Abraham lincoln vampire.., p.9
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       Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, p.9

           Seth Grahame-Smith
 

  By the time he turned nineteen, Abraham Lincoln had covered nearly every inch of every page in his journal with ink (in ever-smaller lettering as he neared the end). It held seven years of remarkable records. Insights into his disdain for his father. His hatred of vampires. Accounts of his earliest battles with the walking dead.

  It also held no fewer than sixteen folded letters between its pages. The first had arrived barely a month after Abe left Henry’s cabin and returned to Little Pigeon Creek.

  Dear Abraham,

  I trust this finds you well. Below is the name of someone who deserves it sooner. You will find him in the town of Rising Sun—three days upriver from Louisville. Do not construe this letter as an expectation of action. The choice is yours, always. I merely wish to offer the opportunity for continued study, and provide some small measure of relief for the injustices done you, as you will no doubt seek their redress on your own.

  Beneath this was the name Silas Williams and the word “cobbler.” The letter was signed only with an H. Abe rode to Rising Sun a week later, telling his father that he was off to Louisville to look for work.

  I had expected to find the place plagued by a rash of disappearances or pestilence of some sort. However, the people seemed in excellent spirits, and their town in excellent health. I walked among them with my weapons hidden beneath my long coat (for it had occurred to me that the sight of a tall stranger with an ax might engender concern among the citizenry). I intruded upon the kindness of a passerby, and asked where I might find the local cobbler, for my shoes were very badly worn. Having been directed to a modest shop not more than fifty yards away, I entered and found a bearded, bespectacled man hard at work—his walls covered with worn and dismembered shoes. He was a meek creature of some five-and-thirty years, and he was alone. “Silas Williams?” I asked.

  “Yes?”

  I cut his head off with my ax and left.

  When his head fell to the floor, his eyes were as black as the shoes he had been polishing. I have not the faintest idea what his crimes were, nor do I care. I care only that there is one less vampire today than there was yesterday. It is strange, I admit, to think that I owe this fact to a vampire. However, it has long been said that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

  Fifteen more letters arrived in Little Pigeon Creek over the next three years, each with nothing more than a name, a place, and that unmistakable H.

  There were times that two would arrive in as many months. There were times that none arrived for three months’ time. Regardless of when they came, I always set out as soon as my work would allow. Each hunt brought new lessons. New improvements to my skills and tools. Some were as effortless as the beheading of Silas Williams. Others saw me lying in wait for hours on end or posing as prey—only to turn the tables when the vampire attacked. Some required a day’s ride or less. Others took me as far as Fort Wayne and Nashville.

  FIG. 12 - ABE STANDS AMONG HIS VAMPIRE VICTIMS IN A PAINTING TITLED ‘THE YOUNG HUNTER’ BY DIEGO SWANSON (OIL ON CANVAS, 1913).

  No matter how long the journey, he always carried the same items with him.

  In my bundle I carried whatever food I could, a pan for frying pork, and a pot for boiling water. These were wrapped in my long coat, which I had paid a seamstress to further alter by removing the inside pockets and sewing a thick leather lining in their place. The whole was tied to the handle of my ax, which I kept sharp enough to shave my whiskers. I added a crossbow to this little arsenal, too, one that I had fashioned myself using the drawings in a borrowed copy of Weapons of the Taborites as my guide. I continued to practice with it when time allowed, but dared not wield it in battle until my skills were much improved.

  While hunting vampires offered a surplus of vengeance, it paid nothing in the way of real money. As a young man, Abe was expected to help provide for his family. And in keeping with customs of the time, any wages he earned belonged to his father until his twenty-first birthday. As one might imagine, this didn’t sit well.

  The idea of handing my earnings to such a man! Of my labor rewarding his lack thereof. Of doing anything to benefit one so shiftless. So selfish and cowardly! It is no more than indentured servitude!

  Abe was always looking for a job, whether clearing trees, hauling grain, or ferrying passengers from the banks of the Ohio to waiting steamboats on a scow of his own construction. * In early May 1828, when Abe was still reeling from his sister’s death, a job came looking for him for a change. One that would change his life.

  James Gentry owned one of the largest and most prosperous farms around Little Pigeon Creek. He’d been an acquaintance of Thomas Lincoln for the better part of ten years and was unlike him in just about every imaginable way. Naturally, Abe had always looked up to him on account of this. For his part, Gentry had come to admire the tall, hardworking, and modest Lincoln boy. His own son Allen was a few years older than Abe, but a pinch less mature. The industrious farmer wanted to expand his reach (and his profits) by selling his corn and bacon downriver in Mississippi, where sugar and cotton were king, but where other goods were in great demand.

  Mr. Gentry asked if I would join Allen in building and piloting a flatboat of his goods downriver—stopping in Mississippi and points south to sell quantities of corn, pork, and other sundries. For this he would pay me the sum of eight dollars each month, and purchase my steamboat ticket home from New Orleans.

  It’s likely Abe would have accepted this job even if there’d been no promise of money. It was a chance to escape. A chance for adventure.

  He put his ax (and in fairness, the carpentry skills he’d learned from his father) to work building a sturdy, forty-foot flatboat from green oak, cutting each plank and fastening it to his frame with wooden pegs. He built a shelter in the middle of the deck, which he made big enough so that he could stand inside without fear of hitting his head on the ceiling. Inside were two beds, a small stove, and a lantern as well as four small windows that could be shut “in the event of attack.” Finally he coated the seams with pitch * and fashioned a steering oar. **

  At the risk of sounding proud, I must say that she turned out rather well considering that she was the first I had ever built. Even when we burdened her with ten tons of goods, she drew less than two feet of water.

  Allen and Abe launched their fully loaded flatboat on May 23rd. It was to be a journey of more than a thousand miles. For Abe, it was to be his first glimpse of the Deep South.

  We battled winds and currents, and kept an ever-vigilant eye on the river ahead. On many occasions, we were forced to free our modest vessel from mud or brush after running aground on a bank. We filled our bellies with the endless reserves of corn and pork on board, and washed our clothes in the ever-present Mississippi when they grew offensive. For weeks this continued. Sometimes we covered as many as sixty miles in a day, sometimes thirty or less.

  The young men would holler with excitement when they crossed paths with a steamboat, those miraculous, gleaming stern-wheelers puffing and splashing their way against the current. Their excitement would build at the sight of distant smoke rising from the river ahead, then crescendo as they approached and passed, shouting greetings and waving to passengers, pilots, and clerks.

  The noise of engines and churning water. Black smoke rising from its chimney and white steam from its pipes. A boat that could take a man all the way from New Orleans to Louisville in under twenty-five days. Were there any limits to the ingenuity of man?

  This excitement having quieted, they would float for miles with nary a sound.

  It was a sort of peace I have rarely enjoyed since. As if we were the only two souls on earth—all of nature ours to enjoy. I wondered why a creator who had dreamt such beauty would have slandered it with such evil. Such grief. Why He had not been content to leave it unspoilt. I still wonder.

  When the sun dipped out of sight, Allen and Abe would start looking for a suitable place to anchor—a town, if possible. One night, not long after they’d passed through Bato
n Rouge, Lincoln and Gentry tied up on the Duchesne Plantation, securing the flatboat to a tree with rope. As was their routine, the young men fried their supper, checked to see if the ropes were secure, and adjourned to their shelter. Here they would read or talk until their eyes grew weary, snuff their lantern, and sleep in perfect darkness.

  I woke with a start and reached for the club that I kept near. Springing to my feet, I saw the trace of two figures in the doorway. I daresay they were a good deal surprised at my height—and a good deal more surprised by the ferocity with which I bludgeoned them about the head. I chased them (bludgeoning my own head on a crossbeam as I did) out onto the deck, where the moon revealed them in full. They were Negroes—seven in all. The other five were busily trying to untie our boat. “Off with you devils!” I cried, “before I brain the lot of you!” To make them know my sincerity, I cracked another across his ribs, and raised my club to crack another. This proved unnecessary. The Negroes fled. As they did, I chanced to see a broken pair of leg irons around one of their ankles, and knew the truth at once. These were no common thieves. They were slaves. Likely escaped from this very plantation and looking to throw off the scent of the dogs by making off with our boat.

  Gentry was roused by the commotion and helped Abe chase the remaining slaves into the woods. Satisfied they wouldn’t return for the moment, they cut the flatboat loose and took their chances navigating the Mississippi at night.

  We set out, Allen holding our lantern at the bow and squinting into the night, me working the steering oar from atop our shelter, trying to keep us dead down the middle. I could not help but steal a look back at the bank, and as I did, I saw a white figure running toward the river from the plantation. Here was the first of the overseers come to reclaim his slaves. But this man, this tiny white figure, did not stop running at the river’s edge. He jumped to the opposite bank in one long, impossible leap. They did not run from men or dogs.

  They ran from a vampire.

  I thought briefly of steering us into the muddy bank. Of taking the bundle from under my bed and giving chase. I cannot say whether I thought the attempt hopeless, or the victims worthless. I can say only that I did not stop. Allen (it now dawning on him how perilously close he had come to having his throat cut) presently let forth a stream of profanity the likes of which I had never heard, and much of which I did not understand. Cursing himself for failing to bring a musket along. Condemning “those murderous sons of bitches.” I remained silent—focused only on keeping us dead down the middle. I could not bring myself to hate our attackers, for it occurred to me that they were merely trying to preserve their lives. In doing so, they had thought it necessary to deprive me of mine. Allen went on. Something about “no-good black” something or others.

  “Judge them not equally,” I said.

  II

  Allen and Abe reached New Orleans at midday on June 20th, twisting round the ever-tightening bends of the Mississippi as they neared its center, where they would be able to sell their remaining goods (and sell their boat for lumber) at any number of busy wharves. A light rain greeted them, welcome relief from the oppressive humidity that had dogged so much of their trip downriver.

  The north of the city presented itself first—sprawling and lively. Farms became houses. Houses became streets. Streets became two-story brick buildings with iron railings on their balconies. So many sailing ships! So many steamboats! Flatboats numbering in the hundreds, all clamoring for their little piece of the great river.

  New Orleans was a city of 40,000, and the South’s gateway to the world. Walking along its wharves, one was likely to encounter sailors from every corner of Europe and South America—even some from the Orient.

  We could not be rid of our cargo quickly enough. How we longed to explore this city of endless wonders! I was all astonishment, for I had never in my life seen such multitudes—their tongues dripping with French and Spanish phrases. Ladies fanning themselves in the latest fashions, and gentlemen clad from head to toe in suits of the highest quality. Streets filled with horses and carts; merchants selling every ware imagined. We strolled the rue de Chartres; beheld the Basilica of St. Louis in Jackson Square, so named for our president’s heroic defense of the city. Here, teams of men and mules dug trenches for gas pipes. When their months of work were finished, one of them proudly sang, the city would “gleam like a sparkling jewel in the night, with nary a torch or a candle in sight.”

  Abe was struck by the liveliness of the city and its people. He was also struck by the age of the things around him.

  I imagined myself conveyed to those places in Europe that I had so often read about. Here, for the first time in my life, were homes with ivy-covered walls. Here were men of letters. Architecture and art. Here were vast libraries filled with eager students and appreciative patrons. Here were all the things that my father would never understand.

  Marie Laveau’s boardinghouse on St. Claude Street was hardly the most impressive of the city’s Spanish-style buildings, but it was good enough for a pair of Indiana flatboatmen to rest their heads for a week.

  There was a saloon not far from Mrs. Laveau’s where one could have his fill of rum or wine or whiskey. Flush with money from selling our goods and our boat, and flush with the excitement of being in such a city for the first time, I admit we indulged in these—more even than a pair of young, foolish men should have. The saloon was overfilled with sailors from all parts of the world. Flatboatmen from every point on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Sangamon. A brawl seemed to break out every third minute. It is a wonder they did not break out more frequently.

  Surly boatmen weren’t the only strange characters Abe encountered during his first twenty-four hours in New Orleans. The following morning, as he and Allen stumbled through the streets in search of an inoffensive breakfast—clutching their aching heads and shielding their eyes from the sun—Abe spotted something incredible coming toward them on Bienville Street.

  … a coach of lustrous white, pulled by a pair of white horses, and driven by a boy wearing a coat of the same color. Behind him sat a pair of gentlemen: one cherubic and red-cheeked, his suit an unremarkable blend of greens and grays. The other wore a suit of white silk, a complement to his fair skin and long white hair. His eyes hidden behind dark glasses. He was as obvious a vampire as I had ever laid eyes upon, and by all appearances, the wealthiest. Elegant and refined. Unencumbered by shadows. Free to mingle as he pleased. And laughing. He and the living gentleman were in the midst of what looked a very cheerful conversation. I could think only of staking him through the heart as his coach neared. Of chopping off his head. How the blood would look against the white silk of his coat! Alas, I could only watch him—restrained by the absence of weapons and the presence of an aching head. The white-haired vampire gave me a knowing look as he passed. And then the strangest feeling… the feeling of invading eyes reading the pages of my journal. The sound of a voice with no source…

  Judge us not equally, Abraham.

  They turned onto Dauphine Street and were gone. But the feeling of invading eyes remained. This time the source was plain as day. I spotted a pale little fellow across the street, half hidden in an alley, his eyes unquestionably fixed on me. He was dressed entirely in black, with a mess of hair to match, and a small mustache beneath his dark glasses. Unmistakably a vampire. Seeing that he had been discovered, the figure turned and disappeared into the alley. This I could not leave uninvestigated! Aching head be damned! I left my friend to his own stumbling and hastened after the stranger—chasing him down the alley to Conti Street, then across Basin Street, where the devil sought refuge behind the cemetery * walls. I had been no more than ten paces behind him, but on reaching the gates I perceived him not. He had vanished. Lost in a maze of crypts. I wondered if he had simply slipped into one of them; wondered how many vampires were—

  “And what mean you by chasing me so, sir?”

  I spun around and raised my fists. He was behind me—his back against the inside of the ceme
tery wall, clever devil. Staring at me, his dark glasses in his fingers. His tired eyes and high forehead.

  “ ‘Chasing’ you, sir?” I said. “What meant you by running?”

  “Well, sir, the manner in which you shielded your eyes from the light… the familiar glance you shared with the gentleman in the coach… I thought you a vampire.”

  I could scarcely believe what I had heard.

  “You thought me a vampire?” he asked. “But I…”

  A smile grew over the little man’s lips. He looked at the dark glasses in his fingers; at the look on this tall stranger’s face. He began to laugh.

  “I believe us both guilty of grave misjudgments.”

  “Forgive me, sir, but… am I to understand that you are not a vampire?”

  “Regrettably, no,” he said, laughing, “or I should still have my breath.”

  I offered my apology and extended my hand. “Abe Lincoln.” The little man took it.

 
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