Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
ERBLIST FEATURES FAQs, Articles, Reviews, Persona Directory, Hall of Memory SUMMARY PROJECT Summarizing ERB's works one chapter at a time FAN FICTION Shorts, Novels, Poetry, Plays, Pulps ERBmania! Articles, Contributors: Tangor Responds, Edgardemain, ERB: In Focus, Nkima Speaks, Beyond 30W, Tantor Trumpets, Dime Lectures, Korak in Pal-ul-don, Public Domain novels of ERB GLOSSARIES Worlds of: Barsoom, Pellucidar, Moon, Amtor, Caspak, Pal-u-don
A Tale of Dark Shadows
1966. . .
Sam Evans turned abruptly on his barstool at the diner to stare at a radio that sat on a shelf behind his daughter Maggie. He had not been paying attention to it until he heard the shrill cry of seagulls over the haunting litany:
"Remember — walkin' in the sand
Remember — walkin' hand in hand
The night was so exciting
Your smile was so inviting"
"Could you change that channel, Maggie?" he asked his daughter, who was checking the coffee pot.
"Sure, Pop," Maggie replied, twisting the knob. "I didn't know you hated rock and roll. That's a pretty nice one by the Shangri-La's."
"It's not the song so much as those birds," Sam explained. "That damn shrieking."
"Pop, they're just seagulls. You hear them all the time."
"Not like that, not with those words, not at night —" He turned away and stared outside the coffee shop window and the fog shrouded night. Great ragged wisps floated in and out of the yellow streetlights, and Sam's mind was filled with the shrieking of birds. Then, as the girl in the song had prompted, he remembered, walking in the sand . . .
1942 . . .
Sydney, Australia was a rather wholesome place for US Navy personnel to be let loose, but it was the nearest friendly port of any size. Able-bodied Seaman first class Sam Evans found Sydney a charming place, somewhat like Collinsport, only larger. It was certainly a change of pace from his last berth in the aircraft carrier Lexington. From his bunk in an Australian military hospital, he recalled the desperate actions of that engagement the papers and radios were calling the Battle of the Coral Sea.
He was in a gun tub with Gunner's mate Arnie Hanson, a big Swede from Minnesota, when the air attack alert came. Sam slapped on his helmet, and helped Arnie swing the four-barrelled anti-aircraft gun skyward. The heavy gun, called a "Chicago Piano," was cranked up just as Sam saw the first dots of the approaching Jap dive-bombers.
Arnie worked the gun controls and began to site at the rapidly growing planes. American interceptors, Wildcats, mostly, went after the Kates and Nells; but Jap Zeros tangled with them, and some of the dive-bombers and torpedo-bombers got through. Sam jumped when Arnie fired the gun, and its four barrels began to hose 1.1 inch shells at the Jap planes. He could feel the Lexington buck beneath him as her captain turned away from the torpedoes that Sam knew must be in the water by now.
Planes began to tumble from the sky amid black puffs of smoke, but not enough. The deck leaped and the air became full of flying metal as bombs hit Sam's ship. Deep below, he felt the old Lex shudder with anguish as bombs and torpedoes hit her. He turned to Arnie only to find his partner silent, blood pouring from the stump of his neck where a shard of metal had sheared off his head. Sam didn't remember much after that, only that another explosion nearby had lifted the tub from its moorings and that he was flying through the air.
He woke up on a hospital ship bound for Sydney, his leg wrapped up worse than Boris Karloff in "The Mummy." The doctor who checked on him said that he was lucky not to have lost the leg. Luckier than Arnie Hanson, Sam thought bitterly, as his consciousness was tinged with a throbbing from his leg. The trip to Sydney seemed interminable.
After a week, Sam was discharged from the hospital and sent over to the US facility near Sydney, actually a part of the Royal Australian Naval base there. The doctors in Sydney assured him that he would be able to walk unaided after a few more weeks, but his days in the military were over if he wanted. Sam decided to think about it for a few days. The place he went to do most of his thinking was an off-base bar near the beach called "The Singapore Sling." It was a quaint little dive left over from the heyday of the Royal Navy. It's dark rough-hewn plank walls were festooned with Empire memorabilia and naval bric a brac, spiced with a flavor of Singapore, Rangoon, and Hong Kong.
The proprietor and usual barkeep was a bulging fellow with a long scar that ran crosswise from left temple to just under his right ear. Age had softened that crease but it still gave the man's face a grim, twisted look. Sam understood the man's name was Alfie, but gained little other information. A shot glass of Alfie's rum was the equal of any two back in the States, and that was enough for Sam to know.
Sam's artistic leanings began to resurface after his many months at war, and he found himself taking his sketchbook to the bar and doing a few studies. Normally, he would come in, order a drink, find an empty table and set up there. Since the bar's patrons were mostly ex-seamen, they provided good characters for Sam's pencils. The few call-girls that passed through soon got the idea that Sam wasn't interested. After all, he was engaged back home.
Sam's last night in Sydney turned out to be a memorable one. He had got his papers to go home on an empty troop transport that had just come in from Pearl Harbor. From there, a medical discharge and back to Collinsport. Sam was sick of war, and the prospect of going home lightened his mood so he didn't mind the ache in his leg. He gathered up his materials and limped off to the Sling.
About an hour after he had arrived, Sam was startled by a dark shadow falling over his sketchbook. He had been doing a sketch of a young Aussie sailor. Looking up, he saw a tall, older man bending over to examine his work. The man had almost pure white hair over a face that looked like it had lost all trace of life. Only the man's blue eyes seemed to hold any spark of animation. Sam could guess nothing by the man's neat, if sweat-stained, tropical clothes. He sat back and waited for the man to speak.
"I hope I am not disturbing you," the man offered. Sam's subject had finished his drink and was getting up, so Sam put down his pencil and gave his attention to the speaker. "Your work shows a great deal of promise. Do you paint as well?"
"Yes," Sam confirmed, as the Aussie sailor headed out of the bar and toward the beach. "Most of my materials went down with my ship. I managed to get this book and some pencils from the base exchange. Are you an artist?"
"I've dabbled," the man murmured. "You have managed to catch quite a bit of each subject's being; their soul, perhaps I should say."
"I wouldn't go that far," Sam said modestly. "My name is Sam Evans."
He found the man's hand slender in his grip, the palm smooth and dry. "Harrison Monroe. I do some war art for the newspapers."
"I saw some of your work before I shipped from Pearl," Sam allowed. "Good action scenes. Must have gotten some good descriptions."
"Hardly," Monroe chuckled, which sounded bizarre coming from his deadpan expression, "I was there."
"Dangerous stuff! You could have been killed."
"You sound like you don't care."
"My greatest days are behind me. When I was younger, back in the nineties, I could put magic into a canvas."
Sam looked into the flashing eyes as he put away his book. "I bet."
"I mean real magic, Sam Evans. Listen, you're young yet, wet behind the ears, still. Where are you from — Boston?"
"Maine — Collinsport."
Monroe stepped back and his face seemed to gain an expression that was as miraculously shocking as the Red Sea parting. "Collinsport — Collinwood?"
"Yeah, that's it. Been there?"
"Once. I did a couple of portraits." Monroe's expression faded as rapidly as it appeared. "The Collins family still run the place?"
"Like royalty. The old man, Jamison Collins, died a few years back, and now the place is run by his oldest daughter, Elizabeth. His son, Roger, will probably take over everything, and God help Collinsport, because he's an arrogant snot already."
"I seem to remember Jamison Collins. What about Quentin Collins?"
"Disappeared. His name's rarely mentioned. Have a drink?"
"Thank you, no. I have to be getting back to my motel. I'm sorry to hear about your loss of materials. Since you gave me a memory about the past, I'll treat you." At that point, Monroe reached into an inner pocket of his tropical suit and produced a paint brush. The bristles were thick and gray, like iron needles. "I was given this brush by a royal fellow, a Count Andre Petofi. It's full of that magic I told you about. I could make a portrait come alive with it, you see."
"Get out of here!" Sam laughed as he seized the brush and examined it. The handle was of a whitish wood, smoothed down to a sharp point. The metal band that held the bristles looked more like silver than nickel plating.
Monroe chuckled again at Sam's remark, that same, whispery death-rattle chuckle. "Very well. Don't believe me. If you need to do something special, that's the brush. The bristles, Petofi told me, were shaved from a demon's back, bound with silver and put in a whitethorn handle. You don't have to believe that part, either. With it, you can do magic. You can make people immortal, or age them beyond imagination."
"That's what an artist does," Sam replied, still not understanding. "We make people immortal."
"Yes," Monroe sighed, realizing that his explanation was lost. "Yes, we do make some people immortal. Well, Sam Evans from Collinsport, farewell."
"Thanks for the brush, mister," Sam said, taking Monroe's leathery hand again. "I'll work some magic. Look me up when the war's over."
"Perhaps I will. Collinsport was a quiet town, for the most part."
With that, Monroe departed, and Sam, examining his brush, felt a small tingle as he twirled the handle. Magic? Most certainly not! Still, he couldn't afford to look a gift horse in the mouth. Tucking the brush into his breast pocket, where it stuck out awkwardly, he decided to quit the humid bar and take a walk down the beach. It was a nice night with a full moon. Maybe he'd run into the Aussie sailor and show him the sketch. Aussie money spent as well as anybody else's.
This stretch of beach was largely unpopulated, especially now that war had shattered normal life. Sam saw no sign of the sailor, but he could be around a jut of rock. The beach was full of rocky jumbles, but not nearly as rock strewn as his own Maine beaches. The first thing Sam noticed was the sound of the birds. A riot of seabirds swirled about in a flutter of ghostly wings. Their raucous cries filled the air as they wheeled and hunted amid the seascape.
Sam walked along, the silvery beach sand illuminated by the large full moon. It seemed to ride along the night sky like a round airship. Waves crashed gently beside him and this world of darkness and beauty seemed far removed from that other world hundreds of miles to the north, where men and machines battled each other for global supremacy. He stopped for a moment to think about a scene when he heard a sibilant scuff along the sand behind him.
He thought perhaps it was the sailor, but instead he found himself looking into the luminous green eyes of a woman. She was as tall as Sam, well-formed but not overly voluptuous. There was an Asian cast to her features, reinforced by her night-dark hair that shimmered in the moonglow. Sam found her costume to be no more than a red sarong decorated with yellow flowers. The vivid red of the sarong was matched by a similar ruddiness coating her full, sensuous lips. Sam noted that those lips were curved in a smile, and suddenly his fiancee seemed far away.
"Hello," he greeted. "I almost didn't hear you come up."
"I came up the beach," she said in a musical voice that sounded more Philippine than anything else.
Sam looked beyond her, but the only tracks were just behind her, almost as if she were coughed up by the ocean. He thought about the possibility of her being a Japanese spy shot out of a submarine, but decided she would be better equipped, in the gadget department at least. To Sam's eye, the equipment she was born with was more than adequate.
"Live around here?" Sam continued.
"Down the beach," she said, nodding past him with her head. "You 'Merican." She spoke this as a statement.
"Yeah, that's right," Sam confirmed. "On your way home?"
She nodded. "Long night."
"How about I walk you home?" Sam put on a more respectable look. He thought about Lynette, his fiancee back home, and that if she needed an escort, maybe somebody would fill that role. This made Sam abandon any lascivious thoughts, but he still felt like walking the girl home was the thing to do.
"Sure, 'Merican," she agreed and they began to walk on, side-by-side.
"My name's Sam."
"You don't talk much, Suroya."
"What you want me say?" They had stopped at a turn in the beach, where a wall of rock made a natural partition. Beyond, the surf had formed a pool and the sea-birds were thick as down around it, squawking and fighting. Their noise almost drowned out her voice. "I lonely girl and you lonely man. You big, strong 'Merican, and me little cute native girl. You like?"
"You are cute," Sam admitted. "I got a girl back home, though."
"She far away. Suroya here. Maybe you like kiss Suroya?"
Sam was set back a bit by this. The girl was coming on pretty strong. Yes, he wanted to kiss her, but he didn't think it was right. He was leaving in the morning. It was an ungentlemanly thing to do.
"Say, I just met you," he pointed out.
"This war-time. You, me, both be dead tomorrow, maybe-so. You no like me?"
"What's not to like? I just never had it put to me like this before."
They were at the edge of the pool. The gulls and terns parted and then reformed like a squealing mist around them. There was something in the pool that they were tearing at, but Sam's full attention was on the green-eyed Suroya, and her gaze seemed to draw him within its emerald embrace.
"Maybe you never had woman do asking before. You scared?"
"No!" Sam protested. Now he felt his manhood in question. There was no turning back from this point. Without further hesitation, he took the slender girl in his arms and crushed her lips to his own. As he did this, several things occurred that caused him a great deal of consternation.
The first was the fact that her lips, while moist, were rather clammy. The second was a odor of what seemed like burning hair. Finally, Suroya tore from his embrace with a strength far in excess of her slim form. She staggered back amid the shrieking birds, momentarily disoriented. Sam could see that there was a black spot the size of a half-dollar on her left breast, and that smoke was curling from it.
He looked down at his shirt to see what could have caused this and found that his new brush was sticking out of his pocket, and that something that looked like burnt bacon was adhering to the silver band that held the bristles. How could cold metal cause such a nasty burn, and why wasn't he burnt, too? He removed the brush and examined it. It didn't feel hot.
"You okay?" he asked Suroya.
"What happened? This brush seems to have burned you."
"Maybe something in brush. Suroya have very sensitive skin. Paint not good for Suroya. Maybe you put down brush and we kiss more."
"I'm not sure I feel like kissing now. Aren't you hurt?"
"Not hurt. Maybe now you feel like kissing."
With an easy gesture, Suroya undid the sarong and let it flutter away from her body like a red kite, revealing her luscious charms for Sam's inspection. However, the discarded garment frightened the sea-birds, and a section of them lifted off in a white explosion of wings. When they did, they uncovered the object they were feeding on.
To Sam's horror, it was a body wearing an Australian naval uniform. Though the man's face was a red ruin, Sam knew that it had to be the fellow from the bar. Something had killed him. Sam had a glimpse of the man's ripped open shirt collar, exposing a throat torn out to the point of exposing the esophagus. He started toward the corpse, then turned back to Suroya.
Suroya was different.
She had lost none of her suppleness, but her body had undergone a transformation into something not quite human, but not wholly reptilian or wholly piscine, either. Suroya's flesh was now coated with glistening scales of a grayish color that paled to a dirty white along her belly. Webbing was evident between her fingers and toes, and each finger was now tipped with an inch-long claw. Her face had lost its humanity, and looked lizard-like, her hair now a cobra-like hood that fanned out as she breathed. Fangs the diameter of pencils jutted from her fish-mouth, but she retained her green, glowing eyes.
"You no like Suroya now?" it hissed as a pink tongue slithered out several inches and returned to its fanged enclosure.
Sam had no idea what he was facing. It was a living nightmare, worse than any horror movie he could recall. Death was close, and its rank breath made him ill. Sam knew he was weaponless. Or was he? He remembered now Harrison Monroe's tale about the magic brush and its silver band. He remembered about the whitethorn and the demon-bristles. The silver had burned Suroya! Maybe it was magic.
As Suroya spread her arms and came at Sam, he ducked low and stabbed with the sharpened brush end. His Navy training paid off, and the point sank deep into the creature's chest. With a steam-whistle shriek, it became paralysed and flopped onto the sand at Sam's feet. To his amazement, the creature trembled palsiedly for a few moments, and then began to dissolve away in a gelatinous ooze.
Soon not even a skeleton was left as the foul-smelling slime ran slowly down to the surf and was washed away. All that remained in the wet sand was the magic brush. Sam picked it up and wiped the sand particles from it. He then put it back in his pocket and ran from the beach as fast as his wounded leg would carry him, hurried on by the demonic squealing of the sea-birds.
"Sorry, Maggie, I was just thinking about the old days, about the war," Sam murmured.
"Well, your coffee's dead cold. You want some more?"
"No thanks, sweetheart. I think I'm going down to the Blue Whale and get a drink."
"Okay, Pop. You be careful now. The fog's bad. I wouldn't want anything to get you."
Sam gave a forced chuckle in reply and rose from his stool. Things had been very peaceful for him since that faraway night. He kept his magic brush, but he never used it. It seemed as if he were waiting for the right time, the right event, perhaps the right portrait. At any rate, Sam would pull the brush out occasionally and clean off the tarnish, then put it back in his paint-box.
As he passed out into that fog-shrouded night, a pretty young lady with long brown hair and a long trenchcoat brushed past him to enter the diner.
"Hello," he heard her tell Maggie, "I need to get to Collinwood. My name is Victoria Winters."
Maggie Evans noticed the paintbrush in a jumble of materials that had been thrown in her father's paint-box immediately after his attack of blindness. She remembered the brush as being one of her father's favorites. Now it was caked with dried paint, its coated bristles stuck to the handle of a palette knife. Gently, she pried the gluey paint loose from the knife and held her father's prize brush up to examine.
As she did, a vision of Sam Evans came to her unbidden. She saw him there at his easel, always wearing a good shirt even when working. In her vision, he was painting, colors flowing across the canvas, and in his hand was the very brush that nestled in her hand. As he worked, the antique silver of the brush's band blazed like lighting, stroke following stroke.
"It's a magic brush," came his voice, and suddenly she was small again, only six, sitting on his knee. Sam's short, brush-bristle beard was softened by his smile as he let his daughter twirl the tool in her plump little fingers. "Whenever I use it, there's a little bit of magic."
She wondered about that, now, so many years later. Certainly, the brush had a special quality about it, a feel of potential power ready to be used. Maggie knew that Sam last used it on a special painting commissioned by Barnabas Collins. Maggie never saw the work, but it was gone now, just like her father was gone, leaving her and the brush as orphans. It was a shame to let it lie there, its bristles ruined by the congealing paint. She rummaged around in Sam's library of art books until she found a booklet on brush care. It took some effort, but she managed to rig up a wire that would dangle the brush into a jar of paint thinner. It would need to soak for some time.
"Honestly, Mr. Blair, I'm not sure what you're more interested in, Pop's pictures or me," Maggie chided, a coy smile on her face. Nicholas Blair stopped a moment to examine her sweet face framed by its luxurious topping of chestnut hair, and was for a rare moment stuck for an answer. He recovered quickly, however, and oozed forth his most charming smile.
"Well, they are both works of art," Blair stated, his dark eyes twinkling. The effect on Maggie was just as he had planned, and his ego expanded immensely as he saw color come to her cheeks.
"Mr. Blair, I don't know what to say," she stated awkwardly.
"Say that you will call me Nicholas," Blair offered, "and that you will sell me another of these paintings."
"Very well — Nicholas. Vicki tells me you have many interests in the art field, and that you restored a painting of hers."
Blair hooded his eyes and stroked his thin mustache for a moment. He had indeed taken a painting of Angelique Bouchard, his partner in witchcraft, and restored it by salvaging Angelique's spirit from its banishment. That had evidently become a waste of time, as well. Nicholas found her to be too emotionally involved with Barnabas Collins to be able to properly advance the cause of Satan on earth. Involved with a mortal! That would be a mistake he would never make. Shoving such thoughts aside, he looked for a way to deflect the conversation from the bumbling Angelique and her painting. He spied a brush dangling in a jar of thinner and was intrigued by its composition.
He could sense its latent power from across the room. The silver band, the whitethorn handle, and the bristles — they had to be demon hair! Where did Sam Evans get that brush? He might have to summon the man's spirit and interrogate him. Nicholas became lost in the possibilities of the brush's potential. So that was how Sam was able to age Angelique's portrait when fire and steel could not harm it!
"Mr. Blair — Nicholas?" Maggie called. "Are you okay?"
"Eh? Oh, I'm fine, Maggie, just fine," Nicholas stumbled. "I was just admiring your father's tools. He was well equipped. What do you plan to do with them?"
"Do with them? Why, I don't know."
"I'd like to purchase them."
"But, I thought you wanted a painting."
"That, too. I'll take his entire inventory of equipment, as well as — " he cast around at the array of canvases before pointing at one which he felt had the most potential, " — that painting there. I'll give you three thousand dollars for the lot."
"Three thousand dollars!" Maggie gasped, eyes wide. "That's too much, Nicholas —"
He held up a finely gloved hand. "Tut-tut! I won't take no for an answer. I have the cash in my pocket." He dipped into his tailor-made suit and produced thirty one hundred dollar bills. Even experts at the Philadelphia Mint could not have deduced them to be fakes. "Here you are. If you will take some of that brown paper on the spindle and cover the painting, I'll collect the tools."
"Well," Maggie hesitated, but only for a second. Nobody would be using Pop's stuff anymore, and Mr. Blair, that is, Nicholas, was an artist of some sort. The added incentive of more money than last time was hard to resist, and besides, Nicholas Blair was a very handsome, and very charming man. "Okay, it's a deal."
Relieved at his easy conquest, Blair began to gather up the materials, careful not to soil his expensive clothes. Finally, almost lovingly, he took the strange brush out of its solution and turned it in his fingers. Wonderful! The silver band was rather harmless in this state. Shaped as a bullet aimed at the heart, though, was another matter. He wiped off the excess thinner with a rag when Maggie turned from wrapping his painting.
"Oh, not that one!" she exclaimed, coming over to take it away. He pulled back his hand just in time.
"What do you mean?" he asked her, keeping the brush at arms length.
"It was Pop's favorite," she explained. "He said it was magic. He told me that he got it during the war from a fellow named Harrison Monroe. I never believed the part about it being magic, but I know he loved that brush."
"But, Maggie, don't you think he would want a fellow artist to have it?" Nicholas pointed out. "Surely you have many other things to remember him by. Besides, you did agree to sell me all his equipment."
"You're right, I did," Maggie conceded, looking deflated. "And you're also right, it should go to another artist."
"Don't be so down, Maggie. It's not going far, and neither am I. You can see the brush any time you like. As a matter of fact, why don't you have dinner with me at my house tomorrow night?"
"I'm sorry, Nicholas, but this time I have to say no. My fiance, Joe Haskell, would be very upset if he thought somebody was moving in on his territory. He socked Willie Loomis pretty good."
"I'll try not to enrage Mr. Haskell then," Nicholas agreed. For his own good, he thought. A shame to think of such a fine young man cut down in the prime of his life, even if he is rather dull. Well, a man with a temper like that can't hold on to a sensitive woman like Maggie. "Well, I'd better be going. I have a few errands yet to run." With an easy motion, he put the brush in the paint box and was gone with his purchases.
Once in his car, he was suddenly struck by a sense of guilt. He almost felt bad about conning Maggie out of Sam's brush. Almost. The feeling passed quickly, and Nicholas attributed it to indigestion.
"I didn't know you were an artist, Mr. Blair," came a voice from behind Nicholas as he worked on a canvas. He turned to find Tom Jennings in the study's doorway that opened into the hall. Jennings had a pair of pliers in his hand, while several other tools hung from a belt around his waist.
"Ah, Tom," Nicholas greeted. He got up and wiped his hands on a rag as he approached the handyman. "How's the wiring coming?"
"Good, real good," Tom commented in his effusive manner. "I'm gonna go on home now. I'll be back tomorrow to finish the upstairs and then I'll check some of the foundations and structural supports."
Nicholas patted Tom on the back as he turned to go. "That will be just fine, my boy, just fine. I'm so glad to find a talented fellow like you to fix up this place." And so glad you are so dense, he thought as he guided Tom out the front door.
Having accomplished that, he returned to his work. The painting had been salvaged from the Collins' garbage. It was quite a job, since the paint had turned an ashy gray color and had cracked like an old house's paint after years of harsh weather. Painstakingly, almost lovingly, he had scraped and cleaned the canvas and was starting anew. The image, however, was not new.
Again, he was restoring Angelique, both two-dimensionally and three-dimensionally. He had been checking her coffin as his artwork progressed and found that the magic brush was doing its job. Her withered, superannuated form was filling out once again to its youthful voluptuousness. The face was still age-worn, but he was saving that for last. Dipping the silver-banded brush into his palette of colors, Nicholas continued.
Soon, the face had been returned to its full beauty, complete with its alluring emerald eyes and enigmatic smile. He added a touch there, delineating two wicked fangs that protruded slightly over her full, sensuous lips. That was it, he thought, the missing element. Poetic justice, he mused, as he cleaned the brush. That is exactly the phrase I am going to use. When the paint dries by tomorrow night, she will be up and around and ready to be used as my pawn.
"So that's how he did it," Angelique whispered as she threw back the cloth covering from her portrait. Her lovely face became contorted with rage as she looked upon her reproduced features, especially the vampire fangs. Nicholas was out at the moment, no doubt pestering the naive Maggie Evans. Poor little fool, Angelique thought. You are as brainless as your likeness, the late Josette Dupres. As the name of her old rival sprang to mind, Angelique was aware that she was no longer alone in the room.
An eerie chill swept through even her undead-cool body. Moving in supernatural silence was a gauzy form, insubstantial as a construct of cobwebs. Angelique recognized the white dress and veil of Josette Dupres herself. Josette turned up her veil and Angelique looked into her beautiful features, and saw a strength there never before exhibited. One hundred eighty odd years had given you some wisdom, thought the witch-turned-vampire.
"What do you want?" Angelique hissed, displaying her fangs like a cat at bay.
"Don't let your hackles rise at the sight of me, ma cheri," came Josette's sibilant whisper. "I have found a need to visit this mortal coil."
"Why, to protect Barnabas from my wrath?" the vampire demanded suspiciously.
"You cannot harm him while the homunculus lives," the spirit revealed, smiling wanly. "I have come to save my soul-mate, the one who shares my essence in this time — Maggie Evans."
"From what, her own brainlessness?" snorted Angelique.
"Do you wish to be rid of Nicholas Blair?" Josette's ghost took a different tack.
"Of course! That arrogant, overblown egomaniac! Ah, now I see! You don't want him to become intimate with Maggie Evans."
"Exactly. She is to be saved for someone else. Someone who will take her away from his vale of tears. Now, my old servant, will you help me one more time?"
"If it means Nicholas getting his comeuppance, I would ally with a member of the Heavenly Host."
"I don't think it will come to that. You have no powers other than your vampiric ones, oui?"
"Oui, c'est dommage," Angelique lamented, falling into the common language the two shared at Martinique. "Oh, for one spell, one cantrip!"
"This will require no inherent powers." Josette drifted to Nicholas' palette. Lying beside it, clean and gleaming, was the magic brush. Josette indicated it with a slim forefinger.
"Here is your bastinado," she whispered. "Take up this brush and paint in your portrait's hand a candle. If you will this painted representation to have the power to link to your Infernal Master, then that shall be accomplished."
"Very well," Angelique decided. She lifted the brush and began to apply paint from tubes in the paint box. Quickly, though with little talent, she laid in a candle, its teardrop of flame glowing with strange power.
"Look," called Josette, pointing to an adjacent table. There, snug in a holder, was the very candle Angelique had painted. She put down the magic brush and took up the candle, holding it lovingly.
"Aren't you afraid I will use my freedom to torment Barnabas?" she demanded of her former mistress.
"No, at least not permanently," Josette assured her. "I have seen you die, ma cheri, and it was not pretty. Nor, I might add, was it deserved. Think about your evil ways, Angelique, while you have time. Now, I must go. What has been done by Nicholas Blair will be undone, and you will be undone as well."
With that last note of warning, Josette's supernatural form dematerialized until it became a swirl of dust-motes that settled in one corner and lay still. Angelique took up the candle and began to chant to the Prince of Fire.
Phillip Todd studied the portrait of Angelique with interest before replacing its cloth covering. He put the painting in a corner of his shop's back room, stacked with several other canvases. He was sure he had enough material for today, his opening day, without this abomination. His own antique shop! It was something he had wanted for years, and now, here in rustic Collinsport, his dream was about to come true. Phillip turned at a sound and found his wife Megan in the doorway, her hands busy as she wiped a brush with a silver band.
"No wonder that woman wanted to get rid of this portrait of herself; its rather lurid with those fangs," he told his lovely wife.
"Mrs. Rumson said her husband might object to it," Megan remembered. "I've got this brush restored. I'd say it will make a nice item. By the look of the design, it must be a hundred years old. And this band — it must be silver. How odd!"
"Odd or not, the whole lot was a bargain," Phillip reminded her. "I'm not sure about this painting. I certainly don't want to display it unless we are desperate. There must be an art store in New York that might be able to peddle this trash. People in New York will buy anything." He took the brush from her and examined it with a critical eye. "Yes, you did a fine job, dear. I bet we can get twenty dollars for it with no problem."
There was the jangle of a bell from beyond the room. "Listen, our first customer!" exclaimed Megan. "Let's see who it is."
Peering out, they saw a regal, middle-aged woman accompanied by a pretty young blonde. Phillip sensed an air of wealth about them. Yes, there was money to be made here in Collinsport. It was certainly better than having a shop in New York, with all its crime. Collinsport seemed to be a very safe place. Yes, thought Phillip Todd as he twirled the magic brush between his fingers, there is nothing dangerous about this town. The worst thing that could happen is that you might die of boredom. Placing the brush behind a counter, Phillip went to greet his customers.
1970 — Barnabas Collins stepped over the blackened sill of Phillip Todd's antique shop. The destruction seemed complete. Flames had gutted the quaint store, destroying its contents . The police and fire departments had departed, leaving a sodden, smoldering shell. Barnabas picked his way through the shapeless lumps of debris, oddly turning over bits with the tip of his silver-headed wolf's head cane. Barnabas wasn't sure what he was looking for, why he had returned after his enraged arson. A weapon, perhaps, he thought. Something he could use against the swirl of enemies that menaced his family. Leviathans, Nicolas Blair, and other villains, all were hedging around Collinsport, readying their lists of blood.
Barnabas' shoe brushed against a pile of burned papers, and they tumbled over, shedding black fragments that shone wetly in the moonlight. As they fell, Barnabas' enhanced gaze noted a glimmer of silver. He bent down and picked the object up, brushing away a coating of clinging ashes. It was a paint-brush. Memory crashed in his mind like the surf at the base of Widow's Hill. He remembered the brush well. It was the same brush that Sam Evans had used to alter Angelique's painting some two years ago. There was something compelling about the length of whitethorn and its tuft of bristly hair bound with thick silver. He was not sure how it got into Phillip Todd's hands, but he wasn't about to let it stay in this wreckage. The Leviathans had taken enough away from him. This fire was only his first shot in his war of revenge.
He held up the brush and rolled it between his fingers as he held it up in the moonlight . He sensed the power in the brush, but how could it have been unleashed was beyond him. He was determined to find out, though, and slipped the brush into a pocket of his coat. An uncomfortable hunger drove him to leave the destruction and seek further torment in that which would bring temporary pause to his unquenchable thirst.
1974 — Barnabas Collins held himself in agony as he sat in an overstuffed chair. Outside the night howled and limbs made rats-claw scratchings on the thick glass windows of the Old House. Candles bloomed and bent as drafts shrieked in through gaps in the ancient mansion. The glass of brandy was empty, its dried last drops making strange, semicircular patters in the bottom of the snifter. Barnabas did not care. The alcohol had taken away none of the pain. It gnawed at him in a blind, resolute way. Days were tolerable, but the night, cold and lonely, was interminable.
Thoughts of Angelique never totally left him, even during the day, but activities dulled the ache like oil of cloves mitigates the excruciating torment of a broken tooth. A hollow booming coming from the knocker on the front doors abruptly broke his turmoil. He got up, straightened his tie, and forced himself to calmness. His hands still shook, he noted, as they gripped the brass handle of the door and turned it. Barnabas let the door swing open, revealing a small, severe figure in the strobing bombardment of the coming storm. It was Dr. Julia Hoffman.
She was dressed in a short raincoat, pitifully inadequate to protect her thin legs. She looked at Barnabas with a gaze full of longing and pity, eyes batting in the sudden light from within.
"Can I come in, Barnabas, or are you going to leave me to be drenched?" She asked.
Barnabas stepped back.
"Forgive me, Julia," he began, slowly, trying to give some coherence to his reply. "I was deep in thought when you knocked. What brings you here on this horrible night?"
She came in and doffed her rain coat, revealing one of her typically drab outfits, this one being a dark knit top with a matching polyester midi skirt. Her reddish bronze hair was tousled by the wind. Barnabas went to his sideboard where he found another snifter.
"A brandy, perhaps?" he asked as he heard her hang up her coat and sit down on the couch. How odd, he thought. Not long ago, I could have actually heard her breathing and heart beat.
"Yes, thank you," she said.
He poured hers and refilled his own. With a snifter in each hand, he walked over to the sofa and presented hers. He then sat down on the opposite end and watched her over the rim of his glass. She sipped hers demurely.
"Now, tell me why you are here," he said.
"I wanted to check on you, Barnabas," she told him. "It's been weeks since you have left the grounds. Roger believes you to be too lazy to take an interest in the family business. Elizabeth thinks you are ill with some wasting disease. Willie hasn't been able to reassure them. Where is he?"
"Gone to visit his Roxanne," Barnabas revealed. "His life is gradually brightening."
"Unlike your own. You are still carrying a torch for her, aren't you?"
"What would you know of that? I held her in my arms, heard that she loved me, knew that I truly loved her, and then she was lost to me. Lost in a way that I cannot change. What happiness can I find, Julia? I come to the final realization of the love of my life, and she is ripped from me."
"You must get beyond this," she said, sliding a bit closer and taking a larger swallow of brandy. "You have correctly said that you cannot change the past and she is gone forever. Go forward and see what happiness you can still grasp in the present."
"What happiness is that?" He snorted.
"Sometimes it is just under your nose," Julia snapped, eyelids fluttering. "And don't tell me I don't know what it means to carry a torch. Barnabas, I have been through the flames with you for years. I have had hopes, and dreams. I have had desires. I —"
She broke off there, gasping a bit with emotion, realizing perhaps that her anger was clouding the point she was trying to make. Barnabas stared at her stupidly, too lost in his mental inertia to grasp what she was saying. Julia was determined, however. Perhaps she felt this was her last, best chance to make her case.
"Well, there it is, Barnabas," she said, and slid across the worn fabric until she was beside him. She then swallowed her brandy in an unladylike gulp. Putting the empty snifter on the floor, she turned to face Barnabas, her face rosy with the rush of the alcohol. He seemed unsure, but did not draw back.
"How many years has it been, Barnabas?" Julia asked, her eyes now softly veiled behind their long lashes. Her smile still came nervously, though. "We have battled Nicholas, Petofi, Judah Zachary, and more. We have a bond."
"I would be a fool to say otherwise," Barnabas managed, unsure exactly what to say.
"Then, take what has always been yours," she stated, throwing wide her arms. "I have done everything else in my power to show you how much you mean to me, how much I care for you. Let me take away your pain."
Barnabas was stunned by her abandon. His eighteenth century mind still had trouble with "liberated" women. "Julia, you don't know what you are saying. The brandy — "
"Is just the beginning of the pleasure we could have, Barnabas. I am ready, this instant to submit to your passions, to be the loving, loyal companion you have desired all these centuries, only to have them elude you in the end. I am here, and will always be here. Take me now, Barnabas!" So saying, she flung her arms around him and dragged his lips to hers.
He shook off his stupor and uncoiled her arms from his neck. "Julia, behave yourself this instant. What has gotten into you? Yes, we have been friends these six years, and I have come to regard you as one of my deepest allies and confidants, but my affection for you runs no deeper. I am sorry if this hurts you, but after your outburst, I can find no delicate way of putting it. Angelique was my one true love, then and now, and I have been the greater fool for not realizing it. Poor Josette, for all her beauty and charm, could not match Angelique's passion and wit. I did love Josette, as I did Maggie, and Roxanne, and Vicki and the rest, but they were idealistic loves, with no real depth to the passion that makes love into hot, roaring romance. Angelique shared many passionate moments, and I should have realized that station means nothing, breeding was no substitute, and a tarnished past did not mean a bright future. Julia, you say you are my friend, that you love me dearly, then understand, and not be bitter. Do not become as I, a furtive figure, preferring to hide in darkness rather than face the light of a light without Angelique."
Julia caught her hand to her throat. "Oh, Barnabas, I am sorry. That is your choice, but remember. You cannot change the past. Now, I have made a fool of myself. I must go." She stumbled to her feet, knocking over her empty snifter and snatching at her raincoat. Before Barnabas could stop her, she had thrown open the heavy door and slipped into the actinic glare of the roaring storm. Barnabas called after her, but was rewarded only by lashing curtains of rain that soaked his face.
He shut the door, and with his back to it, he slid down to the damp carpeting, hot tears mingling with the cold splashes of raindrops. He sat there and cried for some moments, huge wracking sobs that tugged at his very soul. Life was not fair, he considered. What he wanted he could not have, and what he could have, he did not want. The past was immutable, unchangeable. Or was it? He had changed the past before, going back into time to occupy his vampire self, chained in his secret crypt.
The past he wanted to change, though, he had already visited, and while he had altered it to save the future, he had paid a heavy price. He doubted he could use the I-Ching to return to 1840 so precisely as to stop Lamar Trask's fatal shot, and the first Quentin's staircase was destroyed, denying him that route to the past. Was there another way? A way to alter reality, to regain what was lost.
Were this a story, I could rewrite it, he thought. If a drawing, I could erase what I did not care for. Wait, he said to himself. A drawing, why not a painting? Something silver flashed in his memory and he went to his closet. There, he found his old coats from a few years past when he roamed the night in search of blood. He felt the hard shape of Sam Evans' magic brush through the fabric of a coat pocket. Here was his talisman, his key to unlocking the past.
First things first, though, he mused. I need a little practice. He went to his telephone, a sop to Elizabeth's insistence that he not be so isolated. He usually kept it off the hook. He dialed the operator and contacted an art supply company. Yes, he told them, he would pay extra for rush shipping.
"Well, this is a surprise," said Quentin. The day was warm and sunny. He found Barnabas on the lawn of the Old House, sitting before a large easel. Barnabas was applying paint to a canvas with easy, decisive strokes. The silver band of his brush caught the sunlight in dazzling twinkles as his wrist turned it along the canvas's surface. "No more moping about, I see."
Barnabas barely looked up from his work. "Let's just say I have found a new reason to live," he said. He dabbed more paint, twirling his brush to mix the colors from his kidney-shaped pallet before it returned to lay in more of his painting. Quentin noticed a handful of other brushes in a container, all of them pristine, unused.
"You like that brush?" Quentin asked, when Barnabas continued his reticence.
"It does give one a certain sense of creativity," Barnabas murmured. "Have you ever seen it before? Think far back."
Quentin took a good look. The brush did look familiar. How many painters had he encountered in his life? There was the Spanish fellow, what was his name? Yes, Picasso. No, it wasn't his. Wait, he remembered now. Nearly 80 years ago. The memory brought back a flood of emotions, including one of loss, or a woman condemned to the clutches of Death, or Mr. Best, or whatever his real name was.
"Charles Delaware Tate," Quentin said grimly. "I curse that memory. Why remind me of Amanda? I have been separated from her forever."
"Please, cousin," Barnabas said, drawing back from his work. "I didn't mean to cause you pain. Yes, this is evidently Tate's brush, but that's not how I know of it. A couple of years before you came back here, I commissioned Maggie's father Sam to paint over a picture of Angelique. When he did, the image of the picture altered Angelique to her true age at that time. A mere brush couldn't do that. I don't know what happened to it exactly after he died, but it somehow ended up in the Todd's shop. I plucked it out of the ashes of their shop. The fire barely scorched it.
"I know its magic, Quentin. It can make the unreal come to life. It brought your Amanda to life, and aged Angelique one hundred and seventy-five years. Who knows what else it did for Tate or Sam? I know that once I master it, it will change our destinies forever."
"You sound rather forbidding, cousin," Quentin said, trying to be light. "Are you saying that you can breathe life into inanimate objects?"
"Amanda wasn't inanimate," Barnabas contended. "She was non-existent. Yet, she became a real, living person. I can't explain it, but I am hopeful that it still can be. Of course, I am working from memory. Take a look."
Quentin peered around the canvas and looked agape. Barnabas was rendering an uncanny likeness of Amanda, or Olivia Corey, depending on your point of view. In the painting, she was standing safely on the cliff side, instead of being whisked away by the diabolical Mr. Best. Quentin's emotions welled up, and he experienced a torrent of feelings he long thought dormant.
"What have you done?" He yelled at Barnabas, grabbing his cousin by the shoulder so hard that Barnabas almost dropped his brush. "We touched when she slipped. Best got her. Real or unreal, she is lost to me. This painting cannot — "
"But it can," Barnabas said quietly. "This brush," he said, holding it up so that its silver band made the air waver as he swirled it, "however it was made, has that power. Petofi gave this power to Tate, Tate passed on the brush to Sam Evans, because I saw him use it on Angelique's portrait when he aged it, and somehow Phillip Todd got hold of it. I found it in his burned out shop, unscathed in a pile of ashes that should have incinerated it. This brush has power, and I intend to unlock its secrets."
"To become a thing like Petofi?" Quentin drew back.
"No," Barnabas said, shaking his head and giving a sad smile, the first Quentin had seen since his cousin's return from 1840, "to right some wrongs. For too long, I have been a victim, someone forever reacting to the whims and desires of others. Angelique's curse, your ghost, Blair's machinations, Petofi's machinations, and certainly let us not forget Judah Zachary and at least three Reverend Trasks. Oh, and the Leviathans. Of course, being non-human, I don't know if they count, but we shall throw them in for the sake of argument. I am sick of them all, part and parcel, cousin. Now, go to that cliff and see what is there."
Quentin left, hope driving him, and Barnabas replaced that canvas with a fresh one. There was still plenty of daylight.
Nicholas Blair was unhappy. His current job was boring. He had been assigned by his Infernal Master to sit on a stool beside a strip joint's door in downtown Baltimore and entice impressionable young men inside so that they would lose their souls to lust. Most of them didn't need much urging, which made the job even more boring. What was the world coming to, he wondered, when good fell so easily to evil. More than that, such temptations as he purveyed had become so commonplace that they took on an air of downright banality.
"Come on in, they're all naked," he called to the passersby.
One fellow stopped.
"They good looking or dogs?" he demanded.
Blair put a knowing twinkle in his eye, careful not to make it too red looking, and waved to the open door.
"See for yourself, my friend, no obligation,"
The fellow shrugged his shoulders and went in. He did not return.
"Another one bites the dust," Blair sighed. "I, who should be commanding legions of evil to battle for control of the whole planet, stuck here in this smelly city luring people in to see what? Mere exposed flesh. A facade. All enticement, and no delivery. There was a girl once, though. Oh, Maggie, you could have been my true bride, ruling the earth with me at the head of an army of Adams and Eves. Instead, you were my downfall. Brought down by love. Even the Leviathans couldn't help me regain my glory. Now, here I am. I wish I were anywhere but here on this stupid street tricking these stupid humans."
He got his wish rather quickly. Suddenly, he was no longer on Baltimore's infamous Block, but back at the scene of his defeat. The Old House of Collinwood loomed up before him, and there sat his nemesis, Barnabas Collins, idly painting a picture. Blair, never one to be at a loss for long, assumed he had been reassigned. He immediately changed out of his street-wise leather jacket and stacked heels back into a conservative charcoal gray suit and patent leather Florsheims. A fresh carnation appeared in his buttonhole, and he produced a pair of lemon yellow gloves from one pocket and deftly put them on.
"Being able to alter reality is nice, isn't it?" said Barnabas after Blair had completed his transformation. Nicholas straightened his red silk tie and smoothed down his white shirt. He felt better than he had in months. Was this some new assault on the Collinses?
"Well, it is convenient," Nicholas said, fingering one side of his mustache. "I suppose you are wondering what brings me here." He was wondering that, himself.
"No, I know that," Barnabas said, holding up a painting of Blair standing in the exact spot he now occupied, wearing the exact outfit. Nicholas, for once, became speechless.
Barnabas continued to work on his current canvas. "Stunned, I suppose. Well, Nicholas, I have decided to tie up any loose ends around here. You have plagued this family for years, and I am done. You, and Count Petofi, and Judah Zachary all had powers so dangerous that you were almost unstoppable. I can't let you loose again. Your time on earth is done."
"Just like that?" Nicholas snorted. "You are now warlock, Barnabas. You couldn't stop me. Angelique wasn't even my equal, at least when I knew what she was up to. If you think you can impress me with your artistic skills, forget it."
"My skills are nothing, but this brush is everything," he said, hands flying over the canvas. "Observe. I am done with this one. The canvas is complete."
He turned the painting so that Blair could see. It was a fair representation of the Pits of Hades. Flames danced around, and the walls looked like barely solidified lava. Chained against the walls were Blair and four other individuals. Little demons about knee high jumped around and poked at the men with appropriately scaled pitchforks. Blair looked aghast at his painted countenance, which was twisted in torment.
"You will get to know your cellmates in due time, especially since you have all eternity with nothing better to do," Barnabas said. "The portly one is Count Petofi, a sorcerer like yourself. The balding fellow is Judah Zachary, another fellow wizard. I am sure you can trade recipes or something. The two gentlemen in black priestly garments are Reverend Simon Trask and Reverend Gregory Trask. Perhaps they can hear your confessions. Well, the paint is starting to dry already. These spring days do have a cozy warmth to them, don't they? Especially after a nice rain. Give all those fellows my regards, Nicholas."
"You can't!" Blair protested. "Locking me in a molten cell with those lunatics and also-rans? Me, Nicholas Blair, sorcerer supreme? You will pay for this, Barnabas Collins. I won't be locked up like that, I won't —"
He vanished in mid-tirade.
"You will," Barnabas said quietly, and replaced that canvas with an unfinished one. He went inside and changed into the clothing in which he had returned from 1840. Beloved cane in one hand, he took his magic brush and filled in the last strokes, then stood back to watch the painting dry in the setting sun.
He had recreated his tragedy in 1840. Instead of being in Angelique's arms when Lamar Trask broke in on them waving his pistol, Barnabas had placed himself beside the door, cane raised high, when Lamar would come through. Trask had no real chance of reacting, the way the scene was set. Barnabas knew this would be his chance for happiness. The paint dried and he felt himself disappear. He had left a note for Quentin. He was going where he belonged.
A large, ornate headstone appeared beside the Collins family crypt, weathered as if it had been there all along. I read: BARNABAS AND VALERIE COLLINS, SEPARATED NOT BY TIME NOR DEATH.
The Canvas was complete.