We confess. We are poor students and it’s mostly Wallie’s fault. A few summers ago when I was studying for that hideous demon of all tests, that HORROR of my existence, my little Impish friend had the best ideas for making study fun. To bolster our vocabulary, instead of reading we wrote a series of short scenes using words from our GRE study list. We drew pictures to visualize the–vocabulary.
To be fair, it was not the Verbal we failed.
One of our favorite fictions from this time of sweat and tears, frequently reread, involves two characters from the show and film “Dark Shadows.” How and why is little David forced to hide in Barnabas’s coffin-room? Good question. There are other questions, too. The answers I leave to your imagination.
(Note: I have highlighted key vocabulary.)
“Yes, Master David?”
“May I sleep in your coffin?”
Barnabas did not mean to. He could not help it.
“Do not ever ask that,” he said. “It isn’t right; it is shameful.”
The boy hung his head.
“What I mean to say,” said the vampire, more gently, “is that—I lost a sister once. She was very dear to me. I do not wish to see you in a coffin and imagine you as she—or worse, as I—am.”
David didn’t lift his head.
Barnabas glanced at the coffin in question. It was an elegant affair, polished dark wood. Regrettable as Angelique’s malediction was, there was no doubt a certain extrinsic glamor followed it. Yet there were still the less fortunate quirks, and he could feel in himself, somehow, that it was nearly dawn. He needn’t rest if he covered himself well. But the weariness, the ache in him if he did not, was difficult to bear.
The vampire loosened his collar. He went to the coffin and rested his long fingers on the lid.
“Forgive me, David. I fear I had a proclivity towards bluntness when alive, and am a little more so, dead. Come. Here is my apology. Will you accept it?”
Barnabas turned as he spoke. He held out his hand, as if his regret was a tangible thing that could be lifted from the center of his palm.
The child looked up at him from under thick bangs. He reached out, somewhat chary, and his small fingers were readily grasped. Barnabas’s fingers were cold as ice, but David’s hand was warm.
“I won’t die,” said David. “I won’t, if you let me sit in there.”
Barnabas drew in a breath, though he did not need it.
“You must give up this fatuous notion of yours,” he said. “It is ridiculous, mad—unthinkable. I cannot let you in my coffin.”
“Uncle Barnabas,” the boy said, “I’m afraid.”
The vampire was astonished.
“You, Master David?” he said. “My brave little man? You are frightened? Of what?”
“Of the dark,” said David.
It was rather dark. If it were not for the creep in his flesh, Barnabas would never have known it was nearly morning.
“Very well,” said Barnabas. “If you promise to be still, I shall let you rest in my coffin—with me. Will that satisfy?”
The child nodded.
He was not a particularly anthropocentric vampire, though his habits could be generous to neighbors and friends. He was shy, withdrawn, somewhat proud, and while not exactly chimerical in feeling he was nonetheless a difficult man to predict. What Barnabas Collins truly was at root, and what made all his mystery plain, was his love for his family.
Like a gentleman preparing himself for bed, he shed his long cape and folded it neatly on a nearby box. He kept on his jewels, waistcoat, and all; if he must be dead for a time, he would be graceful about it. But with an almost ineffable and paradoxical contentment, a feeling at once bittersweet and satisfied, he lowered himself into the great coffin and folded his arms on his breast. His long lashes dipped. He was almost gone.
He lifted David after him. The boy clung to him, his arms wrapped around his neck.
“Do not be so scared,” said Barnabas. “What have you to fear, with me?”
He spoke almost in a purr. He was very tired. Even before the child answered he sank back on the pillow.
“Does it hurt?”
David’s voice was small. The vampire was startled to semi-wakefulness.
“Hurt,” he repeated, softly.
“Dying.” The boy huddled into him, under his arm and against his body. “Does it hurt when you die?” asked David.
Barnabas lay perfectly still. His eyes glistened in the candlelight.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes—a little.”
The child held him tightly. Barnabas felt the warmth of his young cousin’s living embrace and the grief and fear in his quivering breath. The vampire’s hand lifted just so, mussing the child’s hair.
“When Angelique cursed me with un-death,” he said, “she could not damn my soul. Her revenge was circumscribed by the very real limits to her power. Yes, it hurts to die—but it is a moment. I can never remember what happens to me then. I have no dreams; and yet when I wake I am at peace. If I were damned, or if all were nothing, I do not believe I should feel so rested. There is a parsimonious quality to evil that will have nothing but a bare desire that can never be satisfied. I am satisfied, not without a certain circuitous pain. I love you, David; I would not give you up for worlds; and yet I can only be with you if I remain as I am, a thing dead and yet, not. What am I saying?” He bent his chin. “It hurts—and it is worth it.”
(Note: We do not know what half the vocabulary means, but we swear we hope we did then. We can define crepuscular.)