It was a beauty of a tomcat. Willie watched as the tiger leaped from the ground to the top of a junked refrigerator, solid muscle rippling under orange-gold fur. The cat’s eyes were as green as the emeralds at Collinsport Jewelry. No collar, probably a stray. It was hunting.
Willie liked cats; he dug their moves and attitude. Like the tomcat, he was hoping to catch rats in the junkyard. But the afternoon light was fading fast.
Bring it to me alive.
How was he supposed to know how to trap animals? He was a city-kid. But he had to get it done before nightfall. Had to get back to the Old House.
So he lured the cat into an old file box with some rotten fish. The second Willie slammed the box top down, the cat went nuts, scrabbling and spitting and banging against the sides. Grappling, Willie bound the box with duct tape and then lifted it to put in the truck’s back end. The cat exploded with new fight, growling, and the sound vibrated through the cardboard.
“Hey --cool it!” he told the cat, tapping the box, walking faster, opening the truck door and dumping the box on the passenger’s seat. The cat smacked the top so hard Willie wondered if the seams would hold. He didn’t blame the cat. Nothing was cool, since two nights ago.
What had happened in the graveyard was crazy, impossible. So how come he felt so sick and weak? The two holes in his wrist ached and throbbed and oozed. He couldn’t look at food or even water without puking. The sun hurt his head.
For the last two days, he’d dragged his butt around Collinsport, following instructions from the Voice. Then he drove slowly back to Collinwood and sneaked up the servant’s stairs so no-one, especially Jason, would see him. Fell into bed and tried to hide in sleep, only to have the Thing he’d unchained follow him into his dreams.
That first night, the night he’d hacked away the chains and opened the coffin and let loose the Thing, he’d been questioned for hours and smacked around if he didn’t answer. Freezing on the mausoleum floor and sick to his stomach, he’d stared up at the tall, white-faced man in the fucked-up clothing, the man with the silver eyes, and animal teeth that flashed white when the man—the Thing—spoke.
Willie hadn’t always understood the man’s words and sometimes, the man didn’t understand Willie’s answers. It didn’t matter. By the end of the first night and day, Willie was trapped. Willie Loomis, who’d never taken orders from anybody willingly, was now running crazy errands all day for a freak in a costume.
(Except it’s not a costume, he was buried in those clothes and you know what he is why don’t you say it)
“Shut the fuck up!” He slammed his fist against the floor and from the box came another smack and hiss.
“Sorry, cat,” he whispered. Willie drew up his knees to his chest and rocked.
This can’t be for real. Tears filled his eyes; he couldn’t stop them, what a goddamn crybaby. What am I gonna do? Shit, no-one cared about him; he’d pissed off everyone. Even Jason. Especially Jason.
God, Jason cutting him loose had hurt. He hadn’t known he’d gotten so stuck on Jason--not that Willie was queer or anything, but he’d thought Jason was his friend. Hell, he’d begged Jason for help, begged him on his knees, for Chrissake—but Jason hadn’t budged. Didn’t understand. Couldn’t understand, and Willie couldn’t tell him. His throat had just closed around the words when he tried to tell about the Thing. Jason thought he was bullshitting, but why didn’t he see the tears on Willie’s face, the way he was losing it? Jason didn’t or wouldn’t get it. The truth finally hit Willie: Jason didn’t really care about anything but Jason.
He felt lost without Jason planning scams, buying drinks, telling Willie what to do, he felt like a kid who’d been dumped by the side of the road in the dark.
So here he was, squatting at the old mansion on the Collinwood estate, the one the locals called the Old House. What a dump, but this was where the Thing wanted to live. They’d moved the coffin from the mausoleum to the cellar of the Old House. Near dawn, Willie had stood at the base of the stairs, watching, as the creature lifted the coffin lid.
Long abandoned, the Old House crouched on a hill. Willie already hated its rotting floorboards of the porch, the pitted columns. Willie stopped the truck, unloaded the box, cut through the overgrown garden, climbed the steps, and wrestled the old front door lock open. Maroon shadows crept around the columns as the afternoon faded.
He brought the box into the parlor, and put it down. The cat had shut up. He considered sitting in one of the old sofas and then thought about mice and bugs in the cushions. He sat on the floor, next to the cat, his back against the wall, and put his aching head in his hands. It was so frickin gloomy; he left the front door open just for a little light.
Now he had other chores to do, the Thing wanted fires lit and stuff, but he felt so tired, too tired to do anything but sit on the floor and wait.
In the quiet, the cat miaued, as though saying, Is anyone out there? Won’t anyone help me? The sad little sound got to Willie. No, dammit, I’m not gonna let him. He squeezed his shoulders once, then used the wall to stand up and rubbed his sleeve across his snot-filled nose. Suddenly, he was pissed at the monster, at Jason, at the world, at himself most of all.
“Screw this. We’re outta here, kitty. He can’t stop us.”
Willie lifted the box, meaning to take it outside, but at the movement the cat freaked out. Willie lost his grip and the bottom of the box burst open and the yellow cat streaked for the still-open front door. Willie watched, grinning.
“Go cat go!” called Willie, and laughed. “Make like a tree and leave!” The tomcat didn’t need to be told twice; it raced out the door and into the bushes and was gone.
“I’m right fuckin’ behind you,” he muttered with new determination. He followed, starting down the broken carriage road that led to the clearing where he’d parked the truck. He’d taken six steps outside the house when the pain began in his head.
Beyond a headache, worse than any hangover he’d ever had, the pain throbbed in time with the heartbeat of the Thing, like when he’d looked at the portrait, when he’d opened the secret door to the mausoleum. It pulled Willie like a riptide, dragging him back to the Old House. He stumbled and his mouth filled with sweetish water and he knew he was going to vomit if he tried to take another step.
He’d tried to leave Collinsport on the first day, and on the second day, he’d tried to drive a stake through the creature’s heart. Both attempts left him sick as a dog, and, defeated, he’d gone back to Collinwood and pulled the covers over his head.
The sky was orange as the sun gave up the ghost.
He returned to the Old House and resumed his place on the floor, huddled, and put his hands over his eyes and waited for Barnabas Collins to rise from his coffin.
He’d fallen asleep. The Voice jerked him awake. He stared up at the white face, like a face on one of those Greek statues. The guy’s clothes were a scream. Jesus, he looks like ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ after a roll in a swamp.
“I said, get up.”
“Y-yessir,” said Willie, but he had to use the wall to stand; his legs were weak.
“Barnabas will suffice. Unless we are in company, in which case you will call me Mr. Collins.”
“OK?” said Barnabas suspiciously. “What does that mean, O-K?”
“It means yes.”
“Yes, Barnabas” the creature corrected him. Willie felt his face grow hot and tasted anger like pennies in his mouth.
“Yes, Barnabas,” he said sarcastically.
Barnabas frowned and then looked pointedly at the empty box.
“I believe I told you to have something ready. Where is it? And why have you lit no candles?” Willie went to the mantle to get the box of candles and began fixing them into the various candelabras and stands that stood about the room, dusty and long disused, like everything in the house. He moved carefully, trying to come to close to Barnabas, which was useless, because faster than sight, Barnabas was at him, gripping his throat. He choked.
Lord, those fingers burned. Willie pulled away, but was shaken fiercely.
“Well? Where, for lack of a better phrase, is my breakfast?”
“I couldn’t catch anythin’.”
“You’re lying,” said Barnabas, dropping Willie. He got back on his feet, rubbing a banged elbow. Barnabas picked up the empty box. “I can smell an animal in here.” He looked at Willie sternly. “I will not tolerate lying, Willie.”
Sullen, Willie shrugged, and looked at the floor.
“Really,” said Barnabas, “This is most unsatisfactory. You have got to be the worst-trained servant I have ever encountered.”
“I ain’t your damn servant,” Willie spat.
“I will not tolerate profanity, either.” Barnabas stared at Willie. “Clearly you do not understand your position in this household.”
“So fire me,” said Willie, “I never asked to work for you anyway.” Barnabas looked puzzled and his lip curled.
“Do you mean dismiss you? You consider me to be your employer?” The long fingers gripped Willie’s throat once more, and pulled Willie in as though for a kiss and the fangs, those horrible fangs gleamed and Willie’s eyes went wide, his hands coming up to push uselessly at Barnabas’ powerful arm.
“You are mistaken, Willie Loomis,” hissed Barnabas, “I am not your employer. I am your master. Though in my day, scum such as you would never have been allowed in a Collins kitchen--which is where we are going, right now.”
What, he gonna teach me to cook? Willie was jerked off his feet and half-dragged down the hall and shoved through an unfamiliar doorway into a pitch-black room. He was released but froze; he hated the dark and stopped while Barnabas lit a candle. The thin light revealed a large wooden table, a couple of broken chairs, and not much else.
Barnabas opened a cupboard, looked inside, and made an impatient sound.
“There used to be a whip here,” he muttered. He looked at Willie.
“What is that around your waist?” he said.
“What’s it look like, jerkoff?” said Willie. Barnabas’ open-palmed slap across his right cheek robbed him of breath, but he stayed on his feet.
“Take it off, and damn your insolence,” Barnabas snapped.
“You heard me, Willie.” The combination of tone and the flash of the teeth forced Willie’s hands into jerky motion. Still eye to eye with Barnabas, he released the cold buckle. The belt slid through the loops with a muffled hiss.
“Give me the strap.” There was a pause as Willie stared into the vampire’s eyes. It was like staring into the dark. “Give it to me now.”
“No, I won’t.” Barnabas looked astonished and the words hung in the air. Then Barnabas’ arm went back and forward into his face so hard that Willie felt the air move rather than seeing the blow. While he grabbed the table for balance, Barnabas got a grip on the belt’s end. The cheap buckle had a jagged edge and ripped across Willie’s palm and he yelped. While he cradled his hand, Barnabas shoved him and his back was slammed against the edge of the table.
He panted, trying to gather his forces, but unable to look away as Barnabas took the buckle end and doubled the leather in his hand, then swung it once against the wooden table, just missing Willie’s right arm. The resulting thwack was obscenely loud and Willie jumped.
And then he understood.
“No,” he said, tensing, “No, you can’t do that.”
Willie tried to figure if he could take this guy, with his stupid velvet and lace and his upper-crust manners. Was he kidding? A whipping with a belt? Jason smacked the back of his head sometimes, but that was roughhousing. The last time he’d submitted to a whipping was when he was a kid, and that had been by his Gran, who’d been old and blind, and since Willie hated her, he couldn’t have cared less.
“I won’t let you. I ain’t a kid. I’ll fight you.”
“Indeed. Tell me, what happened when you tried to run? Or when you tried to stake me?”
“I didn’t,” Willie lied.
“You did,” said Barnabas quietly, “And that is your second lie tonight. I repeat: I will not tolerate lies. Nor will I ever tolerate disloyalty, disrespect, or disobedience. You have committed all four transgressions. What am I to do with you?”
“I don’t give a shit. Leave me alone. I never did nothin’ to you.” Instantly, the fingers were back at his throat and he was in the air, choking, and those godawful fangs were in his face as the Voice raged at him.
“Nothing? You verminous wretch, do you call dishonoring my grave nothing? Deceiving, harassing, and robbing the Collins family nothing? You deserve to hang, yet you live, and are you not grateful? I should kill you right now and throw your miserable carcass off Widow’s Hill!”
He struggled, trying to fight, but a deeper Willie was screaming: this is different, this isn’t a normal man, nobody normal could throw you around like a rag doll. You got zero chance with this Thing. He had a feeling a whipping at the hands of this (creature, thing, aw shit Loomis face it he’s a vampire) would be very different than Gran’s. He was getting dizzy, from fear and lack of air. Barnabas dropped him again and his lower back smacked painfully against the table but he didn’t fall.
From far away, he heard Barnabas continue, more calmly.
“You are, as I mentioned, scum, but I require a watch-dog during the day, and a guide to this miserable century. It might as well be you. Perhaps it is fate.
So, though you do not deserve it, I will give you a choice. I will take you on trial--let us say, a thirty-day period, during which you will learn my expectations and submit to my rule, at the end of which time you may choose your path.”
“Ya mean, then I can leave?”
“No, if you decide not to serve me, you will die. But painlessly, and without rising to be as I am. My fate” he said with a grim smile, “I would not wish upon a dog. You may end, or you may serve me faithfully for the rest of your life.”
“That’s not much of a choice!” said Willie.
Barnabas shrugged. “Fine. No-one would mourn your disappearance, now or thirty days hence. Even I can discern that your reputation in the town has all the cachet of a week-old fish.”
“J-Jason would care. Jason would stake you,” Willie said, but he wondered. The vampire laughed.
“Would he? How touching. He would make an excellent replacement. I suspect he has twice your intelligence even if he is Irish.”
“Leave him alone! He never hurt you!”
“On the contrary,” said Barnabas softly, “He brought you to me.” The line of the vampire’s mouth tightened. “Well? What is your choice? I do not have all night.”
A wind had come up and rattled one of the broken panes of the kitchen windows. The cold air swirled around the two figures and fluttered what was left of the lace at Barnabas Collins’ throat. Willie drooped.
“I don’t wanna die,” he said.
“You consent to be my servant?”
Gran’s voice came: “Where there’s life there’s hope, Willie-boy.”
“OK,” he whispered. “OK, Barnabas, I mean.”
I didn’t say yes or no. I didn’t promise.
The vampire smiled. “Very good, Willie,” he said mockingly. “However, as your master, I must punish you for your failures today, and so that you understand your relationship to me. Turn around and bend across the table.”
I have to be dreamin’ this. But Willie didn’t wake up, and he felt as though he were moving through Jello as he turned around. Then he stopped, unable to do it, to submit to this.
A cold hand with pincer fingers gripped the back of his neck and pressed him forward. He struggled, shimmying under the pressure, but had no choice but to bend at the waist, until the edge of the table was pressing into the joint of his hips and legs. The hand let go of his neck. The table was cold against his chest and he wasn’t getting enough air in any breath he took. He didn’t know what to do with his arms. The skin of his face felt hot and dry, his eyes felt glued open, and his gut had turned into a quivering knot.
He moaned and wanted to fight again when he felt Barnabas tugging at his shirt, up and out of his jeans, exposing Willie’s lower and then upper back to the cold air. Barnabas took forever tucking his shirt up under, like Willie cared about his shirt just now.
He heard a scuffle of shoe leather as Barnabas positioned himself. The waiting was awful. Willie closed his eyes and tried to take a deep breath. It didn’t help.
The first blow thudded across his back; Willie’s whole body jumped, even his feet left the ground. There was not so much pain as thud, and the fluttering in Willie’s stomach turned to nausea. He sucked in air with a hiss.
With a crack! of doubled leather, the second blow landed squarely on his lower back, and Willie bucked, grimacing. His throat had closed and his eyes were burning.
I won’t yell, I won’t, I won’t give him that. The third blow sizzled on his middle back, his arms came up and he buried his head in them and filled his mouth, chewing on his own shirt, tasting salt and dirt.
“I think,” said Barnabas conversationally, as the fourth and fifth blows landed on top of each other, causing Willie to bite his tongue, “that this evening’s lesson will be in obedience.” Thwack! said the belt as it smacked the tops of Willie’s thighs and the tears that had been standing in his eyes for the last three blows fell like hot rain on his wrists.
“Tell me,” said Barnabas, “What were your orders today?”
His whole back and backside were now on fire. His worn jeans and underwear were no protection against the heavy leather and the force behind Barnabas’ arm was unbelievable. The blows were regular now, and Willie could hear no need for breath in Barnabas’ voice, no heavy breathing or panting. Of course not, thought Willie, frantic, he doesn’t breathe—he could beat me forever and not get tired.
The sharpest blow yet fell, and Willie shrieked. Then a slight pause as acid moved under the skin of Willie’s backside.
“I asked you a question, and when I ask a question I expect an answer, Willie.”
“Get an animal,” Willie gasped.
“And what else?”
“Li-light the candles.”
“Correct. But you failed me.” Thwack! Crack! Thwack! Three more blows fell in succession.
Please, said Willie in his head, please stop …
“You must never fail me. I will not hear excuses.” Another crack of the belt against his thighs; he shrieked again. “Do you understand me?”
On and on the beating went. Ten strokes more and he lost count and began to feel numb, except when Barnabas found a new spot and then the pain of all the welts seemed to chime together and roll in a burning wave across his body.
Stop it, please stop it, I can’t, I can’t take any more, I’m gonna go crazy!
“Do. You. Understand?” Each word punctuated by a quick vicious lash.
“Yes!” Willie wailed, a long hopeless sound that should have echoed, should have rang out in the night, throughout Collinsport, but died in the frozen air of the Old House.
“Once more, why have you been punished tonight?”
“For … for not—for disobedience.”
“And what do we say when we are in error?”
“I-I’m sorry.” Willie couldn’t control his tears or his words, they spilled out like beer foam over the edge of a glass, and sobs garbled his words. “I’m sorry, won’ happen again, I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry.”
The belt was dropped by his head.
There was a silence, then:
“Apology accepted. Straighten up and look at me.”
And somehow, Willie did it. It was the hardest thing Barnabas had demanded yet.
“After the candles and fires are lit, I expect you to begin cleaning the front parlor and continue until I return. Is that understood?”
“Then I bid you good evening.”
With that, Barnabas was gone, into the night to hunt.
Willie lowered himself onto a stool, carefully. From fights, he knew not to move too fast or he’d faint. He felt as if he was floating, but the pain was crouched like a hunting animal, waiting for him to move so it could pounce.
He was still shaking. He tweaked down his shirt-tails, holding them away so as not to brush the welts on his back. Shuddering, he put his belt back on. Wiped his face but saw blood on his hand and remembered the cut from the belt buckle. There was a pump, and a sink—probably installed in the last century—and he decided to try it, wincing at every step as he crossed the kitchen.
He got a trickle of brown water, then a gush, gradually clearing enough so that he could bear to splash it over his hot face and his cut. His eyes were dry, yet his chest felt heavy, as though his tears were still trapped in there.
Meow! A small thin sound at the kitchen door. He looked up.
The yellow cat was at the door. It arched its back and its tail went straight up when it saw him.
“What’d you come back for?” he said. It rubbed the edge of the skewed door.
“I don’t have anythin’ for you,” he said, “This ain’t no safe place.”
Not safe for Jason, or anyone he knew. No-one could help him. He was alone. He would always be alone, for the rest of his life, and those that tried to help him, animal or human, would be in danger.
“Get outta here,” he shouted at the cat, and when it just backed up, “Get lost!!!” he screamed, smacking the crooked door, and the cat started, gave him a dirty look, and ran off into the night. Leaving Willie with the guttering candle, and work to do before Barnabas returned, and weary hours to go before he could drown his pain in sleep.
His trial had begun.
Dark Shadows is the property of Dan Curtis, All Rights Reserved