His brow knitted, Marcus Coke watched his master from the bottom of the staircase. Elmo Hoogle sat there in his attic study, rocking gently in the early hours of twilight. He was up early, and he had had a snoot full already. Marcus climbed the century old staircase creaking with each deliberate step.
“Good evening, sir.” Marcus intoned. “It’s going to be a lovely night, they say. There’s a half moon rising and not a cloud in the sky.”
Elmo Hoogle looked up with a start. “Oh, it’s you Marcus. Sneaky chap, aren’t you? Quiet as a mouse!”
“Yes, sir.” Marcus frowned. He should have heard me coming a mile away.
“May I fix you a cup of tea? I brewed a delicious blend of Earl Grey, owl and rabbit blood. I caught them both an our ago.” Marcus raised his eyebrows. “Still fresh.”
Marcus cupped his hands and wafted the faint aroma up from the kitchen toward the occupant in the rocking chair. Elmo swayed out of sync with the chair. He gazed absently down through the window overlooking a lightly forested yard and neighboring homes.
“Remarkable. However, did you get them both?” Elmo sipped from his sherry glass. “Humans can’t move fast enough to catch a rabbit, much less an owl.”
Marcus smelled the formaldehyde on his master’s breath as he addressed him. “I used a trap, sir. The rabbit caught his foot in the trap and as he struggled, the owl swooped in for dinner. She dug her claws into the rabbit for the kill and I had them both.”
“Hmm. Sounds a bit gamey, don’t you think?” Elmo wrapped his lips around the edge of the sherry glass once again.
Marcus sniffed at the comment. If he goes for his pipe, it might take the whole house up in flames.
“Why don’t we go out for a walk sir? The campus is nearby and nicely wooded for privacy. Love is in the air. There’s nothing like young paramours all worked up to whet your appetite.”
“Pish posh! Some of those sweet, young people might be my very own students. I can’t bring myself to consume them.”
“Well, I know you don’t like to drink your students, but they may get you in the mood.” Marcus wrung his hands. “We might find a nice mugger or two in the seedier part of town later on that might prove tasty.”
Neither noticed shadowy figures’ furtive movement in the yard below.
“No for some reason, I’m a little weary tonight. Feels like I’ve been running a marathon.” Elmo placed his glass carefully on the side table and stretched. Before Marcus could scoop it up, Elmo had retrieved the glass and almost reached his lips again.
“Ah, Professor Hoogle, wouldn’t you like me to get you a warm bowl of porridge? I made it from calf’s blood laden with meaty chunks of marrow. Doesn’t that sound delectable?”
“I don’t know why you insist on bothering me, Marcus.” Elmo shook his fists smartly across his chest in a gesture of contention. “I’m just fine right here, sipping my hot toddy.” He wrestled the glass from Marcus again with blinding speed, stirring the aromatic formaldehyde into the intervening air yet spilling nary a drop.
After one hundred fifty years he found that he didn’t seem to need as much sleep as his peers. There were vampires much older than he who slept soundly from dusk til dawn.
This troubled Marcus more than his employer. The aging familiar wrung his hands as he watched his employer read a book he’d been paging through since the day of his first hire. Marcus neared the age that Elmo looked, but unlike Marcus, Elmo stopped aging at 72. Horseshoe baldness notwithstanding, Marcus contended with the fact that he would soon appear to be the elder of the two.
Proffered to him as an easy ward, Elmo was little trouble at night. No voracious prowling the nights hunting street walkers, hobos and ne’er do wells. He contented himself to read with an ever present, vacuous smile on his face.
Page 86. Elmo eventual got to page 86 every few months after re reading A Tale of Two Cities. Marcus counted 12 times in the two years of his employment. Dickens had been a contemporary writer through most of Elmo’s life. Hoogle never tired of his captivating prose.
In contrast to his easy-going night life. Elmo proved to be the Gild’s, most challenging ward to day-watch. The Board of Regents wanted an American for this undead transplant from Shropshire, England. Hoogle had been a professor before he was taken. Born in Trinidad, raised in the town of Shrewsbury, east of Whales. The invitation to Shrewsbury castle would last as his proudest moment and his everlasting bane. Elmo never quite overcame the shock of being sucked into the night world of the Vampyre. The Board of Regents added the requirement of Clinical psychology to Marcus’s job description to help Elmo Hoogle cope with his transition.
“Marcus,” Elmo droned, “Did I ever tell you about my appointment to oversee the education of the 5th Duke of Cleveland?”
“No sir, you’ve never mention it.” Marcus lied automatically as he had at least a dozen times over.
“The Duke of Cleveland invited me to see to the proper education of his first and only son. William was a sickly child, but he had a voracious appetite for literature.” Elmo smile in his reverie. “And quite an aptitude for history. He could remember dates and events as if he lived them himself.” He laughed softly to himself.
“What a joy it must have been to have such an apt student, sir.” Marcus encouraged the distraction as he knew how it soothed the Professor.
“Towards the end, the duke dismissed all the staff but me. Tears welled in his eyes when he told me, “My son has little time left with us, Elmo. There is a darkness about him. Even the rooms in that isolated wing of the house have grown dim. He calls for you. He’ll see no one else. You were his favorite teacher. A mentor to him.’ He told me.” Elmo effected a sad smile. “The duke bowed his head and touched his forehead to mine.
“‘Go to him Elmo.’ he said, ‘You may be the last light that he sees.’” Elmo broke his reverie and looked up at Marcus. “I made the duke a promise that night. I told him ‘I’ll not sleep until the lad recovers. I’ll keep Death away if I must use my very soul as a shield.’ I swore. It was so gloomy, yet the boy seemed to glow with a soft ghastly halo. He closed his eyes and lolled his head to the side. In desperation, I reached for him as if to snatch him from the very jaws of the Devil himself.” Elmo crinkled his brow as if straining to recall the next moment, almost fumbling his fingers to grasp it.
“Then what happened?” Marcus prodded. This was the crucial hurdle of memory Elmo never could quite surmount.
“Too sad. For all of us who loved the lad. We blocked it out.” Elmo opened a pocket watch and check the time and relaxed. “The next thing I remember I embarked on a steamer to America.”
“When was that, sir?” Marcus tried something new.
“Well after the Great War, of course. Duke of Cleveland rewarded me richly for the loving care of his son.” His eyes glazed again, “Yes, William was his name. With Duke Harry’s patronage, I purchased this Avelon Estates Mansion.
“Do you recall when that was, sir?”
“Of course, Marcus. Are you daft? It was…” Elmo faltered.
“Well, it was nineteen hundred and twenty-four. I selected it for its quaint olde English style as well as its proximity to Oglethorpe University. I held the distinguished Philip Weltner Chair of the Philosophy and Ethics department. Remember the words of Thornwell Jacobs.” Elmo recited the school motto, ‘Nescit cedere.’ We who never give up!”
Marcus wrestled with Elmo Hoogle’s tenacious confabulation of tenure at the college. For years, the Board of regents struggled to obscure Elmo’s wanderings on campus as myth and fraternity boys’ legend for frightened young freshmen’s rite of passage during pledge week. Now after 85 years of haunting the campus and protecting the conservative spirit from the urbanization and progress of the Atlanta outside, Elmo Hoogle was actually inducted into the English department faculty.
Marcus could not fathom how a kookie old man with an obsolete British accent could get hired at Oglethorpe until Elmo told him he would be teaching night classes in classical literature and 19th century fiction.
The 21st century found the English department lacking in diversity, especially when it came to African American faculty. The chair had unrealistically high standards when it came to associate professor candidates’ knowledge base of classical, English, and American literature. Most African Americans in this day and age wanted to teach African or African American history, not the classics. Hoogle could talk about nothing else. From Milton to Shakespeare, Hoogle’s knowledge of English literature and history surpassed even the chairman’s expertise.
“But sir, what about the boy? There was quite some time between the last time you saw young William and when you sailed for America. What happened? That leaves 30 years unaccounted for that you’ve never told me about.” If I can just get him to realized what he did.
Leaves rustled along the back wall with the south wind. The often-familiar hoot of the owl ostensibly absent.
“Let’s take that walk you’ve been nagging me about, Marcus. Suddenly, I feel—animated tonight.”
Marcus sighed. That’s as close as we’ve ever come. Well, there’s always tomorrow.
Marcus retrieved Elmo’s cloak and umbrella. He carried that antique umbrella everywhere, rain or shine. Once dressed for the streets, the pair met in the garage. Marcus talked the professor into trading in the old Bentley for a Cadillac Escalade. More modern with room for coffin that could accommodate his daytime escapades if needed for a discrete and hasty exit. At night though, Elmo abhorred driving. He’d rather walk or as familiars called that mode of locomotion, speed walking. The escalade couldn’t keep up with that, even on a straight-a-way.
“I’ll meet you on campus, Marcus. I’ll check my mailbox and see if any of my students need any help. Once Marcus started the ignition, Elmo took what appeared to be one awkward step then blurred into the distance. Marcus drove at a leisurely pace to the same destination. He reached the Oglethorpe campus gate and showed Professor Hoogle’s parking pass. The security guard nodded and granted him entry to the faculty parking lot. Marcus placed the car in park and contented himself listening to the voices of an audiobook by S.A. Cosby while he waited for Elmo.
In half an hour, Elmo emerged from the Hearst Hall back exit. Two female students nodded appreciation and parted ways with Elmo. Marcus flicked the headlights on the escalade. I a blur, Elmo was at the driver’s side window.
“I think I’ll take a stroll down to the Zoo, Marcus. I’m in the mood for a sip from my favorite elephant’s ears.” He nodded absently, “Nice and fresh.”
“I’ll meet you there in say 30 minutes, sir?” Marcus asked.
“Brilliant, Marcus. Brilliant.”
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