I Thought My Uncle Was A Vampire, But He Was Just A Creep, page 1
I Thought My Uncle Was A Vampire, But He Was Just A Creep
Chapter 8 and One-half
I Thought My Uncle Was A Vampire,
But He Was Just A Creep
by Richard Cassone
Copyright 2010 Richard Cassone
Discover other titles by Richard Cassone at Smashwords.com
Osgood Phyrr and The Electric Chair Time Machine
Nicolai awoke and went up to the deck. Midnight had cleared the fog. The moon provided enough light to see waves breaking toward the horizon. Had Nicolai chosen to go aft he would have seen the ship’s wake receding into the stormy past. He chose however to blind himself to such metaphor and fixed his gaze instead ahead. His manner of leaning, angled, arms crossed, right one pointing out supporting a cigarette, made him seem a human mast guiding the boat. The three rubies set in his belt doubled his reflection (once in the water, once in the sky) and he dreamed. Anna was gone now, he’d lost Tolstoy’s famed book in the torrent of a pitcher of wine carelessly toppled. A chill caught him and broke his posture. A bruise on his neck still hurt, perhaps it was an insect bite, he wasn’t sure. As he brushed himself against a support, he heard a tinkle-tinkle-tinkle-splash and noticed that one of the rubies had jumped from his belt(3-2=1). He was relieved to find however that the splash had been shallow and had happened only when the stone landed in one of the many puddles left by the rain. He saw it glistening some distance away. It was sitting close to the edge of the deck and Nicolai bent to his knees (gently now, gently) and carefully crawled toward it, trying to avoid a movement that might send it over. As he neared, he felt a rush of wind in his hair. The wind itself was not dangerous, but rather the gull which had formed it. As he reached to grab the stone, it swooped down fast and clutching it in its sharp beak settled on a railing nearby. Nicolai stood. The gull blinked, unaware (surely) of the mischief it was causing. The ruby sat between its jaws and it licked it with its tongue and clucked. Nicolai stalked the gull slowly and then in a moment’s foolish decision dove and missed. He landed facedown in a puddle and saw the bird fly off. In seeming exchange, something caught his eye. Nicolai picked up a shiny coin and put it in his pocket: His first American Nickel; the first of many, he thought. But what a loss the ruby: one third of a corpse lost, a leg or arm, in transatlantic shipment to the grave, almost. Sadly, he returned to bed.
The next morning he slept late and thought he’d passed an entire day by, as it was dark. Upon examination of his watch though he realized it to be just past noon. Eclipse? In a way. A cursory glance around the cabin revealed the afternoon sun to be blocked from his view by Franz. Nicolai looked up and saw the fat man leaning against the porthole at the end of the cabin. He closed his eyes slightly and watched. As the day passed, Franz’s shadow creeped across the floor and darkened the entire room. Nicolai went back to sleep having not arisen from his bed that day.
“There is more to me than meets the eye.” Nicolai spoke aloud as he stood to admire himself in the mirror. Nicolai was not immodest and yet for one reason or another his reflection in the mirror and the picture he carried of himself in his head did not meet eye to eye. If, for example, it were possible to superimpose one image on the other, they would seem to create the perfectly visible man, the form of the latter delineating the skeletal structure of the former. The mirror image bulged slightly in some places where the other did not and hung a little loosely around the belt. His real self also swayed a bit more easily with the movements of the liner and Nicolai was beginning to feel it. He left his skeletal self to the western winds and lay on his bunk.
It seemed quite archaicNicolai had heard more than a handful of snickersand it wasn’t that he feared or mistrusted the principle of flight in any way (on this point be absolutely certain) rather he felt that his arrival in America must be in the fashion of all those who came beforesomething of the old man in him. He though of Aunt Rifka, her robust figure and how it must have swayed on deck, jiggled like so much gelatin, when she came to America some thirty years before. Thirty...fifteen. I am forty-five, he thought. Rifka was young then. She’s sixty-three now, that makes...thirty-three. What a thirty-three she was too. Nicolai had spent many an hour watching her through the hole laboriously bored in their adjoining wall of the house. Robust. He said it, “Robust.” Then trilled it, “Rrr-obust!” He felt so.
Nicolai shared his room with three other gentlemen, mostly of Verona. The bunk above his was taken by a man named Antonini. In the bunks across, resided, on the lower, Franz, and on the upper, Alligheri, a strange man who at first had much trouble deciding which bunk he wanted: the top or bottom. He had spent several hours trying each one in turn, deciding and debating which one fit him best. His arguments went as follows:
In favor of the top bunk
The top bunk is closer to God. That is good. On the other hand it is farther away from the ground, which is bad, especially if you’re prone to nosebleeds.
In favor of the bottom bunk
The bottom bunk is much easier to get into and favors the chronic somnambulist. It is further from God, but then too, from his wrath if you are prone to incur it.
This was Alligheri’s reasoning and it may be taken for what little value it has. In the end though all of his debating came to naught as Franz decided the matter, upon his arrival, with the sort of wisdom written on a man’s knuckles. To that tradition he added a slap and Alligheri learned to live with his nosebleeds.
Antonini and Alligheri claimed to be brothers and the fact that he often found them cuddled together on the same bunk led Nicolai to believe that this must be true. That and that even when in their respective beds they sometimes passed little scraps of paper back and forth and giggled. Franz used to tease them: “You Veronese are like peas in a pod.” But they did not disturb Nicolai and he discounted them.
Franz, however, became an immediate source of irritation, but his immense size prevented any corrective actionnot that Nicolai was the sort to dole some out in any event. The gruff man with the beard that didn’t seem to fit his face quite right never said a word to Nicolai. He did not pummel him as he did his other cabinmates, but his actions, Nicolai felt, were all designed for the purpose of intimidating him (Nicolai) and him alone (the Veronese had their own theories about his behavior). He often sensed that Franz was watching closely. It was not difficult to detect, as anytime Franz came near the boat noticeably swayed. Mealtimes made Nicolai particularly suspicious as Franz would sit directly across from him and not eat, but stare appreciatively as Nicolai did, affirming every bite of mutton, every scoop of peas. The most awkward aspect of the intricate drama was the fact that nobody else would share a table with them, instead doubling up at the others. Nicolai, not wishing to cause any trouble, decided to stick it out and attributed Franz’s behavior, not to some odd preoccupation with himself (Nicolai), but to what he naturally concluded must be a diet.
“The Gramercy is a seaworthy vessel and a sea worthy vessel she is,” read the brochureand that’s all she is. From the Port of Marseilles there is only one company offering passage to America by sea: The Bubonic Touring Company. The B.T.C. received its rather unfortunate name from its founder Boyd Bubonic III, an eccentric millionaire who lost all of his mo
What Nicolai found most interesting about The Gramercy was her name, for she did not come by it via the usual derivation. Common knowledge dictates ‘Gramercy’ as evolved from the French ‘Grand Merci’ and in its original sense meaning ‘By the grace of God’fine name for a ship indeed, he thought. Later use degraded the word to a simple ‘thanks’. Although Boyd Bubonic was renowned for his appreciativeness and good will, he came by the name in another fashion.
When B.B. III was just a tike, a mere lad of two and a tear lad of moo (all this was well detailed in the brochure and Nicolai’s primary enticement to travel with the B.T.C.that and the cheep ticket), he developed a slight stutter. “A slight stutter is fine, my lad moo,” Boyd’s father told him; and it was. The true hindrance to his life came when that slight stutter grew slightly worse. By the time he was five there was only one thing he could say in its entirety: “Oh hell,” being the usual outburst following his inability to pronounce anything more than the first syllable of any other word. Now, having reached the age where a child’s vocabulary is usually fully developed, Boyd’s consisted of one naughty phrase and several thousand variations on “B-b-b-ba”.
At the age of thirteen Boyd made his first and only visit to his paternal grandmother, who in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century escaped the Cossacks in Siberia and settled on a small, but cozy iceberg in the North Atlantic. Upon meeting the lad, she was quite taken aback as he uttered, “He-he-he Gr-grOh Hell!” Always the dilettante, she took him aside, “My dear boy, one never says that in society. If you simply must, always substitute ‘Mercy’.” Boyd never forgot this woman who made such an impression on him. One year later she was killed when her iceberg rammed into a derelict Titanic and sank, killing everyone on board. Later in life, after costly speech therapy and prosperity found B.B., he paid her due homage by naming the finest vessel in his fleet after her memory. And so The Gra-Gra-Mercy was born, shortened through familiarity to The Gramercy, and this was the ship on which Nicolai traveled.
One day out of Reykjavikwhich was three days from Marseilles, which was several hours and a short layover out of LondonNicolai sat in the lounge. He had originally come for an idle drink, but found himself staring at a woman sitting alone at a table. She appeared upset and had great difficulty getting comfortable. At once she would adjust some odd feminine undergarment and then moments later unable to bear it any longer adjust it again. In the course of an hour Nicolai observed her fiddle with her brassier three times and then secretly remove it, the right stocking come off and go into her purse, her hair go from tight braid to bun to tail to tossed over her shoulders and to tail again, and her jewelry put in neat stacks on the table. When she finally removed a wedding band, Nicolai recognized her. She was married to an older American man, but she herself was Iberian. He knew this as whenever he saw the two quarrel her husband would yell in English, and she would strike him with a barrage of her native Spanish (or Portuguese, Nicolai could not tell which) and he remembered that they fought often. She seemed so vulnerable to him then, so uncomfortable in her own right, that a surge of confidence (and other unmentionables) rose in him. It was fun to watch, true, but he suddenly found a tremendous desire to participate (and how). He couldn’t believe it, but he approached her.
She was preparing to take off her slip when Nicolai stepped into frame with a cocktail. “I thought I’d better stop you.” He indicated the roomful of men watching her.
“I’m sorry. I get slightly...but won’t you sit?” Nicolai did and was excited to get such a close look at this magnificent woman. “I see you have brought me a drink?” Nicolai slid the glass close to her. “Thank you.” She sipped it. “You have been watching me since we left Marseilles, No? You must imagine that my husband and I are not very harmonious, but you should understand we are from very different backgrounds. We are going to visit his children in America, but he will not fly and boats make me uncomfortable. I’ve notice you before, what is your name?”
“Such a bold name for such a meek man.”
Meek? Do I really come off as meek? He straightened himself in his chair and stared into her eyes momentarily. There was a strange glint in them. The mark of a dangerous woman, he thought and then looked away. The next thing he said was, “You are much younger than your husband.” Putting her, he thought, at a disadvantage (meek? Pshaw).
“No, Nicholas, that is my husbands name.”
“Where is he now?” Nicolai asked, losing again the advantage and all sense of the conversation. He tried, but could not look again into her eyes.
“There...flirting.” Nicolai turned and saw her husband sitting with Alligheri at the bar. He was a large man, grayed, perhaps of Italian decent, but Nicolai thought that of every man with more than three rings on his fingers. A moment after, he observed Antonini entering the room. Then in immediate succession: The Veronese caught each other’s eyes. The music came to an abrupt and sudden halt, Nicholas (the American) turned into a blindly thrown fist, stopped it with his hand and dealt the same (only more precisely aimed) back, leaving three monograms neatly stamped on the Italian’s (genuine article) forehead.
Nicolai turned to register a reaction with the woman, but she had disappeared. He swirled again and saw her exiting, arm and arm with her husband. Before wholly out the door, she looked and blew Nicolai a kiss. There will be some fun times for me in America, he thought, and perhaps even before. Her sweet lips hung in the air like a mist and remained until a burst from the P.A. shattered them into a soft dew on the synthetic carpet fibers, each one gathering its fare share so to step on the floor sent a shiver through your body.
“Mr. Vicoff, please report to the bridge. There is a telegram for you.”
Nicolai stood up and an unexplainable shiver ran through his body. He walked across the room, each step sending a special tingle up his spine. Pleasant at first, it suddenly became quite painful and he eventually found himself dashing toward the door to avoid any more stimulation. Static electricity, no more, he thought. Once on deck, Nicolai found that dark storm clouds had swallowed the sky and an untimely darkness lay on the sea. He realized too that he hadn’t a clue how to find the bridge. He stood puzzled for a moment looking this way and that until suddenly the decklights shimmered and went out. A moment later the ship lurched, Nicolai grasped onto the railing and waited for a torrent of rain and an equivalent roll back to port. Neither came. Nicolai straightened, knowing what had happened. To affirm his supposition, he turned and noted Franz’s presence fifty feet to aft.
The sea below gyrated violently against the boat as the waves joined in a feeding frenzy on themselves, each taking its turn in a surge on the hull only to be consumed by a great white-head. Nicolai sauntered slowly to the front of the ship, looked over his shoulder, coyly waved, and immediately took off running to the other side of the boat. As he did, the first pelting rays of rain slammed into the deck. Franz was still following him, Nicolai knew, for even in the midst of a violent storm the ship could not resist Franz’s immense presence. Nicolai slipped into a niche created by a few stacked barrels and waited. After a moment he saw Franz run by. Franz spotted him immediately and tried to stop, but the wet floors foiled that plan and carried him instead into some refuse at the end of the deck. Nicola
There were three uniformed men in the small room, one sat behind a large console of equipment. The other two stood at the helm. None of them looked at Nicolai. “You have a telegram for me? Nicolai Vicoff.”
The seated man rose, approached the shorter of the others, whispered in his ear, and retook his seat. The short man whispered then to the man next to him who turned and said, “No.” They then went back to the business of piloting the craft. Nicolai climbed back down the ladder and as he left, a steward sneaked out of a closet and mopped up the puddle of water he’d left behind. So it was a confused Nicolai who arrived back on deck only to be startled by Franz’s bulk rushing out of the head to great him. Franz misstepped however and catching his foot on the base of the door, flopped onto the deck. He slipped in one attempt to rise, subsequently succeeded, and then stood firmly blocking Nicolai’s escape.
Nicolai stared through this man’s eyebrows into his own reflection and Franz spoke, breathing heavily, “Nic,” he gasped for air, “Nic...Nicolai. The communications officer asked me to deliver...to deliver this to you.” He produced a soggy envelope. Franz then turned and re-entered the head and through the closed door Nicolai could hear him retching.
Nicolai went back into the lounge and opened the envelope. It was not a telegram as promised, but a hand-written letter.