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Stort Stories : by Trisha Johnson
 
cheap trick

 

“It’s a cheap trick. But it always works.”   

The book seemed to fall open to the page about the candle, almost deliberately, like it was trying to tell them something. It normally lay closed, on a lectern in the opposite corner of the room to the one in which a table stood with a glass case upon it. Inside the case was a large, red candle. George Stewart had been running his hand along the corner bookcases when he brushed against the lectern. He had turned, taken hold of the heavily embossed cover and flipped it open. Oddly, though the page had been selected at random, the illustration before him was identical to the candle in the case.

He and his guests had sat drinking after dinner drinks in the warm glow of a roaring log fire, when their conversation had turned to the afterlife, of superstitions and of myths. Their imaginations were primed for a supernatural event, and this was it!

It had been a long day. The funeral had been arranged for 1 pm, but it had rained so hard that the service had been delayed for almost two hours. The coffin wound up being lowered into nearly two feet of water. It was hard for Katherine, George’s wife, not to laugh as it bobbed up and down while the priest commended its occupant, Maurice Stewart, George’s father, to the mercy and protection of Almighty God. George’s mother,  Geraldine, who had sat through the eulogies like a statue, leaned close and whispered in Katherine’s ear that had Maurice been as active when he was alive, as he was now, she’d have likely still been with him. Katherine was too wet and cold to respond.

At the time of his death, Maurice Stewart had owned Crabtree Lodge for a little over thirty-six years, during which time he had amassed an extensive library on the occult. He had also acquired several unusual artifacts, including a misshapen red candle, which stood in that glass case on the table in the corner of the living room. It was nearly two feet in length, four inches in diameter, and had clearly not always been treated with such consideration. Its color had faded, its surface was pock marked and dented with constant handling, and the wick had long ago broken off. Apparently, it was one of a set of eight, originally owned by the seventeenth century aristocrat, the Count de Melise. According to a biography, which George was now quoting aloud from memory, the count had been accused of practicing the black arts, though his wealth and family connections had successfully kept him from the fate normally reserved for such heretics. After the church completed its investigation, he was advised to offer payment to the villagers as compensation for the loss of their daughters and, in fact, he had continued to have a steady supply of young girls brought to him until the moment of his death, aged 72. George tapped the page with his index finger and added, with a broad grin, that the book stated that the candles had been made from bees wax mixed with the blood of virgins and that, after his death, they were to be placed about the count’s coffin – two at his head, two at his shoulders, two at his knees and two at his feet.’

George consulted the book. ‘After a black mass was conducted,’ he read, aloud, ‘the candles were to be lit, and the coffin sealed inside the mausoleum, where it would remain undisturbed forever.’ George then made spooky, ghost sounds until the embarrassed looks of the others silenced him. ‘Clearly the count’s wishes were not carried out,’ George went on, with great authority, trying to recover his lost dignity. ‘The solid silver candlesticks in which the candles were set were likely stolen and sold by his servants, and the candles, themselves, discarded.’

Even though she’d never heard this story in its entirety before, Katherine scarcely heard a word. Her concentration, instead, was focused on Melissa Thompson, an impressionable 20 year old student that her 22 year old son, David, had brought to the funeral, though for what purpose, other than eye candy, she could not imagine. Katherine grudgingly admitted that Melissa looked good in black. Though, dammit, she’d probably look good in an Idaho potato sack!

According to David, Melissa regularly attended George’s sociology lectures and, from her body language, had clearly formed some kind of crush on him. Quite what Melissa saw in George, a gangly, be-spectacled forty-eight year old, was beyond Katherine. She was far too obvious to be remotely capable of manipulating George to improve her grades. Perhaps it was his social standing. The family was well connected. He could open doors for her.  Yes! That had to be it. What else could it be? He had always been an enthusiastic, but unskilled, lover, lacking in any real understanding of what sex was about. “But if I ever find out that she’s found out that out too I’ll kill them both,” she inwardly seethed. He was also a forgetful, if over indulgent, parent, but to be fair, most people liked him. He was kind and on occasions, very thoughtful.

Katherine studied him with new eyes. Was it the prospect of having to fight for him? No, that was ridiculous! George was unaware of Melissa’s childish fixation.
She saw George look up from the book and gaze across the room. She followed George’s eyes. They were locked with Melissa’s. Katherine felt ice forming in her stomach. She felt sick. She started to rise to her feet, when she felt a hand grasp her forearm. She flopped back into the chair and turned to see Geraldine was looking at her, a sad, knowing smile playing across her lips.

Geraldine got to her feet and walked across the room, easing George aside from the lectern. She looked around the room and then focused her attention on the book. She slowly turned the pages, until, after a short while, she stopped, raised her eyes, looked directly at Melissa and began to speak. “I recall Maurice telling me about a legend associated with this book,” she said. “It was to be passed to each male descendent of the Count, in turn – from father to son.” She smiled meaningfully at George, whose eyes were still furtively gazing at Melissa’s. “Within it, it seems, lies the means to prosperity and a long life.” She studied Melissa’s face intently as she went on, “Maurice spent a great deal of time studying it, and eventually learned its hidden secret. Of course, virgin’s blood is much less available today that it was back when this book was first written, but Maurice, bless him, was nothing if not inventive. He would go out at night in that big, black, Continental of his, for all the world like a twentieth century Count Dracula, using white-walled tires instead of bat wings, and search for suitable contributors. It was all quite legal, of course. I mean he paid them. I think it might have been something like a hundred dollars a pint.” She laughed. “Or was it a quart?”

“He went looking for blood donors?” Melissa whispered to David.

“I’m sorry, dear,” Geraldine cooed, “did you say something?”

“I said, ‘He was looking for blood donors?’” Melissa repeated, blushing.

Geraldine laughed. “Well, yes, they were blood donors. Though, as I say, Maurice preferred to use the term, ‘contributors’.  He was a finicky man. He hated the sight of blood, or even the mention of the word. Mahmood, our chauffeur, would do the actual collection. Maurice would only get involved in the rituals of the candles. Mahmood would be in the garage making them, for hours, sometimes. He always said the blood mixed better fresh.”

“How many contributors did he need?” Melissa asked, visibly shaking.

“Oh, a dozen or so a month,” Geraldine responded.

George sounded intrigued. “I never knew any of this. How long did it go on for?”

“From the moment his own father, Harry, died,” Geraldine replied.

“Grandfather did this, too?” George asked, incredulously.

“So I understand,” Geraldine replied.

“But he used to play hide and seek with me,” George protested.

“Where do you think he got his energy from?” Geraldine retorted.

“And what’s this about a chauffeur called Mahmood?” he asked. “We never had…”

“We did, George. For almost eight years. You were at boarding school most of that time.”

George nodded thoughtfully. But he seemed only half-convinced. “What did he do with the candles?”

“Who dear?” Geraldine asked.

“Father! What would he do with them?”

“Ah. Well… he would light one every night before going to bed,” Geraldine replied. “He claimed it made him feel wonderful.” She smiled at Melissa. “We went on a second honeymoon a few weeks after he started. It was a sad affair, in part, of course, because his father had only died a few weeks earlier, but Maurice’s appetite was…” she paused, as if remembering, “extraordinary. It took its toll in later life, of course, when the stock of candles ran out.” She closed the book, lifted it, and offered it to George. “And now, George, its secrets are yours.” She smiled, conspiratorially, “If you want the keys to the Lincoln, I think they’re in your father’s writing desk. Though, sadly, Mahmood has been dead for quite some time.”

It was about the time that Geraldine returned to her chair that Melissa realized she had a previous engagement. She leapt to her feet, as if an electric shock had passed through her, grabbed David’s wrist and physically pulled him to his feet. She muttered an excuse and was gone.

Later that evening, as Geraldine and Katherine stood in the kitchen, washing the dishes, Katherine casually mentioned Melissa’s hasty departure. Naturally, she had been relieved to see her go, but she sensed, somehow, that Geraldine’s performance had been a spontaneous event, rather than a pre-planned one. Geraldine smiled. “I have to confess,” she said, “it went a little better than I expected.”

“You mean it wasn’t true?” Katherine asked. She thought about that for a moment. “Not that I believed it, of course, but Melissa did. Then again, she’s still young and impressionable.”

“Oh, it’s true, all right,” Geraldine replied. “That is, the original story, about the count and his man, Mahmood. The Lincoln and your father in law cruising around like Lon Chaney I added for dramatic effect.”

Katherine’s eyes narrowed. “You knew, didn’t you? About Melissa and George, I mean?”

Geraldine nodded. “Maurice was exactly the same. He had this air about him. Women were always hovering around. Mostly, it didn’t mean anything, but there was this one girl. She was different. She wasn’t going to go away. I sat reading the book one day and it came to me. I took her out to an expensive restaurant for lunch and popped her the question.”

Katherine giggled. “Question?”

Geraldine grinned. “I told her my husband needed routine blood transfusions to maintain his sexual prowess. I said I would pay her fifty dollars a pint, and cover any medical expenses incurred in giving it. She could sleep with him as often as she wanted, provided that I always got the first fuck after he’d had the transfusion.” She laughed. “She was out that door so quick she left her purse behind. I arranged for Maurice to return it to her. When he arrived outside her door, she threatened to call the police. We never heard from her again.”

Katherine’s eyes widened. She was speechless!

Geraldine dried her hands on the dish cloth, folded it exactly in half and hung it over the towel rail at the end of the sink. “Blood, vampires, and a dark family secret, handed from father to son. It’s a cheap trick. But it always works.”

* * * * * * * *

 
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