They sent him away and he could not return. They built a bridge, and under it the river was like a snake. Two eyes came down and smiled at me, and all the time the man with the black eyes laughed, until the noise of the laughter moved to the distant hills where it sounded like thunder. The hills took the form of mountains. Black with forest, black with disease, all now was lost, the snow came leaping down in great strides, the men looked, and turned black with fear, and the tumbling stuff was on their bodies and drove them under the ground. At this time I was making love in the chalet. A castle brooded around me. At my feet was a dog. The night was warm, at my side was a virgin, and her eyes were tender as her skin. While I moved with her the village died, and the dog rose on his hind legs and began to moan. The sight of the moaning dog frightened my virgin, and her eyes pleaded with death. Death came grinning. I told him to leave, but his gray cape fell over my house. In the morning, the virgin still possessing her virtue, my household was corrupt with disease. The maid had sores on her body, the butler had his eyes eaten out, and the gardener had the plague. I cursed, and the day grew dark, the storms were over the mountain, and the pale flesh of my naked virgin shivered with the cold. I built a fire, but it did no good, it was raining, even inside my house the rain came. My household came to me and pleaded for succor. The butler could not see, and he was led into my drenched study by the maid whose sores were leaping from her body. The gardener crawled in with black spots the size of my hand on his flesh. I could do nothing. I was the master. I was helpless. I could not even talk my virgin into bed. She ministered unto them, kneeling at their side, and her long flowing hair lay behind her on the cold floor. I watched her hands as they probed into the sores and let out the blood and liquids, I saw her bandage the butler’s eyes, and give him a stick, and he walked around clacking it on the floor. He moved in jerks, yet he hit nothing, and I felt a hatred. Death had come, they would not die. The coldness was hurting me, not them, I could go to no one, no one would come to me, fire did not help in this cold world, the village below me buried under the white death of snow. I called to Rose, my virgin, but I could not even get her to share my bed. I slept alone. I could hear her, between snatches of sleep, ministering to them, comforting them. That night Death came, I saw him perched on my bedstead.
“If you want Rose, you shall have to kill them.”
“Will you stop the rain?”
“The rain will stop,” said Death, “when they are dead.”
“You cannot ask me to do that.”
Death spread his cape. Like thunder it came open. I could see fire in his eyes. “Very well,” I said; “I will get Rose, and you will let us free, and stop this rain.” “It is a bargain,” said the spectre, and departed, and once again I slept. In the morning all was well. I had merely to run them through with my sword. I went into my weapons room, and looked at the wall, where I hung them, but they were gone, both swords, the only swords in the place. I called Rose in, but she had not seen them. In a desk I found a small jeweled dagger. Its blade was not very long, but it would have to do, I had nothing else, so I asked Rose where the maid was, and she told me upstairs, in the small red room. I went up the gloomy stairway, and found the room, and in it was the woman. Her face was full of fat, and the fat was puckered with the sores, and there was blood streaming from her ears onto the red floor. “Are you well?” I asked her, and she said, “Aye, Master, soon.” When I plunged the blade into her she smiled. The blood came from her belly. “Aye, Master,” she said, “soon I will be up, and cleaning up this mess.” Poor woman. She did not know she was dead. I withdrew the dagger, and inserted it under her breast, where her heart should be. As it went sliding in, the flesh no hindrance to its keen point, she smiled again, and said, “Aye, Master, I know it’s a trouble, being ill, but soon I’ll be up and keeping your house.” I cursed at her, and she looked hurt. She was dead. She was not dead. It did no good to kill her. I left the red room. The floor was a pool of her blood. I found the gardener in the cellar. He was hiding with the rats. I advanced on him, and he cringed, putting up his hands. “It will do you no good to plead,” I said, “I must have Rose.” “Master,” he cried, “the flowers!” On his forehead was the blackness of the plague. On his naked chest were lumps the size of a woman’s breast. My knife went into him. His eyes rose heavenward. By God, he would die! His legs went flying straight out, and almost tripped me. The rats were in the corners. I could hear them scurrying about. “Master,” cried the gardener again, “help me!” In a moment I left. The man was dead, or soon would be, bleeding as he was. The rats came up to him and drank of the blood. They too would die, but of plague, and they would run round and round, in mad circles, a lustful froth at their mouths, until they fell, their feet in the air. I had only one more person to find, the butler, who was an old and able friend, always at the door when needed, protecting my house, my household, a friend to my father, a father to me. I did not like to kill him, but I must. I listened and heard him clacking away with the stick Rose had given him. The poor man was blind. He would lose his mind. I was saving him from the horror of insanity. I was doing it for him, not me, not even for Rose. It was a favor. I followed the noises, and found him in the hall. On either side were paintings of my ancestors. Ah, they never had my trouble, a village dead under the snow, a maid who would not die, a gardener with the plague. They were all simple people, well liked, who married young and fought well. On their faces was the history of the world, and between them I walked, the last perhaps, there was death in my breast, I had no children, only Rose, a virgin in my house. The butler was gone. I could hear him in the kitchen. As I entered, I saw him leave, tapping with his cane. The man was insane! He was trying to elude me. He knew I was following, with a dagger for his heart. But he would never escape me, I was his master, the master of this house. I followed him through the servants' quarters, always a room behind. He passed through the den, with me right at his heels, hearing his cane go tap, tap, tap on the stone floor. Where was Rose? Where was my virgin? I could not go through the house like this forever, following the tap, tap of his cane. Why would he not stop? Was he frightened of me, his master? At last I trapped him. He was in the game room, where were hung the heads of the animals my forebears had killed. There were rare animals in that room, their great brooding eyes, the heavy heads, black nostrils that quivered in the air, almost alive they looked. The butler was tapping at the wall with his cane. He looked confused, and backed off, and tried again, but there was no doorway there, he had come to his end.
“Master?” he said.
“I am here.”
Where was Rose? If only she could see this. As it was, only the lions would watch, and the great tiger with its sullen head. The room was full of their smells, the great hot days, the air sodden with moisture. At my back were the sounds of the jungle. The butler was dressed in black. For a moment he was a shadow between trees, darkness hidden from the sun. Then his white face was at me, and he was like a shaft of moonlight. The tiger gave a little sound. The lion nudged his neighbor, a zebra, who had a single horn. The elephant lowered his trunk. “It is no good,” said the butler. “Nothing is any good,” I answered. He said, “The trees are very thick here, I cant find my way out.” “There is no way out. There never was. There never will be. You have always been trapped, in this desolate place, a victim of the brooding sun and the dampness of the air.” “Oh,” he said, “I see. Thank you.” I walked up to him, but just as I was to plunge the instrument into his heart, I saw Rose standing under the lion. I called out to her, but she could not hear me, and the butler was trembling, and could do nothing. The lion was moving, his long neck allowed his heavy head to drop, and the mouth was open. From the mouth came the odor of rotten meat. A carrion bird flew from the gaping crevice, cawing wildly, his black wings thundering in the air. I came up to the virgin. She was still naked. Her skin was flawless, and everywhere she was soft and tender. This was what I was killing for. I pulled her gently from the lion, and the animal only yawned. “You must be careful,” I said. “No,” she said, “it’s you who must take care.” I led her to the butler. He knelt at her feet, his sightless eyes black gaping holes.
“Mistress,” he said.
“Rise,” she said, motioning with her hand.
The man came up and his eyes were good. He saw me. He saw me holding the knife.
“Master,” he said, “the knife is covered with blood.”
I could say nothing to that. I did not have to answer him; I was his master; I owned him. His life was mine. I would help him, he was old, life was a painful journey, I owed him death as payment for his services. As I stepped forward, knife held in front of me, I saw from the corner of my eye a rat come creeping along the wall. His beady eyes glowed and sparked with fire. The lion was off the wall. There was nothing I could do about that. First I must kill the butler. Then would come the rat, hateful creature, and the lion, who walked with majesty. The butler was wearing a black suit, and I pressed the point of my knife against it. The man could do nothing. He stared at me, his eyes, seeing again, fastened in a kind of fascination on mine. I thrust. To my amazement, before I could think, I fell down, the knife still in my hand, unused. The dark shape of the man was above me. The floor was hard. I struggled to get up. How could I have fallen? It was clearly impossible. But it was all right, the butler could not escape, the rat would die, the lion would be destroyed. But I could not rise. They were staring at me. It was humiliating! Rose to see me like this! I shouted at them in anger. The butler would not help me. The floor was very cold, and hard, and I could hear the pad of the lion, and then felt at my throat the cold nose of the rat. The rat had black lumps on its body. The eyes were full of pain. Hateful beast! at my throat! It smelled of gutter rot, and stagnant pools. Would no one help me? The rat was nuzzling at my neck. It opened its mouth, and I could see its mouth full of blood. “Help me, Master!” I heard it cry. What could I do? He had me. It was the spiteful gardener, now a rat, at my throat. “Help me, Master!” A pitiful voice! The butler was kneeling at my side. I could hear the lion padding about, behind me, and then I heard it say, “Kill them, and you will have Rose.” How could I kill them? I could not get to my feet. The lion said again, “Kill them, and you will have Rose, and the rain will stop. The butler’s sightless eyes were watching me. The naked Rose was crying. “Where is the maid?” I said. “You are all here, the bunch of you, my butler, my gardener, Death, and where is the maid?” Rose knelt between my outstretched legs, and put her face on my belly. She was holding my knife. Her long, fine hair trailed behind her. “You will kill me, all of you,” I said, understanding them. “But where is the maid? Was she loyal to me, at the end? Did she not want to witness my death?” “Master!” cried my naked Rose, “I am the maid!” “God!” I cried. “Can I not kill you?” And the rat tore at my throat, and the butler pounded my skull, and Rose slipped the blade into my heart, and Death was padding about, behind me, on lion’s feet.
NOTES: Many of my early stories I think of as somnambulistic stories: I wrote them in a daze, unthinking, as though asleep. (See also "The Secret") This is one of them, written while I was still in high school. It began at my old Underwood typewriter, a sentence, another few words, and then it seemed to take me by my scruff and throw me aside. The story emerged, effortlessly, in one gush of verbiage. And so it remains: I have not touched it since.