Herbert Van Thal


by Herbert Van Thal

It was a dark and stormy night, and next day I could not get Michael Stipe off the phone.

"I'm seriously thinking about getting another cat," he droned. It sounded nothing like a song at all.

"Michael," I interrupted, "you don't NEED another cat. You've got two!" The man was always buying cats, but not all of them survived. The last time I visited his house in sun-sprayed Majorca, his favourite cat, Tomato, had just died of catrot, and the man was almost inconsolable. We drove all through the night, drinking whisky from his silver hipflask, making up songs about the allure of the feline. None of them made it onto "Monster", though I did have a hand in "Tongue", in as much as I wrote the bassline.

As my memories ploughed on backwards, Michael's voice blurred to a drone. I had just begun to recall our 1985 argument about the musical "Cats" - I was seeing one of the principal dancers, which had coloured my views to an extent that Michael could not let pass = when I realised he had paused.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well what?" I enquired.

"Goldie Hawn - yes or no?" came the reply. I didn't know what to say, so I mumbled something noncommital about Private Benjamin. Just then the doorbell rang, and then the door flew open, and it was a vampire.

"I'll have to go," I said, and slammed the phone down before my friend could reply. The vampire flew silently across the room and entered the kitchen. I hurried behind the sofa and hoped against hope that it would attempt to operate my holy oven.

The sofa was a burgundy affair in leather, and smelled like a glass of Merlot. It was on the very same piece of furniture that I had written my groundbreaking novel of terror and alarm, "My Time in a Trunk", thirteen years previously. The book had won few awards, but sold well in university bookstores around the country. Shortly after its initial release, I received a polite note from Vincent Price expressing an interest in the dust jacket's artwork, but I was unable to help the man. I'd always felt somehow ashamed of that fact, for I had often enjoyed his performances at the cinema throughout the seventies. I had at one stage convinced myself he was in Star Wars, to the point of losing 300 to Michael in a bet many years later. The argument, the wager - Michael and I had seen so much of life together - had I been too harsh in my slamming of the phone? I hoped that an explanation at a later date would clear the air between us.

Could I smell toast? I'd always prided myself on my olfactory capabilities. I often found myself mentally listing my senses in descending order of ability. Invariably, the list looked so:

  1. Smell
  2. Hearing
  3. Taste
  4. Sight
  5. Touch

I was simply incapable of differentiating items by touch alone, but it was very rarely I had to. Any talk of a 'sixth sense' I would leave to writers of supernatural fiction, such as myself. I looked briefly at my wedding ring; it reminded me of Australia, and the glorious afternoon I spent with my bride atop Ayer's Rock, before she was taken from me by a combined effort of tuberculosis and the wolfman.

But the smell of toast smothered all! I was forced to wonder why a vampire would be interested in toasting bread in my kitchen. I visualised the fiend about its loathsome task, its piggish snout curled in pleasure at the gentle browning of the bread. Why should it care? What was I missing?

When the answer came to me, I found myself springing for the kitchen door, all thoughts of self-preservation purged from my pounding brain. Halfway across the room, I heard the sound I so dearly prayed I would not - the harsh scrape of Sheffield steel against the fully toasted surface of the ungodly beast's meal.

"Villain!" I shrieked, for I had not blessed the butter.


©1987 Herbert Van Thal