. Stillson followed, and locked the front door behind them. He heard the cough and roar as the old Mercury was started and driven away. He peeked out the window again to make sure his visitors had not attracted any unwanted attention. Just the usual scum, he decided, the little ones dressed in costumes less monstrous than their reality tonight. He let the dingy curtain drop back into place and returned to the examination room. He stood over the unconscious body on his table for a few minutes, studying the smooth, pale flesh and the peaceful look of the handsome face. Then, smiling to himself, he turned and walked away. From a corner he pulled a small wheeled cart with a gleaming metal tray for a top. He removed the utensils he would need from a drawer: a scalpel, a syringe, and a new needle in a plastic wrapper. He took a small, corked bottle of clear liquid from a cabinet and placed all these items neatly on the tray of his cart and pushed them to the examination table. He brought a chair from the conference table and put it beside the tray, then sat down to wait for the man to regain his senses. The wait wasn't long. The man's head began to move, his well-groomed blond hair becoming mussed. He tried to raise an arm, and the ropes held it down. His head snapped up and he found Dr. Stillson's smiling face. The man's eyes widened in surprise. "Hello, Jeffrey," Dr. Stillson said. "Or shall it still be Mister Davies? Like it was in the court room? No, I think here it will be just plain old Jeff. Is that all right with you?" "What am I doing here, Stillson?" Jeff demanded. "Where the hell am I?" "Why, Jeff," the doctor feigned surprise. "This is my new office. Don't you like it? It's the best I can do since you ruined my practice with that nasty law suit." "You killed my wife," Jeff accused, again. "It was an accident," the doctor said harshly. "I explained before the operation that there was the chance she wouldn't make it through. You didn't hesitate to give me the go-ahead." "You killed her because she wouldn't have sex with you in the hospital room." Dr. Stillson's face reddened. "She was mine. She needed me as much as I wanted her. You should have heard her begging me to fuck her that first day she came to me. She said her husband was too busy with his work at the bank to give her the dick when he came home, if he came home. She told me she had heard rumors of homosexual activity between you and a clerk in the vault. Did you like getting corn-holed while you were bent over stacks of hundred dollar bills? Huh, Jeffy?" "Fuck you," Jeff shouted. "Why am I naked? Where are my clothes?" "They've been taken care of," the doctor promised. "Be happy with what you have on. "I made love to Molly," Stillson confessed. "You never got me to admit that in court, did you? No. But I did. She was a wonderful lover. Exquisite, really. She was going to leave you before we found out the lump was cancerous. I wanted her to leave you immediately then, but she didn't want to go through a divorce until after the operation. We made love in her hospital room several times. Even after her hair fell out. "I miss her," Dr. Stillson added. "I doubt you do." "It's none of your business," Jeff said. "Why am I here?" "I'm going to do an operation on you tonight, Jeff. I've never performed this particular operation on a human before, but I'm sure if Molly were here she would give me the okay, just like you did for her. Besides, you're not that much different than an animal. Are you?" "You're not going to cut on me," Jeff said. "You can't." "Sure I can," Dr. Stillson said. He plucked the scalpel from his tray and showed it to his patient. "I'm all ready to go." "No," Jeff said quietly. "No! Help! Somebody help me!" "Nobody will help you because nobody cares!" Dr. Stillson shouted over the other man's voice. "We're in the slums, Jeff. The ghetto. The people out there, they've heard shouts coming from this house before. Most of my patients are thieves, gang members, and their ilk. My neighbors won't care about your shouts." "Nooo," Jeff moaned. "Oh, yes," the doctor said in a reassuring tone. He took the syringe and the needle from his tray and fitted them together. He picked up the small bottle and stuck the needle through the cork, pulling the plunger up until the syringe was just over half full. He put the bottle back on the tray and shot a quick stream of the clear fluid into the air. "Got to get the air bubbles out," Stillson said. "I don't want you dying of a heart attack. I have something much better in mind." "What is that?" "This?" Dr. Stillson brandished the syringe. "This is a concoction that I made up. I call it SKN-3. The three is because the first two tries were unsuccessful. It's an amphetamine. Speed. Can you say trick-or-treat? I thought you could." "Don't. . ." Jeff whined as Dr. Stillson brought the needle close to his arm. He winced as the steel penetrated his flesh. The plunger came down and the fluid was in his blood. "Now what?" Jeff asked, a tear coming from his eye. "Now we wait," Dr. Stillson said, dropping the empty syringe onto the tray. "It should be just a few minutes before the drug takes effect." "Then what?" "Then, Jeff, I'm going to skin you alive. SKN-3 will keep you conscious for most of the operation. Won't it be interesting to watch as your flesh is peeled off?" "NO!" Jeff began yelling for help again. Dr. Stillson let him shout without trying to stop him. He sat calmly and watched his patient, smiling when he saw the drug was working. Jeff's eyes bulged in their sockets, and his face turned red as if he were blushing deeply. He trembled slightly, his heart beat rapidly beneath his skin, causing the flesh of his chest to pulsate. "My hair's crawling," Jeff said. "Are there bugs in it?'" "No, it just feels that way," the doctor told him. "I think we're ready to begin." He stood up, pushed the chair out of his way, lifted the scalpel from the tray, and pushed the cart back beside the discarded chair. He stepped close to the trembling man on his table. "No, please, I'll give you anything," Jeff begged, his voice hoarse with fright. "Anything you want." "All I want from you, Jeff, is revenge," Dr. Stillson said. "And I'm about to have it." Jeffrey Davies howled when the cold steel of the scalpel touched his super-sensitive skin. Dr. Stillson ignored the noise and concentrated on his cutting. He made an incision from a point a few inches below the Adam's apple to just above the start of the pubic hair. The cut swelled with ripe, red blood that soon spilled from its canal and ran down the man's hairless chest and stomach. Jeff continued to shriek with pain, and the doctor smiled to himself as he made his next cut along the inside of the left arm, then the right, and then the legs. He joined the slits on Jeff's limbs to the first cut on his torso, and peeled the flesh away from the carcass. Jeff's screams became louder and more shrill, reaching an octave that Dr. Stillson would have believed impossible coming from the human throat. Jeff's ropy red muscles glistened beneath the room's naked hundred watt bulb. Within moments after his insides were exposed, Jeff passed out. Dr. Stillson looked at his watch. "Good," he judged. "You stayed awake for the best parts, Jeffy. Thanks to my little drug." The doctor completed his job, his face a mask of concentration. He cut from the top of his first incision below the Adam's apple around the base of the neck as far as he could reach. He untied Jeff and rolled the body over so he could complete the cuts on the wrists and ankles, then, bringing the cut from the man's neck up around the hairline and back to the forehead. Taking hold of Jeff's blond hair, Dr. Stillson pulled slowly and steadily. The scalp lifted, and with a little help, the rest of the man's flesh came away from his back with a wet, sucking sound. Dr. Stillson lifted the skin away from the calves carefully so as not to tear the trophy, and then spread the dripping hide out on his floor, inside up. Leaving the body on the table for a moment, the doctor went to a cabinet and took out several white rags. He knelt beside his prize skin and wiped away the blood. When the inside was clean, he flipped the hide over and wiped the streaks of crimson from the front. The skinless body still glistened wetly on the table. Dr. Stillson stood looking at it for a long moment. He smiled. "Happy Halloween, Jeffy," he said. "I love your costume." He brought a bone saw from a drawer and quickly and expertly cut the body into small pieces, which he put into two Hefty Cinch Sacks along with the bloody rags. He then cleaned up his examination table and the floor around it, added these rags to the plastic bags, and closed them up. He pulled them to the far corner of the room to wait until he could hire a couple of junkies to dispose of them. Happy with a job well done, the doctor looked down at the skin laid out on the floor. "I feel better, Jeff," he said. "Thank you." He took the small bottle of SKN-3 from the tray and examined the remaining fluid. "And thank you for keeping him awake long enough to make my task thoroughly enjoyable." He tossed the glass vial into the air, holding his palm out to catch it. The bottle went up, tumbling end over end, and began its descent. The fluid within rolled from cork to bottom and back as gravity demanded. The bottle hit Dr. Stillson's upturned palm and bounced up before he could close his fingers around it. Again the bottle sailed through the air. It hit the skin stretched on the floor and shattered on impact with the hard linoleum beneath. Glass fragments flew like sparks in all directions as the liquid spread in a small stain. "Shit!" the doctor glaried at the mess. He stooped and picked the pieces of glass off the skin and the floor, then went for another rag to wipe up the formula. When he returned, the SKN-3 had soaked into the hide, leaving a small stain that looked like a birth mark. "Oh well," Stillson said, "I suppose I didn't need the rest of it anyway." He dropped the rag onto his table and left the room, turning out the light. He went to his bathroom and quickly showered, then to his bedroom and lay down, wearing only his underwear. He was asleep within minutes. In his examination room the skin began to move. At first the activity was only in the area where the fluid had stained the hide; a small rippling motion. Soon, however, the movement traveled outward until the entire hide was flowing, wave-like, from the headless scalp to the feetless legs and handless arms. The rippling became concentrated, and the skin began to inch its way across the floor toward the open doorway. In the living room of the house it rolled itself into a turn and rippled past a worn chair, the outstretched arm brushing the leg of an end table. The jack-o-lantern in the window took no notice. The skin slithered into a short hallway and then over the threshold of Daniel Stillson's bedroom. It crossed the hardwood floor and was soon at the foot of the narrow bed. Snake-like, it raised itself up until the scalp seemed to be peeking over the edge of the bed. The top part of the skin flopped down onto the mattress and pulled the bottom of the torso and the legs up after it. The skin quickly covered Dr. Stillson's nearly naked body, wrapping the empty husks of its arms and legs around the sleeping doctor. It began to squeeze. Daniel Stillson woke up slowly, thinking at first that some of the neighborhood heavies had broken in and wanted drugs. He would give them something that would knock them on their asses for disturbing him. He looked through bleary eyes and saw the skin of Jeffrey Davies wrapped around him. He screamed. The piece of flesh on the top end of the hide flopped forward. Dr. Stillson sucked Jeff's starchy hair down his throat and gagged. As the doctor fought to free himself from the skin, the empty hide wrapped itself tighter around him, hugging out the small breaths he could draw around the hair in his throat. At last he lay still, his body limp, his gray eyes, like specks of polished glass, staring at the water-stained ceiling. The skin continued squeezing for several hours, until all of Dr. Stillson's drug, the SKN-3, had evaporated from the flesh.
The Premature Burial by Edgar Allen Poe There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction. These the mere romanticist must eschew, if he do not wish to offend or to disgust. They are with propriety handled only when the severity and majesty of Truth sanctify and sustain them. We thrill, for example, with the most intense of "pleasurable pain" over the accounts of the Passage of the Beresina, of the Earthquake at Lisbon, of the Plague at London, of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, or of the stifling of the hundred and twenty-three prisoners in the Black Hole at Calcutta. But in these accounts it is the fact - -- it is the reality - -- it is the history which excites. As inventions, we should regard them with simple abhorrence. I have mentioned some few of the more prominent and august calamities on record; but in these it is the extent, not less than the character of the calamity, which so vividly impresses the fancy. I need not remind the reader that, from the long and weird catalogue of human miseries, I might have selected many individual instances more replete with essential suffering than any of these vast generalities of disaster. The true wretchedness, indeed -- the ultimate woe - -- is particular, not diffuse. That the ghastly extremes of agony are endured by man the unit, and never by man the mass - -- for this let us thank a merciful God! To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality. That it has frequently, very frequently, so fallen will scarcely be denied by those who think. The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? We know that there are diseases in which occur total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality, and yet in which these cessations are merely suspensions, properly so called. They are only temporary pauses in the incomprehensible mechanism. A certain period elapses, and some unseen mysterious principle again sets in motion the magic pinions and the wizard wheels. The silver cord was not for ever loosed, nor the golden bowl irreparably broken. But where, meantime, was the soul? Apart, however, from the inevitable conclusion, a priori that such causes must produce such effects - -- that the well-known occurrence of such cases of suspended animation must naturally give rise, now and then, to premature interments -- apart from this consideration, we have the direct testimony of medical and ordinary experience to prove that a vast number of such interments have actually taken place. I might refer at once, if necessary to a hundred well authenticated instances. One of very remarkable character, and of which the circumstances may be fresh in the memory of some of my readers, occurred, not very long ago, in the neighboring city of Baltimore, where it occasioned a painful, intense, and widely-extended excitement. The wife of one of the most respectable citizens-a lawyer of eminence and a member of Congress -- was seized with a sudden and unaccountable illness, which completely baffled the skill of her physicians. After much suffering she died, or was supposed to die. No one suspected, indeed, or had reason to suspect, that she was not actually dead. She presented all the ordinary appearances of death. The face assumed the usual pinched and sunken outline. The lips were of the usual marble pallor. The eyes were lustreless. There was no warmth. Pulsation had ceased. For three days the body was preserved unburied, during which it had acquired a stony rigidity. The funeral, in short, was hastened, on account of the rapid advance of what was supposed to be decomposition. The lady was deposited in her family vault, which, for three subsequent years, was undisturbed. At the expiration of this term it was opened for the reception of a sarcophagus; - -- but, alas! how fearful a shock awaited the husband, who, personally, threw open the door! As its portals swung outwardly back, some white-apparelled object fell rattling within his arms. It was the skeleton of his wife in her yet unmoulded shroud. A careful investigation rendered it evident that she had revived within two days after her entombment; that her struggles within the coffin had caused it to fall from a ledge, or shelf to the floor, where it was so broken as to permit her escape. A lamp which had been accidentally left, full of oil, within the tomb, was found empty; it might have been exhausted, however, by evaporation. On the uttermost of the steps which led down into the dread chamber was a large fragment of the coffin, with which, it seemed, that she had endeavored to arrest attention by striking the iron door. While thus occupied, she probably swooned, or possibly died, through sheer terror; and, in failing, her shroud became entangled in some iron -- work which projected interiorly. Thus she remained, and thus she rotted, erect. In the year 1810, a case of living inhumation happened in France, attended with circumstances which go far to warrant the assertion that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. The heroine of the story was a Mademoiselle Victorine Lafourcade, a young girl of illustrious family, of wealth, and of great personal beauty. Among her numerous suitors was Julien Bossuet, a poor litterateur, or journalist of Paris. His talents and general amiability had recommended him to the notice of the heiress, by whom he seems to have been truly beloved; but her pride of birth decided her, finally, to reject him, and to wed a Monsieur Renelle, a banker and a diplomatist of some eminence. After marriage, however, this gentleman neglected, and, perhaps, even more positively ill-treated her. Having passed with him some wretched years, she died, - -- at least her condition so closely resembled death as to deceive every one who saw her. She was buried - -- not in a vault, but in an ordinary grave in the village of her nativity. Filled with despair, and still inflamed by the memory of a profound attachment, the lover journeys from the capital to the remote province in which the village lies, with the romantic purpose of disinterring the corpse, and possessing himself of its luxuriant tresses. He reaches the grave. At midnight he unearths the coffin, opens it, and is in the act of detaching the hair, when he is arrested by the unclosing of the beloved eyes. In fact, the lady had been buried alive. Vitality had not altogether departed, and she was aroused by the caresses of her lover from the lethargy which had been mistaken for death. He bore her frantically to his lodgings in the village. He employed certain powerful restoratives suggested by no little medical learning. In fine, she revived. She recognized her preserver. She remained with him until, by slow degrees, she fully recovered her original health. Her woman's heart was not adamant, and this last lesson of love sufficed to soften it. She bestowed it upon Bossuet. She returned no more to her husband, but, concealing from him her resurrection, fled with her lover to America. Twenty years afterward, the two returned to France, in the persuasion that time had so greatly altered the lady's appearance that her friends would be unable to recognize her. They were mistaken, however, for, at the first meeting, Monsieur Renelle did actually recognize and make claim to his wife. This claim she resisted, and a judicial tribunal sustained her in her resistance, deciding that the peculiar circumstances, with the long lapse of years, had extinguished, not only equitably, but legally, the authority of the husband. The "Chirurgical Journal" of Leipsic -- a periodical of high authority and merit, which some American bookseller would do well to translate and republish, records in a late number a very distressing event of the character in question. An officer of artillery, a man of gigantic stature and of robust health, being thrown from an unmanageable horse, received a very severe contusion upon the head, which rendered him insensible at once; the skull was slightly fractured, but no immediate danger was apprehended. Trepanning was accomplished successfully. He was bled, and many other of the ordinary means of relief were adopted. Gradually, however, he fell into a more and more hopeless state of stupor, and, finally, it was thought that he died. The weather was warm, and he was buried with indecent haste in one of the public cemeteries. His funeral took place on Thursday. On the Sunday following, the grounds of the cemetery were, as usual, much thronged with visiters, and about noon an intense excitement was created by the declaration of a peasant that, while sitting upon the grave of the officer, he had distinctly felt a commotion of the earth, as if occasioned by some one struggling beneath. At first little attention was paid to the man's asseveration; but his evident terror, and the dogged obstinacy with which he persisted in his story, had at length their natural effect upon the crowd. Spades were hurriedly procured, and the grave, which was shamefully shallow, was in a few minutes so far thrown open that the head of its occupant appeared. He was then seemingly dead; but he sat nearly erect within his coffin, the lid of which, in his furious struggles, he had partially uplifted. He was forthwith conveyed to the nearest hospital, and there pronounced to be still living, although in an asphytic condition. After some hours he revived, recognized individuals of his acquaintance, and, in broken sentences spoke of his agonies in the grave. From what he related, it was clear that he must have been conscious of life for more than an hour, while inhumed, before lapsing into insensibility. The grave was carelessly and loosely filled with an exceedingly porous soil; and thus some air was necessarily admitted. He heard the footsteps of the crowd overhead, and endeavored to make himself heard in turn. It was the tumult within the grounds of the cemetery, he said, which appeared to awaken him from a deep sleep, but no sooner was he awake than he became fully aware of the awful horrors of his position. This patient, it is recorded, was doing well and seemed to be in a fair way of ultimate recovery, but fell a victim to the quackeries of medical experiment. The galvanic battery was applied, and he suddenly expired in one of those ecstatic paroxysms which, occasionally, it superinduces. The mention of the galvanic battery, nevertheless, recalls to my memory a well known and very extraordinary case in point, where its action proved the means of restoring to animation a young attorney of London, who had been interred for two days. This occurred in 1831, and created, at the time, a very profound sensation wherever it was made the subject of converse. The patient, Mr. Edward Stapleton, had died, apparently of typhus fever, accompanied with some anomalous symptoms which had excited the curiosity of his medical attendants. Upon his seeming decease, his friends were requested to sanction a post-mortem examination, but declined to permit it. As often happens, when such refusals are made, the practitioners resolved to disinter the body and dissect it at leisure, in private. Arrangements were easily effected with some of the numerous corps of body-snatchers, with which London abounds; and, upon the third night after the funeral, the supposed corpse was unearthed from a grave eight feet deep, and deposited in the opening chamber of one of the private hospitals. An incision of some extent had been actually made in the abdomen, when the fresh and undecayed appearance of the subject suggested an application of the battery. One experiment succeeded another, and the customary effects supervened, with nothing to characterize them in any respect, except, upon one or two occasions, a more than ordinary degree of life-likeness in the convulsive action. It grew late. The day was about to dawn; and it was thought expedient, at length, to proceed at once to the dissection. A student, however, was especially desirous of testing a theory of his own, and insisted upon applying the battery to one of the pectoral muscles. A rough gash was made, and a wire hastily brought in contact, when the patient, with a hurried but quite unconvulsive movement, arose from the table, stepped into the middle of the floor, gazed about him uneasily for a few seconds, and then -- spoke. What he said was unintelligible, but words were uttered; the syllabification was distinct. Having spoken, he fell heavily to the floor. For some moments all were paralyzed with awe -- but the urgency of the case soon restored them their presence of mind. It was seen that Mr. Stapleton was alive, although in a swoon. Upon exhibition of ether he revived and was rapidly restored to health, and to the society of his friends -- from whom, however, all knowledge of his resuscitation was withheld, until a relapse was no longer to be apprehended. Their wonder -- their rapturous astonishment -- may be conceived. The most thrilling peculiarity of this incident, nevertheless, is involved in what Mr. S. himself asserts. He declares that at no period was he altogether insensible -- that, dully and confusedly, he was aware of everything which happened to him, from the moment in which he was pronounced dead by his physicians, to that in which he fell swooning to the floor of the hospital. "I am alive," were the uncomprehended words which, upon recognizing the locality of the dissecting-room, he had endeavored, in his extremity, to utter. It were an easy matter to multiply such histories as these -- but I forbear -- for, indeed, we have no need of such to establish the fact that premature interments occur. When we reflect how very rarely, from the nature of the case, we have it in our power to detect them, we must admit that they may frequently occur without our cognizance. Scarcely, in truth, is a graveyard ever encroached upon, for any purpose, to any great extent, that skeletons are not found in postures which suggest the most fearful of suspicions. Fearful indeed the suspicion -- but more fearful the doom! It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs -- the stifling fumes from the damp earth -- the clinging to the death garments -- the rigid embrace of the narrow house -- the blackness of the absolute Night -- the silence like a sea that overwhelms -- the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm -- these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed -- that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead -- these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth -- we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell. And thus all narratives upon this topic have an interest profound; an interest, nevertheless, which, through the sacred awe of the topic itself, very properly and very peculiarly depends upon our conviction of the truth of the matter narrated. What I have now to tell is of my own actual knowledge -- of my own positive and personal experience. For several years I had been subject to attacks of the singular disorder which physicians have agreed to term catalepsy, in default of a more definitive title. Although both the immediate and the predisposing causes, and even the actual diagnosis, of this disease are still mysterious, its obvious and apparent character is sufficiently well understood. Its variations seem to be chiefly of degree. Sometimes the patient lies, for a day only, or even for a shorter period, in a species of exaggerated lethargy. He is senseless and externally motionless; but the pulsation of the heart is still faintly perceptible; some traces of warmth remain; a slight color lingers within the centre of the cheek; and, upon application of a mirror to the lips, we can detect a torpid, unequal, and vacillating action of the lungs. Then again the duration of the trance is for weeks -- even for months; while the closest scrutiny, and the most rigorous medical tests, fail to establish any material distinction between the state of the sufferer and what we conceive of absolute death. Very usually he is saved from premature interment solely by the knowledge of his friends that he has been previously subject to catalepsy, by the consequent suspicion excited, and, above all, by the non-appearance of decay. The advances of the malady are, luckily, gradual. The first manifestations, although marked, are unequivocal. The fits grow successively more and more distinctive, and endure each for a longer term than the preceding. In this lies the principal security from inhumation. The unfortunate whose first attack should be of the extreme character which is occasionally seen, would almost inevitably be consigned alive to the tomb. My own case differed in no important particular from those mentioned in medical books. Sometimes, without any apparent cause, I sank, little by little, into a condition of hemi-syncope, or half swoon; and, in this condition, without pain, without ability to stir, or, strictly speaking, to think, but with a dull lethargic consciousness of life and of the presence of those who surrounded my bed, I remained, until the crisis of the disease restored me, suddenly, to perfect sensation. At other times I was quickly and impetuously smitten. I grew sick, and numb, and chilly, and dizzy, and so fell prostrate at once. Then, for weeks, all was void, and black, and silent, and Nothing became the universe. Total annihilation could be no more. From these latter attacks I awoke, however, with a gradation slow in proportion to the suddenness of the seizure. Just as the day dawns to the friendless and houseless beggar who roams the streets throughout the long desolate winter night -- just so tardily -- just so wearily -- just so cheerily came back the light of the Soul to me. Apart from the tendency to trance, however, my general health appeared to be good; nor could I perceive that it was at all affected by the one prevalent malady -- unless, indeed, an idiosyncrasy in my ordinary sleep may be looked upon as superinduced. Upon awaking from slumber, I could never gain, at once, thorough possession of my senses, and always remained, for many minutes, in much bewilderment and perplexity; -- the mental faculties in general, but the memory in especial, being in a condition of absolute abeyance. In all that I endured there was no physical suffering but of moral distress an infinitude. My fancy grew charnel, I talked "of worms, of tombs, and epitaphs." I was lost in reveries of death, and the idea of premature burial held continual possession of my brain. The ghastly Danger to which I was subjected haunted me day and night. In the former, the torture of meditation was excessive -- in the latter, supreme. When the grim Darkness overspread the Earth, then, with every horror of thought, I shook -- shook as the quivering plumes upon the hearse. When Nature could endure wakefulness no longer, it was with a struggle that I consented to sleep -- for I shuddered to reflect that, upon awaking, I might find myself the tenant of a grave. And when, finally, I sank into slumber, it was only to rush at once into a world of phantasms, above which, with vast, sable, overshadowing wing, hovered, predominant, the one sepulchral Idea. From the innumerable images of gloom which thus oppressed me in dreams, I select for record but a solitary vision. Methought I was immersed in a cataleptic trance of more than usual duration and profundity. Suddenly there came an icy hand upon my forehead, and an impatient, gibbering voice whispered the word "Arise!" within my ear. I sat erect. The darkness was total. I could not see the figure of him who had aroused me. I could call to mind neither the period at which I had fallen into the trance, nor the locality in which I then lay. While I remained motionless, and busied in endeavors to collect my thought, the cold hand grasped me fiercely by the wrist, shaking it petulantly, while the gibbering voice said again: "Arise! did I not bid thee arise?" "And who," I demanded, "art thou?" "I have no name in the regions which I inhabit," replied the voice, mournfully; "I was mortal, but am fiend. I was merciless, but am pitiful. Thou dost feel that I shudder. -- My teeth chatter as I speak, yet it is not with the chilliness of the night -- of the night without end. But this hideousness is insufferable. How canst thou tranquilly sleep? I cannot rest for the cry of these great agonies. These sights are more than I can bear. Get thee up! Come with me into the outer Night, and let me unfold to thee the graves. Is not this a spectacle of woe? -- Behold!" I looked; and the unseen figure, which still grasped me by the wrist, had caused to be thrown open the graves of all mankind, and from each issued the faint phosphoric radiance of decay, so that I could see into the innermost recesses, and there view the shrouded bodies in their sad and solemn slumbers with the worm. But alas! the real sleepers were fewer, by many millions, than those who slumbered not at all; and there was a feeble struggling; and there was a general sad unrest; and from out the depths of the countless pits there came a melancholy rustling from the garments of the buried. And of those who seemed tranquilly to repose, I saw that a vast number had changed, in a greater or less degree, the rigid and uneasy position in which they had originally been entombed. And the voice again said to me as I gazed: "Is it not -- oh! is it not a pitiful sight?" -- but, before I could find words to reply, the figure had ceased to grasp my wrist, the phosphoric lights expired, and the graves were closed with a sudden violence, while from out them arose a tumult of despairing cries, saying again: "Is it not -- O, God, is it not a very pitiful sight?" Phantasies such as these, presenting themselves at night, extended their terrific influence far into my waking hours. My nerves became thoroughly unstrung, and I fell a prey to perpetual horror. I hesitated to ride, or to walk, or to indulge in any exercise that would carry me from home. In fact, I no longer dared trust myself out of the immediate presence of those who were aware of my proneness to catalepsy, lest, falling into one of my usual fits, I should be buried before my real condition could be ascertained. I doubted the care, the fidelity of my dearest friends. I dreaded that, in some trance of more than customary duration, they might be prevailed upon to regard me as irrecoverable. I even went so far as to fear that, as I occasioned much trouble, they might be glad to consider any very protracted attack as sufficient excuse for getting rid of me altogether. It was in vain they endeavored to reassure me by the most solemn promises. I exacted the most sacred oaths, that under no circumstances they would bury me until decomposition had so materially advanced as to render farther preservation impossible. And, even then, my mortal terrors would listen to no reason -- would accept no consolation. I entered into a series of elaborate precautions. Among other things, I had the family vault so remodelled as to admit of being readily opened from within. The slightest pressure upon a long lever that extended far into the tomb would cause the iron portal to fly back. There were arrangements also for the free admission of air and light, and convenient receptacles for food and water, within immediate reach of the coffin intended for my reception. This coffin was warmly and softly padded, and was provided with a lid, fashioned upon the principle of the vault-door, with the addition of springs so contrived that the feeblest movement of the body would be sufficient to set it at liberty. Besides all this, there was suspended from the roof of the tomb, a large bell, the rope of which, it was designed, should extend through a hole in the coffin, and so be fastened to one of the hands of the corpse. But, alas? what avails the vigilance against the Destiny of man? Not even these well-contrived securities sufficed to save from the uttermost agonies of living inhumation, a wretch to these agonies foredoomed! There arrived an epoch -- as often before there had arrived -- in which I found myself emerging from total unconsciousness into the first feeble and indefinite sense of existence. Slowly -- with a tortoise gradation -- approached the faint gray dawn of the psychal day. A torpid uneasiness. An apathetic endurance of dull pain. No care -- no hope -- no effort. Then, after a long interval, a ringing in the ears; then, after a lapse still longer, a prickling or tingling sensation in the extremities; then a seemingly eternal period of pleasurable quiescence, during which the awakening feelings are struggling into thought; then a brief re-sinking into non-entity; then a sudden recovery. At length the slight quivering of an eyelid, and immediately thereupon, an electric shock of a terror, deadly and indefinite, which sends the blood in torrents from the temples to the heart. And now the first positive effort to think. And now the first endeavor to remember. And now a partial and evanescent success. And now the memory has so far regained its dominion, that, in some measure, I am cognizant of my state. I feel that I am not awaking from ordinary sleep. I recollect that I have been subject to catalepsy. And now, at last, as if by the rush of an ocean, my shuddering spirit is overwhelmed by the one grim Danger -- by the one spectral and ever-prevalent idea. For some minutes after this fancy possessed me, I remained without motion. And why? I could not summon courage to move. I dared not make the effort which was to satisfy me of my fate -- and yet there was something at my heart which whispered me it was sure. Despair -- such as no other species of wretchedness ever calls into being -- despair alone urged me, after long irresolution, to uplift the heavy lids of my eyes. I uplifted them. It was dark -- all dark. I knew that the fit was over. I knew that the crisis of my disorder had long passed. I knew that I had now fully recovered the use of my visual faculties -- and yet it was dark -- all dark -- the intense and utter raylessness of the Night that endureth for evermore. I endeavored to shriek-, and my lips and my parched tongue moved convulsively together in the attempt -- but no voice issued from the cavernous lungs, which oppressed as if by the weight of some incumbent mountain, gasped and palpitated, with the heart, at every elaborate and struggling inspiration. The movement of the jaws, in this effort to cry aloud, showed me that they were bound up, as is usual with the dead. I felt, too, that I lay upon some hard substance, and by something similar my sides were, also, closely compressed. So far, I had not ventured to stir any of my limbs -- but now I violently threw up my arms, which had been lying at length, with the wrists crossed. They struck a solid wooden substance, which extended above my person at an elevation of not more than six inches from my face. I could no longer doubt that I reposed within a coffin at last. And now, amid all my infinite miseries, came sweetly the cherub Hope -- for I thought of my precautions. I writhed, and made spasmodic exertions to force open the lid: it would not move. I felt my wrists for the bell-rope: it was not to be found. And now the Comforter fled for ever, and a still sterner Despair reigned triumphant; for I could not help perceiving the absence of the paddings which I had so carefully prepared -- and then, too, there came suddenly to my nostrils the strong peculiar odor of moist earth. The conclusion was irresistible. I was not within the vault. I had fallen into a trance while absent from home-while among strangers -- when, or how, I could not remember -- and it was they who had buried me as a dog -- nailed up in some common coffin -- and thrust deep, deep, and for ever, into some ordinary and nameless grave. As this awful conviction forced itself, thus, into the innermost chambers of my soul, I once again struggled to cry aloud. And in this second endeavor I succeeded. A long, wild, and continuous shriek, or yell of agony, resounded through the realms of the subterranean Night. "Hillo! hillo, there!" said a gruff voice, in reply. "What the devil's the matter now!" said a second. "Get out o' that!" said a third. "What do you mean by yowling in that ere kind of style, like a cattymount?" said a fourth; and hereupon I was seized and shaken without ceremony, for several minutes, by a junto of very rough-looking individuals. They did not arouse me from my slumber -- for I was wide awake when I screamed -- but they restored me to the full possession of my memory. This adventure occurred near Richmond, in Virginia. Accompanied by a friend, I had proceeded, upon a gunning expedition, some miles down the banks of the James River. Night approached, and we were overtaken by a storm. The cabin of a small sloop lying at anchor in the stream, and laden with garden mould, afforded us the only available shelter. We made the best of it, and passed the night on board. I slept in one of the only two berths in the vessel -- and the berths of a sloop of sixty or twenty tons need scarcely be described. That which I occupied had no bedding of any kind. Its extreme width was eighteen inches. The distance of its bottom from the deck overhead was precisely the same. I found it a matter of exceeding difficulty to squeeze myself in. Nevertheless, I slept soundly, and the whole of my vision -- for it was no dream, and no nightmare -- arose naturally from the circumstances of my position -- from my ordinary bias of thought -- and from the difficulty, to which I have alluded, of collecting my senses, and especially of regaining my memory, for a long time after awaking from slumber. The men who shook me were the crew of the sloop, and some laborers engaged to unload it. From the load itself came the earthly smell. The bandage about the jaws was a silk handkerchief in which I had bound up my head, in default of my customary nightcap. The tortures endured, however, were indubitably quite equal for the time, to those of actual sepulture. They were fearfully -- they were inconceivably hideous; but out of Evil proceeded Good; for their very excess wrought in my spirit an inevitable revulsion. My soul acquired tone -- acquired temper. I went abroad. I took vigorous exercise. I breathed the free air of Heaven. I thought upon other subjects than Death. I discarded my medical books. "Buchan" I burned. I read no "Night Thoughts" -- no fustian about churchyards -- no bugaboo tales -- such as this. In short, I became a new man, and lived a man's life. From that memorable night, I dismissed forever my charnel apprehensions, and with them vanished the cataleptic disorder, of which, perhaps, they had been less the consequence than the cause. There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell -- but the imagination of man is no Carathis, to explore with impunity its every cavern. Alas! the grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful -- but, like the Demons in whose company Afrasiab made his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep, or they will devour us -- they must be suffered to slumber, or we perish.