The Undead Die, and Other Wierd Tales
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by E. Everett Evans
Category: Horror/Dark Fantasy
Description: Weird Tales from Unknown Worlds! Award-winning author E. Everett Evans was a famed author of off-trail horror stories in the late 1940s and early '50. His work appeared in such distinguished publications as Weird Tales, Fantasy Book, Avon Science Fiction and Fantasy Reader, and Spaceways. A small compilation of his work limited to 600 copies was published some thirty years ago. But, The Undead Die is the first-ever collection of this horror master's fine stories available to the general public. So, be warned: None of Evan's dark fantasies proceed down familiar paths to cliched ends. Instead, each is a little gem, built around an original idea and treatment. Included, among other delights, are "The Shed," his most famous story (a novelette charged with so many many elements later to be found in the work of Steven King, that it might well have inspired him); in fact, a similar claim could be made in regard to "Blurb." Also included is "The Undead Die," written in collaboration with none less than the legendary Ray Bradbury. This last is a real treat for aficionados of dark fantasy, for it has only been reprinted once more than a quarter century ago! Evans was fascinated by the vampire legend, and this collection features no less that four of his very human treatments of the undead.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: February 2005
10 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [183 KB]
Reading time: 113-159 min.
THE UNDEAD DIE with Ray Bradbury
He was a Jack-in-the-box. Sunset up, sunrise down. And repeat, forever and forever. He was a thing in a box in a cold deep cellar. He was a container for red wines. There was no label on him, but there were little drops of red liquor upon his sleeping lips. He was the contents of a mahogany box, in a cellar of webs and upside-down things hooked to the ceilings. He lived in a land of dropping midnight waters and soft grey web. He was a white hand, a rouged mouth, a glass eye, a set of white teeth, and a cold heart. He was a pedestrian who walked the nights. He was a sleeper with original ideas as to hours. He was a leaf, a pelt, a flame, a wing. He was Robert Warram, dead these hundreds of years.
In the cellar came the sound of a woman's name. "Lisa."
His white hand lifted from his bosom. He put it against the lid firmly. His eyes opened whitely. He pressed upward.
The lid would not open.
"It has always opened." He lay back a moment, waiting. "It must open," he declared. With a sudden movement of strength he pushed upward. The lid gave. Things fell with a loud roar in the cellar world. He was free of the coffin in an instant. He was the only moving thing, the only white thing in the crypt. And he was afraid.
He turned to Lisa's coffin.
It was covered with ash and leaf and bark and limb of tree. During the day a storm had arisen and the castle walls had tumbled. A mighty tree had leaned, hesitated, and fallen, driving a splintered limb of cedar through panel of coffin, through soft body, through heart.
There was no sound in the cellar world. He did not move. Someone spoke her name again. But she was as dead as though a crowd of desperate men had descended with a stake and driven it into her.
He did not touch the coffin. He did not try to open the lid. He was cold and trembling and he could not see where he stood, swaying, and the night wind blew without ending.
Her dark hair flowed and trailed from the crack in the edge of the long, cellar box, and this moved and whispered in the night wind. He bent and touched reverent fingers along the soft dark length of it. One white hand protruded in delicate grace, like a small white toy lost in the netherworld, dropped in flight from some falling death.
He left her. He walked up the vast, crumbled stone stair of the castle and went out into the rain. Such an old place. It had taken but little wind to set it crashing like a structure of web and cardboard.
He sat down upon the edge of the ruin and his face was rigid and showed no expression. How many years? And the places they had traveled? And how had they loved?
It was not to be forgotten now, or in any future time. How long ago, and on what day in what century had they met?
He closed his eyes. The world rushed about him. Now there was nothing but memory. * * * *
They had been farm children. They had grown with the trees, and they knew the hill lands and the meadow lands. They counted sheep together, and sat bathing their feet in chill streams on warm summer afternoons.
They ran along shaded paths, laughing, pelting each other with summer apples, trailing showers of blossom behind them from full hands after excursions to pick the wild flowers of the fields and the singing forests.
That was the summer of their seventeenth year. Day after day she danced by and looked at the team of oxen he drove ahead of a clean blade of plow. She tilted her elfin head, laughed, and flung a pebble at him. When he did not follow, she ran, took hold of the goad, and kissed Robert Warram full upon his amazed lips.
This one day they ran, through the Large Land of the Forest, very much alive, very much mortal, very unafraid of anything in the whole of the dreaming summer mid-day world.
They knew nothing of the dark and the blood and the deep-buried box. They twisted and turned and ran again yet deeper into the gloomy cathedral of trees, where water crept into green secret rivulets, and echoes were softened, and the song of birds was hushed.
"Ho, see what we have here!" She came to a stop in delight, and pointed. "The old place."
And there was the castle, ancient and perfect as a Dead Sea apple, still unfallen after four centuries of rain and animal and time. It was a place spoken of by grandmother tongues and grandfather tongues. It was a place of rustling night and the fancied wraith. Sometimes people came to look at it and were never seen again. Or so the tales went. Not a nose nor a limb nor an eye of them was ever to be found, ever again.
"But I am quite brave," laughed Lisa.
"So am I," cried Robert Warram. "Let's go in."
For hours they climbed about, awed by the great statues and old, dim paintings. They climbed wide, winding stairs leading up to cloistered tower rooms. They examined huge furniture, and tremendous hanging draperies. They peeked into vast rooms, excited and happy over their little discoveries.
Then Robert found a great stone stair that led downward. They descended quietly, whisperingly, into the ancient cellars.
Here was wonder after new wonder. Huge storerooms filled with old armour and the arms of ancient warriors. Great carven chests filled with the rotting but still gorgeous clothing of the former lords and ladies of the castle. Gloriously beautiful, though faded, tapestries and carpets. More furniture, some broken, some merely stored.
For long they investigated the many dusty, cob-webby passageways and dark rooms. Where it was too dark to see, they used torches made of the resinous wood which they found about the place.
In their preoccupation they forgot time, forgot hunger, forgot weariness. The unnoted minutes multiplied themselves. Finally they came to a great crypt. They could dimly make out a number of old coffins resting here and there on the dusty floor.
There was a strange and musty odor here that differed from the smell of the other long-unused rooms and passages. It had a curious, foetid quality to it that caused them to stop, stand uneasily, not moving.
"Let's go back," Lisa looked behind her, trembling.
"Nonsense." Robert Warram laughed quietly and threw an arm across her shoulders. He walked her forward into the room, their feet made soft shuffling sounds in that immense space of silence. "It is only a burial place. The tombs of the people who once lived here, I suppose."
"I don't care, I don't like it here. I want to go home now. It's late, and it's cold. The air feels different. Our folks are probably keeping supper for us by now."
"All right," he agreed. "We'll find the stone stairs and go."
He led her through several halls and rooms. Slowly some of his confidence left him. He glanced back over his shoulder from time to time. His mouth grew dry, his eyes smarted. Occasionally he held high his torch as he peered down some cross-passageway.
At last he turned to her. "There's no use lying, Lisa. We're lost." They gripped hands tightly, looked into each others' eyes, noting the white, strained face. "But we'll find the way, although it may take time. Believe me, Lisa, we'll get out."
She nodded in mute agreement, and on they went, their flickering torches making strange patterns along the dark walls, sometimes showing fitfully some great armoured figure, or an ancient tapestry with its pictured fighting men, whose faded eyes now glinted dully.
The air grew colder, with a peculiarly penetrant chill. The cold filtered into their hands, their chests, their fingers. It settled in their bones, and in their hearts.
"There must be a way out," he said, stopping.
"Must be a way out, a way out, out," the echoes taunted them.
"There is a way out."
A voice said it, from somewhere in the darkness. A voice, not an echo. They whirled about, lifting high their torches. The light from the burning wood leaped and turned aside the gathering shadows. Some yards beyond a tumbled archway, a thing of tall darkness, of shining eyes and smiling mouth, white of face, caped in somber black, was moving toward them.
"Robert." Lisa stumbled toward him, half fell. He caught and held her in his arms. The figure continued its advance, with not a whisper of foot, as if drifting on a tide.
"Who is it?" Robert cried, waving his torch higher. "Can you help us?"
"Of course," said the voice. The man stood before them, his thin face luminous in the torchlight, which also glinted from jewels on shirt front and hands. His eyes were fixed steadily upon them. "If you will but follow, I shall lead you out."
"We were lost," Lisa whispered, hesitantly.
"Yes," the man answered. "I know."
"We hope we were not trespassing. Was it all right to come?"
"Yes, it was all right. Quite all right. Come." He turned and strode away.
"What shall we do?" Lisa asked in a whisper.
"What can we do?" Robert looked at her, perplexed. "We want to get out, don't we? Come along."
Without a torch, the man was confidently leading them where they had before found only echoes, faint slitherings, unknown fears. Through the ancient cellars, across heaps of ancient rubble, he led.
"Tired," murmured Robert after a bit. "So tired, Lisa." He put up a hand to his trembling eyelids. "Tired. Tired."
"What?" Her faint voice floated around, around in the shadows. He saw her draw ahead, closer to the strange man. "Lisa, don't run. Come back with me, dear. Don't run away."
He was walking in a kind of nightmare sleep. His feet were heavy, as though he was walking through thick, clayed mud. Now and again he saw the coal-fire eyes of the man, as he turned to stare at him. He saw Lisa moving as in a drift of vapor.
"Can't walk faster," Robert protested, drowsily. He stopped, heard the footsteps dwindling off into a dark emptiness.
He was held in a stupor, reasonless. He heard his heart timing away the minutes in his head, in his wrists. Lisa was gone. His tired eyes could see her nowhere.
The scream awakened him where he stood.
He leaped forward, through a half-fallen doorway. Confronting him was the dark man, Lisa held tightly in his arms, his head bent over her. As Robert Warram reached out toward them, he sensed a difference, a lifelessness about her.
Robert jumped at the man's back. He clawed to pull him away from the girl's body. Crying out, the man dropped Lisa. He swung about. "So, you want it too, do you? Well, so much the better. Tonight I feed well, indeed."
He struck Robert, a great blow that sent the boy to his knees. As he struggled to his feet, Robert felt a grip about his throat, a grip as of the talons of a great bird. He fought back as best he could. He got in a few, feeble blows. Then another great cuff beside his head sent him reeling to the stone floor. The man flung himself upon the youth. That wild, pale face came nearer. Robert saw that it was flecked with blood, that the lips were pulled back to expose long, white, moving teeth.
The grip about his throat tightened. His head rocked from side to side with the heavy slaps of that bony hand. Robert surged upward, his knee in the other's groin. The dark man groaned.
They rolled about the floor, and again the elder was on top. The cold, white face moved downward, closer. The cold breath struck at Robert like an icy gale. His head dizzied with the blood smell, the stench of death in the exhalations of the strange man.
There was one last movement, one wrenching blow, and the sharp bite of pointed teeth into Robert Warram's neck.
After that ... darkness.