Playing Alive

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AArdvark
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Playing Alive

Post by AArdvark » Wed Sep 25, 2019 2:59 pm


Playing Alive


(Playing Alive Playing Alive ah! ah! ah! ah!)
(Let's just get that out of the way before we begin, shall we?)

-----


I rather liked Victor. I am sure, however, that the feeling was never exactly friendship. It was a compound of unusual aesthetic and intellectual elements, a fascination, you might call it.
Victor seemed never to belong to the present, one could readily have imagined him as living in some bygone age. He habitually wore clothing in an approximation to the garments of several centuries ago. His complexion was extremely pale and cadaverous and he usually moved with the slow, meditative pace of one who is cautious not to break off a finger or limb by undue exertion. He often spoke of people and events that have long since been forgotten. For the most part, he was apparently unheedful of present things. There was a vagueness in the attitude of others toward Victor; and though he had always been accepted without question as a representative of the noble and extinct family from whom he claimed descent, nothing appeared to be known about his actual birth and antecedents.
The city of Dickopolous, in which we both dwelt, with all its clamor and tumult, was little more than a painted backdrop to him. He lived in the semi-ruinous mansion of his ancestors, having only two servants, both deaf-mutes.

I can recall my first acquaintance with Victor, although not the exact date. Suffice it to say that it was sometime in the spring. My memory is not what it was, and there are certain lacunae, whatever that means. It was in the Museum of Unnatural History. in the secretion section, I remember being absorbed in the human organ area.

"Did you know," said a voice from behind me, "that the human gall bladder can survive for thirty-five minutes after it has been removed from the body?"

I turned, startled. "It can?"

"Indeed. I have measured it."

"That implies intimate gall bladder knowledge."

"Yes, I have studied under the best French naturalist."

"And who would that be?"

"Why, Charles DeGall." He held out a hand. "Call me Victor."

I bowed towards him. "And I am Thombod DeSpoke, at your service."


I can vaguely recall the studies to which Victor had devoted himself. I shall not speak of these studies, for they would seem too fantastic and macabre for credibility. I shall speak of instead his favourite discussion topic. He maintained that death was not a favorable condition to find oneself as people commonly believed. "The dead were not always dead, he would say, sometimes they are 'mostly dead'."

"Mostly dead? I had exclaimed. "Isn't that the same as being just a little bit with child?"

"Not so, Thombod," he had replied. "There are many kinds of death."

"There are?" I had said, with some doubt. "Well if you say so, but I have no wish to experience any variety of death at all."

"Not to worry, my good man. Death is the last thing that will happen to you."

The manner in which he spoke of these ideas was extremely vague and I could never induce him to profer some concrete illustration that would render it more intelligible to me.
I have already said that my feeling for Victor was never a real friendship. I was well aware that Victor had a curious fondness for me, a fondness whose nature I could not fully comprehend. There were occasions when his interest in me caused an actual sense of repulsion. I do not remember how long our acquaintance had continued, but I do remember that he spoke with those bizarre ideas at which I have hinted. Always I felt that he was troubled about something for he often looked at me with a gleam in his hollow eyes and his pale skin would glisten with sweat. These are the times I would become nervous and try to keep his hands in my sight.

One night he said, "Thombod, the time is coming when you must know the truth, you must know me as I am, and not as I have permitted you to see me."

"Oh-ho!" I said, "Why Victor, you're coming out of the wardrobe. I'm so proud of you--"

"No. There is a term limit to all things, and all things are obedient to inexorable laws. I would that it were otherwise, but neither I nor any man can lengthen the term of any state or condition of being, or alter the laws that decree such conditions."

"What?" I asked, for I truly did not understand this last.

"I am now compelled to ask a favor of you, that you accompany me this very night to the vaults of my family which lie in the catacombs of Ptolemides."

"I'm eating here," I said around a mouthful of food. "Can I finish my Ptuna and Ptomato sandwich first?" I could not imagine the purpose of such a visit as the one proposed. "Why must we visit the graveyard?" I asked, finishing my repast.

"Believe me," he said, "I am loath to ask it, but there has been a certain deception which cannot go on any longer. Tonight, you will learn the truth."

My eyes narrowed. "You -are- coming out of the wardrobe, aren't you. Does this 'deception' have anything to do with the way you stare at me? Because I warn you, I'm not letting you feel my--"

He waved a hand in dismissal. "No, no, that is altogether a different matter, this is much more important."

"I'm sure it is," I admonished, looking at my pocket watch. "Well, we still have a few hours. Remember, I have secured tickets to tonight's opera and we're to meet with the Bird Sisters beforehand. You may escort Miss Canary tonight but I get to escort Miss Swallow this time."

"I thank you, Thombod, for your friendship," he replied, "I must really ask this favor of you."

And so we set out. Carrying unlit torches, we left Victor's mansion and made our way to the fine necropolis on the outskirts of the city. The sun was just going down and the twilight funereal sky was enough to illumine the path we followed among mounds and fallen obelisks and broken graves. Victor led the way with a swiftness and surety of footing that bespoke familiarity with the place. He kept two paces in front of me and I had asome little difficulty keeping up with him in the deepening twilight.

"Ug!" I said, lifting a boot, "I've stepped into shite!"

"There are numerous stray dogs around here," he said.

"Actually, it's person shite," I replied, examining the sole of my boot. I wiped my foot against a nearby gravestone. "Disgusting people."

"There are numerous stray people here as well," was his reply.

"Stray people?" I muttered, but he gave no answer.

We came to a pale marble doorway set into the side of a low hill. Above the door, carved into the lintel was the single name; PTUI.

Victor looked up at it. "My family name." he said.

Up until that moment I had no idea what his last name was. "Huh. I thought it explained why you have no siblings."

He looked at me for a long moment, not understanding. Then he frowned.

"Just trying to lighten the mood," I said.

Victor produced a large brass key and unlocked the stone door. As he pulled it open the door made a groaning noise that sent a shiver down my spine.
"My ancestors are within," he said lighting his torch. I peered into the dark maw with a feeling of dread. "Must we go inside? Surely you can tell me out here what this is all about."

"No, we must enter. Everything will be clear to you in a short while."

"Victor, if you want to come out of the wardrobe there's no need to make a production out of it. I will understand."

He ignored this and entered the blackness of the tomb, knowing that I would follow.

"Fine," I called, lighting my own torch. "Don't come out of the wardrobe. You can come out of the crypt instead. I'll act surprised."

And I followed him in.


We found ourselves in a crumbling passage where the bones of dilapidated skeletons were scattered amid the rubble that had fallen from the sides and roof. A choking stench of stagnant air and age-old corruption made me pause for an instant; but Victor scarcely appeared to perceive it, for he strode onward, lifting his torch and beckoning me to follow. We traversed many vaults in which bones were piled about the walls or strewn randomly where grave robbers had left them in bygone years. The air was increasingly dank and chill. The shadows from our torches crouched and swayed before us.
At length we rounded an angle of the low cavern. Here we came to vaults that evidently belonged to some noble family, for they were quite spacious and richly crafted. There was but one sarcophagus in each vault.

"My ancestors and my family lie here," announced Victor.

"They might have hired a sweeper once in a while," I commented, looking at the clutter of bones and dirt, "they come dirt cheap."

We reached the cavern's end and at one side was an empty sarcophagus. It stood open.
Victor paused before the vault and turned to me. By the flickering torch light I thought that I saw a look of strange and unaccountable distress on his face.

"I must beg you to withdraw for a moment," he said, in a low and sorrowful voice. "Afterward, you can return."

"Is this a joke?" my eyes widened. "Are you going to get naked and insist that I touch your--"

"No." He shook his head his eyes were like two coal pits. "Only for a little while."

Much puzzled, I obeyed his request and went slowly back along the passage for some distance. After a minute or two without hearing any signal from him I returned to the place where I had left him. Imagine my surprise when I found that he had extinguished his torch and had dropped it on the threshold of the final vault. And Victor himself was not visible anywhere.

Entering the vault, since there was no other place where he could have hidden himself, I looked about for him, but the room was empty. At least, I thought it empty till I looked again at the sarcophagus and saw that it now contained a cadaver, shrouded in a winding-sheet.

I drew near and peered into the face of the corpse. I saw that it bore a resemblance of Victor, though it was bloated and puffed with death and purple with the shadows of decay. And looking again, I saw that it was indeed Victor.

I waited a moment for something to happen but there was no sound at all in the vault, then I kicked the side of the sarcophagus.

"That's it?" I cried. "We came all the way out here so you can play dead? My mother used to have a poodle that could do that. Come now, man, get back up and let's for out of here. There's still have time for a brandy at the pub before we meet the Bird Sisters."

There was no response from Victor. His bloated and rotting face betrayed no emotion.

I sighed deeply. "Fine," I said to the cadaver, "you can escort Miss Swallow tonight. But only if you get up now and stop this nonsense."

There was no answer. Victor's dead body was making me angry. I leaned close. "You just had to go all Lovecraft on me, didn't you," I said. "Don't make me come in there, If I have to shovel you out of that thing you're going to be one sorry corpse!"

There was still no response from Victor.

It was then that I realized. Victor wasn't playing dead, he had always been dead. All the time I had known him he had been playing alive.

"Alright, be like that. I'll escort both the Sisters and you won't get any, you ... you worm slum!"

I pulled the sarcophagus lid closed with a bang. "And don't think this means you're getting out of paying me back for those Mozart tickets last month either!"

And with that I turned on my heel and walked out of the cavern and made my way back out to the surface.

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Flack
Posts: 6328
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Re: Playing Alive

Post by Flack » Thu Sep 26, 2019 6:04 am

Added to list of potential band names: Worm Slum

Also, more pix of Mrs. Swallow plz.
"Jack Flack always escapes." -Davey Osborne

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AArdvark
Posts: 8280
Joined: Tue May 14, 2002 6:12 pm
Location: Rochester, NY

Re: Playing Alive

Post by AArdvark » Thu Sep 26, 2019 3:12 pm

Hee!

Originally I named her Miss Gargle, after an old joke.

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