tagErotic HorrorAmerican Gothic

American Gothic


"True love is like a ghost: Everyone talks of it, but few have met it face to face."

-Francois de La Rochefoucauld


"I should warn you about my family. You may be in for a bit of a shock."

They were driving with the top down. It was damn hot. Devanie fixed a scarf around her head to keep her hair from blowing. "You'll have to take them as they come," she continued. "And you need to be on your best behavior."

Charles winked. "Yes, ma'am. Shall I keep after class and write it out a hundred times on the board?"

He kissed the diamond ring on her finger, guiding the car with one hand. Devanie said you couldn't drive a big car on these old back roads, so close to the swamp, but the Coupe was taking it just fine. The twisted live oak branches formed a canopy over their heads. They were coming up on Caddo Lake, the state border, and the town of Uncertain. The boggy terrain looked like a picture in a book, though which book Charles couldn't quite say. One with a bad ending, maybe.

The June humidity was inhuman, but Devanie still looked like a million bucks. Somehow she never looked less than her best. Is this really happening, Charles thought? Is this woman really marrying me? Can life be this good?

Everything had turned up roses since meeting Devanie: The company sold right at the same time his tax problems went away. It was like nothing could ever go wrong with her around. She was his good luck charm. He thought of this summer trip to meet the family as something of a victory lap, a way to close the books on his old life once and for all and get on with the new.

"Mother and Father's approval means everything for me," Devanie continued, reapplying

her lip gloss and slipping on her Jackie glasses. "We really shouldn't have gotten engaged without you meeting them, and now..."

"Now it won't matter a thing," Charles said. "I'm going to love them. They're going to love me. We'll all love each other, and you'll be the happiest bride in the history of the county. Tell me I'm right."

"Of course you're right."

"Well, there's no arguing with a lady. Are we far?" The road turned a corner into a particularly boggy and desolate stretch.

"Not far at all. We ought to be able to see the house soon."

"Did you really grow up out here?"

"All Darcies grow up here. This land has been in our family since before the sun shined. I want our own children to grow up here someday. In fact, they've just got to."

"Of course they will," Charles said. "I'll build us a house here myself. I'm sure your pop will lease us the land. Or heck, I'll buy it off him outright. He won't mind selling us a piece once I'm family, right?"

Before she could answer, they rounded another bend, and a big old house appeared, like something half-swimming in the swamp. Charles blinked. The place didn't look anything like he'd expected. It was big enough and obviously old enough, but it looked...not rundown, exactly. Tired, perhaps. Like a thing that had outlived its natural span.

As he cruised to a stop Charles saw a tall, well-dressed man at the foot of the drive, apparently waiting for them. He was blond and gray-eyed and much too young to be Devanie's father. She leapt from the still-moving car, threw her arms around the man's neck and cried, "Uncle Ruthven! I didn't think you were coming."

He returned her hug a bit stiffly. "I wouldn't miss my favorite niece's wedding."

"Not a wedding quite yet," Charles said, getting out of the car. "Just an engagement party, by way of your big family reunion. But I'm mighty pleased to meet you either way. Put her there."

Ruthven looked at Charles' hand for a moment longer than most men would before sharking it. His palm felt slightly damp, and it tickled. He did not smile, and when Charles looked into Ruthven's watery eyes he felt his own smile flicker.

"Uncle Ruthven spends most of his time in Europe," Devanie said. "None of us have seen him in ages."

"Pleased to meet you," Charles said again. "Couldn't be more pleased."

"I'm sure I am as well. How did you find the drive?"

"It was exactly as long as it needed to be, and then it stopped."

Ruthven didn't laugh. He had the look of a person whose entire face might break if he chuckled. Charles gathered the bags and all three of them went into the old, dark house, where Devanie tossed her hands in the air and actually jumped for joy as she cried "I'm home!"

The family manor was every bit as brooding a thing on the inside as the out. It was tidy enough, but seemed oddly shaped. There were more portraits of unidentifiable people in antiquated dress than the walls could hold, and Charles detected a sour smell, like a coat liberated from the closet after too many years of disuse.

A plump woman with wiry hair and a spotted apron ran in from the kitchen and hugged and kissed Devanie to bits, and the two women cooed over each other like turtledoves for a full minute before Devanie introduced Charles to her mother. Mrs. Darcie looked so warm and pleasant that Charles couldn't think of anything except an apple pie cooling on a windowsill.

"Just look at you," Mrs. Darcie said, beaming. "What a man Devanie found."

"Isn't he?" Devanie said, clutching his arm. Charles stroked his mustache.

"You have a beautiful home, Mrs. Darcie," he said.

Which was true enough—the house and the grounds were certainly beautiful, albeit in a strange way. Like those museum paintings he never understood that made him faintly nervous.

"Devanie talks about almost nothing except all of you. If I didn't drive her on down here for this big family reunion she'd probably have burst. I've surely been looking forward to it too."

In came another tall, thin man, like Ruthven but much older, with a high forehead and steely hair. He walked with a cane, wore dark glasses, and Mrs. Darcie guided him and directed his hand to Charles. This, of course, was Mr. Darcie. Devanie had warned him to accommodate her father's blindness but not to mention it directly, and Charles was sure to look him in the eyes as they were introduced, even though it didn't matter.

"A pleasure," was all Mr. Darcie said. He looked as if he'd been born with his minister's collar around his neck.

"We've got your room all ready," Mrs. Darcie said as they ambled up the creaking staircase, Charles carrying all the bags at once. "And you're in time for dinner. Nothing puts meat on your bones like genuine home cooking."

"Darn tootin', ma'am," Charles said. He was having trouble getting all the bags up the narrow stairs. Blank-eyed cupids decorated the banisters, and for some reason he found their gaze distracting as he juggled suitcases, so much that he almost walked right into the woman on the landing.

Without thinking, he steadied himself by grabbing her elbow. The feeling of soft skin registered at the exact moment as the flowery scent of her perfume. His eye trailed up the smooth, pale arm and across the rounded shoulder to a mane of dark hair and a pair of scarlet lips. The bags all dropped out of his hands with a thump.

"Are you another long-lost cousin who washed up for the reunion?" said the woman. "Or are you with the help?"

"Um?" was all Charles said. He thought he might actually be blushing. A hand on his shoulder brought him back to his senses. Devanie wrapped herself around him in a protective way.

"This is my sister, Lorelei," she said. "Lorelei, this is Charles. My fiance." She put a lot of emphasis on the word.

"Charmed," said Lorelei.

Charles' tongue was working again and this seemed like it might be a good time to say something. "Devanie's told me all about you."

"I haven't heard a thing about you. How many engagements is this now, Devi? Three?"

"Charles knows all about that," Devanie said. "We're very happy, and we're going to be married in the fall."

"Right," Charles said, without knowing why. The scent of Lorelei's perfumed seemed to have struck him dumb for a second.

"I guess you'll be staying for dinner," the sister said. "If you last that long."

The bedroom, when he and Devanie got there (somewhere along the way they'd lost Mrs. Darcie back to the kitchen), was at least cozy. The windows were made of pebbled glass with oaks growing all around, so it looked like late twilight instead of early afternoon. But the bed was comfortable, and the strange odor of the place didn't seem strong here. He shut the door. "You never told you had a sister?"

"She's the black sheep."

"She seems nice enough."

"That's what they always say." Devanie wrung her hands. "Are you all right? I know it's a lot to take in at once."

"Everybody seems nice. Strange, but nice."

"If I'd known Uncle Ruthven would be here I'd have warned you about him. He's a very dear man, but he hasn't been the same since his wife died, and long trips are bad for his health."

She went over to the window, though she couldn't possibly see anything out of it. "Tomorrow everyone else is coming. Aunts and uncles and counins-in-law I haven't seen since I was a girl."

Charles slid his arms around her from behind. "I'm sure we'll all get along."

"It's not that I'm worried about. With the whole family here I want to seem...proper. Like I've really done something with myself. I don't want to just be the flighty little girl they all remember."

"Honey, you're going to be the prettiest bride anyone has ever seen. Not a one of those long-lost who-hows will go home thinking anything but that your mama raised a winner."

Devanie kissed him and his blood simmered. He glanced at the closed door. "Are they really putting us in the same room? You said they were old-fashioned."

"Old-fashioned is one thing, but they know what's what. Anyway, it doesn't matter because—"

"We're waiting," he said. "Don't think I'd forget it. I just didn't want your folks to get the wrong idea."

She patted him playfully on the behind. "Don't you to get it either."

Dinner came. The dining room was long and narrow. The heads of animals, mostly boars and bucks, peered from the walls. Mr. Darcie sat at the head of the table, with a little black Bible as part of his settings. Ruthven sat on his right. Charles found himself seated between the two sisters. Wine was open, but only Lorelei was drinking.

Mrs. Darcie bustled around and served. She'd made enough for twice as many people: meat pies, meaty stews, sandwiches with thick slices of marbled cold cuts, and little meat-filled dumplings that all but popped in his mouth. "Don't be afraid to eat up," Mrs. Darcie said, piling seconds onto his plate. "It's been so long since I had a big, strong young man to feed."

"It's wonderful." He held up a dumpling on the end of his fork. "What's in these anyhow?"

"If I told you, I'm afraid you wouldn't eat another bite.".

Ruthven ate nothing. and refused wine too, regarding Charles over an empty plate. "I do love a wedding," he said. "I remember my own quite vividly."

"Which one?" said Lorelei. Devanie gave her sister a dirty look, but Ruthven shrugged.

"My brother has had poor luck in the matrimonial vein," Mr. Darcie said. "How many has it been, Ruthven?"

"Four," said Ruthven, sounding bored. "I'm a widower every time, I'm afraid."

"He's a lady killer," said Lorelei. Devanie tried to kick her under the table and hit Charles instead. He jumped, then coughed to hide it.

"I'm terribly sorry to hear that," he said.

"But it's not as bad as Devi has it," Lorelei continued. "She never even gets to the altar. I think it's very sporting of Charles to help give her another go. Maybe third time will be the charm. Although charms have never been your specialty, have they?"

"That's enough," Mr. Darcie said.

That's all he said, but the words carried such barely restrained anger that the table went utterly quiet. Devanie bit her lip; Mrs. Darcie flinched; Lorelei, who a moment ago looked like a cat who had eaten a whole nest of canaries, now paled and sat up straight. After a minute she excused herself, taking the wine with her. Dinner went on, but the sudden manifestation of Mr. Darcie's anger had sucked all of the air out of the room. Under the table, Devanie held Charles' hand, but the tightly wound fingers gave him the impression that the gesture was more possessive than reassuring.

Ruthven invited Charles for a walk in the woods after dinner. The thought of being alone with him on those dark, murky paths gave Charles the willies, but Devanie seemed so pleased he didn't dare say no. Day was coming into night, and fireflies bobbed over the still water. Charles breathed in the green, mulchy smell of everything (noting but ignoring the underlying pungency of decay). It's a beautiful place, he told himself. Perfect for raising a family someday. It would just take a little getting used to.

Ruthven said nothing for a while, and he was so somber that to speak would have seemed an intrusion, so Charles waited for him to break the ice. As they tramped along a trail all but reclaimed by tall grass, buoyed by a chorus of croaking frogs and other, less identifiable sounds, Ruthven indicated a marker up ahead.

"Not far beyond that is the old family mausoleum. Almost every Darcie who's died since coming to this country is interred there. My wife is there, too. I visit her every time I come."

Charles nearly asked "Which wife?" but bit his tongue at the last minute. Instead he said, "You must have loved her very much."

"Maybe I did. Or maybe I'm just set in my ways."

He startled Charles by putting a hand on his shoulder. "I'm pleased you're here. This family needs someone like you. We've grown thin over the years. We may look strong and numerous, but there's rot underneath it all. We need fresh blood."

"I...don't know what to say. I'm honored, really. I just want to be there for Devanie."

"Of course," Ruthven said, and Charles thought he detected the flicker of a smirk. "Your feelings do you credit. Do you think you can make it back to the house on your own? I'd like to be alone for a while."

"Sure thing," Charles said, but as soon as he did a noise stirred out in the tall grass. The flickering, half-glimpsed silhouette of something slipping between the trunks of the primeval trees made his knees knock for a second. A bear? An alligator? Or maybe he'd imagined it?

Back at the house, everyone had turned in early. Charles crept in as quietly as he could, trying to remember his way in the dark. Enough moonlight came in that he could make out the huge oil painting at the head of the stairs. It showed a taciturn man who looked startlingly like Mr. Darcie. Charles understood it to be the family patriarch, who built Dark Oaks after the family was run out of Massachusetts in at the start of the 18th century. He tried not to imagine the fading, painted eyes staring at him as he rounded the corner into the hall.

Devanie was up waiting for him. He kicked off his shoes, threw his suspenders over the back of a chair, and searched a suitcase for his pajamas. "I tell you, sugar dumpling, it's a whole other world out here. That swamp is just about prehistoric. I don't know how—"

Devanie threw the covers aside. She wore a lacey pink negligee with a bow tied right between her breasts. Crawling to the edge of the bed on all fours, she beckoned him with one finger. Charles gulped.

"Darling...I don't know what to..."

"Kiss me."

"We're supposed to wait."

"And we did. Now kiss me."

He couldn't say no. Her lips trembled against his. She popped the buttons on his dress shirt and threw it aside before pulling him down to the mattress. He lost his balance and flopped hard. She pounced and knocked his wind out for a second. By the time he'd recovered she was busy undoing his trousers. She kissed him over and over, speaking in half-sentences between each:

"It's okay, isn't it? I know we wanted to wait, but I just can't. And now that you've met everyone it's basically official already, right?"

"Sure. Of course. Yes." She stripped him in record time (most of him, anyway—he was still wearing his undershirt). Climbing on top, she loosed the little bow on her nightwear and let if fall open, pushing his hands underneath. When his fingers made contact with the hot skin of her small breasts she arched her head back. He circled her tiny, perky nipples with his thumbs and watched as her throat quivered around gasps. Then she dived back down onto him with a kiss that nearly crushed him into the mattress, then another on the neck that was more of a bite, and then again on the shoulder. Charles was having trouble catching his breath.

Her hands wandered lower. Charles gulped and sat up when she grabbed his prick in a full-throttled grip. He was already as hard as hickory. She sized him up much the same way she'd inspected the rock on her ring after he'd given it to her, and now that he thought about the two things had something in common by way of being marital offerings. She encircled him with two fingers and started to stroke.

Her other hand combed through his hair, petted his cheeks and chin, and encouraged him to kiss and lick her fingertips. She purred when his hands left their berth and started a trip along the lines of her body. She was a thin thing, and sometimes seemed frail, but now he found her sinewy and strong. The negligee billowed around her, inviting his hands onto it and then shortly under it, its silkiness matching the feeling of her naked body underneath.

She pressed her breasts to his face, rubbing them against the stubble on his unshaved chin. He kissed one and squeezed her little backside to encourage her. She kept stroking him all the while. "Is that good?" she said, whispering against her lips. In reply he tried to pull her closer but she nudged him away, teasing. "Not yet. There's something I want to try first."


"No buts."

She crawled down the front of him, her long hair trailing over his body. He squirmed like a little kid. My God, everything on her feels good, he thought. He was already about to blow his top. He tried to warn her again but all he could manage was a gasp when her hot, wet tongue slither along the length of him. The effect was like a lightning strike: He sat straight up and cried out with nerves tingling. She really knows what she's doing, he thought. Maybe a little too much, because Charles already felt his big finish coming on strong. If she didn't slow it down...

"Baby, wait," he said.

"We've waited long enough." She was still stroking him. He gasped.

"That's not what I meant!"

"Are you ready for me?"

"Yes, but—"

"Then here goes!"

They almost managed it. Another second or two and they'd have been consummated with a capital C. As it stood (or didn't), all they ended up with was a small mess and a moment of profound confusion for one of them.

As soon as Charles regained his composure he blushed with shame. Devanie looked for all the world like she didn't know what to do with herself. Charles flopped back against pillow and put his hand over his face. "Well hell," he said. "How's that for a big night?"

Devanie slipped into his arms, surprising him a bit. "Doesn't matter."

"The hell it doesn't."

"Doesn't matter to me, then. I think it's kind of cute, actually."

"Oh, that makes me feel real damn better."

"You'll have the rest of our lives to make it up to me. For now I'm just happy knowing you're really mine." She snuggled up to him, and his heart melted.

"I am at that."

They talked for a bit longer. Devanie fell asleep first, though she was usually a night person, almost to the point of insomnia. Charles felt jumpy; all these noises in a strange house like this, to say nothing of the positively primeval things going on out in that swamp. He couldn't imagine getting a wink of sleep in a place like this. But no sooner did he think it than his eyelids began to droop...

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