Abraham Lincoln and the Thanatos Elixir
Peter Tatara - May 12, 2007
I have a confession to make. The dead do not sleep easy in the earth. For some time now, the mortal remains of men in Washington have risen from the grave. Some believe it's the work of Indian magic, others believe a Negro curse poisoned the land, while still others, whispering the word "vampyre," feel the disease came from the countrysides and crypts of Central Europe. All are wrong. The ground was poisoned by the Federals, and I can profess to know this truth because I observed the first in a series unfortunate experiments presided over by none other than Mr. Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. Lincoln, wanting to bring an end to the war currently tearing our country in two, had assembled the North's greatest doctors and paid them handsomely to forget the Hippocratic Oath. He instructed these men of science to create a gas that would be to the Rebels an instant death. I remember clearly when one of the doctors asked Mr. Lincoln how much pain he wanted his weapon to bring its victims as it did its heinous work. The doctor continued, proposing a gas that killed quickly and humanely, bringing a death that felt no different than a light sleep.
"Bring them agony," Mr. Lincoln replied.
The doctor was shaken, both by Mr. Lincoln's words but also -- more -- by his tone. Mr. Lincoln, leaning close, spoke without a sliver of remorse in his throat, and in the space in his words where one normally finds sympathy in any other human being, there was only an overflowing of vitriol.
Why was I at this meeting? For my keen eye and quick fingers. I and six other sharpshooters were called together to serve as guards for Mr. Lincoln's experimentation. We walked along the rooftop and corridors of a small building the President of the United States had hastily converted from a US Army lye storehouse to a laboratory. The place perpetually smelled of soap, and I ponder if Mr. Lincoln chose it specifically for this odor. The overpowering aroma of lye in the building's walls obscured the scent of deconstructed corpses and pickled organs found throughout the warehouse; however, it was always there, slight and sinister, just the faintest glimmer of festering decay touching the nose with every breath.
As I said, there were bodies in the laboratory. There were many of them. The last remnants of animals of all sizes as well as torn-apart pieces of men. The doctors Mr. Lincoln has assembled here were tasked to understand death as it had never been before. They were to take death apart, reassemble it, reverse it, and then perfect a way to administer it instantly across large swaths of Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky's populations.
I previously mentioned that I was employed as a guard at this most horrible building. All the sharpshooters, while we gazed out at the squat rooftops around the warehouse, spent most of our hours and minutes with our rifles trained on the men intimately immersed in the worship of cadavers. Should one attempt to leak his knowledge to the Rebels, he was to be made a dead man. Should one attempt to leak this knowledge to anyone outside, he was to be made a dead man. Should one lose his faith in Mr. Lincoln's project, he was to be made a dead man. Should one lose his stomach, he was to be made a dead man. And I must inform you that, through my clear eyes, quick fingers, and sure aim, I made three dead men. Each, having committed the cardinal sin of questioning his actions after already accepting Mr. Lincoln's bribe, was shot squarely and cleanly in the brain. Each, moments later, was pulled apart by the ghouls still standing. Bodies rotted. Limbs hung from the walls and ceiling. It was a slaughterhouse.
Weekly, if not more often that that, carts pulled up to the warehouse with fresh loads of the deceased, and I'd then spend the next score of hours in indignity, shoveling slain Federal and Rebel soldiers into a heap at one corner of the warehouse. Just as often, farmers and butchers would arrive with livestock, from chickens and lambs to horses and oxen, and it was my duty to lead the animals into pens and put a bullet into each's brain -- that is unless one of Lincoln's doctors shooed me away, slit an artery or cut out an organ, and then watched the beast's breath and heart slow to a crawl and then nothing at all.
Mr. Lincoln stopped in daily. His visits were never set, and his doctors expected him to appear at almost any moment over their shoulders, chastising them for not proceeding fast enough and tossing them whores and pieces of silver. The whores, not one, ever saw the sky again, killed at the height of pleasure to please the curious, thorough, and diabolical Mr. Lincoln.
Still, although his schedule was known only to him, the scientists never expected Mr. Lincoln before noon. It was assumed he spent this time sleeping, eating, or attending to matters of State. As such, there was considerable commotion when Mr. Lincoln arrived at the warehouse one day preceding the dawn. I don't know what amalgam of science and magic Lincoln's doctors used, but they held a vial containing, as they explained, "the essence of all fears." It was mortality in a bottle, and one drop on a hare caused the thing, with a horrible cry, to shrivel up and die. Mr. Lincoln smirked and ordered a human test at once.
With the sun still yet to rise, the scientists were assembled on the White House's lawn. A young Federal soldier -- his face belonging to a boy no older than 15 -- stood before them. I and my fellow sharpshooters stood behind them. Mr. Lincoln, beside the scientists, whispered some words to the boy and pat him on the back. He then opened the vial and let its pallid green contents fall to the boy's feet. A moment went by. The scientists covered their nostrils and throats. Vapors from the liquid reached the boy's face. Immediately, he was on the ground, twisting and calling out for his mamma. He gagged, spat, convulsed, and ultimately became a withered husk. I said a prayer for the boy and stiffened my resolve. I saw his soft red hair turn grey and fair skin become like leather.
Lincoln was instantly upon the corpse, poking it and testing its joints. He giggled. His scientists warned him to back away from the body, but the President spat at them. He ordered for more of the serum to be made, tossed about the now-empty vial, and instructed everyone assembled to leave at once. There were some murmurs and Lincoln told us gunners to shoot his scientists if they couldn't follow orders. Mr. Lincoln's doctors were immediately gone. Lincoln then snapped at us to become ghosts. Quickly, we started away, but I gave Mr. Lincoln one last look. He was still over the corpse, but he had a handkerchief now to his lips. He was hacking, and on his handkerchief's white cotton, I saw a spot of blood.
A week would go by before I or anyone saw Mr. Lincoln again. The scientists spent this time concocting more of their potion, which had by then become known as the Thanatos Elixir. I still do not know exactly how it was made, only that there was much bleaching of bones and boiling of blood from still-beating hearts. Jade was sent for from the Far East and ground into dust. Tubes, wires, and pipes were strung up between the limbs on the warehouse's walls, and great kettles like in a distillery were kept on at all hours of the day and night. Thick casks were filled with the vile liquor and sealed with molten lead. It seems the scientists made seas of the Thanatos Elixir, but I cannot speak with any accuracy of the exact amount as that as soon as a barrel was filled, a wagon from the White House took it away. Its destination? I do not know.
What I do know is that Mr. Lincoln's absence began to raise eyebrows. Gallows talk began. Was Lincoln sick? Dead? Was he a victim of the Thanatos Elixir? The scientists all agreed he was too close to the corpse. Further, none saw him cover his nose and mouth as he poured the poison over the ground. There were shivers. There was laughter. Then, a courier arrived with a letter bearing Mr. Lincoln's signature. Lincoln requested to see each of us -- scientist and sharpshooter -- alone.
I went into the White House, through its rear door, on an afternoon just after the first snowfall of the winter. I was led through buzzing corridors and chambers by a young soldier in blue. For most of the journey, I didn't pay him any notice, but as we were approaching Mr. Lincoln's office, I saw his hair. I looked at his face. It was the red-headed boy Mr. Lincoln had not long ago killed. But he stood, living and breathing, escorting me to the Oval Office. Throughout the remainder of my walk, my eyes didn't leave the boy. What? How? Why? When we arrived, he opened Mr. Lincoln's door without a word and ushered me in. I gazed at his skin. It was white. Pristine. The same shade as the sheet of freshly-fallen snow atop the White House's lawn.
I then entered Mr. Lincoln's personal sanctum. He sat, stiff and unmoving, behind his desk. His skin was pale and, dare I say, almost translucent. Looking upon him, I could see his blood and bones, much like one sees a glow from beneath the shade of a lamp. No, it was as if his cheeks were a playhouse's scrim, through which I could very clearly make out Mr. Lincoln's skull. He had me sit before him and asked how I recalled the first human test of the Thanatos Elixir. I recounted to Mr. Lincoln the same event I have described to you, but I spoke not of seeing the President cough up red. He seemed satisfied by my memory and ordered me back to the warehouse. I didn't go. Instead, after I left Mr. Lincoln's office, I haunted the White House until I encountered the red-haired soldier again. I saw him once the sky turned a tone darker than twilight, and I followed him from fifty paces away. He walked down narrow streets, twisting and turning and hugging the walls of crumbling buildings, until he was far from the power and dignity and authority of the capital.
He had come to the outskirts of Washington and a swamp wanted by neither the North nor the South. And here he waited. He stood like a statue, unmoved by winds and bitter cold. Huddled, obscured by crooked, dead trees, I hid. I waited. Then, colored by the moon, three men emerged. Coming from somewhere in the wilderness, they all wore parts of animals and costumes stolen from dead Redskins. I cupped my hands to my ears as the red-headed soldier spoke to his companions. A call had gone out to bounty hunters, murderers, and mercenaries. The three men now glaring down at the Federal soldier were the best -- and by that I mean the worst -- in Maryland. Some more words were spoken that were unfortunately lost to me in the wind. Then, there was the crack of a gun, and all three cutthroats fell dead.
I tell you, I could take no more, and I was up, advancing forth from my thicket, my fingers wrenched around a revolver now pointed at the boy. I shouted at him. I demanded to know what he had done. I demanded to know why he was alive. I told him I had no quarrels with sending him properly into the afterlife. He but smiled and bent down to the bounty hunters, spilling a flask of the Thanatos Elixir over their corpses. The bodies shriveled and turned the complexion of ash.
My eyes left the withered bodies and searched over the ivory boy. His skin was made of the moon. His eyes were a maze of minute, red capillaries, coursing, growing, and tangling more with each passing minute. Nothing of his features was from this earth. I asked if he, indeed, was the boy killed by Mr. Lincoln's liquid. He nodded. I asked how, now, he stood before me. A smile was his reply.
Then, with a deft motion of his hand, he brought my attention back to the bodies. No longer wrinkled, ruined things, they now shared the smoothness of the soldier boy, and after a moment more, they stood. The men held their heads, starting to complain of pain but then forgetting what pain is. They felt, though, their stomachs, the wounds that took their lives still red. Hissing, they came upon the boy and threatened him, saying they were most nearly dead.
The soldier boy wagged his finger.
"I did kill you," he said. "I took the lives your mothers gave you and gave you new, better lives on behalf of Mr. Lincoln."
The men didn't know what to make of the boy's words so he raised his gun and shot them all again. How they howled. But they didn't fall and, soon, they realized the boy's gunshots did them no harm. The soldier boy said no bullet would kill them now, adding, as he turned to me, no matter how true the marksman. The mercenaries quickly began to grin, and the reports of numerous guns broke through the quilted night sky. They shot each other and themselves. They filled their bodies with holes. They danced and sang.
Mr. Lincoln's doctors were trying to make a gas that would bring to the Rebels an instant death, but they instead succeeded in creating inadvertent, unnatural life.
I took a step back, but the soldier boy wouldn't allow another. He pointed his pistol at my face and said I would not be leaving this place alive. He told me, though, it was my choice whether I wanted to be resurrected or become a meal for worms. I asked the boy if I was to join his band what my purpose would be. I was let in on his plan -- Mr. Lincoln's plan. Mr. Lincoln was to raise an army of immortals to slay the Rebels as well as all those in the North who had ever disagreed with him, and after his war was over, Mr. Lincoln would install his new, undead warriors into all the seats and offices of government. The soldier boy revealed, as I had suspected, that Mr. Lincoln had been infected by the Thanatos Elixir.
I kept the boy talking, asking why he was going along with Mr. Lincoln's plan. After all, it was Lincoln who first killed him. The boy, who revealed his name to be Edward Doherty, said that he was still a soldier and that Mr. Lincoln was still his President. A smirk. He also said he was promised the Vice Presidency once Mr. Lincoln's cleansing was complete.
Edward, at this point, placed his gun to my head and asked which side I was on. I asked him if there was any way for this new life to be taken away. I asked if there was anything he wasn't telling me. A pause. Another curl of his lips. To keep death away, Edward whispered, those touched by the Thanatos Elixir must devour the blood and the flesh of the living. As long as they keep their bellies full of warm blood, no damage can be done to them, but if they allow themselves to become empty, they will shatter with the most casual of scratches.
Refusing to allow me to stall any further, Edward demanded I choose whether I wanted to live or to die. To become a Grim Reaper or to become food for one.
A Grim Reaper? Yes, Edward called himself a Grim Reaper.
Well, I outsmarted that Grim Reaper. He told me no matter how well trained the marksman, no bullet could bring him harm, but I bested Edward with only two shots. Firing them both in the span of a single tick of a clock, I shot straight through both of Edward's eyes. He still stood, I tell you, looking at me with two black holes where his eyes used to be, but he could no longer see. He threw curses at me and punched randomly at the air, but I was gone, running and running until I thought my heart would burst and then running again.
When I was at long last back in my familiar Washington, I thought long and hard about where to go and what to do next. The result of this careful deliberation was crawling into the back of the darkest bar I could find and hiding there until morning. When I walked out, the bright sun stinging my eyes, I pondered if my entire night was a dream. A nightmare. I tried to convince myself as such, although my revolver had expended two shots. If I didn't shoot out Grim Reaper Edward's eyes, who did I kill? I stumbled to the warehouse, hoping one of Mr. Lincoln's scientists would hear my story and tell me the correct path to set upon.
However, as I neared the warehouse, my nose began to twist, unable to avoid a charcoal cloud hanging unwelcome in the air. And, then, I saw it. Reduced to black embers, the warehouse was no more. Struck sober, I ran toward it and wept. I do not know why, but I wept. I clawed through the black earth and white bones of soldiers, experiments, and scientists all reduced to nothingness together. I wept more. There was no one around. No fire brigades. No police investigators. No curious onlookers. Only me. And the ashes. I combed through the rubble for anything familiar I could find, during the course of my search, my tears drying on my cheeks. Yet, despite this, I still heard the noises of a man weeping, and for the first time, I realized I wasn't alone here. I scrambled through the ruins until I found the owner of the voice. One of Mr. Lincoln's scientists. He was impaled by an iron pipe, slowly expiring, lamenting everything in his life that brought him to this point. He tossed Mr. Lincoln's silver away.
I asked the man what had happened, and he explained to me, blood between his words, that Lincoln had asked him the formula for the Thanatos Elixir when he was alone with the him in the Oval Office, and after the last of the scientists had met with the President, and presumably confirmed the accuracy of the poison's ingredients and measurements, Mr. Lincoln appeared at the warehouse with chains, kerosene, and torches. He single-handled burned the place. Wrapping iron ropes over the building's doors, he doomed all those inside to die beneath the flames. More, Mr. Lincoln's own sharpshooters, not spared this death sentence, opened fire on the President, but their bullets passed harmlessly through his form. Mr. Lincoln, the doctor gurgled to me, was shot repeatedly in the chest, but he took each shot with a smile and continued on with his demented work. The doctor clung to me with the last will in his body, sobbing that the Thanatos Elixir had gone wrong. I held the dying man, reduced to the whimpers of a child, and I asked him -- begged him -- to tell me how to reverse the unholy magic of the Thanatos Elixir. He whispered to me and died.
Had I any more tears inside of me, they would have been shed, but at that moment, all pity, sorrow, and softness in me had run dry. I knew what I had to do. I knew, as great as the threat that is the war at present tearing our nation apart, President Lincoln's recent turn toward cannibalism and necromancy were far, far worse.
I know, too, that I've failed to adequately describe the crimes of Mr. Lincoln and his Grim Reapers, and, in fact, I had at this point yet to actually witness the true carnage they were capable of, but I would not have to wait much longer to know my decision to stop Mr. Lincoln was justified by heaven. It was that very night. I had spent the day sneaking whatever munitions I could from Washington's armories and stalked the White House come evening. A platoon of Federal soldiers were running through drills on the lawn, and, as the first stars appeared, Mr. Lincoln stepped outside to watch. He sipped from a goblet filled with red. Wine, I imagine the soldiers presumed. Lincoln sat back with a contemplative look on his face, taking in the young men, telling them to stay and train further, and while they were exhausted, they couldn't refuse their President's order.
At some point, once the sky had disappeared behind spilt ink, a small squad of Federal officers joined Mr. Lincoln. I recognized them at once. They were the murderers Edward had killed and summarily brought back to life. Further, Edward stood with them, his eyes again inside his head. Edward whispered to Lincoln, and Lincoln whispered back. I was perched atop a tree across the lawn and couldn't make out their words, nor could I train a rifle on any of the Grim Reapers from my position without revealing myself to all present. So, I sat.
After another hour of drills, Lincoln ordered the soldiers to split up into two lines -- half on the right and half on the left. Mr. Lincoln ordered those on the right to lift their guns and fire, to shoot their comrades on the left. There was hesitation. There were stares. One soldier on the left ran. Lincoln barked out his order again. Each and every soldier on the left was struck down. But Mr. Lincoln was not yet done. Lincoln and his Grim Reapers approached the soldiers still alive. The President told the still-living soldiers not to feel sorrow for the men they just killed for they'd be alive again before the hour was up, and, indeed, Edward would go on to splash the corpses with Thanatos Elixir. Lincoln, next, touched one of the living soldiers tenderly and thanked him for his service to his country. Within moments, he was dead, his jugular ripped out and blood spilling out over Mr. Lincoln's coat. Lincoln had bitten into his neck and shorn a great chunk of it off. Edward and the mercenaries wasted no time to join the President, and soon all were tearing the remaining soldiers limb from limb. There'd be no resurrection for these boys. No, these soldiers were a feast, and once Lincoln and his murderers had all had their fill, Edward led the freshly-turned Grim Reapers to the bodies to pick at what remained.
I was sick. I dispatched the contents of my stomach onto the tree at my feet. I cared not that I'd be discovered if I properly lined up a shot. I lifted my rifle. Rather, I tried, but so shaken, my arms refused to move. My legs, too, had turned to stone. I sat there, petrified, forced to watch the President devour a company of his own men. I was failed by my own body. I was helpless. I was worthless.
I sunk down the tree early the next morning. I couldn't remember when I had eaten last and crawled into a tavern. I ate eggs and toast. I was unable to look upon ham, bacon, or sausage after the preceding night. I stayed there, in the very same seat, and had lunch and dinner as well. Leaving with the fall of the sun, I pulled my hat and my coat tight. Against the cold, disturbed not by the wind, unshaken by sheets of ice, I crossed the black streets of Washington to slay a tyrant. I was sure. I was determined. I was again a failure. What swerved me, though, was not nature's temper. No, instead, it was a woman. As I neared the White House again, a woman's voice filled my ears. It was a close-by cry. A frantic scream. My boots, after a moment, changed their direction, leading me by leaps down an alley. There, I saw her, a woman of exquisite beauty pinned by grey bark-covered limbs. I would not kill Mr. Lincoln this night, but I would destroy one of his Grim Reapers. I barreled into the monstrosity, smashing it clean off the beauty. Forcing the Grim Reaper against a wall, I quickly filled its body with several shots, sinking bullets into its knees and elbows. While these would bring the demon no pain, they would prevent it from assaulting either me or the maiden until the Thanatos Elixir in its veins mended its severed joints. The rag doll devil flopped into a pile. I kicked it. I turned to the woman.
She shivered there, he dress torn and breast exposed. She asked me who I was. "An American" was my reply. I asked if she had been bitten or otherwise harmed. She shook her head, and I could not see any broken skin. I told her to flee and forget this moment from her memory. Instantly, she was invisible. I turned back around. Already, the Grim Reaper was on one knee, shattered sinew mending together with terrible speed. I asked the man who he was. I asked the man how he became infected. He spat acid on the earth beneath me. I apologized to him and promised I'd pray for him to find heaven. Then, producing a dagger, I struck down at his head. The Grim Reaper, however, was faking his injuries, and already healed entirely, he sprung on me, wrestling me, tearing at me. I had feared this very moment and wore several shirts and capes, too many layers for the beast to immediately rip apart. Again I shot him and again he was up. He came down on me now with heavy punches I could feel straight inside my ribs. He hit me over and over until I was against a wall, and, punching through it, his fist returned with a brick, and it would take no large amount of guessing to deduce that brick was intended to soon collide with my head. The Grim Reaper pulled his arm back, readying his strike, but not allowing myself to meet my demise with my mission incomplete, my knife, like lightning, struck the back of the Grim Reaper's neck. I severed the spine. I cut through all the connecting flesh. I may make it sound simple, but it took tremendous, mad sawing to produce this result, but once body and brain were split in two, the Grim Reaper was no more.
I thanked the angels and saints. I cleaned my knife. I noticed the flesh I had cleaved boiled and bubbled trying to reunite with its decapitated head. I kicked the Grim Reaper's skull across the alley and burned the thing until it was only dust.
As you may have understood from the above episode, removing a Grim Reaper's head will take away the Thanatos Elixir's gift. This was what the last of Lincoln's scientists told me as he died in my arms. I would learn on following nights, too, that a gunshot administered directly to the back of the head would shatter the skull producing the same effect. Now, with these limitations known, the Grim Reapers may no longer appear as fearsome a menace; however, any and all tortures done to a Grim Reaper's body that do not destroy the brain will, in a matter of minutes, be undone, and to get to the brain, one must fend off animal claws and fangs.
The Grim Reapers were abominations of nature, and while my self-appointed mission was to bring an end of the perverse life of Abraham Lincoln, I became ever more occupied with protecting Washington's citizenry from these damnable creations. In the weeks that would come, Grim Reapers, while moldering by day, would launch themselves at gentlemen and their ladies in between the soft glow of street lamps come the twilight. And with every night and every Grim Reaper I dispatched, I became more intimate with their preternatural physiology.
Wrapped underneath heavy canvas, bandoliers containing pouches filled with gunpowder and kerosene-soaked cotton across my chest, and with two pistols -- each with a bayonet fixed to the end of its length -- I hunted Death. Always in the shadows of the Grim Reapers, I brought down their numbers a handful at a time. I burned them, disemboweled them, and split their skulls. But each one I ground to dust took a toll on me, and each one brought me to the brink of my own mortality. I reeked of tombs and mildew no matter how raw I scrubbed my skin. I turned myself into a mummy with straps of impenetrable leather binding my every inch. I slept only when the sun was directly overhead. I was unable to stomach meat and vomited up half of whatever else I ate. My eyes, my hair, and my nails were all ragged.
No matter how hard I fought, though, I'd come to learn it was meaningless. Creeping back to the White House just before dawn, I'd see a hundred new undead soldiers created each night. I didn't have the means to undo all this and any newspaper or police officer I could have reached out to would have called me mad or a traitor. Burn the White House? Steal a mortar? Defect to the Rebels? What was I to do?
Then, Providence showed me. A hotel had become infested with Grim Reapers, and I went out, room by room, purifying it. I killed soldiers, lawyers, whores, and flower girls all made into Lincoln's apostles. At some point in the evening, I had run out of bullets, broken both bayonets, and used up all of my explosive tricks. Cornered in an estate room, the Grim Reapers thought I was their prey, but as a fat ghoul approached, I reached into the cloak behind my back and divorced his head from his form. For some time now, I had been carrying a shovel and pick axe strapped to my shoulders. Now, one in each hand, I clubbed -- battered -- the Grim Reapers until the hotel floor was deep beneath an ocean of blood. My cape was torn to ribbons. My shirt was ripped apart. Only my leather bindings kept me from the teeth of the demons. I committed atrocities that night, and I walked onto the street the following morning with all my weapons and tools shattered. I was exhausted. I was spent. To kill the Grim Reapers, I had become the Devil. Where is Providence here?
Leaving the hotel, I stepped over the gurgling cadaver of a socialite, and as I crossed atop him, I noticed a ticket sticking out from a pocket. This ticket was an invitation to the christening of a new ironclad, the Passaic-class Weehawken. The ship was to set sail in only a matter of days, and to show her off, a party had been arranged on her deck. The organizer of the affair? Mr. Abraham Lincoln. It was immediately clear to me this event was a sham, nothing other than a feast for the Grim Reapers.
I spent the days before the party trimming my nails and hair trying to look human again. I pulled the leather ropes around my chest, arms, and legs tighter than they had ever been and slid myself into a suit. I could not hide explosives nor hatchets beneath my formal jacket and had to make do with a single revolver with bayonet fixed behind my belt. The night of the party, the air was cool and clear. Men in top hats and tail coats led immodestly-dressed escorts up a gang plank onto the Weehawken's metal deck. There was champagne, oysters, and foie gras. I saw soldiers with translucent skin at the Weehawken's guns and strolling amid the night's honored guests, but I wasn't there to put an end to just any Grim Reaper. No, I was looking for Mr. Lincoln. I walked about, pretending to smile, and lifted a glass to numerous empty toasts, my eyes moving the entire time, not settling until they spied Lincoln. My ears, too, were open and listened in on the laughs, whispers, and indecent proposals. At long last "Lincoln" began to dot the evening's talk, and a drunken profiteer divulged the President's location. Lincoln was below deck. He was taking select visitors, starting with the royalty. I searched about a bit more until a parade of men who could only be steel barons and oil tycoons filled my sight. They were being led into the interior of the ship, all personally passing by Edward Doherty.
Lincoln was to slaughter them all. This whole party was a feast. I could smell the Grim Reapers all around me and felt the whole unholy army was inside the Weehawken tonight, all foaming, giggling, and licking their lips beneath my feet. I watched Edward for only a brief measure of minutes, just enough to understand his strengths and weaknesses. Especially weaknesses. As soon as I saw a path that could take me behind him, unnoticed until I had my gun against his spine, I was his shadow.
"How good of you to come tonight," Edward smiled as my pistol pressed into his flesh. "Are you ready to join Mr. Lincoln's band?"
I didn't reply, only pressing my gun deeper into his neck. Edward mocked me, inciting me to shoot. He, though, noted that the moment I did, I was dead. He was right, and it was because of this that I hadn't already plunged my bayonet or a bullet into his brain. Grim Reapers were all around, and rich pieces of meat were only a footstep away. Had I disposed of Edward, it would have all been over for me.
Instead, immediately, I whipped by bayonet down, slashing through Edward's left knee. The ghoul faltered. I caught him. There was a bit of commotion from the guests, but I smiled, laughing that my friend was filled with too much drink. I lectured him on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption as I spirited him beneath the floor, and the moment the hatch was sealed, Edward's wound had healed, and he was upon me like a feral beast. Slashes, hacks, swipes, claws, and teeth. I released all my revolver's shots in a matter of seconds. Then, armed with but only my bayonet, I lunged at him, stabbing my knife up through his gut, into his chest, Over and over, I forced my dagger inside him, slicing open his abdomen. Blood, bile, and undigested meat overflowed onto my hands and stained my suit.
Edward ripped at me, and I heard several snaps -- my bones -- throughout our fight. At one point, he knocked a shoulder loose. Still, I pressed. Edward was stronger and faster, but I matched him and then surpassed him in viciousness.
The Weehawken's innards were still raw, with nails, screws, and metal bits all protruding from the walls. I wouldn't have known this fact if Edward hadn't rammed me into a sharp pipe. I yelped and knew immediately what I had to do. Turning the Grim Reaper around, I swung him hard into a wall, and not letting go as he lashed out at me, twisted and ground him into a prickly bulkhead. The nails and screws lacerated his back, ripping open his spine, making his rear a mirror of his destroyed chest. The Thanatos Elixir was repairing Edward Doherty's injuries, but I saw to it to produce wounds faster than Edward could heal. He was getting slow, and bumping down a dark hallway with him, I hit something that instantly split my thumb.
I didn't know what it was, but I grabbed it. Rushing Edward into the needles breaking through the wall, I smashed him with all my love and all my rage in the face. Then, all was still. No last words from Edward. Only the drip, drip, drip of blood. After the moment it took my depleted chest to swallow up enough air, I looked closely at Edward. He had been shredded, finished with a fire axe to the face. After another moment where I half-expected the Grim Reaper to again rise, there was only quiet. No, there wasn't. There was the sound of a band from deeper inside the ship and the shuffle of dancing. I pried the axe from Edward's face and continued on.
The band and footsteps grew louder and more intense the further lost I became inside the Weehawken. Guided exclusively by the music, I bumped and bumbled my way deeper and deeper. I traversed passageways in total darkness, only coming into light but once in my journey.
There was a dim glow beneath a door marked "Armory," and I broke through it without a second thought. What if there were Grim Reapers? If there were, I'd fight them off with whatever weapons were surely stockpiled in the room. But I found neither guns nor ghouls. The room was massive, though, and filled with great chests. I opened the first, hoping still to find bullets or black powder. No. Inside? Lincoln's elixir. I held my breath and backed away. This was the storehouse for all the President's poison. I thought quickly about my next action and was ready to shatter the first cask, spilling out the ruinous fluid, but held my arms stock still a second before it was too late. With but a drop or the slightest vapor, the Thanatos Elixir corrodes the soul, and I realized I would be dead long before I could dispose of a single barrel. I was so close to destroying Mr. Lincoln's ambitions but unable to carry out the task. I continued toward the music.
My march ended in a ballroom. Standing just beyond the chamber, I peered in from a crack in the door. Cavernous, even more so than the previous room, it contained an orchestra and more than a hundred couples dancing on the floor. Ghosts wearing the skins of Federal soldiers waltzed with ladies and poured whiskey for their husbands. Where was the slaughter? The carnage? My eyes darted. My bones shook. I couldn't understand. At the far corner, whispering into a woman's cleavage, was the maestro, the progenitor of the festivities. Lincoln. My mind swam in confusion, but there was no going back. I locked my knuckles around my axe. I kicked in the door. I roared. I was drowned out by the brass and strings.
I screamed at the women to run. I barked at the men to flee. No one heard me. They only waltzed and sucked in rum, not listening or even seeing the madman in a blood red jacket. No going back. The stride that carried me into the ballroom continued across the floor. The dancers whirled as I pounded toward Lincoln. He laughed and drank and lost his eyes in the ample valley between his companion's breasts. I planted my feet before him. I raised my hatchet. The music stopped.
Into the empty air, I screamed. I broke my voice telling the whole tale I have set down here. Then, all at once, there was applause. Laughter and applause.
Lincoln stood. He bowed. The President of the United States thanked me for the entertaining yarn, but he said my speech was too late and was wrong on one miniscule point. I looked out now across the lords and ladies in the ballroom and I knew where I had gone wrong. The guests chuckled. This wasn't a feast for the Grim Reapers. The tycoons weren't to be devoured. No, Lincoln had organized this night to turn the biggest names in steel, oil, tobacco, and the railroad into his slaves. From the stage, I could see all the revelers had gossamer skin. They were all Grim Reapers.
The whore Mr. Lincoln had been enjoying rose now and crossed to me. She draped her arms around my form. The veins and flesh of her breasts were contained by skin no thicker than a butterfly's wings. She told me in illustrative words that she wanted to give me pleasure and then life everlasting.
I struck her down. Not with the cutting edge of my axe, but with the blunt end, I crushed her jaw and liquified her brain. Then, I sailed on, my axe moving with the same divine aim that guided David's sling. Lincoln was alone. Lincoln was exposed. He but blinked and his hand gripped my axe and froze it more deeply than a mountain of ice. He shattered my weapon.
I remember next only pain and Lincoln standing above me, holding my broken axe dripping with my blood. Mr. Lincoln spit words on me, proclaiming he was turning the diseased wreck of America into an empire the world had not seen since Rome. He picked me up and demanded I call him "Caesar."
I said nothing, and Lincoln threw me down. Hissing at me, he pulled a pistol from his pocket. Lincoln emptied the gun of all but one bullet and tossed the thing onto my demolished frame. Turning his back, Lincoln told me my America was finished and the single bullet in his gun was a gift. Mr. Lincoln urged me to put that bullet in my brain if I didn't want to see his new Rome. He lifted his hands, the band started again, and I sat in the middle of the dance floor as Grim Reapers twirled around me.
I cannot pen the million of emotions that consumed me as I cried there beneath the petticoats of the dead. I tried to shake my gun at Mr. Lincoln, but he was blur, made invincible by my own tears. Then, as the orchestra began a new song, two grotesque soldiers took me by the collar and threw out of the ballroom.
I looked over the gun in my hands and thought of all the places I could put its bullet. Not one was inside my head. Instead, my every inch aching, I ran back through the midnight halls and up obsidian ladders to the Weehawken's deck. Soaked in red from head to toe, I couldn't pretend to be a party goer and, instead, pushed my way with no regard nor illusions to the massive turret growing from the center of the ship. I threw Grim Reapers and aristocrats waiting to become Grim Reapers aside. I sent the butt of the President's revolver through the skull of the turret's guard. And, then, inside, I stared at the boat's two cannons and a half dozen barrels of powder, but I wanted neither. Instead, between the two was my final goal -- a shaft into the Weehawken's powder magazine. I pointed the President's gun into the blackness and squeezed the trigger.
An explosion rocked the Weehawken, a succession of burning plumes tearing metal and wood into the sky. The deck and bow turned to shrapnel and tinder. The Weehawken's heavy turret spun, screaming, high into the air until, a made-made meteor, it fell back to earth, smashing apart the last of the ironclad. I stood through it all, having dove off the hull as the first explosion issued forth, on a pier, watching until the Weehawken turned to nothing. She burned and burned and burned that night and then finally sunk. And, come morning, I was still there, watching the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, waiting for a single Grim Reaper to escape from the drowned wreck, but none ever came. The Thanatos Elixir was no more, and all of Mr. Lincoln's children were destroyed. My holy mission was complete. I, then, slept for a week.
I take it, though, you have not heard about the untimely demise of the President, and I believe the Weehawken's explosion failed to make any papers. Why? I wasn't vigilant enough, and somehow, the snakely Lincoln survived and crawled back to his White House. The Thanatos Elixir is gone and only one Grim Reaper remains, but I can't allow for a single monster to draw breath. Mr. Lincoln knows the Thanatos Elixir's recipe and has the reach, wealth, and power to sire a new legion.
Mamma, this will not come to pass. I love you. I love America. I have defeated Mr. Lincoln's beasts, and tonight I have come to learn the President will be attending a play. I am going to meet him.
John Wilkes Booth