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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - The Obsession

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  • brent wodehouse
    T h e O b s e s s i o n by William Relling Jr. Promotional spots, fifteen seconds long each, began to air twenty-four hours before the show s broadcast. The
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2011
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      T h e O b s e s s i o n

      by William Relling Jr.


      Promotional spots, fifteen seconds long each, began to air twenty-four
      hours before the show's broadcast. The spots were straight-forwardly and
      simply done: close-ups of the Host peering directly into the camera as he
      intoned in a stentorian voice, "Tomorrow, an All Hallow's Eve special. The
      Prince of Darkness, _live_ on our next show." His spiel was as effective
      as a carnival pitchman's.


      The show's producer, Mr. Harker, was a small, balding toad of a man.
      When a researcher brought to his attention the story in the _New York
      Post_ concerning the discovery of an honest-to-goodness vampire living in
      Mellin Town, Illinois, Harker rushed the information to the Host.
      "It's the perfect Halloween theme!" cried the producer. "Imagine -
      Dracula himself right here on our stage! Why, compared to the show we did
      with the skinhead transvestite born-again heroin addicts, we'll have ten
      times the audience of that one easily!"
      "I'll have to think about it," the Host mused.
      The producer was crestfallen.
      "I've thought about it," said the Host a moment later.
      The producer beamed.
      Negotiations began. Deals were offered. Lawyers were hired. Contracts
      were struck.
      The date for the show was set. October 31.


      The entire production staff was moved from New York to Chicago for
      Halloween week. It was an accommodation to their guest, who preferred to
      be as close to home as possible.
      On October 29, the Host burst into the office that had been assigned
      to Harker. The Host was livid. He hurled a tabloid news-paper onto the
      producer's desk and demanded shrilly, "Have you seen this?"
      Harker opened the tabloid: the current issue of the _National
      Inspirer_, hot off the press. The top headline story had to do with the
      trainer of a well-known animal actor - the most famous mutt in the world -
      admitting that the canine star had to undergo two years' worth of
      psychotherapy for depression following the cancellation of his network
      television series. The producer looked up at the Host and said, "Do you
      want me to check into booking the dog or the shrink?"
      "Not _that_ story, you boob!" shouted the Host. "_This_ one!" He
      jabbed a finger at the lower left corner of the front page. The was a
      garishly colored photo of the Host, above which was printed: RATINGS SLIDE
      FOR THE "MOST HATED MAN ON TELEVISION"
      The producer blanched. "Well, sir . . ." he began.
      "How can they _print_ such lies?" the Host steamed.
      "Well, sir," said Harker carefully. "You _have_ done one or two shows
      lately that some people might've found a teeny bit . . . offensive."
      The Host stared at him, uncomprehending.
      "Like that one where you had those 300-pound male burlesque dancers
      bumping and grinding down to their G-strings," continued Harker. "Or when
      you had the bulimic teenagers come on and share their favorite recipes,
      and then demonstrate to the audience just how purging is done."
      "What in God's name are you babbling about, man?" said the Host. "I
      don't care about _offending_ people. I care about _this_." He snatched the
      paper from the producer's hands, folded it, then with his fingertip drew
      an invisible underline beneath the word "RATINGS."
      "_This_ is what I came to talk about," said the Host. "You promised
      me big numbers for this Halloween show. I want you to know, I'm _holding_
      you to that promise."
      The producer's forehead had begun to bead with perspiration.
      "So," said the Host, "how are we doing with the arrangements for our
      _other_ guest?"
      "He arrives tomorrow," Harker answered quickly. "From Amsterdam via
      London. Only you and I know that he's going to be here."
      "I'm holding you personally responsible," said the Host. "If it
      happens that we _don't_ manage to have the two of them on the show
      together at the same time, it's your ass."
      "Yes, sir," gulped the producer.


      "But Einar," said his wife Brunilla. "_Television_?"
      "It's the only way I can be sure that the Family's side of the matter
      gets heard and understood," Uncle Einar replied.
      Brunilla Elliott shook her head stubbornly. "He's such an awful
      person," she complained. "He tricks people and belittles them and baits
      them until they lose their tempers. He plays to that audience of his like
      Antony at Caesar's funeral."
      Uncle Einar sighed tolerantly, realizing that his wife was, after
      all, only human. Her membership in the Family was solely by virtue of her
      marriage to him. "Now, now, my dear. He's not as bad as all that."
      "He's pretty bad, Papa," said Ronald, the eldest son. "Remember the
      show where he had on the gay white supremacists? When they broke his nose?"
      "He was really asking for it that day," said Stephen.
      "Or how about the time he had on those two movie critics?" Michael
      chimed in. "The tall, thin one and the short, fat one. They'd been the
      best of friends all their lives, till the day they went on his show."
      "I remember," said Meg, Einar and Brunilla's only female offspring.
      "Before the show was over, he'd gotten the two of them so angry that they
      were trying to choke each other to death."
      Brunilla was shaking her head again. "You see, Einar," she said.
      "Even your children think this is a very risky thing for you to do."
      Uncle Einar shifted in his chair, causing his silken, sea-green wings
      to rustle like dry leaves. He looked at the members of his family one by
      one: wife, son, son, son, and daughter. "I'm afraid it's too late to back
      out now," he said firmly. "A contract is a contract."
      And that was that.


      Uncle Einar was accompanied to Chicago by his son Ronald and his
      nephew Timothy. They drove from Mellin Town in a hearse they borrowed from
      Timothy's brother, Bion, who owned the local mortuary. Uncle Einar hated
      to travel by car. He did it now only because it was his flying that had
      precipitated the trou-blesome situation in which he found himself.
      First had been The Accident. One November morning many years ago, in
      the early hours before dawn, while heading back to Europe following a
      Homecoming in Mellin Town, Uncle Einar had crashed drunkenly into an
      electrical tower. A shower of blue sparks surrounded him like fireflies, a
      high-tension wire lashed his face like a bullwhip, and his right wing was
      badly crumpled. He fell to earth, unconscious.
      He awoke at dawn and took refuge in a nearby forest, where he was
      discovered by Brunilla Wexley, the owner of a local farm. Brunilla took
      Einar home with her and nursed him back to health. Days later, after his
      damaged wing had healed, he waited for nightfall and took off for Europe
      once more. And promptly crashed headlong into one of Brunilla's maple
      trees.
      It was then that Uncle Einar realized the awful consequence of his
      accident. His delicate night perception was gone.
      He could never again fly after sundown, because the peculiar
      telepathy that warned him of the trees and towers and houses which stood
      in his flight path was lost. But by that time he and Brunilla, who lived
      alone, had fallen in love. Uncle Einar decided to remain with her, and a
      few months later they were married.
      Then, just three weeks ago, had come The Incident.
      Because his injury had restricted him to taking to the air only
      during daylight hours - when he was more likely to be mistaken by fearful
      and ignorant human beings for something dangerous or harmful: a bat, a
      UFO, a monster - Uncle Einar gave up flying altogether. For years he coped
      broodingly with the misery of being earthbound. Until last March, when he
      and his children devised a way for him to embrace once more the singular
      rapture that flying gave him.
      On a bright and blustery, first-weekend-of-spring, midwestern day,
      Uncle Einar accompanied the children to Kite Hill. There he tied a tail of
      cotton rags to his belt behind, took the end of a length of twine between
      his teeth, and rose joyously up and up into the March wind.
      Taking turns holding the ball of twine, Meg and Michael and Stephen
      and Ronald became the envy of their playmates. Proud possessors of the
      huge and magical green "kite" that dipped and soared majestically! The
      only ones aware of its true nature!
      Uncle Einar flew throughout the spring and summer, until school began
      again and Indian Summer came and went, and the first nip of winter could
      be tasted in the air. Until that afternoon when he and Stephen went to
      Kite Hill for one last flight of the year, just the two of them.
      As Uncle Einar sailed on the chilly October breeze, he could see a
      quarter of a mile below him the railroad crossing at the outskirts of
      Mellin Town. He saw the little girl - not much older than Meg - whose
      bicycle had broken its chain and sent her tumbling to the tracks. He
      watched as she tried desperately to free her foot which had become wedged
      between rail and tie. He could hear her screams for help above the keening
      whistle of the too-rapidly approaching train.
      Without a thought Uncle Einar swooped from the sky like some
      enormous, green-winged bird of prey. He snatched the little girl to safety
      by a hairsbreadth. And was seen doing so by the train's engineer and the
      brakeman and a dozen other witnesses.
      By the end of the following day, news of the existence of The Man Who
      Could Fly had spread, quite literally, around the world. Media
      representatives descended upon Mellin Town like a swarm of locusts. Each
      news story that subsequently emerged was more wild than the last. Vampires
      in Illinois! Monsters Live Among Us! The Apocalypse Is Nigh!
      "My God," said Timothy as he steered the hearse through the gates of
      the television studio. Hundreds of irate demonstrators and curious
      celebrity-seekers had to be shunted aside by security guards in order to
      allow the car to pass through. "I hope you know what you're doing, Uncle
      Einar. And I hope it'll bring an end to this nonsense once and for all."
      "I hope so, too, Timothy," sighed Uncle Einar. "I hope so, too."


      "Ladies and gentlemen," said the Host, spreading his arms
      melodramatically. "It is my shuddery pleasure to present to you the most
      fearsome being ever to grace the stage of this or any other talk show. I
      give you the Prince of Darkness, the original Count Dracula himself -
      _Einar Elliott_!"
      The audience hissed. Watching from the offstage wings, Timothy and
      Ronald cringed. Uncle Einar twisted in his chair, reflexively pressing his
      wings together. He blinked at the bright stage lights that stung his eyes.
      The Host took a seat beside him. "It's true, isn't it?" said the
      Host. "You _are_ the original Count Dracula?"
      Uncle Einar shook his head. "It's possible that I may have been an
      inspiration for the character. But there is no `Count Dracula.' The man
      who wrote the novel - Abraham Stoker - made him up."
      "But there really was someone named 'Dracula,' wasn't there?" the
      Host asked.
      "Oh yes," replied Uncle Einar. "There was a fifteenth century
      Wallachian prince named 'Vlad the Impaler,' because of his habit of
      impaling his enemies on the end of sharpened stakes and watching them
      bleed to death. But Vlad was one hundred percent human. He was not - I
      repeat not - a member of my Family. He's your relative, not mine."
      Someone in the audience booed. The Host held up a hand to silence the
      heckler, then turned back to Uncle Einar. "But you just said you were the
      inspiration for the book ..."
      Uncle Einar nodded reluctantly. "Bram and I... Mr. Stoker, that is ..
      . we were ... acquainted. Back when I was living in England."
      "And when was that?"
      "Many years ago."
      The Host produced a paperback copy of _Dracula_. He opened the book
      to its flyleaf and held it up to show the audience. "Do you know when
      _Dracula_ was first published, ladies and gentlemen? In the year 1897!" He
      turned to Uncle Einar. "I must say, you don't look to me to be nearly old
      enough to have been Brain Stoker's acquaintance, much less his
      inspiration."
      Timothy winced. Ronald muttered softly, "Oh no. He's tweaking Papa's
      vanity . . ."
      "It happens that I'm a good deal older than I appear to be," said
      Uncle Einar.
      The Host arched an eyebrow. "You are?"
      Uncle Einar nodded. "On my last birthday I turned two hundred and
      eighty-eight."
      The Host was smiling smugly. "Are you trying to tell me that you're
      _immortal_?"
      "Not exactly," said Uncle Einar. "Eventually the members of the
      Family do pass on. We simply tend to be long-lived."
      "_Obviously_," the Host said, his tone of voice oily with sarcasm.
      The audience chortled, then broke into appreciative applause. The
      Host nodded to them, acknowledging.
      "Let's talk some more about your Family, Mr. Elliott," he continued.
      "Is it true that some of them actually sleep in coffins during the day and
      come out only at night?"
      Timothy and Ronald exchanged looks of apprehension. Uncle Einar
      frowned uncomfortably. "Well . . ."
      "And that some of them can actually assume the shapes of animals?"
      Uncle Einar said, "Well . . ."
      "And that they actually imbibe _human blood_?"
      The audience gasped.
      Ronald whispered to Timothy, "Uh-oh . . ."
      Uncle Einar sputtered, "If you'll allow me to explain - "
      "The _truth_, Mr. Elliott!" challenged the Host. "The truth is that
      you and your Family are _vampires_!"
      A woman in the audience shrieked. Another moaned.
      The crowd's wallah drowned out Uncle Einar's protestations, "No, no,
      you're getting it all wrong - "
      The Host turned away from him to look into the camera. "A vampire
      defends his lifestyle. Right after this important message."


      During the commercial break, Uncle Einar fumed while the Host
      supervised the addition of three more chairs to the set. Ronald and
      Timothy took two of the seats, at Uncle Einar's right hand, just as the
      stage manager was counting down the last seconds till the show went on the
      air once more.
      A flashing sign cued the audience to commence applauding. The stage
      manager pointed a finger at the Host, who smiled at the camera and said,
      "We're back. We've been joined by two members of Einar Elliott's Family,
      the young men sitting to Mr. Elliott's right. They are, respectively, his
      son Ronald and his nephew Timothy. Both of whom appear to be quite
      ordinary human beings."
      "Which is exactly what they are, by any standard you wish to apply,"
      said Uncle Einar. "But they are also members of the Family, in good
      standing."
      "Tell me, Ronald," said the Host. "What's it like having a father
      who's a vampire?"
      Ronald made a face. "He's not a vampire."
      "He sleeps in a coffin, doesn't he?"
      "Not anymore. Not since he met my mother."
      "Ah," said the Host. "Your mother. She's human, isn't she?"
      "So what?"
      "So doesn't that make you and your siblings ... _half-breeds? Neither
      fish nor fowl?"
      "What in heaven's name are you talking about?" asked Einar.
      The Host turned to Timothy. "Tell me, boy. How are you and your Uncle
      Einar related?"
      "Uncle Einar and my father are brothers," answered Timothy.
      "_Does_ your father have wings as well?"
      Timothy shook his head. "Uncle Einar is the only one in the Family
      who has wings."
      "This is exactly the point that I wanted to make," said Uncle Einar.
      "The Family comes in all shapes and sizes. We have all sorts of different
      powers and abilities. Yes, there are some who sleep in coffins during the
      day and come out only at night. And there are some - like Timothy's sister
      Cecy - who have the ability to place themselves within the minds of other
      living creatures, to see and smell and hear and feel what they do, to
      become those creatures. And yes, some of us do nourish ourselves with the
      blood of human beings. But we don't kill anyone - we haven't for hundreds
      of years. We have other sources - Timothy's brother, for example, who
      works as an undertaker in our town and saves the blood of the people he's
      embalmed, when they've got no use for it anymore. We've found a way to
      co-exist with human beings. We've been co-existing for centuries, living
      with you side-by-side without your being aware that we were any different
      from you. That's why I've come here, to assure you that you have nothing
      at all to fear from us."
      Unexpectedly, a portion of the audience erupted into spontaneous
      applause. The Host glowered at them. The applause subsided.
      The Host turned his grim expression to Uncle Einar. "Nothing to fear
      from you, eh? It so happens, Mr. Elliott, that I have waiting _another_
      guest to whom you are personally responsible for a great deal of grief and
      tragedy."
      Uncle Einar's eyebrows drew together, a look of puzzled wariness.
      The Host turned back to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, may I
      present to you from Amsterdam, Holland, a man whose ancestors have been
      the sworn enemies of Einar Elliott and his Family for more than a hundred
      years! Please welcome _Mr. Barnard Vorhees_!"
      The Host led the audience in applause. Timothy and Ronald looked to
      Uncle Einar. Their eyes grew wide when they saw how he had paled at the
      mention of the name.
      Ronald whispered with concern, "Papa, who _is_ he ...?"
      Uncle Einar's gaze was fixed upon the man who was emerging
      uncertainly from backstage. Barnard Vorhees was a stocky, middle-aged man
      of medium height, with a ruddy complexion and curly, brown hair peppered
      with gray. He wore an ill-fitting tweed suit and heavy brogans. The Host
      directed Vorhees to the empty seat beside him.
      Vorhees settled himself, looked about, then locked his eyes onto
      Uncle Einar's. Uncle Einar straightened slightly in his chair, his wings
      bristling.
      "If you would, Mr. Vorhees," urged the Host, "tell our audience who
      you are and what your connection is to Mr. Elliott."
      The man turned away from Uncle Einar to face the Host, who motioned
      for him to look out toward the audience. "My name is Barnard Vorhees," the
      newcomer said. He spoke with a soft, Dutch accent. "I live in Amsterdam. I
      am the great-grandson of Dr. Hans Vorhees, the famous nineteenth-century
      vampire hunter."
      "If I may," interrupted the Host. He held up his copy of _Dracula_
      again as he spoke to the audience. "Mr. Vorhees's great-grandfather was
      also living in London at the time this book was written. He is probably
      better known as the character whom he inspired, Dr. Van Helsing."
      Vorhees had turned to look once more at Uncle Einar. "My
      great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my father devoted their
      lives to one purpose - the utter destruction of Einar Elliott."
      The audience stirred.
      "And what happened to them?" asked the Host.
      Vorhees took in a deep breath. "All three died in an insane asylum.
      Where they had been placed because their obsession had driven them mad."
      A hush fell over the audience.
      The Host prompted Vorhees, "And the reason why you agreed to let us
      bring you on the show ...?"
      "To destroy the evil in our midst," uttered Vorhees. He turned to the
      Host, eyes glittering with madness. "Your show goes out all over the
      world. I've seen it many times, often enough so that I feel as if I know
      you very well. When I was offered this opportunity to rid mankind of a
      terrible monster - "
      Vorhees suddenly leaped from his chair. In the same motion he pulled
      from his coat a long cedar stake, sharpened at one end, and a large mallet.
      Uncle Einar, the Host, Timothy, and Ronald were frozen in their
      chairs. Several members of the audience began to scream.
      Vorhees cried out maniacally, "Die, fiend!"
      Before anyone could stop him, the man hurled himself at the Host,
      knocked him from his chair to the floor, and pounded the stake into the
      center of his chest.
      The Host gurgled, blood trickling from the corners of his mouth. He
      clutched at the stake futilely, shuddered, then lay still. Vorhees came to
      his feet, standing astride the body of the murdered man. He lifted his
      arms, fists clenched in triumph.
      Pandemonium erupted.
      In an instant, the set was thronged with frantic stagehands,
      production assistants, camera personnel, security officers, and autograph
      seekers. A pair of uniformed guards seized Vorhees, dragging him away from
      the dead man. Uncle Einar, Timothy, and Ronald moved as far off to one
      side as they could, trying to stay clear of the phalanx of individuals
      that crushed the stage.
      A quiet voice behind Uncle Einar's shoulder muttered, "I honestly
      didn't think he'd go through with it."
      Uncle Einar, Timothy, and Ronald turned around. There stood Mr.
      Harker, the producer. He looked at them and smiled. "You have no idea how
      long I've prayed for somebody to kill that son of a bitch," he said. "I
      only wish I could've gotten up enough nerve to have done it myself."


      Harker led Uncle Einar, Timothy, and Ronald to his office, secluding
      them until things quieted down. As they settled themselves on a sectional
      sofa opposite Harker's desk, Ronald was saying, "You mean Mr. Vorhees
      didn't hold any grudge against Papa at all?"
      "He forgave your father years ago," answered Harker, "when he made up
      his mind that everybody in his family was simply crazy. However, when I
      invited him to come on the show, I found out about his own little
      obsession. He couldn't tell me vehemently enough how much he despised the
      man I worked for. The show has quite a following in Europe, you know."
      Harker nodded to Einar. "Vorhees didn't want to come at first, because he
      didn't have anything against you, and because he was genuinely afraid of
      what he might do if he ever found himself in the same room with my boss.
      My _ex_-boss, that is. I had to talk him into it."
      "Unbelievable," said Uncle Einar.
      "But true," responded Harker. "Incidentally, Mr. Elliott, I thought
      you handled yourself extremely well. You presented the case for your
      Family most eloquently."
      "But Mr. Harker," said Timothy, "if you're the one who talked Vorhees
      into coming on the show, doesn't that make you an accomplice?"
      "I don't think Mr. Harker has much to worry about," said Uncle Einar.
      "How was he to know what Vorhees might do? After all, the man is clearly
      insane."
      Timothy said doubtfully, "I suppose . . ."
      "I'm grateful for your concern, Timothy," Harker said, reassuring
      him, "but there's really no need for it. I'm not the least bit worried. In
      fact, I feel like celebrating. I'd like all of you to be my guests for
      dinner." He stood up and motioned them toward the door. "I think a little
      champagne might be in order, don't you?"
      As he got up from the sofa, Timothy said, "Uncle Einar doesn't drink
      ... wine."
      Harker slapped his head, a gesture of _How stupid of me_. "I'm
      sorry," he said. "I forgot."
      "I think I can make an exception this one time," said Uncle Einar,
      stretching his wings.


      THE OBSESSION © 1991 by William Relling Jr.



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