Read After Midnight Online

Authors: Joseph Rubas

After Midnight

 

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialog are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Joseph Rubas

 

Edited by J Scott-Marryat (www.jsmedit.com)

Copy-edited by Chris
Penycate (www.chrispenycate.co.uk)

To Jeremy, the greatest thing since sliced bread.

 

Contents

My City
             

The Poe Toaster
             

The Diary of Dan Cooper
             

Song of the Night
             

Krazy 4 Koontz
             

Last Rites
             

The Place
             

Attack of the Sasquatch
             

Only Sleeping
             

For Love
             

The Roomer
             

81
             

Artie’s Last Show
             

On the Brink
             

The Dark Works of Justin Delacroix
             

An Island Christmas
             

Tommy Woodell Faces the Amazon
             

The Men Who Raised The Dead
             

Mistakes
             

Old Stony Bridge
             

Death Row
             

Family Reunion
             

My City

 

L
as Vegas: a twinkling gem lost in the vast, arid badlands, an electric oasis rising from hardpan plains, paradise in the wilderness, a playground for the rich and famous, a city of vacations. All play and no work. It's always summer.

As dusk draws on, I
stroll the Strip, caught up in the flow of humanity, push past opulent hotels and shimmering
casinos, sidewalk cafes and nightclubs where the drinks are cold, the women are hot, and admission is high. I occasionally stop and drink in the sights. From North Vegas to The Palms, the gutters and the penthouses, the most palatial vacation home to the dingiest crack den, no one knows this city or loves it better than I.

B
reaking from the majestic avenue, I step into the lobby of the MGM Grand, arched and breathtaking, alive with activity. Even at the latest hour it's never empty and never quiet. There's a small, pleasant bar near the golden double doors. I enter, take a booth in the shadows, and watch as a businessman tenderly coos to a big-breasted blond on a stool next to him, the smell of quiet desperation pouring off him. The blonde herself HIV positive. The stench of it is almost overpowering.

A waitress approaches and smiles, a young girl with red hair and bright green eyes. I order a rum and Coke, and she rushes off to fetch it, her buttocks wiggling under her tight black uniform pants.
Fucking whore. I couldn’t smell her clearly over the blonde and the businessman, but as she stood over me, I caught the wet, lurid scent of her. Looking into her eyes, I saw her soul, her thoughts, and her memories. Once she let a man cuff her hands behind her back and take her in the Greek style. She enjoyed it, still masturbates to the fading memory.

People.
What is there to say about mankind? Dirty, filthy, ugly, ignorant, pitiful, trifling. The waitress returns with my drink, and I hand her a paltry tip. She smiles, thanks me profusely, and goes off to serve a couple who's just entered, a short Mexican man and his pregnant white girlfriend. The baby, I can sense, has little more than six hours until it dies in the womb.

I sip my drink and watch the businessman. He's in his mid-forties, pot-bellied, balding, and wearing large glasses the likes of which the modern world has no use for. His forehead glimmers with a sheen of perspiration, and when he speaks his voice is husky. The blond giggles at something he says. She tilts her head, hair falling away from her slender throat; a pang of lust ripples in my stomach; my mouth goes dry as I imagine her warm, coppery blood flowing into me. I take a swallow of my drink, which does absolutely nothing to quench my thirst.

The Mexican laughs at something his girlfriend says. His hair is black and oil, his flesh dirty. He's a hard worker, an upstanding man by human standards, but apparently he's never heard of bathing. I study his filthy neck, imagining the rancid taste of his odorous blood, and my bloodlust slowly subsides.

Think about baseball...

Calm, I take another long sip of my drink. The waitress glides back over and asks if I'd like another. She's thinking of what I would feel like on top of her, thrusting myself deep into her. My stomach turns and I tell her no, I'm fine. She leaves again, and I follow shortly, emerging back into the lobby. A few women in pink dresses pass by like cheerful nuns, followed by a few rowdy young men in tuxes.

Out on the sidewalk, I pause and look up and down my beloved strip. The sun has gone down, the dark sky hazy with neon.

Several blocks later, I come across a young black youth standing agitatedly on the corner. He whips around as if he heard me approach. His smell is different, cold and stale.

He smiles at me. “Hey, what’s up?”

"Good evening,” I reply. I rarely meet other vampires; not many of them can stand the dry desert climate.

He nods. "It is." He looks dreamily down a side street. Three women mill at a corner.
Hookers.

"The one on the end isn't," he corrects, pointing her out. Tall and trim with liquid black hair. "She's a virgin."

My throat grows tight. Pure, unadulterated, fresh...

"Have fun," I finally stammer, and go on. I know he looks after me and thinks me crazy for not making a move, but I'm careful. I feed only every other night. Though the authorities will never infer that a vampire walks their streets from the drained piles of dead they find come morning, there
are
hunters. Las Vegas is one of the only cities in the west that boasts a chapter of The Van Helsing Society. I had the misfortune of meeting one my first night here. He followed me through the crowd, a slight man with bifocals and a bad comb over. I lost him but he eventually found me again in the Stardust. I stabbed him three times in a quiet hallway and took his wallet so The Society wouldn't suspect.

I know that staying in one place is dangerous, but I've never felt so at home in any one place before: Las Vegas is truly a city of the night.

Reaching the end of the Strip, I wheel around and cross the street. Someone in a golden Intrepid honks his horn at me.

Before long, I find myself in a dark city park where gays are known to meet. I pass one couple copulating in the bushes along the stone path, but I can't tell if they're gay or straight. The stench of their sweat and passion overpowers all else. I hurry my step, soon emerging on a dim side-street lined with small residential homes, dirty cars parked along the curb. I look around, wondering how in the name of God I came to be here, nearly five miles from the Strip.

It doesn't matter. I stroll down the sidewalk. From inside the houses, I hear babies crying in their cribs, dogs barking from kitchens and bathrooms, women moaning with faux delight, and insomniac television sets trapped in Jay Leno or George Lopez purgatory.

Pitiful things.
I was once among them, many years ago, limited by their restrictions, oppressed by their morality, restrained by their laws, and I thank God every night that I’m no longer drowning in the cesspool of humanity. Some of my ilk agonize over their state like characters in an Anne Rice novel, but not me. I couldn’t be happier.

 

Sometime after midnight, I stop in a small, seedy bar near the airport and take a stool near the bathrooms. I order a rum and Coke and drink it sparingly. I'm so famished, I can't wait until tomorrow. I need blood. Wild passion courses through me, and I fear I might break out like The Hulk, flipping tables and ripping
jugulars. For what seems like agonizing hours I sit at the end of the bar near the bathrooms squeezing an empty glass and taking short, quick breaths. Just when I can’t stand it any longer, a young woman comes through the door; the tangy scent of her virgin blood cuts through the smoke and stale vomit, drawing saliva from my dead glands. She's a punk type with blue hair and a nose ring. She reminds me of that eighties singer, Billy Idol; she's not an attractive woman by any stretch of the imagination, but fresh.

I send her a drink, and then take the stool next to her. We talk for nearly an hour as I gaze into her eyes, hypnotizing her. Given a certain amount of time, I can make anyone do anything, but I only persuade her to follow me outside.

Before we reach the shadows, however, a stink on the night air overwhelms me, black, offensive, close. I whip around and see a small man scurrying into the bar.

I tell the punk girl I'll be a moment and follow him back inside. He's already sitting in a back corner booth, a small, dark Middle Eastern man. He looks up from his folded hands, and we lock eyes. I see other men, trucks, homemade bombs, blasted rubble.
Terrorist attack. Tomorrow at noon.

He quickly looks back down at his hands. I glare at him, reading his heart and mind, my eyes narrowing.

I return to the punk and tell her that I won’t be able to fuck her after all. Disappointed, she climbs into her car and leaves me standing in the darkened parking lot, awash in pink neon.

Back inside, I take a seat several places behind the
towelhead. There are three of them now, drinking and chatting, laughing, joking. They look like nothing but a group of friends having a few nightcaps. Bastards.

After nearly an hour, they leave a tip and walk out together, talking in their gibberish.

Outside, they climb into a sedan and disappear down the Strip. I follow on foot like a bloodhound, never losing their scent. The Plaza. Fifth floor. Two rooms. I climb up the side of the building and wait on the balcony. For hours, I sit and listen to their Arabic talk before they turn the lights out and go to sleep. The monsters are excited like children on Christmas Eve, visions of blasted bodies and rubble-strewn streets dancing through their sick heads.

They’re so worked up it takes them nearly an hour to drop off. I wait another thirty minutes before I come in through the window and kill them one by one. The last is the leader; I make sure he’s awake and knows what’s coming. I gaze into his eyes as I wrap my cold hands around his pulsing throat. "Not here," I hiss, "this is
my
city..."

 

 

The
Poe Toaster

 

 

When
I was a younger man, I was of the most inquisitive type; I was the kind of person who would dismember his favorite electronic device just to see the inner guts and how they functioned. The first cassette tape that I ever owned, along with the first 8-track to find itself in my hands, went the way of the wind after only a few listens. I pestered my mother, God rest her, to buy me one of those Stretch Armstrong dolls for Christmas, even though I was way past playing with toys. She most likely knew my intentions, but got me one anyway. After the presents had been opened, I slunk away to my room and quietly dissected my prize.

My home sat on a wide tract of land bordered to the back by a dark and narrow forest, and I would make daily pilgrimages into the gloomy woods, aimlessly searching. If I found a hole in the dusty ground, I shoved a stick into it. If I found a cave, I unthinkingly bounded in, immune to bobcats and bears. A rushing river separated our land from a vast tract owned by a logging corporation, and I once stole across the waist-deep water to explore what was on the other side. I found, past the gnarled vanguards along the water, nothing more than ragged stumps and sleeping Caterpillars.

Disappointed, I then turned to the river itself. Where did it go? What kind of geography did it pass? My grandfather, on several of our cold November hunting trips, had justified his throwing one bit of litter or another into the river by saying that it would just end up in the polluted waters of Washington D.C.

I longed to investigate that, but had the presence of mind to wait until I was a bit older. In August of 1978, using a canoe that had been rotting next to the woodshed since primordial times, I finally made my trip down the river, leaving my parents under the impression that I was at a friend’s house, camping in his back field.

For nearly two days I floated south through a lonely country, the desolate expanses and encroaching forests thoroughly isolating me from the superficial world beyond. That night I camped on a rocky peninsula which turned into a gentle grassy hill further inland. Too awestruck to sleep, I stayed awake all night staring at the cold flecks of icy fire in the satin sky. When blazing dawn came, I was wider awake than I could ever remember. How can a man short of divinity describe the soul-stirring awakening of true wilderness? How can one hope to put into words the shivering ascent in heatless fire of the boiling sun, or the profound feeling of watching a light mist clinging to still waters? Watching day creep over the dark land, I felt as if I were witnessing an important religious event.

At dusk that day, I reached the tiny town of Franklin, in north Pendleton County. Seen from the river, the microscopic settlement seemed the last western outpost on the furthest fringes of civilization. The water there was too shallow to continue: The bottom of my old boat was ripped like a wet piece of tissue paper on the rocky riverbed, and I had to abandon it on a muddy bank below a forest. Finding myself thirty miles south of home and with only two days to get back before my parents began to worry, I at once set off north. Route 220 snakes through the lush green forests and hilly farm country of mid-West
Virginia, and I followed it religiously; save for a harrowing ten miles in the company of a mad timber-pulling meth addict, I was on foot the entire way back to Hampshire County.

Once in known territory, I hiked three miles through the forest and two along a disused portion of the B&O railroad. I was exhausted when I entered my own back field at purple dusk, and beginning to curse my curiosity.

Trying to stifle my nature, I took to visiting the local library and burying myself in books. At first, the tomes I checked out failed to hold my interest, and my eye constantly wandered from the printed page, my mind scheming more misadventures. That changed one day in October when I returned a T.S. Elliot borefest my English teacher had suggested. As I was depositing the book in the drop, I caught sight of a volume prominently displayed down the front counter. It was thick, and the cover, when I came closer to inspect it, featured a misty cemetery at what one can only imagine as midnight.

Intrigued, I took it from its metal prop and found it a collection of short mystery and horror tales. I checked it out, and from the moment I got home to when I had finished it I couldn’t bear to part from it. The entire thing was breathtaking, wonderfully terrible, and wholly entertaining. The story which affected me the most was called “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in which a resourceful detective finds the murderer he has been seeking is in fact a gorilla escaped from a circus.

Remembering the name Edgar Allen Poe, I returned to the library in search of his works, if they had any. I found a three volume set by him, published in the early twentieth century, and read each one of the stories and poems in a state of suspense, terror, and rapture. From then on I was spellbound by this master of horror, and reread the series to tatters. I set out to emulate his tales of the supernatural, but quickly discovered that I wasn’t fit for literary composition. Nevertheless, my obsession with the tragic hero grew.

In 1981 I left for Potomac Valley College in Keyser, a small, charming town on the banks of the Potomac’s north branch. I was wracked with nerves upon arriving, homesick and unsure of my decision and my future. Thankfully, I was assigned a room with a beefy young man with close-cropped red hair and glasses, named Josh Porter. One of those almost stereotypical morose fat boys with a dry sense of self-deprecating humor, Josh and I became fast friends, nearly inseparable. What drew us together more than anything else was our common love for Edgar Allen
Poe.

He was a year ahead of me, more established, and already acquainted with two other young men who shared our queer passion. What once had been a loose coalition of casual chums became, with my arrival, almost a family. I will not name these others, for they are prominent in the literature and political worlds, so I will simply call them A—and G-. A-
was tall with a shaved head and a sharp face adorned by two twinkling blue eyes. G—was short and dark of complexion with soft features and short black hair. He fancied himself a poet, and produced terrible works of an almost Seussesque nature.

Partly tongue-in-cheek, we began calling ourselves “Edgar’s Tribe”, and would spend time watching movies based on Poe’s works, reading Poe, and discussing Poe. From his gloomy works we progressed
(or regressed) to the yellowed likes of Ambrose Bierce, Guy De Massuapant, W.W. Jacobs, and H.P. Lovecraft. Though we enjoyed the weirdness of others, Poe’s world of Red Death, Ravens, and Cats Stuck in Inconvenient Places held sway over us all.

Which is why we were all perturbed to finally learn the most fascinating aspect of the master’s legacy in early January, 1982, from a Baltimore newspaper.

I was studying hard for an exam, and one Saturday morning found myself rushing back to the library to check out a tome mentioned in the footnotes of the abridged
Necronomicon
. I had been cramming for nearly a week, spending late nights speed reading by lamp light, listening to loud music on my tape deck, and the guys were genuinely worried about me. I was pale, haggard, irritable, and losing weight. The only reason I was hitting the books so hard was that my professor, Howard Peircsen, thought me a dunce, and I yearned to disprove him in a most dramatic way.

Anyway, I got to the library on campus, and found that the book I was hunting was indeed there…but was a reference, and couldn’t be taken out. Flustered and frustrated, I carried it to an out of the way table in the back and sat down with it. The stillness and the musty smell of books was intoxicating, inducing sleep all too often.

Around noon, I needed a break. Setting my books aside, my stomach already at the McDonald’s across the street, I noticed a sloppily-folded newspaper on the desk nearby. In black bold I caught the word POE, and at once forgot my studies. I retrieved the newspaper, and read with widening eyes of the Poe Toaster.

One hundred years after the master died, in 1945, a most curious tradition was established. On January 19,
Mr. Poe’s birthday, a mysterious figure enshrouded in midnight stole into the cemetery and left at the late great man’s altar three red roses and a half bottle of French cognac. They were discovered in the morning by an old caretaker.

“I was making my rounds that morning,” he rasped in a 1962 interview, “and came across the stuff. Now, it didn’t strike me as odd then; all sorts of things turn up on graves. So I let the flowers be and took the liquor for myself.”

The same thing occurred the next year, and the next.

“I had a Negro boy from the south side working with me in nineteen-hundred-and-forty-nine. He was a hard worker, a little slow maybe, but alright. He’s the one found the note and took it to the press.”

The note, which had been left by the Toaster with his latest round of roses and cognac, was folded and left under the glass bottle:

 

The Master Poe

In Splendid Repose

I Come Unto You

Master

A Student

The Dead.

 

In the days following the release of the “poem,” a media sensation swept the nation. Suddenly, Edgar Allen Poe’s works were en vogue, and even illiterate laymen were flocking to Baltimore in hopes of discovering the Toaster.

Despite a ten year period of great public scrutiny, the Toaster evaded any attempts on his identity. He was seen out of the shadows only twice, once in 1958 by a city doctor and in 1972 by a police officer, and each man described the Toaster roughly the same: a small man in a large overcoat and wide brimmed hat, a white scarf tossed casually over one shoulder.

With that vision burning in my mind, I finished up my work with tight anticipation, and hurried back to my dorm. Josh was reading a paperback fantasy on his bed when I crashed through the door and spilled out what I had learned. I half expected him to know of the Toaster and to laugh at me, but his eyes only widened.

When I had done, he quickly placed a call to A- and G-‘s dorm. They came over as soon as they could, and were as surprised as we had been, through A- claimed that he had heard
something
of the Toaster long ago.

The others were enraptured by this turn of events, and excitedly chatted amongst themselves. Preoccupied, I gazed out the window at the gray, rainy day. Potomac Street ran before the campus, and beyond the pointed roofs, across the river, a light mist clung to the barren treetops.

I
had
to see the Toaster’s face, I had to see race, features, and structure where the world at large saw only darkness.

That’s why I casually suggested to the others that we go to Baltimore on Poe’s Birthday and observe the Toaster, neglecting to mention my true motivations.

My idea was met with eager acclamation, and we at once began preparing for our trip to Baltimore two weeks hence.

After
an soul-destroying wait, the morning of the nineteenth dawned cold and clear. We left Keyser after lunch, following US50 across the north branch of the Potomac into Maryland. It was cloudy and sleeting by the time we met the interstate in Cumberland, and the going was slow thereafter. Halfway between the rural western part of the state and the more urbanized east there sits a giant mountain whose name I cannot remember. At a pace of no more than ten miles per hour we surmounted it behind a line of cautious cars. It was so foggy at the summit that the taillights even feet ahead of us were dimmed, as though seen through a veil into a different dimension. Thankfully, Josh was a fussy driver, and obeyed law and instinct rather than juvenile impatience.

Near dusk we pulled into Baltimore, which had been spared from the precipitation. We took the first exit we found, and stopped at a gas station for directions. A-, G- and I waited in the car while Josh went in, and we discussed in excited tones the Toaster and his work. When Josh returned, he weighed into the conversation, whimsically wishing that he had a video recorder so that he could lay a banana peel out and tape the Toaster succumbing.

Even though the old jockey behind the counter provided a nice diagram on the back of a defunct lottery ticket, we still had trouble finding the place. It was nearly dark when we finally located the street and pulled in.

Hawthorn sloped gently down a languid hill lined with ancient storefronts and other inhabitable relics of the past. The church stood in gothic splendor at the foot, its spires rising high into the low cloud cover. We had been talking when Josh slowly took the left hand turn, but a pall of silence overcame us as the holy house loomed ahead like the titanic citadel of some bygone elder race. On the south side of it, the cemetery fell
back from the street behind a screen of tarnished wrought iron, slanted slabs of stone peppering the hillside amongst ghoulish trees and boxy crypts. Several horrible statues atop pedestals leered from deep within the most ancient part of the burying ground, appearing wan and giant corpses risen from damp graves.

We parked behind a Chevy Nova a half block upwind of the church, and sat in mesmerized quiet, the heat hemorrhaging from the car and the cold seeping in.

At the end of the hill there was a four way intersection, the traffic lights swaying in the frigid breeze. Beyond, the street continued, its flanks more open and less crowded. A white town car passed going east along the crossing street, followed by an old pickup.

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