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Second Saturday Stories Presents Chapter 7: The Last Gasp of a Dying Man

“When I understood what was happening, when the scope of my misery was truly appreciated, I tried everything to end my life. The cuts to my wrist, the bullets to my brain, the car accidents. I walked away from them all. A medical miracle, it would seem. But I know the truth. I know that this is the fate dealt to me from that bloody Shaman."
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The fire filled the silence that descended when the older man stopped speaking. The roar of it filled the hollow room as Lucian looked on waiting for his father to finish. His eyes darted quickly to the massive wolf head above them. He convinced himself, not for the first time, that the eyes weren’t locked on him. It didn’t know what he knew, it would not punish him for what was to come. 

Garmin, the last descendant from the man in his father’s story, came and deposited two more logs on the fire before delivering the last of the brandy to Harmon.  He closed his eyes as he sipped it, inhaling deeply. He shifted the afghan to better cover his legs. When he opened his eyes they were trained on Lucian. 

“From that day forward, my boy, I lived as the Shaman said. Investments I made, people I met, the family brewery. Everything I touched seemed to flourish, but the things in my life I had grown to truly care for, the people who mattered most, withered and died before my eyes. 

First it was my precious Delilah. She was taken from me before we could truly start enjoying our life as a family. Then came your brothers. One by one my children were snatched away from me. Brody was lost to the hunt. Mauled unrecognizable by a bear, though I begged him not to take the sport up. Rupert perished in a transatlantic flight. He was on his way to New York to discuss expanding the brewery. They never recovered the body. Alec simply didn’t wake up one morning. 

Those who were buried here got washed away in a landslide decades ago. I have no corpses to mourn. The heartache lives unbridled inside of me. Everyday I wake is another twenty four hours of torment I have to endure. 

I can’t get close to anyone Lucian, don’t you see? I have resources and time that should sustain me well into the future, but I have no one to share it with. Wealth withers, it’s just paper. Relationships, camaraderie, friendship Lucian, those are life’s true currency. If you take nothing else from my story, take that fact.” 

“Surely you have at least one person to share your wealth with, Father?” Lucian leaned forward, the firelight dancing in his eyes. His black turtleneck and hair blending into the deep shadows that surrounded him. 

“Of course, of course I have you.” Harmon waved his hand in a pitiful gesture. “You, and he.” Harmon nodded to the wolf on the wall “A constant reminder of what my arrogance cost me.” He fell silent again, his jaw locked at a strange angle before he massaged the muscles and wiped dribble from his chin. 

“When I understood what was happening, when the scope of my misery was truly appreciated, I tried everything to end my life. The cuts to my wrist, the bullets to my brain, the car accidents. I walked away from them all. A medical miracle, it would seem. But I know the truth. I know that this is the fate dealt to me from that bloody Shaman. I’ve lived longer than any man should, sustained by the black magic coursing through my veins.” Harmon shifted in his seat, his jaw locking again. This time it took a little more effort to work it loose, Lucian edged closer to his father, as his words were as dry and brittle as the snapping and twisting birch bark of the fire. 

“The only benefit of solitude is that it’s given me time to search for answers, a reversal of the curse, a way to finally free myself from the agony of my arrogance. I’ve learned, Lucian, I’ve learned as much as I can about that cursed Black Chapel and the devil’s bargain struck to create the Shaman. It’s a horrible story, bleak and tragic. But I’ve learned that it’s you, Lucian. You are the key.” 

“Me? that makes no sense.” Lucian moved closer, his eyebrows arched. His father was truly going senile. His ramblings called into question the entire validity of his story. Lucian shook his head, disgusted that he could ever be taken in by such a fable. He eyed the wolf again but his father continued speaking, drawing his attention slowly back. 

“I am certain of it. Just as I am certain the poison you put in my brandy tonight will finally deliver me to eternal rest.” 

Lucian snapped to his feet. Panic gripped him as his eyes searched the living room shadows, how had his father found out? Lucian tried to protest but was stopped by a dry chuckle that slipped from Harmon’s throat. A single thread of blood ran down his chin. 

“No need to deny it. Everything is already in motion.” Harmon let out a cough, spraying blood onto the white blanket in his lap. “Haven’t you wondered, Lucian- why it is that you have lived well past the age when- all of your relatives perished.” Harmon’s words were coming in gasps now as his chest heaved to take in air. 

“A moment of weakness- but I’m sure one orchestrated by the blood curse I am under- Garmin’s wife Hazel- on the anniversary of Delilah’s passing. She knew what it was to live with loss- we found comfort- in each other- that we never spoke of. Y-you, Lucian. The bastard child that would be my undoing. All this time- your sole focus was on contempt for me- and on coveting the family wealth. Well- my son- the wealth will be yours, but you will have so much more.” 

The last gasp of a dying man started as another ghoulish chuckle before Harmon’s throat closed and his chest heaved one final time. He slipped from the wingback chair as his back arched and he thrashed on the ancient wood floor, sending one house slipper into the maw of the fireplace. The crystal glass that rested on his lap rolled delicately towards the orange blaze, lines of brandy coarsed down its rim in thick tendrils.  

Lucian recoiled from the scene A gasp of revulsion escaping his lips. He watched in mounting terror as his father convulsed, sounds from a nightmare escaping him and locking themselves away into Lucian’s memory for life. At that moment he wanted to take everything back. He no longer questioned the story his father told, in his last seconds Harmon spoke with the same command of the young man who raised Lucian. 

 He looked from the fire to the wolf, transfixed on the way the eyes seemed to be boring into him. He felt the hair on his neck rise, and watched a lone cloud of white breath expel from the jaws and dissipate into the room. That was enough to break the paralysis. Lucian heard the ghostly remnants of his brothers’ taunts as they chased him with the head through the house. 

He started to run from the room and tripped over Harmon’s corpse. He spun into the shadows, grasping the thick maroon drapes for support. A door slammed to his left and he looked up in time to see Garmin aim one of father’s guns at his chest. The last thing Lucian saw was the corner of the room light up around Garmin as pellets exploded from both barrels. The accompanying thunder echoed in his ears like the pounding hooves of the four horsemen.



Lucian woke with a jolt, his dying scream rolling from him as his arms instinctually flew to cover his face.  He turned to his left and was shocked to see someone sitting there. In the dim light the figure looked like the grim reaper, ghostly white face cloaked in black. It wasn’t until they drove under a streetlight that the cabin was lit fully and Lucian could see it was Garmin, the youngest Garmin, driving. His usual suit jacket and tie was replaced with a heavy canvas jacket and wide brimmed trilby. His face was drawn and pale as he dropped his eyes from the road to check on his passenger. From beside him he brought a canteen into view. He tossed it to Lucian as if he were afraid to deliver it any other way. 

“Drink that.” He said. “Your father told me every time he came back, he was parched.” Lucian felt a great thirst snaking its way through the fugue of confusion. He snapped off the cap of the water and drank it in greedy gulps. He stopped only when the canteen was spent. A few drops dribbled onto his chest and Lucian noticed he was wearing a jacket similar to Garmin, that his entire outfit in fact had been changed. He ripped open the zipper and frantically began undoing the buttons of a linen shirt until Garmin’s words stopped him.  

“You’ve healed. I don’t pretend to know how, but you have. If your father is to be believed it’s the first scar of many.” 

“my F-” Lucian blinked hard at the man driving. He looked down at his chest and saw that except for the rippled scarring across his chest, he had no evidence of any wound. 

“Apologies for the buck shot. I was instructed to make sure it was fatal. it was the only way we could get you from the house with the story intact.” 

Lucian could only look at the older man in silence, his mind reeled for comprehension. His sanity threatened to slip further from his grasp and he found himself unable to form a cohesive sentence. Words tumbled from his mouth in a disorganized heap for Garmin to decipher. 

“you were instruct- fatal- story?” 

Garmin reached behind him and fumbled on the seat. His hand emerged from the shadows with a small dry sack that he again tossed to Lucian as if he were afraid to get too close. 

“Lucian Bradley is dead, and so is Frederick Garmin. Both were killed in a daring Christmas Day robbery attempt that also took the life of Harmon Bradley. Inside the package you will find documents supporting your new identity as well as your father’s diary, should you choose to read it. He’s been coaching me on this moment for some time, forcing me to commit this message to memory.” 

Garmin signaled a turn and pulled over on the dirt shoulder of the highway, finally turning to face Lucian head on, though averting his eyes everytime they traveled to his scarring. 

“Lucian.” Garmin began. His words taking on the robotic drone of those someone has been forced to recite for months on end. “You have succeeded in usurping me as the head of the family, but the fortune you committed patricide for will not be yours. I have willed it all to- uhm-” Garmin faltered, his adams apple working as a semi roared past, shifting the car and spraying the side window with slush. 

“Frederick Garmin. I think you’ll agree after hearing the fate of his grandfather by my hand, this compensation is more than called for. His debt of servitude ends with the final act of assisting your transition. Now, my boy, you have two choices ahead of you. Deny your blood curse and set off on your own as a poor man destined to gain riches but watch those closest to you perish, or use Garmin’s substantial fortune to find the Shaman’s cursed child and break this family of the curse that haunts it.” 

With his message delivered Garmin sat against his side of the car, his jacket strategically brushed aside to reveal the handle of a pistol tucked into a holster hanging from his shoulder. 

“You stay dead for a short time.” he said “If you try anything stupid I’ll put you down and leave you on the side of the road.” Lucian had balled his hands into tight fists that shook with rage as the fact of his father’s deception settled over him. In the same thought he saw the crooked way his father’s jaw locked. He saw the spasms that wracked and jerked his frail body, but most of all he saw the plume of breath escaping from that god awful wolf. He thought he had the stomach for death, that he would be able to take over his family wealth without issue. He now knew death was more intricate and horrific than he could ever comprehend. As far as he was concerned the choice was simple. 

He relaxed his hands, eyeing Garmin up grudgingly. Finally able to organize his thoughts, Lucian ran his hands through his hair to smooth it before asking a question. “Where are we going?” 

“Airstrip.” Garmin said “flying to Africa.” he nodded to the diary. “It’s all in there, the lore, the signs. Your father was convinced the child was in the jungle. He searched until he was too enfeebled to do more than research, but everything he found is in there.” 

Silence filled the car as Lucian finalized his decision. He looked at Garmin one last time, thought of the hardships his family had faced, of the confession his father had wrestled with for decades. Lucian thought of his own upbringing, of the luxury he’d been insulated by, never truly understanding the horrors of the world until his father’s staggering and breathless body lurched towards him. He found within him a profound curiosity to know more. He sighed. 

“Drive.” he commanded. Garmin obliged.