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Dream Lover

 

Dream Lover

By James Hold

 

[Copyright 2016 James Roy Hold
Shakespir Edition]

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DREAM LOVER

 

Ed Benson, a well-to-do merchant from Brenham, was going about his affairs when he got word of the death of his uncle, Fred Benson, late of Fredericksburg, Texas, and of whom he, Ed, was the sole living heir.

By all accounts, Uncle Fred, a dealer in curiosities, had been in excellent health until shortly before his death. The onset of his illness coincided with the receipt of a crate of antiques from a Turkish trader with whom Fred dealt on an irregular basis. Shortly after unpacking the items, a horrible disease overcame him, symptoms of acute anemia being most pronounced. The doctor attending Fred attributed the cause of death to some unknown germ that attached itself to the shipping crate.

Ed’s first action, on taking possession of the estate, was to sell off the odder accumulations in his uncle’s collection. This, to him, meant pretty much everything.

While Ed made his preparations, Professor Isaac Hugo, of the University of Fredericksburg, was enjoying a leisurely walk through the woods surrounding the quiet German town. All that day he had gone mechanically about his duties, while his thoughts wandered elsewhere. Alive with the sense of spring, his inner child danced through fields of bluebonnets, coming back only when the ringing of the class bell reminded him of his station.

Now with the day’s final lecture completed, he passed through scented woods of oak and mesquite, pecan and cedar, while the hum of bees advertised an otherwise silent wind. The intoxicating spirit of lost youth possessed his beyond-middle-aged body as, with his mind on cruise control, he climbed steep hills, crossed trestle bridges, and scrambled about stream banks. Hour after hour, he imbibed the clean sun and open spaces, and it was not until dusk encroached that he came, by a roundabout path, back to the city.

A dozen shops lined the main street, after which sat a cluster of brick houses, one of which belonged to the late departed Fred Benson. Ed was outside hanging a sign announcing the estate sale, and the two greeted each other with typical German hospitality.

Professor Hugo had known Fred casually from sundry civic events, chuckling often when Fred insisted he was a direct heir of the city’s namesake, Prince Frederick of Prussia. Ed freely admitted his late uncle’s eccentricities, and invited the professor in for a look at some of the items up for sale. Though Professor Hugo had no interest in such things, he politely accepted.

As they climbed the steps that fronted the house, Professor Hugo saw a small multi-colored cat on the padded porch swing, its melancholy, half-closed eyes giving equal inattention to a mud dauber buzzing overhead and the people passing by.

“Yours?” asked the professor, disinterestedly.

“Nah.” Ed brushed the wasp aside. “Those things are everywhere.”

“I was referring to the cat,” the professor corrected him.

“Oh?” Ed held the screen door for them to enter. “Never saw it before in my life.”

#

Professor Hugo, let it be known, was a man content with all he had. Despite his big city cousin Erik repeatedly telling him his taste in furniture sucked, Professor Hugo saw no reason to replace what he currently owned. It was with casual disinterest that he looked over the garish objects within the house. The place was crowded, dimly lit (mostly because stacks of junk blocked the main windows), and terribly dusty. He was about to leave when his attention was drawn to a shabby bookshelf tucked away in a corner. Never averse to picking up an old volume for the university library, Professor Hugo took a moment to inspect its contents.

What he saw astonished him. Among those crusty curios with their cracked bindings were copies of Wilhelm von Juntz’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten and Ludwig Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis, alongside other forbidden tomes that served as repositories of ancient evil. Surely, thought the professor, old Fred had not pursued an interest in these unholy subjects. Though skeptical by nature, the professor held that no good could come from delving into such things, be they real or not.

A small book caught his eye. This turned out to be an abbreviated version of the Text Arcana, that sumptuously sinister volume compiled by crazed Texas oilman, Sheik Yermani Makir. Here indeed was dangerous material, yet something about the legend of the book compelled the professor to open it.

An unoccupied ottoman in a corner took his fancy and he flung himself down to read.

It was a strange book, and unsettling, filled with accounts of evil spirits, vampires and succubae that took possession not only of men, but objects as well; malignant beings, unholy embodiments of disease and filth that fed on the flesh and substance of the living. It was appalling stuff, and it was only when he felt a distinct tingling discomfort at his backside that the professor was able to turn his attention away from it.

Immediately he stood up from the ottoman, wondering if someone stuck a sewing needle into the cushion on which he sat. However, careful inspection showed the seat to be nothing more than a fabric ottoman, a simple footstool with four legs and an upholstered top. No pins, or barbs, or other roughness was apparent. Just my silly imagination, the professor assured himself, brought on by reading that silly book.

“Like it?” Ed Benson poked his head around the corner. “The ottoman, I mean. It was in that last shipment my uncle received. I can let you have it cheap.”

“Eh? What?” The professor tossed the Text Arcana back into the bookshelf. “Oh, well, no, I—”

“Tell you what,” Ed offered. “Take it home and try it out. If you don’t like it, bring it back.”

Thus, Professor Hugo left the home of the late Fred Benson with the ottoman in tow. A splattering of red in the distant west showed the sun had set, and in the gathering shadows, the professor did not notice the cat from the porch swing following at his heels.

#

When Professor Hugo got home, he found a plate of sandwiches waiting for him. The woman who came in to cook and clean did not sleep in the house and so he was quite alone. This suited him fine.

He placed the ottoman before an old oak rocking chair and, after fetching a bottle of German bock beer from the kitchen, settled himself down with his sandwiches to read the evening Fredericksburg Wochenblatt newspaper. Now and then, he would glance down at his feet resting comfortably on the ottoman.

This, he told himself, is one piece of furniture my cousin Erik can’t say sucks. Chuckling over the grammatical vulgarity of which the university’s English professor would never have approved, he went back to reading. Soon, with paper, beer, and sandwiches consumed, the accumulated fatigue of the day took its toll.

The soft dimness of the electric reading lamp formed a faint halo around the perimeter where he sat. Through his open window came the soft rustle of the wind on the shrubs, lulling him into peaceful repose. With drooping head, the professor fell into a dream.

An old song played in the background, Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover,” bringing with it memories of his first girlfriend, Sandra. His first everything, actually—first love, first kiss, first “to know the magic of her charms.” From the hazy days of his youth rose a long forgotten image of smiles and laughter and playful frolic and the times she would sit on his lap…

The professor awoke with a jolt. What had plopped into his lap was not a pretty girl from long ago, but the cat last seen on Benson’s porch swing. Somewhat startled, he stared at the animal; then quickly got to his feet.

Was ist das? You think this some pet hostel? Shoo! Get out!”

The cat hesitated, looking first at Professor Hugo and then at the ottoman, and the pitiful look in its almond eyes caused the professor’s heart to soften.

Arme Kätzchen, sie hungrig sind,” and taking the dish of leftover sandwich crumbs, he led the critter to the open window. “But you mustn’t enter houses uninvited. There you go; now eat outside where you belong.”

#

The professor turned from the window to go back to his rocking chair, when he became aware of a stinging sensation in his foot. Stooping to inspect, he saw his heel bleeding through the sock. Nothing serious, still it was odd he had not noticed it before. Perhaps he picked up something on his walk in the woods, brushing against a fallen branch or a bit of brush.

On an impulse, he went to where his old record player sat and rummaged through his collection of 45’s. There it was—Bobby Darin, “Dream Lover,” Atlantic ATCO 6140. He dragged the record player over by his rocker and put the platter on. It was just as he remembered it. Like in his dream. Like in real life. The song finished, the record arm swung back, and the song played again. And, once again, Professor Hugo fell into a dream.

Time, drifting backward, spread like a chilly mist about the center of the ottoman. Wisps of dingy gray began to take form, swirling within itself, growing ever more substantial as it took the form and outline of a woman. Not really asleep, yet not really awake, Professor Hugo gazed in a kind of drugged stupor as Sandra once more appeared before him, her hands held out to clutch him, her eyes inviting and beckoning.

But even as he reached out to her, the radiant flower of youth vanished, and in its place was a vision of horror. Bat-like wings sprouted from her back, the soft hands turned into gnarled flesh-rending talons, and the once-sweet smile changed to fanged jaws that drooled with unholy lust. Professor Hugo struggled to move, but he was helplessly unable. The ottoman vampire had him in her grip.

Then there came a loud crash, and a hideous caterwauling with much hissing, and the sound of things tearing and ripping. The vampire creature turned away from the professor and fell back, as though under attack from some mightier force. Then its solidity melted again; the vapor from which it had formed itself grew thin and vanished.

#

Once more, the professor sat up with a jolt. His first act this time was to pick up the empty beer bottle at his side and sniff the contents, wondering if maybe he had gotten hold of a particularly strong batch. Then, looking around, he saw the record player knocked over, while the ottoman…

“You naughty creature!” he yelled at the cat. “You’ve ripped my footstool to pieces with your claws!”

Indeed, there was torn stuffing strewn all about the floor, the cushion in a hopeless state of ruin, a destruction so complete as to render it irreparable.

With an angry cry, Professor Hugo took the cat of many colors by the scruff of its neck and tossed it out the window, never to see or hear the scrawny slasher again.

#

Later, in the early morning hours, Professor Hugo repented his actions toward the cat. Only by then his unjustly maligned savior was gone, vanished, and unresponsive to his call.

It was over a second bottle of bock that he recalled what he read in Benson’s abridged Text Arcana about vampire creatures taking possession of objects and preying on the living. Early that afternoon he would have laughed at the idea. Now he was not so sure.

A close inspection of the stuffing the cat had ripped so violently from the cushion showed it to contain a sticky reddish substance along with tiny fragments of bony tooth-like gristle. The professor recalled the tingly sensation he experienced on both his heel and his backside, and he thanked God the feeling advanced no higher.

Yet the question remained, had his dreadful visitant been extirpated by the cat’s attack? Or, with its hiding placed destroyed, did it seek some other piece of furniture or household object for a new abode? Did it still thrive, awaiting recrudescence at the next opportunity? If an “ottoman vampire” can exist, could the idea of an “electric lampire” be that far-fetched?

It was too much for Professor Hugo to take in.

#

Hoping the college dean could be of help he consulted the telephone directory and dialed a number. After many rings, said party answered and Professor Hugo, without preamble, told him what transpired. The dean listened half-awake, and it was not until Professor Hugo got to the part about organizing a search party to find the missing cat that he interrupted, saying: “Zak, are you off your rocker?”

Professor Hugo replied, “Yes, I’m standing,” and the dean hung up on him. This greatly puzzled the professor given the dean posed a simple question, which he answered truthfully.

He thought of dialing the number again when he remembered his cousin Erik, the foremost authority in Harris County—Erik would say “the world”—on things that lay beyond the norm. They were not on good terms, and the professor scoffed at his cousin’s wild theories. Erik was a self-professed “autodidact,” which in Professor Hugo’s opinion, was a fancy way of saying he never finished high school. Still his cousin had been instrumental in that doppelganger case involving a Houston city council member, and so…

“Erik?” Professor Hugo shouted into the phone. “It’s Isaac. You’re right! My furniture does suck!”

“And you waited until 3 AM to tell me this?” a groggy voice from the other side replied.

“I mean it’s been possessed by a malignant force. Have you ever heard of anything like that?”

A loud and lengthy snore was the only response.

“Erik! Dammit, did you hear what I said?”

“Huh? What? Oh, yeah, sure, I know of a case where it happened once before.”

“Quick! Tell me about it.”

“Well, there was this Egyptologist who brought back a desert spirit that took residence in his restroom.”

“Yes? Yes? Then what happened?”

“The police arrested him for making bathtub djinn. Now hang up and let me go back to sleep.”

Professor Hugo slammed the receiver into its cradle. “Peasant!” he muttered. “If anyone else told him this story he’d be on it like a hobo on a ham sandwich.”

#

If the citizens of Fredericksburg thought it odd when, that next morning, Professor Isaac Hugo dragged all the furnishings from his house and made a bonfire on the front lawn, the more kindly souls put it down to the eccentricities of an academic mind. The arrival, later that afternoon, of a delivery truck bringing new furniture to his residence put all other tongues to rest.

No less surprised were the students at the university who saw their formerly stuffy old professor show up for lectures wearing the latest modern threads, which in turn sparked a fashion revolution amongst the faculty.

That evening Professor Hugo returned to his refurbished home with the heartfelt assurance that no evil spirit inhabited his house. He scrunched in his new recliner and put his feet up, then, sensing things were a bit too quiet, got up, and went to the new sound system that replaced his old turntable.

There lay his Bobby Darin record, the one that had been playing the night before. It was the only item he had not replace, confident in his belief that music was forever safe. As he went to put it on, he spotted a long scratch across the surface of the disc. It must have happened when the cat upset the old player. Oh well, he sighed, I shall have to buy a new one of these as well. Then with a resigned shrug, he broke the disc over his knee.

And it was only because the sound was embedded deep within the grooves of the record that he did not hear the dying scream of the thing that had sought safety therein.

 

 

 

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James Hold

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Dream Lover

  • ISBN: 9781370113514
  • Author: James Hold
  • Published: 2016-09-17 06:50:08
  • Words: 2765
Dream Lover Dream Lover