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PseudoPod 648: The Canal

  • Author : Everil Worrell
  • Narrator : Scott Campbell
  • Host : Alasdair Stuart
  • Audio Producer : Chelsea Davis
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“The Canal” was first published in Weird Tales, December 1927 and was later made into a TV episode on Rod Serling’s popular series, Night Gallery.

A surprisingly in depth look at the origin of the Campbell quote Alasdair uses:

The Canal by Everil Worrell

Past the sleeping city the river sweeps; along its left bank the old canal creeps.

I did not intend that to be poetry, although the scene is poetic—somberly, gruesomely poetic, like the poems of Poe. I know it too well—I have walked too often over the grass-grown path beside the reflections of black trees and tumble-down shacks and distant factory chimneys in the sluggish waters that moved so slowly, and ceased to move at all.

I have always had a taste for nocturnal prowling. As a race we have grown too intelligent to take seriously any of the old, instinctive fears that preserved us through preceding generations. Our sole remaining salvation, then, has come to be our tendency to travel in herds. We wander at night—but our objective is somewhere on the brightly lighted streets, or still somewhere where men do not go alone. When we travel far afield, it is in company. Few of my acquaintance, few in the whole city here, would care to ramble at midnight over the grass-grown path I have spoken of—not because they would fear to do so, but because such things are not being done.

Well, it is dangerous to differ individually from one’s fellows. It is dangerous to wander from the beaten road. And the fears that guarded the race in the dawn of time and through the centuries were founded on reality.

A month ago, I was a stranger here. I had just taken my first position—I was graduated from college only three months before, in the spring. I was lonely, and likely to remain so for some time, for I have always been of a solitary nature, making friends slowly.

I had received one invitation out, to visit the camp of a fellow employee in the firm for which I worked, a camp which was located on the farther side of the wide river, the side across from the city and the canal, where the bank was high and steep and heavily wooded, and little tents blossomed all along the water’s edge. At night these camps were a string of sparkling lights and tiny, leaping campfires, and the tinkle of music carried faintly far across the calmly flowing water. That far bank of the river was no place for an eccentric, solitary man to love. But the near bank, which would have been an eyesore to the campers had not the river been so wide—the near bank attracted me from my first glimpse of it.

We embarked in a motor-boat at some distance downstream, and swept up along the near bank, and then out and across the current. I turned my eyes backward. The murk of stagnant water that was the canal, the jumble of low buildings beyond it, the lonely, low-lying waste of the narrow strip of land between canal and river, the dark, scattered trees growing there—I intended to see more of these things.

That week-end bored me, but I repaid myself no later than Monday evening, the first evening when I was back in the city, alone and free. I ate a solitary dinner immediately after leaving the office. I went to my room and slept from seven until nearly midnight. I wakened naturally, then, for my whole heart was set on exploring the alluring solitude I had discovered. I dressed, slipped out of the house and into the street, started the motor in my roadster and drove through the lighted streets.

When I parked my car on a rough, cobbled street that ran directly down into the inky waters of the canal, and crossed a narrow bridge, I was repaid. In a few minutes I set my feet on the old tow-path where mules had drawn river-boats up and down only a year or so ago. As I walked upstream at a swinging pace, the miserable shacks where miserable people lived across the canal seemed to march with me, and then fell behind.

The bridge I had crossed was near the end of the city going north, as the canal marked its western extremity. Ten minutes of walking, and the dismal shacks were quite a distance behind, the river was farther away and the strip of waste land much wider and more wooded, and tall trees across the canal marched with me as the evil-looking houses had done before. Far and faint, the sound of a bell in the city reached my ears. It was midnight.

I stopped, enjoying the desolation around me. It had the savor I had expected and hoped for. I stood for some time looking up at the sky, watching the low drift of heavy clouds, which were visible in the dull reflected glow from distant lights in the heart of the city, so that they appeared to have a lurid phosphorescence of their own. The ground under my feet, on the contrary, was utterly devoid of light. I had felt my way carefully, knowing the edge of the canal partly by instinct, partly by the even more perfect blackness of the water in it, and even holding fairly well to the path, because it was perceptibly sunken below the ground beside it.

Now as I stood motionless in this spot, my eyes upcast, my mind adrift with strange fancies, suddenly my feelings of satisfaction and well-being gave way to something different. Fear was an emotion unknown to me—for I had always been drawn to those things which make men fear. But now along all the length of my spine I was conscious of a prickling, tingling sensation—such as my forefathers may have felt in the jungle when the hair on their backs stood up. I knew that there were eyes upon me, and that that was why I was afraid to move. I stood perfectly still, my face uptilted toward the sky. But with effort, I mastered myself.

Slowly, slowly, with an attempt to propitiate the owner of the unseen eyes by my casual manner, I lowered my own. I looked straight ahead—at the softly swaying silhouette of the tree-tops across the canal as they moved gently in the cool night wind, at the mass of blackness that was those trees, and the opposite shore, at the shiny blackness that was the canal, where the reflections of the clouds glinted vaguely and disappeared. As I grew accustomed to the greater blackness and my pupils expanded, I dimly discerned the contours of an old boat or barge, half sunken in the water. An old, abandoned canal-boat. But was I dreaming, or was there a white-clad figure seated on the roof of the low cabin aft, a pale, heart-shaped face gleaming strangely at me from the darkness, the glow of two eyes seeming to light up the face, and to detach it from the darkness?

Surely, there could be no doubt as to the eyes. They shone as the eyes of animals shine in the dark, with a phosphorescent gleam, and a glimmer of red! Well, I had heard that some human eyes have that quality at night.

But what a place for a human being to be—a girl, too, I was sure. That daintily heart-shaped face was the face of a girl, surely; I was seeing it clearer and clearer, either because my eyes were growing more accustomed to peering into the deeper shadows, or because of that phosphorescence in the eyes that stared back at me.

I raised my voice softly, not to break too much the stillness of night.

“Hello! who’s there? Are you lost, or marooned, and can I help?”

There was a little pause. I was conscious of a soft lapping at my feet. A stronger night wind had sprung up, was ruffling the dark waters. I had been overwarm, and where it struck me the perspiration turned cold on my body, so that I shivered uncontrollably.

“You can stay and talk awhile, if you will. I am lonely, but not lost. I—live here.”

The voice was little more than a whisper, but it had carried clearly—a girl’s voice. And she lived there, in an old, abandoned canal-boat, half submerged in the stagnant water.

“You are not alone there?”

“No, not alone. My father lives here with me, but he is deaf, and he sleeps soundly.”

Did the night wind blow still colder, as though it came to us from some unseen, frozen sea—or was there something in her tone that chilled me, even as a strange attraction drew me toward her? I wanted to draw near to her, to see closely the pale, heart-shaped face, to lose myself in the bright eyes that I had seen shining in the darkness. I wanted—I wanted to hold her in my arms, to find her mouth with mine, to kiss it…

I took a reckless step nearer the edge of the bank.

“Could I come over to you?” I asked. “It’s warm, and I don’t mind a wetting. It’s late, I know, but I’d like to sit and talk, if only for a few minutes before I go back to town. It’s a lonely place here for a girl like you to live.”

Was it the unconventionality of my request that made her next words sound like a long-drawn shudder of protest? There was a strangeness in the tones of her voice that held me wondering, every time she spoke.

“No, no. Oh, no! You must not come across.”

“Then could I come tomorrow, or some day soon, in the daytime; and would you let me come on board then—or would you come on shore and talk to me, perhaps?”

“Not in the daytime—never in the daytime!”

Again the intensity of her low-toned negation held me spellbound.

It was not her sense of the impropriety of the hour, then, that had dictated her manner. For surely, any girl with the slightest sense of the fitness of things would rather have a tryst by daytime than after midnight—yet there was an inference in her last words that if I came again it should be at night.

Still feeling the spell that had enthralled me, as one does not forget the presence of a drug in the air that is stealing one’s senses, even when those senses begin to wander and to busy themselves with other things, I yet spoke shortly.

“Why do you say, ‘Never in the daytime’? Do you mean that I may come more than this once at night, though now you won’t let me cross the canal to you at the expense of my own clothes, and you won’t put down your plank or drawbridge or whatever you come on shore with, and talk to me here for only a moment? I’ll come again, if you’ll let me talk to you instead of calling across the water. If I came in the daytime and met your father, wouldn’t that be the best thing to do? Then we could be really acquainted; we could be friends.”

“In the nighttime, my father sleeps. In the daytime, I sleep. How could I talk to you, or introduce you to my father then? If you came on board this boat in the daytime, you would find my father—and you would be sorry. As for me, I would be sleeping. I could never introduce you to my father, do you see?”

“You sleep soundly, you and your father.” Again there was pique in my voice.

“Yes, we sleep soundly.”

“And always at different times?”

“Always at different times. We are on guard—one of us is always on guard. We have been hardly used, down there in your city. And we have taken refuge here. And we are always—always—on guard.”

My resentment vanished, and I felt my heart go out to her anew. She was so pale, so pitiful in the night. My eyes were learning better and better how to pierce the darkness; they were giving me a more definite picture of my companion—if I could think of her as a companion, between myself and whom stretched the black waters.

The sadness of the lonely scene, the perfection of the solitude itself, these things contributed to her pitifulness. Then there was that strangeness of atmosphere of which, even yet, I had only partly taken note. There was the strange, shivering chill, which yet did not seem like the healthful chill of a cool evening. In fact, it did not prevent me from feeling the oppression of the night, which was unusually sultry. It was like a little breath of deadly cold that came and went, and yet did not alter the temperature of the air itself, as the small ripples on the surface of the water do not concern the water even a foot down.

And even that was not all. There was an unwholesome smell about the night—a dank, mouldy smell that might have been the very breath of death and decay. Even I, a connoisseur in all things dismal and unwholesome, tried to keep my mind from dwelling overmuch upon that smell. What it must be to live breathing it constantly, I could not think. But no doubt the girl and her father were used to it; and no doubt it came from the stagnant water of the canal and from the rotting wood of the old, half-sunken boat that was their refuge.

My clearer vision of the girl showed me that she was pitifully thin, even though possessed of a strangely attractive face that drew me to her. Her clothes hung around her like old rags, but hers was no scarecrow aspect. I was sure the little, pale, heartshaped face would be more beautiful still, if I could only see it closely. I must see it closely—I must establish some claim to consideration as a friend of the strange, lonely crew of the half-sunken wreck.

“This is a poor place to call a refuge,” I said finally. “One might have very little money, and yet do somewhat better. Perhaps I might help you; I am sure I could. If your ill-treatment in the city was because of poverty—I am not rich, but I could help that. I could help you a little with money, if you would let me; or, in any case, I could find a position for you. I’m sure I could do that.”

The eyes that shone fitfully toward me like two small pools of water intermittently lit by a cloud-swept sky seemed to glow more brightly. She had been half crouching, half sitting on top of the cabin; now she leaped to her feet with one quick, sinuous, abrupt motion, and took a few rapid, restless steps to and fro before she answered.

“Do you think you would be helping me, to tie me to a desk, to shut me behind doors, away from freedom, away from the delight of doing my own will, of seeking my own way? Rather this old boat, ather a deserted grave under the stars for my home!”

A positive feeling of kinship with this strange being, whose face I had hardly seen, possessed me. So I myself might have spoken, so I had often felt, though I had never dreamed of putting my thoughts so forcibly. My regularized daytime life was a thing I thought little of; I really lived only in my nocturnal prowlings. This girl was right! All life should be free.

“I understand much better than you think,” I answered. “I want to see you again, to come to know you. Surely, there must be some way in which I can be of use to you. All you have to do from tonight on for ever, is to command me. I swear it!”

“You swear that—you do swear it?”

Delighted at the eagerness of her words, I lifted my hand toward the dark heavens.

“I swear it. From this night on, for ever—I swear it.”

“Then listen. Tonight you may not come to me, nor I to you. I do not want you to board this boat—not tonight, not any night. And most of all, not any day. But do not look so sad. I will come to you. No, not tonight, perhaps not for many nights, yet before very long. I will come to you there, on the bank of the canal, when the water in the canal ceases to flow.”

I must have made a gesture of impatience, or of despair. It sounded like a way of saying “never”—for why should the water in the canal cease to flow? She read my thoughts in some way, for she answered them.

“You do not understand. I am speaking seriously; I am promising to meet you there on the bank, soon. The water is moving always slower. Higher up, the canal has been drained. Between these lower locks, the water still seeps in and drops slowly downstream. But there will come a night when it will be stagnant—and on that night I will come to you. And when I come, I will ask of you a favor.”

It was all the assurance I could get that night. She had come back to the side of the cabin where she had sat crouched before, and she resumed again that posture and sat still and silent, watching me. Sometimes I could see her eyes upon me, and sometimes not. But I felt that their gaze was unwavering. The little cold breeze, which I had finally forgotten while I was talking with her, was blowing again, and the unwholesome smell of decay grew heavier before the dawn.

I went away, and in the first faint light of dawn I slipped up the stairs of my rooming-house, and into my room.

I was deadly tired at the office next day. And day after day slipped away and I grew more and more weary; for a man cannot wake day and night without suffering. I haunted the old tow-path and waited, night after night, on the bank opposite the sunken boat. Sometimes I saw my lady of the darkness, and sometimes not. When I saw her, she spoke little; but sometimes she sat there on the top of the cabin and let me watch her till the dawn, or until the strange uneasiness that was like fright drove me from her and back to my room, where I tossed restlessly in the heat and dreamed strange dreams, half waking, till the sun shone in on my forehead and I tumbled into my clothes and down to the office again.

Once I asked her why she had made the fanciful condition that she would not come ashore to meet me until the waters of the canal had ceased to run. (How eagerly I studied those waters! How I stole away at noontime more than once, not to approach the old boat, but to watch the almost imperceptible downdrift of bubbles, bits of straw, twigs, rubbish!) But my questioning displeased her, and I asked her that no more. It was enough that she chose to be whimsical. My part was to wait.

It was more than a week later that I questioned her again, this time on a different subject. And after that, I curbed my curiosity relentlessly.

“Never speak to me of things you do not understand about me, or you will not see me again.”

I had asked her what form of persecution she and her father had suffered in the city, that had driven them out to this lonely place, and where in the city they had lived. Frightened lest I lose the ground I was sure I had gained with her, I was about to speak of something else. But before I could find the words, her low voice came to me again.

“It was horrible, horrible! Those little houses below the bridge, those houses along the canal—tell me, are not they worse than my boat? Life there was shut in and furtive. I wasn’t free as I am now, and the freedom I will soon have will make me forget the things I have not yet forgotten. The screaming, the reviling and cursing! Think how you would like to be shut up in one of those houses, and in fear of your life!”

I dared not answer her. I was surprised that she had vouch-safed me so much. But surely her words meant that before she had come to live on the decaying, water-rotted old boat, she had lived in one of those horrible houses I passed by on my way to her, those houses, each of which looked like the predestined scene of dark crime!

As I left her that night, I felt that I was very daring.

And yet, the next day, for the first time my thoughts were definitely troubled. I had been living in a dream—I began to speculate concerning the end of the path on which my feet were set. I had conceived, from the first, such a horror of those old houses by the canal! Much as I loved all that was weird and eery about the girl I was wooing so strangely, it was a little too much for my fancy that she had come from them.

By this time, I had become decidedly unpopular in my place of business. Not that I had made enemies, but my peculiar ways had caused too much adverse comment. It would have taken very little, I think, to have made the entire office force decide that I was mad. However, they were punctiliously polite to me, and merely let me alone as much as possible—which suited me perfectly. I dragged wearily through day after day, exhausted from lack of sleep, conscious of their speculative glances, living only for the night to come.

One day, I approached the man who had invited me to the camp across the river. “Have you ever noticed the row of tumble-down houses along the canal on the city side?” I asked.

He gave me an odd look. I suppose he sensed the significance of my breaking silence after so long to speak of them.

“You have odd tastes, Morton,” he said after a moment. “I suppose you wander into strange places sometimes. But my advice to you is to keep away from those houses. They’re unsavory, and their reputation is pretty bad. You might very well be in danger of your life, if you go poking around there. They have been the scene of several murders, and a dope den or two has been cleaned out of them. Why in the world you should want to investigate them—”

“I don’t expect to investigate them,” I said. “I was merely interested in them—from the outside. To tell you the truth, I’d heard a story, a rumor—never mind where. But you say there have been murders there—I suppose this rumor I heard may have had to do with an attempted one. There was a girl who lived there with her father once, and they were set upon there, or something of the sort, and had to run away. Did you ever hear that story?”

Barrett gave me an odd look such as one gives in speaking of a past horror so dreadful that the mere speaking of it makes it live terribly again.

“What you say reminds me of something that was said to have happened down there once,” he answered. “It was in all the papers. A little child disappeared in one of those houses, and a girl and her father were accused of having made away with it. They were accused of—oh, well, I don’t like to talk about such things. It was pretty disagreeable. The child’s body was found—or, rather, part of it was found. It was mutilated, and the people seemed to believe it had been mutilated in order to conceal the manner of its death; there was an ugly wound in the throat, it finally came out, and it seemed as if the child might have been bled to death. It was found in the girl’s room, hidden away. The old man and his daughter escaped before the police were called. The countryside was scoured, but they were never found. Why, you must have read it in the papers—several years ago.”

I had read it in the papers, I remembered now. And again, a terrible doubt came over me. Who was this girl, what was this girl, who seemed to have my heart in her keeping?

Befogged with exhaustion, bemused in a dire enchantment, my mind was incapable of thought. And yet, some soul-process akin to that which saves the sleepwalker poised at perilous heights sounded its warning now.

My mind was filled with doleful images. There were women, I had heard and read, who slew to satisfy a blood-lust. There were ghosts, specters—call them what you will; their names have been legion in the dark pages of that lore which dates back to the infancy of the races of the earth—who retained even in death this blood-lust. Vampires—they had been called that. Corpses by day, spirits of evil by night, roaming abroad in their own forms or in the forms of bats or unclean beasts, killing body and soul of their victims—for whoever dies of the repeated “kiss” of the vampire, which leaves its mark on the throat and draws the blood from the body, becomes a vampire also—of such beings I had read.

And, in that last day at the office, I remembered reading of these undead, that in their nocturnal flights they had one limitation—they could not cross running water.

That night I went my usual way, recognizing fully the misery of being the victim of an enchantment stronger than my feeble will. I approached the neighborhood of the canal-boat as the distant city clock chimed the first stroke of twelve. It was the dark of the moon and the sky was overcast. Heat-lightning flickered low in the sky, seeming to come from every point of the compass and circumscribe the horizon, as if unseen fires burned behind the rim of the world. By its fitful glimmer, I saw a new thing: between the old boat and the canal bank stretched a long, slim, solid-looking shadow—a plank had been let down! In that moment, I realized that I had been playing with powers of evil which had no intention now to let me go, which were indeed about to lay hold upon me with an inexorable grasp. Why had I come tonight? Why, but that the spell of the enchantment laid upon me was a thing more potent, and far more unbreakable, than any wholesome spell of love?

Behind me in the darkness there was the crackle of a twig, and something brushed against my arm.

This, then, was the fulfillment of my dream. I knew, without turning my head, that the pale, dainty face with its glowing eyes was near my own—that I had only to stretch out my arm to touch the slender grace of the girl I had so longed to draw near. I knew, and should have felt the rapture I had anticipated. Instead, the miasmic odors of the night, heavy and oppressive with heat and unrelieved by a breath of air, all but overcame me. The little waves of coldness I had felt often in this spot were possessing all my body, yet they were not from any breeze; the leaves on the trees hung down motionless, as though they were actually wilting on their branches.

With an effort, I turned my head.

Two hands caught me at my neck. The pale face was so near that I felt the warm breath from its nostrils fanning my cheek.

And, suddenly, all that was wholesome in my perverted nature rose uppermost. I longed for the touch of the red mouth, like a dark flower opening before me in the night. I longed for it—and yet more I dreaded it. I shrank back, catching in a powerful grip the fragile wrists of the hands that strove to hold me. I must not yield to the faintness that I felt stealing over me.

I was facing down the path toward the city. A low rumble of thunder broke the torrid hush of the summer night. A glare of lightning seemed to tear the night asunder, to light up the universe. Overhead, the clouds were careening madly in fantastic shapes, driven by a wind that swept the upper heavens without causing even a trembling in the air lower down. And far down the canal, that baleful glare seemed to play around and hover over the little row of shanties—murder-cursed, and haunted by the ghost of a dead child.

My gaze was fixed on them, while I held away from me the pallid face and fought off the embrace that sought to overcome my resisting will. And so a long moment passed. The glare faded out of the sky, and a greater darkness took the world. But there was a near, more menacing light fastened upon my face—the light of two eyes that watched mine, that had watched me as I, unthinking, stared down at the dark houses.

This girl—this woman who had come to me at my own importunate requests, did not love me, since I had shrunk from her. She did not love me—but it was not only that. She had watched me as I gazed down at the houses that held her dark past, and I was sure that she divined my thoughts. She knew my horror of those houses—she knew my new-born horror of her. And she hated me for it, hated me more malignantly than I had believed a human being could hate.

Could a human being cherish such hatred as I read, trembling more and more, in those glowing fires lit with what seemed to me more like the fires of hell than any light that ought to shine in a woman’s eyes?

At this point in the happenings of that night, my calmness deserted me; at this point I felt that I had been drawn into the midst of a horrible nightmare from which there was no escape, no waking! As I write, this feeling again overwhelms me, until I can hardly write at all—until, were it not for the thing which I must do, I would rush out into the street and run, screaming, until I was caught and dragged away, to be put behind strong bars. Perhaps I would feel safe there—perhaps!

I know that, terrified at the hate I saw confronting me in those redly gleaming eyes, I would have slunk away. But the two thin hands that caught my arm again were strong enough to prevent that. I had been spared her kiss, but I was not to escape from the oath I had taken to serve her.

“You promised, you swore,” she whispered at my ear. “And tonight you are to keep your oath.”

My oath—yes, I had an oath to keep. I had lifted my hand toward the dark heavens, and sworn to serve her in any way she chose. Freely, and of my own volition, I had sworn. I sought to evade her.

“Let me help you back to your boat,” I begged. “You have no kindly feeling for me, and—you have seen it—I love you no longer. I will go back to the city—you can go back to your father, and forget that I broke your peace.”

The laughter that greeted my speech I shall never forget.

“So you do not love me, and I hate you! Have I waited these weary months for the water to stop, only to go back now? When the water was turned into the canal while I slept, so that I could ever escape until its flow should cease, because of the thing that I am—when the imprisonment we shared ceased to matter to my father—come on board the deserted boat tomorrow, and see why, if you dare!—I dreamed of tonight! I have been lonely, desolate, starving—now the whole world shall be mine! And by your help!”

I asked her, what she wanted of me. I knew that there was that on the opposite shore of the great river where the summer camps were, that she wanted to find. In the madness of my terror, she made me understand and obey her. I must carry her in my arms across the long bridge over the river, deserted in the small hours of the night.

The way back to the city was long tonight—long. She walked behind me, and I turned my eyes neither to right nor left. Only as I passed the tumble-down houses, I saw their reflection in the canal and trembled at the thought of the little child this woman had been accused of slaying there, and at the certainty I felt that she was reading my thoughts.

I know that we set our feet on the long, wide bridge that spanned the river. I know the storm broke there, so that I battled for my footing, almost for my life, it seemed, against the pelting deluge. And the horror I had invoked was in my arms, clinging to me, burying its head upon my shoulder. So increasingly dreadful had my pale-faced companion become to me, that I hardly thought of her now as a woman at all.

The tempest raged still when she leaped down out of my arms on the other shore. And again I walked with her against my will, while the trees lashed their branches around me, showing the pale underside of their leaves in the vivid frequent flashes that rent the heavens.

On and on we went, branches flying through the air and missing us by a miracle of ill fortune. Such as she and I are not slain by falling branches. The river was a welter of whitecaps, flattened down into strange shapes by the pounding rain. The clouds as we glimpsed them were like devils flying through the sky.

Past dark tent after dark tent we stole, and past a few where lights burned dimly behind their canvas walls.

Outside a lighted tent she stopped, motioning me back. I saw her dark form silhouetted against the tent; saw it move stealthily toward the door-flap—saw it stand once more against the canvas wall and then grow in size and blur in outline as she moved away inside the tent. I heard her voice speak in those low, thrilling tones that had enchanted my soul at our first meeting:

“I’m so sorry. I lost my way in the storm. Please let me stay awhile; I’m so very tired, and cold.”

I knew the nature of the woman I had carried across the river in my arms. I knew what was to follow. She would kiss him and then—

She had spared me the vampire kiss. She was so eager to use me as a tool, to get her away into the world of living men and women. And so now I might go free. Within this tent, tonight, she would satisfy the long-denied blood-lust. There had been that urgent hunger in her voice which told me so.

The two voices in the tent fell so low I lost their words; yet those low tones spoke for themselves. And there was nothing in the world that I could do in the way of giving an alarm. You can’t bolt into a man’s tent and warn him against a beautiful woman to whom he is about to make love, because she is a vampire. Having myself locked up in an asylum would save no one from the evil I had unwittingly loosed.

Head bent under the rain that fell more quietly now, I climbed down to the water’s edge. The wind had fallen. Reeds sighed along the river bank. The crash of waves subsided to a somber lapping against the rocks. The clouds parted and drifted away horizonward as I stood long in thought, and the gibbous moon shone far and dim behind a mist-veil.

And I knew what I must do. I know, as I write these last words, that it is what I want to do. If love and hate are akin, so, too, are enchantment and horror. When my terrible love crept into the tent of that other man, I knew that, abhor her as I might, I could not live without her.

She has spared me the vampire kiss. But I will have that from her, even as I save others from her curse. I have earned it with my soul. I will know that dark ecstasy, and I will insure that no other knows it after me.

It is strange how life leads one through the happy paths of childhood and of youth to an ordained destiny. I had a young uncle who loved tales of old knighthood, as I have loved the macabre. He made me a sword out of oak, on a happy day in my boyhood. And when he went to volunteer in a war of one of the “little peoples,” he tipped the sword with a point. He fell in his first action, far on foreign soil. The sword hangs on my wall. I have never taken it down since he went away.

The dawn broke at last, sick and storm-washed. I did not see them go; but I know that her victim-lover will have carried her back across the bridge over the rushing water. For since she is what she is, she must go back to the old canal-boat. There she must sleep until tonight.

And there I will come to her then. I will take the tipped sword, and I will hold it behind me in the shadows.

“I have come back to be with you forever,” I will say. “There can be no other woman’s face before my eyes; only yours, heart-shaped and pale and beautiful. I would leave Heaven and go to Hell for your kiss, and be glad. Kiss me now—”

And then I will take the wooden sword, for wood is fatal to all vampires of whatever age, I will take the wooden sword and I will…

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 2019-05-17  59m