By: Carl R. Merritt
Steve Alder, a middle aged man from Indiana, had a dream that he shared with most people in the world. He wanted to be the richest man alive. Already wealthy beyond the measure of his peers, he was motivated by one thing, and one thing only . . . greed. He couldn't stand the thought of someone having something that he didn't, couldn't stand the notion of being second class to anyone. It was a flaw in his character that he refused to correct, he simply exploited it.
Late one evening, while watching the news, he heard a reporter saying something about some tomb, a crypt of some sort where a ghoul was supposed to be residing. Curious, he leaned forward in his chair and took it all in. By the time the news report was over, Steven Alder had made up his mind . . . he was going to see Abe.
"Fifty dollars if you tell me where the tomb is located," Alder said to another Moore's Lake resident, the fifth he had thus far approached with the offer.
"Buddy, I'm not getting involved. Period."
It was about the same response Steve received from every person he had asked and he was getting tired of it. "Then how about five hundred dollars?! Five big ones just to give me directions! That's more than you probably make in a week!! How 'bout it?"
The thought of five hundred dollars in his pocket was making the man think. It was more than he made in a week. Hell! If the guy wants to ruin his life, who am I to stop him? the man asked himself, holding out his hand. "Deal," he said. "The money first."
"What?! You don't trust me?"
"It's not that, buddy. It's just that it's going to be impossible to collect after you see Abe. I'll take the money now, or it's no deal."
That worried Steve. Why is it that this clown is so sure...
"Okay, fine!" Steve said, reaching into his wallet for the money. "Now tell me where that damned tomb is located!"
Matt Perez, the new member of the assault team, and Darlene Holland, the beautiful vampress, were playing poker at the small wooden table located at the entrance to Darlene's cave.
It was almost midnight, and with Bret out of town and Vampra quiet in her cell, the two needed something to pass the time.
From where Matt and Darlene were seated they could see Abe's tomb and had a good view of the main passage.
So if anyone came to see the ghoul, or themselves, they would know long before the visitor reached them.
The poker game was being played for some interesting stakes. Although the young human and the immortal Darlene only had toothpicks in front of them, whoever came out the winner at the end of the night got their wish of the other. Matt's wish was to take Darlene out on a hot date, including dancing, dinner and maybe a little more. Darlene's wish was for Matt to grow up and stop trying to hit on her every time his shift for guard duty came around. As flattering as it was to have a young man as handsome as Matt hitting on her all the time, Darlene was growing tired of it. Not only that, but Bret, her live-in human friend, was becoming a little concerned over Matt also, his safety foremost in mind. Both Bret and Darlene knew that nothing could ever become of a relationship between a vampire and a mortal. The physical restrictions alone would make it impossible.
So far, the game was completely one-sided. Darlene was cleaning Matt for every toothpick he had.
"Damn it!" How lucky can one girl get?" he exclaimed as raked in the cards after losing yet another hand, not understanding at all how Darlene was doing so well in the game. "Okay, this time just simple five card draw! No more fancy stuff."
"You're the dealer. You're calling the shots," Darlene replied, a small smile on her face that she just couldn't seem to get rid of.
"I wish! If that were the case, you and I would be dancing at Ryan's Club this time tomorrow night! But, oh, nooo! I started off with a hundred toothpicks, same as you, and now I'm down to fifteen! There's something very strange going on here! I'm really not this bad of a player!"
You got that right, lover boy! Darlene thought, watching Matt shuffle the cards and trying to act as if she were playing fairly. "Just deal, Romeo. You never know when your luck is going to change." The vampire threw her ante of two toothpicks on the table and watched as Matt did the same. Darlene knew her friend was becoming very agitated and she thought it would be best to end this game fairly quickly. And she knew just how to do it. If the cards cooperate, that is, she thought.
Darlene looked at her new cards and was pleased to see three sevens along with an eight and a queen. She didn't know if it was a winning hand yet, but she knew she would very soon.
Matt studied his cards and saw he had two pair, aces and threes, along with a stray five of clubs. The perfect makings for a full house, he thought.
"This is good for a couple of toothpicks, I suppose," Darlene said, tossing her bet on the table.
"How many?" Matt asked the vampire after he matched the bet.
"Two. And make them a pair of something, okay?"
"Yeah, right! That's all I need!" Matt watched Darlene's face as she discarded the two cards and accepted the two he dealt her. He could see no change at all in her expression as she glanced at her two new cards. The woman's face must be made out of stone! he thought. Her eyes never give away a damned thing!
Matt discarded the five and took another card for himself. "Dealer takes one." He didn't let his expression show, but Matt was disappointed when he drew another five, this time of hearts. Glancing up, he suddenly noticed a smirk on the vampire's lovely face. That's when a thought struck him like a bolt of lightning. She's going to bluff! I'm gonna win this hand!
"Hmm. How many toothpicks do you have left?"
Yeah! She's gonna bluff! "I've got eleven left. Is that your bet?" Matt knew down to his bones that he had her this time. If he had to, he would bet the shirt off his back to win this hand. He just hoped it didn't come to that.
"Nope. Gonna bet twenty," the vampress stated, counting off the correct number of toothpicks and carefully placing them in a neat pile at the center of the table. "How are you going to cover it?" Honey, I hope you don't plan on stripping!
"A promise! Will you let me cover the rest of the bet with a promise?"
"And that would be... "
"Never to make a pass at you again! Our original bet was just that I stop asking you out every day. I'm willing to raise that bet to never asking you out again. That means to dinner, movies . . . everything! In fact, I'll never even look at you again if that's what you want! How about it, Darlene? Deal?"
"Well, I don't know . . . it doesn't seem like very much." The vampress took on a look of someone trying to make up their mind. Finally she said, "Well, all right. I suppose it'll have to do." Darlene laid her cards on the table and watched Matt's jaw fall to the floor. Her three of a kind wasn't much, but it beat Matt's two pair.
"I . . . I thought you were bluffing! You bet twenty toothpicks on just three sevens? All right," the young mortal continued with the biggest sigh of his life. "I'll keep my promise."
Smiling, Darlene raked in the toothpicks laying in the center of the table and wondered how honest she should be with her friend. Then, having made up her mind, she said, "I was cheating, Matt."
"You couldn't have been! I thought of that too at first, but I was watching you! There's no way you could have been... "
"Matt, stop a second and listen." Darlene took a deep breath and tried to come up with a way of telling this brash young man so he wouldn't be too angry. "Uh, Matt . . . I know you weren't aware of this, but uh . . . well . . . vampires can read minds."
"What?! You mean all this time you knew what was in my hand? And... " Matt stopped when he suddenly remembered all the other things that had gone through his mind while in the presence of this beautiful woman. "Darlene, you must think I'm a real jerk!"
"No, not really. I just think you're a normal American male with a very active imagination. If you want to know the truth, if I were mortal . . . well, I'd better not go into that. Anyway, I'm not going to hold you to the last part of the bet. All I ask is that you stop trying to take me out every night. I still want to be your friend, that's something I will always cherish. But there's no way there can be anything more between us, Matt."
"Okay. That's fair. But if I may ask, why can't there be anything between us, Darlene? I mean, I know you're a little older, but... "
"A lot older. But that's not it." Darlene looked away while she considered her words. This was not going to be any easier on her that it was for her young friend. "Matt, I'm dead! Can't you understand? I'm not mortal any more! Sure, I walk, talk, think and breathe just like you do, but I'm no longer a living being. I really don't know what to call the state Gail and I are in, but it's not life. Oh, you and I could make love, if one could actually call it that, but it would be so rough, so brutal . . . you'd never live through the experience. In fact, there's a good chance I'd go berserk at the end and bite you. You don't really want to become a vampire, do you?"
Matt felt terrible and it wasn't just because he knew now that Darlene could never be a part of his romantic future. He felt sorry for the beautiful girl. To go through eternity without love...
"That's what Bret gives me, Matt. Yeah, you forgot again about me being able to read your mind. Anyway, Bret stays with me as much as he can. We love each other in such a way, it's hard to describe. We aren't . . . can't be physical lovers, but we share much more that. We've developed such a... "
Darlene broke off when her sensitive hearing picked up a noise. She knew instantly it was someone just outside the main cavern. Her mind went out in search of the intruder, searching his thoughts for his reasons for being there.
"We have company, Matt. There's a real stupid man out there who wishes to see Abe."
Right away, Matt's mind raced back to the story he had heard about Marc Lamas and how Abe had punished him for attempting to dissuade a man from entering the tomb. He knew he was not going to make the same mistake. "We'll let him pass."
"Smart thinking, lover boy. But since you're relatively new here, why don't you go back further into my tunnel and let me handle any questions he might have. It's not that I don't think you can handle this, it's just that you're too impulsive. You just might say something that qualifies as 'interfering' with the man."
"No, thanks. This is my job. I've got to prove that I can be trusted here."
"Okay. If that's the way you want it." Darlene's thoughts went out to the stranger again and she saw that he was having a hard time with Abe's bats. She smiled and said, "He'll be here in about three or four minutes."
As Steve Alder made his way through the wooded area just outside the main entrance to Abe's tomb, he found his heart racing a mile a minute.
There were noises in the woods he just didn't like the sound of. Wolves, he thought.
Who would have thought there would be wolves within the city limits of a town in Virginia, for crying out loud!
And that flapping sound! What in the hell could that be?
Looking up ahead instead of where he should be looking, Steve tripped over a tree root and fell face first to the moist ground. The smell of rotting leaves, mold and mildew were strong and, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket he immediately hurried to get the dirt off his face. As soon as he got the muck out of his eyes and he could see again, he looked up and was horrified at what he saw. A big set of yellow eyes . . . staring at him. And they didn't look very far away either.
"Hah!" he yelled, trying to chase away the animal. He could only hope it wasn't one of the wolves he'd been hearing. "Go on! Scram! Get outta here!"
As if by magic, the eyes slowing disappeared. When they vanished, they didn't look as though they had turned away, or even faded if the animal had backed up and left the area. They simply disappeared. This did nothing to calm Steve's nerves.
Steve rose to his feet and continued on to where he thought the tomb's entrance should be located. According to the directions he'd received, the cave should be just a little further ahead. He reached the tunnel entrance a couple of minutes later with no further difficulties and proceeded to go inside. Just when he thought he was safe from the wolves and assumed his luck had changed for the better, the flapping noises returned. It was then, within the confines of the cave that Steve Alder realized what was making the noises . . . bats, one of the few creatures on Earth that terrified him, the others being snakes and spiders.
Why didn't I think of bringing a stupid flashlight? he wondered as he stumbled through the darkness, running his hand along the damp stone walls of the cave, using them as a guide. A flashlight might have scared the damned bats off!
Suddenly, without warning of any kind, the bats attacked. Steve felt a tearing sensation on his cheek and reaching up, he felt the gash the creature had left and the first drops of blood. Waving his hands wildly, he tried to ward off the hideous mammals, but could tell by the sounds that they weren't being intimidated at all by his actions. He began screaming, yelling at the bats, trying to scare them off. This too was a waste of time as they continued in their relentless attack. In less than a minute, Steve had over a dozen open wounds to his face, neck and arms. And sometime during the attack he had fallen again, this time landing in a thick sticky substance that smelled as if it had come straight out of hell. Only after he had fallen into the pool of goo did the bats finally depart.
"I don't believe this!" Steve swore. "Is that all they wanted? To have me soaked in this smelly crap?!"
Crawling out of the pool of disgusting syrup, Steve looked up and saw a light up ahead. With the sticky substance still in his eyes, he could just barely make out the shape of two individuals. They seemed to be just standing there, about twenty yards further on, waiting for him.
"Hey! Is one of you the ghoul? Abe! Is that you?" Steve got no reply. Instead, one of the two, a young handsome man dressed in jeans, white tee-shirt and blue denim jacket, began walking in his direction. Steve was happy to see that he was carrying a flashlight. "You're not the ghoul, are you?" Steve asked, already suspecting what the answer would be. "No, I guess you're not. Well, anyway, shine that light over here so I can at least see where in the hell I'm going!"
Remaining silent, Matt complied with the stranger's wishes and angled the beam down to the cavern floor to illuminate all the small rocks, shallow crevices and bones. Steve, finally able to see where he was going and noticing everything he had been tripping over for the last few minutes, suddenly got an uneasy feeling in his stomach and began wondering if seeing Abe was such a good idea after all. When the flashlight lit up the two-headed skeleton, Steve was very tempted to simply turn around and leave the way he had come. Only his greed for money kept him going.
"Who are you anyway?" Steve asked, not knowing if the young man would answer.
"The name is Matt."
"And my name is Darlene."
Steve turned towards the new voice. The one named Matt brought the flashlight up and Steve saw who . . . or what . . . the voice belonged to. A female vampire, smiling . . . canine teeth protruding from her lovely lips.
"Oh, God!" was all Steve could manage to say. A vampire! He hadn't expected this. The news report had said nothing about there being any vampires to deal with before he saw the ghoul.
"Don't worry, man. Darlene's cool. Just don't try asking her out on a date and you'll be fine!"
Knowing it was a private joke of some sort, Steve shrugged it off, pointed to the headstone acting as a door and asked, "Is that the tomb?"
"Yeah. Go right on in! I'm sure 'ole Abe will just be tickled to death to see you!"
Steve didn't like this young man's attitude at all, but in the end it really didn't matter. He was here to see a ghoul and get a request granted, not quibble over the smart mouth of a kid. Brushing past Matt, Steve grabbed the door to the tomb and, using a good deal of strength, pulled it open. Entering, right away he had to step over a set of old bones. "Hey! I'm here! I have a wish!"
As usual, Abe slowly appeared in a swirling mist of light that was filled with stars. Solidifying, he hovered a few inches off the ground, waiting for Steve Alder to break the silence.
"I want to be the richest man alive! Will you grant my wish?"
"IF YOU WERE SMART, YOU WOULD LEAVE NOW, BEFORE I GRANT YOUR REQUEST!"
"W-what? You won't grant my wish? I thought that's what you do!"
Abe stared at the greedy man for what seemed like an eternity. During this time, Steve began sweating and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "L-look! Are you gonna make me the richest man on Earth, or aren't you? I'm a busy man, and haven't got time to waste!"
Disgusted at seeing such an arrogant and greedy man, Abe decided to grant his request. Anxious to be rid of this vermin, the ghoul simply said, "DONE!"
Instantly, Steve Alder disappeared.
Steve awoke to an oppressive, humid heat and some of the strangest sounds he had ever heard.
His shoulders sore and something sharp digging into his back, the greedy man knew right away he wasn't at home in his nice soft bed.
Opening his eyes, Steve saw that he was outdoors... What in the . . . ?
Turning around slowly to get a good look at his surroundings, the greedy man saw that this was no ordinary jungle. For one thing, the sky was a hazy shade of red and the few clouds that were in the sky were yellow and pink in color. The plant life was also much different than anything he was used to. Most of it was green. However, the leaves on the plants were huge and some of the trees and bushes reached nearly two hundred feet in the air! Another thing that bothered Steve were the volcanoes and all rifts in the ground that were shooting fire. In every direction he looked, he saw flames. But Steve's biggest surprise came when he glanced up at the sun. It was a shade of red that he had never seen before and had large flares shooting from it almost constantly. "What the hell?"
The noises that had woke him belonged to animals, of course, but what kind? They sounded very large, judging from the deep resonating roars. Searching for the source of the sounds, Steve was horrified to see animals the likes of which he had never imagined. There were cockroaches the size of pigs, spiders that were larger than octopuses and . . . Oh, my God! . . . snakes the size of telephone poles!
Suddenly, Steve was attacked from behind by one of the snakes. He didn't even see it coming, it was that fast. Instead of biting him, it lashed out with its tail and snagged Steve's ankle, whipping him to the ground. The next thing Steve knew, the giant snake was coiling itself around his torso, squeezing the life out of him. Feeling a rib crack, the greedy man did the only thing he could think of doing . . . he screamed for help.
"Abe! What in the hell did you do to me? Abe! Get this damned thing off me!"
Straightaway, the snake was gone. Steve was once again standing . . . although he still felt the pain of a broken rib . . . and Abe was hovering just a few feet away.
"YOU WISHED TO BE THE RICHEST MAN ALIVE . . . THE RICHEST MAN ON EARTH. YOU ARE. LOOK IN YOUR POCKET. YOU WILL FIND A PENNY."
"But this isn't Earth, it can't be! Where is this place?"
"THIS IS EARTH. FIVE MILLION YEARS IN THE FUTURE. MANKIND ABANDONED THIS PLANET LONG AGO AND HAS DEVELOPED INTO A HIGHER LIFEFORM. YOU WISHED TO BE THE RICHEST MAN ON EARTH. YOUR REQUEST HAS BEEN GRANTED." Without waiting around to hear the man's screams, Abe departed, leaving Steve Alder alone forever with his wealth of a single penny.
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E-Mail the author at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com
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