Banquet of Souls, 6th Course, Palate Cleanser, “Blood Pressure”
Something a little lighter this day:
What follows is an excerpt from the sixth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.
My sweaty palm clutched the little cross so hard the ends poked into my skin like nails. I stopped just short of the steps and looked up. The Georgian-style manor loomed before me, undeniably looking better than I’d ever remembered. But the fresh coats of paint and impeccably manicured hedges and lawn of the old Lindsey place didn’t remove the trepidation or the hollow feeling in my gut. As I mounted the steps, I became very aware of the familiar — and right now most unwelcome — tingle at the top of my scalp signaling my elevating blood pressure. My medication wasn’t touching it right now. But I had to do what I had to do.
I paused for a quick moment to take a deep breath before reaching up and grasping the large, brass door knocker. The heaviness of the metal matched the weight I felt about my mission. My thoughts. My fears. I tapped three times. The hard, hollow sound echoed as if reverberating through a cavern. After a full minute, a very dapper, courtly, elderly man answered the door.
“Yes?” He droned, just like those intimidating butlers in the old movies.
I cleared my throat. Hard.
“I’m Earl Buxton. I’d like a meeting with Mayor Sauer.”
“He is quite busy. Call upon him next week. Perhaps Thursday.”
“The matter will only take a few minutes and is quite pressing. It’s a town matter.”
The old man hesitated, gazing at me with piercing blue eyes shaded by eyebrows resembling ancient, grayed caterpillars.
“Come in. Though I cannot promise he will see you.”
“I understand.” The tingling on top of my head got a little more pronounced.
Without another word, he stepped aside to let me enter. Even with the heavy, dark velvet curtains closed, I could still appreciate the expansive, elegant foyer framed by gleaming, carved mahogany panels. I didn’t get much time to appreciate the beautiful Victorian décor, however. The darkness doubled when he abruptly closed the door behind me, silently directing me with a nod of his head to follow him through a large doorway. My eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the darkness, and I banged my knee against the umbrella stand base of a tall, antique coat rack, stifling a strong urge to curse.
I followed the old man slowly into the shadows of a long hallway, his rounded back hitching back and forth. The wide passage felt somber and looked excessively ornate; two rows of elegant Queen Anne style chairs were lined up on either side of the wall, not unlike the waiting area of a funeral parlor. We came to an intricately-carved double door of dark wood. The old man brought up a knobby little hand and knocked lightly.
“Come,” a baritone voice said.
The old man opened the door just enough to stick his curled upper body into the room, blocking my view on purpose.
“Someone to see you Master-errr-Mr. Mayor.”
“Who is it?” the voice asked sharply. I noticed the barest whiff of an eastern European accent.
“A man named Earl Buxton. He would like a short word with you and he says the matter is of some importance. He says it is about the town.”
“All right, Samuel. Show him in,” the baritone voice said curtly. The Mayor was obviously annoyed.
Old Samuel opened the door wide, revealing a large office. Books lined every wall and the only window was curtained with fine lace. The sun had not yet moved to this side of the house to illuminate much in the room. A brass desk lamp shone on several papers strewn over an antique green blotter. An old-style inkwell, complete with a quill pen, stood off to the side of the papers. The Mayor stood, set a slim gold pen down atop the papers, and held out his hand. He was of indeterminate age. He could have been forty, or possible as old as sixty; it was impossible to tell. Tall, handsome, dark-haired and olive skinned, and wearing a crisp, perfectly-tailored suit with deep red tie, he gave me an unexpectedly affable smile.
With mounting apprehension I shook the hand, feeling the cool, dry skin of his palm, immediately embarrassed of my own nervous perspiration. The cross stabbed into my other palm until I loosened it, fearing I would draw blood.
“Please, sit. What can I do for you?” he asked me, congenially offering me the chair directly in front of his desk.
I sat, feeling the nervousness rise in my spine — as well as my sudden need to pee.
“Um, well, Mr. Mayor…” I began, my voice cracking a bit.
“Please, call me Victor,” he said with considerable warmth and a generous sweep of his hand.
“Oh. Okay. Victor.” I swallowed thickly and decided to dive straight into the matter and get it over with. “I’ve been selected to bring you a matter of concern to the citizens of Rogerton.”
“Um, yes. You see, ever since you ostensibly became mayor things have seemed to have, well, gone awry in the town.”
“Gone awry. How so?”
“Well, first there’s the murders.”
“Murders?” his brow furrowed abruptly. “What do you mean, murders?”
“Well, the corpses that have been found drained of blood.”
12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c
Kindle edition $2.99