Worse Than Death
By: Carl R. Merritt
Chuck Tobias, a 17 year old high school junior, thought he was just about the luckiest kid in school.
He lived in a good home, had a good part-time job, always got As and Bs on his report cards and had lots of friends.
But beyond all that, he had the most popular girl in school for a girlfriend.
Her name was Nancy Washburn, a beautiful girl with a terrific personality and an IQ that matched.
But Nancy had a problem with the other boys. Her red hair and her fabulous figure made her the prime target of every senior in the school.
Almost hourly she had to disappoint some member of the varsity football team who wanted to take her out.
Nancy would tell them that she was going steady with Chuck and that's all there was to it.
Yeah, without a doubt, Chuck thought he very lucky to have a girl as nice as Nancy.
But as they say . . . all good things must come to an end.
One day, as Nancy and her best friend Kathy were eating lunch together in the cafeteria, Kathy looked up to see Mike Price, the pitcher for the school's baseball team.
His tight pants and stride made Kathy do a double take as he walked by their table.
"Nancy, why are you going with that loser?" Kathy asked. "With looks like yours, you could have anybody in the school!"
"I like Chuck! He's kind, honest, handsome and... "
"... and doesn't have any money!" Kathy finished. "Take a look at Mike Price over there by his friends. Now he is handsome! And not only that, but his dad is a lawyer!"
Glancing over to where Kathy was pointing, Nancy saw Mike picking out his drink at the counter. Sighing, she remembered the time Mike had asked her out on a date about a month before. While asking, he had flashed a large wad of money and told Nancy that if she would out with him, he would show her the time of her life. "Expensive dinners, hotel parties, hot air balloon rides . . . nothing is too good for a good looking girl like you," he had said.
Nancy sighed again, knowing that Chuck could never afford something as elaborate as a balloon ride, or even a dinner at anyplace more expensive than Burger King.
"But Chuck and I are... "
" ... going to wind up in the poor house if you two ever get married," Kathy finished again. "Look, you only live once. You might as well make the most out of it! You just have to ask yourself what you want more - love and poverty with Chuck, or money and sex for the rest of your life with a hunk like that!" Again Kathy pointed over to Mike. This time Nancy noticed that when he sat down at the table with his food, Mike's shoulders tensed and she could see the bulging muscles through his thin shirt.
Poor Chuck wasn't built nearly as well.
Over the next few weeks, Kathy continued filling Nancy's head with the idea of dumping her boyfriend in favor of someone with more money. Finally, after having countless visions of being happily married to a rich stud like Mike Price, Nancy dropped the bomb on Chuck Tobias, her boyfriend for over two years. Her parting words to the young man were very clear: You're a loser. I deserve much better.
Two months later, Chuck still wasn't over losing Nancy to a handsome senior named Chad Knight, a varsity football player and the son of a doctor.
In fact, he was feeling worse and worse every day. The times when he saw Nancy walking down the hallways at school, his heart felt like it weighed fifty pounds.
Chuck was still in love with her and he knew he would never get over it. His friends, all trying to make Chuck feel better, had called Nancy a self-centered, money hungry tramp, and if anyone deserved better, it was Chuck not Nancy.
In his heart, Chuck knew that wasn't true. All he had ever wanted was the best for Nancy and now it looked as though she would get it.
With each passing day, Chuck was becoming more quiet and reserved, more obsessed with the notion of getting Nancy back. One afternoon, just as school let out, he approached Nancy as she was putting her books away in her locker.
"Nancy, can we talk?"
With two of her friends watching to see how she would reply, Nancy didn't know quite how to answer. She no longer wanted Chuck, she was sure of that, but she also found it difficult to hurt him any further. Nancy remembered what Kathy had suggested should Chuck ever want to talk and decided to go that route. "Look, there's nothing to talk about, Chuck. What we had was nice, but it's over now. I'm going with Chad now. He can support me in the years to come. That's something you would always have a hard time doing. Just forget about me, okay?"
A thought struck Chuck as he listened to his ex-girlfriend. There was a word she should have mentioned, but didn't. He found himself having to ask. "You don't love him, do you?" It was more of a statement than a question.
Nancy stared at Chuck for long moments. She was shocked that he had hit the nail on the head when it came to her feelings toward Chad. No, she didn't love him . . . didn't really even like him that much, just his money. Glancing at her friends, Nancy knew she had to do something quick. If word got out that she didn't love Chad, she feared that he would dump her.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chad coming down the corridor. He was coming to drive her home in his new Corvette his father had bought him just the week before. Nancy knew what she must do.
"Chad," she began after he drew near. "I've got a problem here. This young man just asked me if I loved you? Can you think of some way to convince him?"
"Sure, Doll! I can think of one way right now!" Without warning, Chad drew back and hit Chuck hard in the jaw. The football player's weight and strength put a lot of power behind the blow and Chuck wound up flying against the lockers on the other side of the hallway. Looking up from the floor, he then saw Chad running his hand over Nancy where he shouldn't be touching her at all in public. She just stood there being submissive, allowing the indignity to prove her love for the big guy.
"So what do you think, Tobias? You think she would let me do this to her in front of all these people if she didn't love me? Do you want me to undress her for you too? She'd let me do it!"
"N-no!" Chuck pleaded, not wanting Nancy to be embarrassed any further. "Just leave her alone!"
Chad laughed and led Nancy away by the hand, leaving everyone staring at Chuck who was still on the floor and bleeding from the mouth. At that moment, Chuck realized he had lost Nancy forever. He knew she would never go back with him now, not after something like this.
He felt like he wanted to die.
The terrible screeching was really getting on Sam's nerves.
Vampra, for some strange reason, was going nuts back in her cell. All night she had been yelling and banging away at the bars on her cage, but even worse was the terrible, high pitched screeching that echoed off the cavern walls and seemed to pierce its way to one's very soul.
Sergeant Samuel Baker, after having served three tours in Vietnam, had retired from the service and had come to Moore's Lake in hopes of a peaceful life. In joining the police force, he had believed the most the most stressful thing he would have to do in such a small town would be the handing out of traffic tickets. Yeah, he thought. Then the damned mayor decided to handle the "Abe" problem! If only he had just...
Another loud screech from Vampra disrupted Sam's train of thought. The policeman was getting worried. This wasn't like Vampra since Darlene had spent so much time with her and helped her calm down. The last time the feral vampire carried on like this was right before Matt and his buddy came and knocked out poor Marcia before turning Vampra herself loose. No, something's gonna happen. Vampra knows it and that's why she's going nuts like this! Damn! I wish Darlene was here!
Without having any real reason to do so, Sergeant Baker got on his radio and called for backup. Captain Roscoe Long would probably say he's being paranoid or something, but the way Sam had it figured, when dealing with the supernatural . . . vampires . . . it was always better to be safe than sorry.
Chuck Tobias was having a hell of a hard time making his way through the cavern leading to the tomb.
Even though it was just past noon, he had been intelligent enough to realize that inside a cavern it was always pitch black, so he had brought along a flashlight.
Trouble was, the damned thing was running low on juice and it was little good to him now.
He had to squint to see where he was going.
Without warning, a bat came out of nowhere and began attacking Chuck. Waving the flashlight wildly, he ran as fast as the limited amount of light would allow. Hopefully, he thought, I'll be able to make it to the tomb before that bat really hurts me!
Then disaster struck. Chuck hadn't been watching where he was going and slammed his head into a stalactite. He fell backwards to the floor, the flashlight falling out of his hands and smashing against the stone wall. "Ooooh! My head!" Reaching up in the darkness, Chuck felt around where the stalactite struck him and felt a sticky dampness . . . blood. He knew it would hurt like hell soon, but that really didn't matter at this point . . . not if he gets his wish from the ghoul.
Standing, Chuck found that he was more seriously hurt than he had initially thought. He couldn't keep his balance and he felt the blood from the wound flowing freely down into his eyes. Blinded by total darkness and the blood coursing down into his eyes, Chuck had no choice other than to grope the rest of his way to the tomb. As he stumbled along and attempted to stop the flow of blood, the boy could only hope he was going in the right direction.
With the head injury Chuck wasn't sure now how long he had been in the cave, but eventually, he saw a light up ahead and hurried towards it. It's the tomb! he thought. What else could it be? But while stumbling along, Chuck saw the light move from side to side and instantly stopped in his tracks. There's something wrong here! he thought, not thinking correctly. What would make a light move around like that? Finding a large rock, Chuck hit behind it and watched the light off in the distance. With any luck, he would see what was going on before he got any closer. It wasn't that he was afraid of dying; Chuck was afraid that something may prohibit him from seeing the ghoul. Failing at this point was not an option. Then things got even worse. Chuck heard a noise behind him, somewhere beyond the curvature of the tunnel. Suddenly a loud scream filled the cavern. To Chuck, it sounded like someone being tortured, but then it didn't sound quite human either. He had no idea what the noises could have been, but he figured that in a place such as this, they couldn't have been good. Still watching the light and listening for any further noises, the kid began to sweat with fear. Then, when the light disappeared, he found himself able to do nothing more than crunch down as far as he could behind the rock . . . frozen . . . terrified that something would stop him from seeing the ghoul.
Sam was standing at his post, shining his flashlight down the main cavern to determine if anyone was there when a call came in over his portable radio.
"We're in the cemetery now," Captain Long said to Sergeant Baker over the radio. "ETA is three minutes! Can you hang on until then?"
"I think so, Cap! I heard some noises down the tunnel a couple of minutes ago. I think there's someone in here with me, but whoever it is, isn't showing themselves. Better hurry!"
"Roger that! Make that two minutes!"
Sam looked at his watch and hoped whatever the problem was would wait until the captain was on the scene. He considered the idea of drawing his weapon and going down the main cavern to investigate, but two things stopped him. First, he knew it would be smarter and safer to wait for backup. And second, if it was someone coming to see Abe, he didn't want to be accused of interfering with one of the ghoul's guests. No, he thought, I think I'll just wait until help gets here! Again, Sam's thoughts were interrupted by Vampra. Her loud, ear piercing screech reverberated in the cavern the like of which Sam had never heard before.
"Ahh, hell!" Sam went back for the shotgun he always brought along with him whenever he was on guard duty. Retrieving it from behind the table, he made sure a round was in the chamber and sat down to wait. He didn't know who was in the cave with him, but if it turned out to be someone with bad intentions, he would be ready.
Chuck heard the noise again from somewhere behind him.
This time he recognized it as being human voices. Raising his head, he turned and tried to see through the darkness, but whoever was coming were still beyond the curve in the cave.
He could see nothing. Turning, he could see nothing up ahead either.
He knew something was up there, but had no idea whatsoever what it could be.
It was decision time, should he proceed, or wait for whomever was coming?
Drawing a deep breath, Chuck knew what he must do. He had to continue. He couldn't take the chance of the people behind him stopping him from seeing the ghoul. Still shaking with fear, Chuck rose to his feet and continued to grope his way down the main cavern.
Not more than twenty-five steps further on, Chuck saw a light again, this time it wasn't moving. Going closer, he saw it was a portable lantern. He would have wondered who it had belonged to, but something else caught his eye as well. The light was illuminating the entrance to the tomb! It was just up ahead! Putting caution aside, Chuck ran for the tomb, daring anyone now to get in his way.
"Hold it right there!" a voice in the distance called out. "State your purpose for being here!"
Chuck saw the man standing in the light, obviously holding a weapon. Chuck knew it was either a shotgun or a rifle but with the light behind the man, he couldn't tell which. "I'm here to see the ghoul!"
"Come closer with your hands where I can see them!"
Sounds like it might be a cop, Chuck thought as he complied with the man's wishes, hands above his head. "Look, don't shoot! I'm just here to see the ghoul!"
Immediately, Sergeant Baker lowered his shotgun and positioned his flashlight so the intruder could see where he was going. He knew better than to stop anyone from seeing Abe. The consequences were just too high. "All right! You can approach." When the young man was close enough, Sam brought the light up and studied his face. He was shocked at what he saw. "Hell! You're just a kid! How'd you get all that blood on your face?"
"I'm not a kid!" Chuck shouted. "I'll be eighteen next month! And the blood is the result of that stupid stalactite back there! Why doesn't someone knock it down so people don't hurt themselves coming here?"
"What's your name?"
"Chuck! Are you here to stop me from seeing the ghoul?"
"No, Chuck, I wouldn't dream of it. Trust me on that. As for the stalactite, sorry, it's not my place to remove it. If Abe wanted it gone, he would have removed it himself. Now come here so I can take a look at how bad you're hurt. If you want, I can take you to a motor home belonging to a friend of mine and get you cleaned up before you see Abe."
"No time," replied Chuck, wiping away some of the blood on his face. He was thinking of the noises he had heard behind him. He couldn't take the chance of anyone stopping him. "I'll go now. Is he in?" the young man asked, pointing to the tomb.
"I think Abe's always in, kid. But the offer is still good if you want to get cleaned up first. You have my word that no one will interfere with you if you still want to see Abe afterwards."
"Thank you, but no. I'll go now." Taking a deep breath and thinking it just may be one of his last, Chuck went to the headstone and pulled it open. It was heavy, but using all his strength, he managed to pull it open and step inside. "Abe? Are you here?"
The deep resonating voice from behind startled Chuck. When he first entered the tomb, he was sure that no one had been inside.
"I AM HERE. WHAT IS YOUR REQUEST?" Abe studied the young man for the few seconds it took Chuck to reply. What he saw in the kid's mind disturbed the ghoul and Abe knew he would have to use some imagination when granting this request.
"I want you to kill me," Chuck answered. There was nothing further from his lips, no conditions for how he wanted it done. He just wanted to die, plain and simple.
"My girlfriend left me for another guy. I see no hope for a good future. If I live, for the rest of my life I'll be thinking of Nancy . . . in someone else's arms, knowing the whole time she's not happy. I can't live like that. Kill me. It doesn't matter how, I just want to die. I'd do it myself, but last week I discovered I didn't have the nerve."
Abe thought about this long and hard. He had no choice, the ghoul had to grant this heartbroken kid his wish if there was no way to talk him out of it. It sickened the ghoul to take the life of this nice kid simply because his money hungry girlfriend left him for someone else. Then an idea came to mind.
"WHAT I HAVE PLANNED FOR YOU IS A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH. YOUR EXISTENCE HERE AND NOW WILL COME TO AN END AS YOU HAVE REQUESTED, BUT IN THE PLACE YOU WIND UP, YOU WILL WISH YOU NEVER CAME TO SEE ME. DO YOU WISH ME TO PROCEED?"
"Do whatever you want," Chuck replied, all hope lost now at a quick and easy death.
Instantly, Chuck disappeared.
Watching the whole thing from outside the doorway, Sergeant Sam Baker was appalled. He couldn't believe Abe would vent his wrath on a young kid who was guilty of nothing more than having his priorities all screwed up.
The ghoul turned his attention to the police sergeant, his skeletal skull studying the mortal. "YOU PRESUME TOO MUCH, SERGEANT. BEHOLD!" Abe, with nothing more than a wave of his hand, transformed the air in the tomb into a giant viewing area. Standing roughly in the center of the small cavern, it didn't matter in which direction Sam looked. The presentation was everywhere.
The scene was that of a living room in some small house and, after seeing one of the characters, Sam had a very good idea of how Abe had punished that young man.
Chuck Tobias awoke with a splitting headache and a stomach that felt like it had an eggbeater inside.
Sitting up in bed, he also discovered that his mouth was dry and he had trouble seeing, everything was a blur.
Getting out of the bed was a mistake, his equilibrium was shot to hell and he fell right back onto the mattress.
"Oh . . . great! A hangover!" Chuck thought he must have had a heck of a great time the night before, he couldn't even remember it. He shut his eyes and prayed that this was all a bad dream. I wonder why I was drinking so heavily? he wondered. I don't do that unless I'm trying to forget something!
"Hurry up!" a voice screamed from somewhere else within the house. "It's seven o'clock! The boss said if you're late at the office one more time, your butt is canned! Now get up!!"
Chuck recognized the voice, or at least thought he did. As foggy as his mind was, he thought he was hearing things. The voice vaguely sounded like Nancy.
Wait a minute! Work? Office? I'm in school and my part-time job is not in an office!
"Did you hear me?! Get up!!"
It is Nancy! She came back to me!
Chuck, forgetting his headache, tore himself from the bed and ran towards the door. He had to see her. Had to be with her! "Nancy, I'm coming!" Oh! I can't believe she came back!
But Chuck's enthusiasm fell to rock bottom when he saw the girl of his dreams. It was Nancy all right, but she was much older . . . and extremely fat. She was sitting at the kitchen table munching on some cookies and watching a small black and white television. Chuck saw that the whole kitchen was a mess. A sink full of dirty dishes, scraps of food on the table and a floor that held more garbage than the trash can all combined to say that Nancy had turned out to be a slob . . . and extremely lazy.
Looking out into the living room, Chuck nearly fell over in disbelief. It was full of only God knows what. There was women's clothing, most of which still had the price tags attached, laying over all the furniture. He saw silly little knickknacks everywhere, even in the most unimaginable places. In fact, there was so much worthless junk, there wasn't even a single place to sit down.
"Did you ask your boss for that raise yet?" Nancy asked, wiping drool from her thick lips with the back of her hand.
"Well, I... "
"You didn't, did you?! What a waste I have as a husband! Worthless! I told you what I'd do if you chickened out again, didn't I??!" With speed that Chuck wouldn't have thought possible for such a fat woman, Nancy stood and backhanded her husband across the mouth.
"Hey! Why . . . ?" He knew, of course why Nancy wanted the money, so she could buy more clothing that she would never wear and more worthless junk she would never use.
"Listen to me! I need clothes! You don't make enough for me to buy everything I need! Now either you get at least a twenty-five percent pay raise, or else find a second job! Do you hear me?"
"Abe! Stop! I don't want to see anymore!" Sam said, closing his eyes and trying to block out the sound by putting his hands up to his ears. "When you said he would suffer a fate worse than death, you weren't kidding! That bitch is terrible! But again, I ask you . . . why were you so hard on him? He's only a mixed up kid!"
Having stopped the display, Abe considered his answer for some moments before he said, "THIS WON'T LAST LONG. WITHIN A FEW DAYS, CHARLES TOBIAS WILL HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THE FUTURE NANCY WASHBURN. HE WILL COME TO REALIZE THAT SOME WOMEN ARE JUST NOT WORTH THEIR TROUBLE. JUST BEFORE HE COMMITS SUICIDE, I WILL BRING HIM BACK TO THIS REALITY. HE WILL HAVE NO FURTHER FEELINGS FOR NANCY WASHBURN AFTER HE RETURNS. HE WILL THEREFORE LIVE A NORMAL LIFE."
Sergeant Baker thought about that, smiled and said, "Yeah . . . that's pretty good, Abe! You treated the kid fairly while teaching him a lesson at the same time. I'm glad you and I are on the same side! I'd hate to think what kind of punishment you would deliver to someone who really deserves it!"
"CONTINUE WITH THE SMALL TALK AND YOU JUST MAY FIND OUT," replied the ghoul, disappearing in a swirl of mist. He wanted to leave before the sergeant saw the smile forming on his skeletal face.
Clamping his mouth shut, the tough Sergeant Baker, veteran of three tough tours in Vietnam, gulped and quietly left the tomb without looking back.
The next story is great . . . Blood War!
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E-Mail the author at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com