My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an origin story.
It was a dark and stormy night.
Don’t groan. It really was. Booming thunder, swirling fog, blazing flashes of lightning, sporadic torrential rain, the whole frilling works. I walked down an alley looking for a place to piss, away from the discordant songs of the drunks who were staggering their way down the streets in zombiesque fashion. I finally found a likely place beside a battered dumpster full of rotting vegetables and squirming rats. A snootful of the redolent air was enough to clear my head of the Scottish spirits who had taken up habitation in the hallways of my mind. Clarity was not what I had in mind.
I’d just finished a pub crawl along Rose Street, and I was swimming in what felt like a gallon of smoky highland scotch. The old tried and true rule applied, what goes in must come out, and the curses floating upwards from my bladder were laced with fire and brimstone of Biblical proportions. I took a righteous long piss, one of those that went on so long I had to lean against the sooty brick to rest a wee moment, and that is when I spotted a bit of glint between two cobblestones.
Now you might say to yourself, I thought you said it was a dark and stormy night? I did, and it was, but I did say there was lightning, didn’t I? This particular flash of lightning threw enough sizzle into the nooks and crannies of the alley to highlight with some splendor that particular piece of tempting gold.
I gave the lizard a shake, knowing that no matter how diligently I cleared the shaft at least two drops of aureate liquor would still plop into my skivvies. I gave a glance up and down the alley, not that I knew which way was up or down. The bleak light from the street lamps at each end of the alley did little to help me determine if anything, creature or otherwise, was stirring. My eyes were lured away from canvassing for potential trouble back to the allure of the gold. It was probably just a crumpled gold foil from a candy bar, I told myself, but that part of me that still believed in magical moments was assuring me…it’s gold you fool!
I crab walked over to it, which kept me steadier on my inebriated pins. I leaned over, and the moment my fingers wrapped around the edges, I knew it was a coin, and when I pulled it up to my eyes, another flash of lightning revealed the youthful head of Queen Victoria looking rather ravishing, or maybe she was just more beautiful emblazoned on a gold sovereign. I kissed her rain dappled cheek and thought to myself, $500, or maybe as much as $800 if it were a more collectible year. I looked at the date—1850. Nothing significant came to mind except for the fact that it was the year Robert Louis Stevenson was born. A coin from the year of his birth found right here in the city of his birth…Edinburgh.
I barely had time to celebrate this lucky find when something slammed into me hard enough to take me completely off my feet. When I landed heavily on the cobblestones, the air was driven from my lungs, and the coin danced away from my fingers, spun for a moment on the stone street before landing just beyond my outstretched fingers in a puddle of water.
A dark, round figure with hairy knuckles plucked the coin from the puddle. He held it up to his fat lips, kissed it, and then deftly tucked it into a small pocket on his vest. He leaned over, breathing into my face the scent of earth and the heady stir of pungent spices. I was gasping, but no air had found passage back into my lungs yet. “Were you going to steal my precious?” he bellowed. He squinted at me with one vivid green eye and then the other. His raspy voice rattled my ears, sounding like chunks of iron ore rattling around in a tin can. “Keeten is it? I’ve had my eye on you. A tragic, gothic figure, too skinny, too tall, too self-centered. A layabout, a fornicator, a drunkard, a scribbler.”
He grabbed the lapels of my jacket and gave me a good shake. In the course of my head snapping backwards and forwards, a mouthful of air finally trickled down to my lungs, and as foul as this alley infused air was, it still was ambrosia to my oxygen starved lungs. “I’m…,” I managed to gasp before he slapped me hard enough that the sound popped like thunder into the swirling storm above. He thumped my head to the street and proceeded to put the boots to me with his square-toed shoes. I felt my ribs bend without quite breaking and my flesh bruising purple flowers with every kick of his feet. He walked away for a moment, maybe to catch his breath, before striding back to me. As he raised his foot for one last kick that would have punted my balls over the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, he stopped and sighed.
“I’m going to give you a chance to redeem yourself.”
I wasn’t really sure what I’d done, but I nodded vigorously as I curled myself up in a ball, unsure of which aching part of myself to rub first. He squatted beside my head and said, “Not enough people are reading the classic gothic horror novels.”
My mind churned. He wanted to discuss literature?
“Aye, I do,” he said, as if he could read my mind. He stuck a square, blunt finger in my face. “You are going to use what influence you have to get people to believe in mythical creatures again, to be terrified again, and to breathe life back into the old tales of horror.”
“I don’t think…,” I tried to say, but he interrupted me. “That Stevenson lad was a bit of a gadabout before I had me a talk with him.”
I looked at him with amazement.
“Oh aye, Robert and I go way back. One dark night when he was about six, I made him pee himself, but that was only me priming the pump. When he was about seventeen, preening around town in his velvet jacket, I gave him a good thumping and explained that much more was expected from him. I didn’t shape the terrors in his mind for him to waste my time with his frivolous pursuits of pleasure. I told him to put pen to paper and bring to life my cousin Jekyll, and more importantly my soul incarnate, Hyde.”
“You are absolutely full of shite,” I managed to hoarsely whisper, which earned me another flurry of smacking boots against my tender flesh.
“Okay, okay,” I screamed.
He squatted back down by my face with a satisfied smirk on his face. “You will write new introductions to the classic horror books, starting with The Casebook of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
“I’m not your man.”
“You are. I will make it so.”
“But no one will care if I do this.”
“They will, or they’ll get a visit from me.”
“You’re a Brownie?”
He grimaced. “I prefer the term hobgoblin. I’ve kind of grown beyond the mundane house chores. I like to think I influence history in my own little way now.” He squinted at me with one eye again. “Do we have an understanding, Mr. Keeten?” His voice, slightly breathless from his exertions, sounded more than ever like the raspy squawk of Arthur Shelby from Peaky Blinders.
I groaned, “We do.”
“Alright then.” And with that final confirmation of our deal he vanished as if he’d never existed.
Next morning I was tenderly walking across the floor of my hotel room when my phone rang.
David Yurkovich’s voice, laced with pain, asked me, “So, Keeten, would you be interested in writing introductions for a series of classic horror books for Gravelight Press?”
“Yes,” I muttered. Then thinking of the hobgoblin, I said brightly, “Of course, I’d be thrilled for the opportunity.”
“Thank goodness,” I heard him whisper.
“Did you get a visit from a squat, fat man?”
“Oh yes, with the hands of Mike Tyson and the feet of Ernesto Hoost.”
“That’s the guy. Well, I hope people buy copies or he said he was going to give them each a visit, and as you and I know, they don’t want a visit from this particular hobgoblin.”
“They’ll love your intros, Keeten. Don’t worry, they’ll buy,” David reassured me.
To save yourself some harassment from the hobgoblin, please do purchase the Gravelight Press version of The Casebook of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and read my scintillating introduction, The Book That Burned. The Stevenson short story “Markheim” is included as bonus content and pairs perfectly with the diabolical novella.Click to buy your copy!”
I signed a thirteen book contract with Gravelight Press, so there will be at least twelve more entries in the series. If the series does prove to be popular, we will continue to expand the portfolio beyond the original thirteen. Next up will be The Picture of Dorian Gray, followed by Frankenstein. We already have the cover art designed for the next two, and as you can see, the designs of these collectible volumes match and will look fantastic on your bookshelves.
Also, check out my new website and sign up so you can keep up-to-date with my book reviews and my numerous writing projects. Thank you as always for your support. http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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