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
Copyright © 2005
Serena Dubois' first contribution to Tangor's Pastiche and Fan Fiction is a midnight moment on that most mystically charged of all days of the year—and provides an unusual glimpse into the inner workings of a young girl's mind.
I jerked up with a start when the knocker clanged hollowly at my door, followed immediately by my grandfather clock striking midnight. "Kind of late for callers." I shook my head to clear the cobwebs and glanced down again at The Portable Jung lying in my lap. "And way too late for trick-or-treaters!" I snuggled back down under the heavy comforter.
"Brrrrrr! These October nights are cold—not that that kept the hordes away. Never quit all evening!" The knocker clanged again repeatedly this time, showing the callers impatience.
"That's shot down my reading! Whoever that is, is not going away!" I slammed the volume onto the pile of astrological and occult books I had been studying, and shivering, pulled on the red robe that lay on the end of my bed.
"Bloody inconvenient!" I quickly brushed my hair and, having pinned it up haphazardly, hurried down the stairs. Peering out through the yellow glass door, I saw a tall, black-clad slender figure. He rapped on a pane in the door. I could hear his voice faintly.
"May I come in?" Hesitantly, I opened the door as far as the chain lock would allow.
"What do you want?"
"May I come in?" His eyes met mine steadily.
"It's a bit late for trick-or-treating." Through the crack in the door, I took in the opera cape fluttering around him, the silk hat, the ruby in the lace at his throat. And you're a bit too old! I gazed up at his graying hair as he swept his hat off.
"I'm not trick-or-treating." The young lips in the old face smiled, showing perfect teeth. "I heard you asking after me, and it seemed like an appropriate time."
"Asking after you? Are you crazy? I never saw you before." I started to shut the door, but paused, conscious of his dark eyes, glittering, boring through me as I stared up at him. They twinkled behind their severity, carrying me back to my childhood and my grandfather's shrewd handling of my maneuvers.
"May I come in?" he asked a third time as if he hadn't heard me. I began to remove the chain and then stopped.
Girl, are you crazy? Letting him into your house in this neighborhood at this time of night? Just because he reminds you of your grandfather?
"You need not worry so," his voice came whispering through the cracked door.
"That's what you say! I don't see why this can't wait till morning."
"I work nights and sleep days."
"Oh, all right. Come in!" With this ungracious concession, I slipped the chain and let him enter. He smiled gently as I slammed the door behind him.
"Besides, I know you are a night owl also."
Night owl, hummft! More like a bat in that cape! I glanced back at him before heading back up the stairs.
"Yes, much more like a bat," his quiet voice answered my thought. "How perceptive of you!"
I looked back abruptly. He smiled again, and to cover my astonishment, I gathered my graciousness around me.
"May I make you some tea?"
"It has been a long time. Yes, thank you."
He followed me down the dark hall, through the back parlor and into the kitchen. Having settled down in one of my black kitchen chairs, he threw his cape back behind him and stretched his long legs out. As I puttered around, setting the pot on to boil and gathering the tea things together, I thought I heard him sigh. I turned to set our cups and saucers on the table and saw him resting as quiet as the dead, his eyelids concealing that penetrating gaze.
Weird man, weird night. What am I doing? I could get myself raped letting strange men into my house in the middle of the night.
"You need not concern yourself with that," came softly. "While some of my people have gone that way, I have never cared for it. Seduction was always so much more enjoyable! And lately, I have found mutual consent to be far better." A whimsical note entered his voice.
A frisson ran down my spine. I swung back hurriedly to pour the boiling water over the waiting tea leaves and then faced him again, teapot in hand. He looked up at me lazily from under his lowered lids.
"O.K., so you read minds!" I retorted. "If you can do that, you probably can control minds and don't have to rape. That still doesn't tell me who you are or why you've made yourself at home in my kitchen in the middle of the night. I don't read minds."
"You needed to talk to me…" After a long pause, he continued haltingly, his self-assurance broken for the first time.
"And I needed someone to talk to… Many long years have passed since I was truly welcomed into someone's home like this. I heard the interest in your mind and felt your sympathy calling to me on the night wind, and I came."
I dropped the teapot on the table with a rattle and backed into the other chair silently. Dear Lady Goddess, protect me on this your Holy Night. I knew no evil influence could come unbidden into my house. I tried to smile back at him as I felt sourness rise up in my throat. You asked him in. You asked him in!
He was silent now, and I saw the look of anguished understanding in his eyes. Slamming the lid on a rising host of inky devils, I straightened my back and motioned toward the pot. He nodded and held his cup out to be filled. I silently congratulated myself for not spilling any as I filled my own cup and lifted it to him.
"Pax… fr- fr- friend… and welcome to my home."
He smiled reassuringly, and having lifted his cup to me, touched it to his lips, murmuring, "Yes, pax."
I settled my cup back into its saucer before I spoke.
"So, maybe I do need someone to talk to. But you? I really don't know. Perhaps you are the Wise Old Man, the perfect counselor . . ."
"I have been that," the whisper floated past me.
"Or the High Priest . . ."
"That too, I was." The words lingered, pulling me onward.
"Or the Hanged God twisted on his Tau." I fought down a wild, high note.
"And that as well," his voice came sadly back.
"But I sense another side of you. You raise my fears of some ancient exsanguinating, night-walking thing." The words shuddered out of me, and I lowered my head.
"You brought me here. I am here because of your cry for help, your need to face that fear that is in your blood. That need to face me!" His voice strengthened. "So, Woman! Do it. Face me."
My head jerked up. Those dark eyes bored through me. He reached across the table and took my chin in his hand. "Face me!" he repeated. "You can. I know it. Yes! I am everything you said and much besides, and you do fear me. But I fascinate you more. I know you as I know myself. And when you push aside your fear, you will know me."
I pulled myself from his grasp, turning my face away.
"Turn back, my dear, turn back," came softly, sweetly. "You know it's true. You have known me of old. Your race has used me and my cohorts for centuries untold."
"Your cohorts?" I twisted around to face him.
"The Hallowe'en brigade as it were," he answered wryly. "When I was young, you worshipped us. Later you sought to destroy us with your useless crosses and holy water, garlic and silver bullets. These days you make jokes about us! Or attend those moving pictures you love so much, where you can shiver and shake, throw off your loathing and then go home free for a time— having dumped it all on us." He sighed again, wearily this time.
"Well? How else could it be?" I countered.
"You tell me."
He pulled himself out of his lethargy, and his hypnotic stare once again held me fixed. My awkwardness melted away, and turning, changing, I was suddenly four-footed on the ground. Lithe. Graceful. Warmed by a fur coat. And at the same time, I remembered the envy that came whenever I heard my scruffy white cat yowling out his love to the full moon. Abruptly the moment passed, and I was once again perched on the kitchen chair and staring at the floor.
"You're right. There are times when I would give my eye teeth . . ." Pausing, I glanced up, saw him wince, and then continued, "…to be a cat, a wolf, a bear, at a time, in a place where man doesn't exist. . . times when I don't much…" I stopped. I can't say that. I can't . . . I can't!
"…like your species," he finished for me. "Yes, I know. But what is that phrase I have heard of late? You do not like to…cop to it? Is that it?"
"Yes. Yes! Yes! Damn you! Yes, I fear my animal self, my unconscious self. And yes, I don't like to cop to it. Who does? Do you?" I dragged myself off the chair and stared down at him. He met my gaze unwaveringly.
"I have never had any choice in the matter," he replied tranquilly. "My nature will not allow it. I have had to learn to control it—as you must! Because you have recognized that need. I could not come to you until you called me, wanted me."
"Want you? You? In all that funereal black! You!" My back to him, I looked out the window at the moonlit night.
"You should not deny it," he answered gently as he came up behind me. His long-fingered hands on my shoulders turned me around to face him. "I am not alien. I am the Dweller on your Threshold who could not enter until you invited me."
And will not leave now that he is here! The panicked thought rose up. What have I done? What should I do?
"Come to me, and I will show you," he answered my thought. "You have called me, whether or not you knew it, and I came. You invited me into your home. Now you have acknowledged me and your kinship with me. You must let me give to you my essence, while you share yourself with me, and I may not leave until you do. Once you have done so, I can never truly depart from you again. When you have joined yourself to me, I will always be here for you."
All resistance gone, I raised my head in acquiescence and exposed my throat to him.
He took the ruby stickpin from the lace at his neck and dropped it into my outstretched hand.
"Come!" he repeated the command. I looked up and saw a faint pulsation near his mouth.
"You want… me…to…" I stared at his chest where the shirt had fallen open. "I thought… you would…"
I ran down the darkened hall to the safety of my bedroom and burrowed under the quilts. I lay in a fetal heap in the darkness, backed up against the buttress of my pile of books, and clutched the ruby to me. Moments later, I felt his cool touch through the blankets.
"Come out, Woman!" he commanded. "You cannot turn back now. And I am not allowed to bind your mind and senses with my power as I have with others in the past. I may not make it easier for you, or for myself, this time."
I turned under the covers and rose out of the tangle. My red robe's twisting folds bound me, and I yanked it off and tossed it aside. He gazed joyously into my eyes as he took the pins from my hair. I shook it down my back. As my finger moved of its own volition to touch his lips and then drift smoothly down his cheek to the translucent skin on his neck, I finally knew the reality behind that black-clad legend. Reaching out tentatively, the ruby still in my hand, I brushed his chest. Hesitated. The pain! His hand covered mine and bore down firmly. My head sank to his bloodied chest, and I drank. Some time later, I felt those young lips brushing against my face, kissing me. With a sudden sharpness at my throat, all time melted away.
I awoke alone in the double bed, with its books stacked on the backside and flowing over onto the floor, and stretched lazily.
Well, that was some kind of weird Hallowe'en dream. Jung would have loved it! Better get up, I guess. Something pricked my bare foot as it touched the floor. What the hell? I leaned over and saw something glowing red against the rag rug in front of my bed.
"Well, I'll be damned!" I bent over and picked up the ruby stickpin and stared down at it in bemusement.
"I doubt that." A soft, deep voice tickled through the corridors of my mind.
"What! You really were here?"
"I really was, and now I always will be. Man has called me…"
"…vampire," I whispered.
"Your friend Jung had a better name for me."
"Animus? Or Dark Shadow?"
"Both, my love, my self. I am within you. Part of you. You need never again seek me in the men you know."
"Oh yes! Pax, friend! Welcome to my home."
"Pax," the exultant whisper came as he nestled in the reaches of my being.