“Midnight in the Presidential Palace” Historical Horror by Kevin DG Johnson

John Adams circa 1800-1815. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart
John Adams circa 1800-1815. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Washington March 3, 1801

My Dearest Friend

Something has given the horses a startle. Their shrieks carry from the stables to the great room. Perhaps it was the young rider, whom I have just sent off with the last of the commissions. Lord willing he can navigate the dark and muddy streets at this late hour. No less than the future of our Federalist system hangs in the balance.

The full moon’s glow has vanished, blanketed by an angry squall approaching from the East. A damp, cold chill slices through the air. The servants are outside doing battle with the elements, calming the horses, making preparations for tomorrow’s damned inauguration.

And here I find myself alone. An old, defeated man, scribing with trembling hands, squinting with watery eyes, flinching with aching teeth. Alone, yes.

Painfully alone.

All I have for company is a meek fire and a thimble’s worth of Madeira. The flames do little to warm this room, nor the other twelve fireplaces across this empty sarcophagus they call a Palace. Some Palace, indeed, with its barren walls and stacks of dusty crates. If not for the clothesline you left behind, there would be no trace of civilization whatsoever in our Nation’s illustrious new capital. Oh! Curse the day I agreed to leave Philadelphia for this place. The 4 o’clock stage cannot come soon enough.

I believe it is time for rum. 

One bottle remains in the kitchen. I intend to finish it. Better to drink myself into a reunion with our poor Charles than live to see Thomas Jefferson enjoy a single drop of spirit left behind.

Oh Abigail, curse me for thinking such things. I do not know what has become of me, or why I write to you now. Surely, I will arrive home long before its delivery.

Perhaps a moment to vent is all I need, to scribble my thoughts on paper lest I go to sleep with a crowded mind. I already feel better, as is always the case when I think of you. But I fear sleep is not in store for me tonight. There is so much work to be done. I have packing to attend to and am running out of time to waste.

The sky has come to life with rolling thunder and harsh lightning. There is something else, too. A queer noise, one of a peculiar cadence. Distant, yet close. Disagreeable, yet enchanting. Foreign, yet familiar. I cannot place it. Some type of animal, no doubt. Lord only knows what creatures lurk in the vast, foul swamp.

No matter. My procrastination must come to an end. I cannot wait to be home, for good, forever more. Losing this election may well have been for the best. I shall see you soon, but not soon enough.

Most affectionately yours,

J.A.

March 3 1801. Tuesday. 10 O’clock.

The rum suits me well. Each sip gets smoother, more refreshing. It will serve as the fuel I need to make it through the evening. Most importantly, it will keep my thoughts from Charles.

I cannot recall the last time I recorded a journal entry, but tonight seems a fitting return. In years past, I could fill pages and pages with the day’s accomplishments. But alas, on my final night as President, I have nothing but the mundane to report.

Writing and packing. Packing and writing. That is what remains for me.

Walking, too. Less a vigorous walk of exercise and more an aimless wander, stalking the halls of this empty palace like a spirit, candelabra in hand, the flames clinging to life through every whistle of wind. I am less a President and more an echo of the past, a footprint left in muddy sand, waiting for time to erase me from existence.

Judging by the rumbling walls and blinding white flashes, the worst of the storm will be here soon. The brightest strike occurred mere moments ago, as I wandered into the great room. It brought forth the cobwebs on the ceiling, the soot along the walls, the garments hanging across the clothesline.

And it brought forth Him.

His portrait, fixed atop the fireplace, perfectly centered, with its regal gold frame and glossed finish. There he stands, the conquering hero, the father of the nation, in his finest blue-and-buff uniform, watching over me. Always watching.

Of all the things this blasted palace exists without – proper plumbing, furnishings, ventilation, finished windows – they made damn sure not to forget Him. Will there be a portrait of me, someday, I wonder? Doubtful. And if one should ever exist, it will be half the size and tucked away in a powder room.

Ay, President Washington, I see you now. I stoked the fire so we can sit face to face, like our days in the continental congress, two young revolutionaries with grand ambition and little sense.

Tell me, do you remember who convinced you to lead our newly formed army? Do you remember who provided you the men, the muskets, the powder, the blankets, the linen, the bandages? Do you remember who spoke on your behalf when your stoic face could not be bothered to move but an inch? Where are the songs about me, then? Where is my grand portrait? Nay, sir, you are the hero and I am but the man who followed the hero.

Of all the challenges of my Presidency, there were none greater than living under your shadow. And here you are, still, on my last night, to see me away. Here you–

That strange noise again. A scream? No, more of a wail. A howl. One of the servants, perhaps? They should all come inside. The storm is upon us. I shall call for them at once. The company would be most welcome anyhow.

10:34.

The servants have gone! Lost to the wilderness, to the twisted trees and moss-covered ground, the knee-high brush and icy marsh. I remained outside as long as I could bear it. There were footprints in the muck, leading into the swamp, scattered like an aimless stampede. I followed them as deep as I dared go, until the trees swallowed me whole and the grime caked my boots.

That is when I saw it.

A set of men’s clothes. A very tall man, by the looks of them. Wide in the shoulder and long in the leg. A suit of brown Hartford broadcloth with metal buttons in the shape of Eagles. Shoes with silver buckles and mud-stained stockings. But, what is most striking is the sword. Not a typical dress sword, no. Long and sharp, made from the finest steel I have ever felt. It left a cut on my right index finger with a simple touch.

Who would leave such an impressive uniform behind? Am I to believe a naked man is frolicking about in this weather? Braving the unknown swamp? Might that have been the source of the mysterious noise? Does a man lay dying at the footsteps of the Presidential Palace?

I have brought the clothes inside and locked the doors. The sky has unleashed a fierce tempest. I pity anyone outside in this weather. They are in for a wicked evening, without the comfort of rum.

10:48.

I am beginning to suspect something frightened the servants away. What could cause twenty able-bodied souls to run off in such a manner, I do not know, but I shall not venture outside again to find out.

As the skies have opened, so too, have the noises. Oh! These damnable noises! For every clap of thunder, every strike of lightning, every rush of rainfall, there is a scream, a wail, a guttural snarl, sounding less human with every passing minute.

The noises are all around me, echoing in this dark labyrinth of plaster and smoke. I swear, too, that I have seen a pair of eyes, orange and glowing, burning bright, roaming from window to window. As if they are watching me. As if something circles its prey.

Alas, there is a good chance this is only the rum speaking. I find myself a quarter into the bottle not one hour since opening it.

10:55.

As I think more on the matter, I am reminded of a story, one I heard aboard the Boston during my first voyage to France.

I recorded the tale in one of my prior entries. I shall go search for it now. The details could be of great assistance. Oh! The loudest crack of lightning yet. I must hurry. This night grows harsher.

11:22.

My hands are thick with dust. Cobwebs cover my fingers. I have inhaled enough indoor contaminants to make Benjamin Franklin wheeze in his grave. But I have found it. The journal entry from all those years ago. It is more striking than I remember and fills me with grave concern. Could this be what lurks beyond the walls?

I have included the entry below:

February 19 1778. Thursday.

The Heavens blessed us with strong winds today. Captain Tucker advises that we are back on course after that minor squabble with our British adversaries. But the seas remain rough, unforgiving. I do not know which is worse, the constant rocking or the stench of stagnant water. My stomach remains in a fragile state.

I write under a dripping wooden ceiling. It creaks and groans in slow, measured breaths. John Quincy is fast asleep beside me. I must admit, the boy’s bravery has surprised everyone onboard, his father most of all. I am so happy I brought him.

I am not certain how Charles would fare out here. He is younger, to be sure, but I do not think he has the disposition, nor the fortitude, to withstand a journey like this. I pray he is behaving himself while I am away. 

Despite the perils that lie ahead, I must admit to fearing very little. There is a peculiar French seaman on board who keeps us entertained, distracted. He will not share his full birth name and insists we refer to him only as “Henri.” His hair remains drenched with seawater, always, and what few teeth he has left are black and rotting.

But the man has a penchant for storytelling. He gathers the passengers below deck every evening and regales us with tales from his homeland. Tonight, he told the most fascinating tale yet, and though I had to cover John Quincey’s ears at parts, I will be damned if I should lose such a story to time and old age…

There once was a great French knight, handsome and noble, save for one curious flaw. Whenever the moon was full, he would vanish into the woods, never telling a soul of his whereabouts, or what kept drawing him in. He would return home days later, naked as Adam, soiled clothes at his side.

As the years pass, his wife grows incensed by his behavior. One night, she confronts him upon his return. The knight tells her:

My lady, I turn Bisclavret;

I plunge into that great forest.

In thick woods I like it best.

I live on what prey I can get.

The knight hides his clothes near an old chapel, for if they should disappear, he will become Bisclavret for eternity. Horrified by what she hears, his wife devises a plan to escape his wicked curse. She enlists the help of another knight, one with a keen eye for her, and steals her husband’s clothes during the next full moon, damning him to live out his days as the monster Bisclavret.

One year later, while the King is hunting in the woods, he comes across Bisclavret. The King is alarmed at first, but calms when Bisclavret drops to a knee and kisses his feet. The King spares his life and takes Bisclavret in his court.

All does not end well, however. Soon after, the King hosts a grand feast, and Bisclavret’s devious wife and new husband attend. Blinded by a feral rage, Bisclavret attacks, sinking his teeth into the knight’s throat, tearing his wife’s nose from her face.

The King sentences Bisclavret to death, but his wife confesses her misdeeds and returns his clothes. Horrified, Bisclavret refuses to dress in public. He waits until he is alone, ashamed now of his true form, damned to a life from public view, in absolute solitude…

When I inquired with Henri as to how Bisclavret translates to English, he paused, thought for many moments, touched a finger to his rugged chin. Finally, his lips pursed and curled, as if forcing the words from his mouth.

Werewolf. Bisclavret means Werewolf.

Washington March 3, 1801

Dear “Mr. President”

I must admit, good sir (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense), that you have taken me for a ride. Here you have me, at thirty minutes to midnight, locked in my study, scouring through old journal entries, jumping like a small child at the slightest bit of noise, drinking rum at a torrid pace, and working myself into a frenzied state.

Bravo, Thomas. Bravo.

It all makes perfect sense. How did I not arrive at this conclusion earlier? This is all your doing. Yet another Republican scheme to drive me to madness. You think you have me fooled, but you do not. It has always been you behind the scenes, has it not? The ultimate puppet master, twirling the strings of your Southern cronies while they do your putrid bidding. You might have fooled the Nation, but you will never fool John Adams!

It was your idea to have the capital moved to this godforsaken swamp. You insisted I move in before the end of my term, before the damned thing was even finished. Why? So you could torment me. How many of you are outside right now? How many Republicans dance around this house? Risking all manner of illness on this wet and frozen night, just so they can run back to you like dogs and get a pat on the head.

I remember the names, my old friend, every last one of them. I do not recall any protest from you when your Southern colleagues dubbed me, “His Rotundity.” I am all but certain you snickered under your breath.

And what about the others? Did you snicker at them, too? John Adams the warmonger, the monarchist, the repulsive pendant, the gross hypocrite, the egregious fool. And, my personal favorite, the hideous hermaphrodite. If my Harvard education is of any value, I do believe that a hermaphrodite possesses the sex organs of both male and female. And if that be the case, then I cannot think of a more apt description of you, good sir, as your flaccid demeanor and aversion to public opinion make it impossible to determine which side of any issue you stand!

Some Vice President, you have been. You spent the last four years so effectively separating yourself from my administration, and the duties of governing, that you could not be held accountable for anything that has disappointed, displeased, or infuriated anyone. Leave me to take all the arrows. Perhaps my memory fails me again, but I do not recall your private objection to the taxes, the standing army, the Alien act, the Sedition act, or anything else for that matter.

But perhaps the greatest ruse of your career was to convince a majority of delegates, and the citizens at large, that you are a champion of the people. Nay, a man of the people. Ha! I dare say there will never be another pied piper as effective as you, fooling the poor and working class that a wealthy land baron has their best interests at heart.

This is the same Thomas Jefferson who hails from a southern mansion, is it not? The same Thomas Jefferson who wears blue frock coats, abhors city life, and prefers to spend his days reading literature in his robust library while an army of slaves tends to his every want and need? No need left unfulfilled, right Thomas?

Perhaps that is where the servants have run off to. Did you round them up and herd them straight to Monticello to build yet another wing? Could you stand the sight of servants doing the bidding of anyone but yourself?

I shall leave you with this lovely poem from your dear southern friend, John Page, another insult I committed to memory that I have no doubt you endorsed:

I’ll tell in a trice–

‘Tis old Daddy Vice

Who carries of pride an ass-load;

Who turns up his nose,

Wherever he goes

With vanity swelled like a toad.

Well I, good sir, much prefer to be a toad than a swine.

Regards,

J.A.

P.S. – Oh! And one more thing, with reg–

11:47.

I am shaken to my very soul. How do I describe what has transpired? Best to lay out the facts, only the facts, state my case and let the jury decide – as I have done (quite well, I might add) throughout my career.

As I was finishing my formal welcome letter to our Nation’s new President, the great and admirable Thomas Jefferson of Montezillo Monticello, there was a loud, sudden noise. A grand thud, striking over and over, as if the Royal Army had landed again on our shores and taken a battering ram to the entrance.

I dropped my quill and, on unsteady legs, hurried over to investigate, forgetting for a moment about the creature that may or may not be roaming the grounds. I propelled my feet forward, one in front of the other, down the dark hallways of this unfinished monstrosity, the flickering light of the candelabra proving a questionable guide. The rain fell all around me, cascading from the roof, like a giant wave was preparing to sweep me away.

As I approached the great doors, the thudding continued, but weaker in strength. I paused for a moment, took a quick breath through my nostrils and out my aching mouth. Bang! One final blow sent the doors rattling.

That is when I heard it.

A scream. Not the same scream as before, no, this one more… human. Yes, I thought to myself, that scream belongs to a man. An ailing man.

I broached a timid step toward the great doors. A lightning strike charged the sky, its glow bathing through the windows. Time ceased to move.

“Who goes there?” I asked, perhaps louder than I needed. There may have been a crack in my voice, so I asked again. “Who goes there?”

Another scream. This one, worse than before. I leapt forward and reached for the handle, but another burst of lightning sent me stumbling backwards. The windows glowed in unison, a widening set of tarantula eyes.

And there he was.

The young rider from earlier, his bloody cheek pressed against the glass. He tried to speak, tried so hard, but nothing sensible came out.

“Good heavens!” I said, or something to that effect. With a rush of bravery, I gripped the door handles with all my might, pulled the blasted things open. A blast of wind, of cold air, of stabbing rain overtook me and almost knocked me off my feet. A lesser man (like Thomas Jefferson, for example) would have fallen, but I held my ground.

“Hurry,” I yelled. “Come inside at once!”

I do not know if the rider heard me, the storm was so loud, but he staggered forward and fell inside all the same. I tried to bring him to his feet, but at my advanced age, my strength is not what it used to be.

The poor boy, I thought. For that’s what he was, a boy. Fresh-faced. Clean shaven. Curly, brown hair. For a moment, with the glow of the candles at my side, I dare say the rider resembled Charles. My dear, departed Charles.

But I could not dwell on that thought. I bent over and dragged the ailing rider across the parlor and into the great room, the large fireplace roaring. The rider’s body left a crimson trail in its wake.

“Stay with me, son,” I kept saying, “stay with me!”

This next part, I admit, is difficult to write.

His throat was torn from chin to chest, the muscles visible when he tried to speak, pulling and tightening like splintered rope. I held my finger to his lips, tried to keep him quiet, so that he did not strain himself. I tried to reassure him. I tried to tell him everything would be fine.

My dear Charles. My sweet boy. 

His clothes clung to him in ribbons. I moved him close to the fireplace, propped him up against the wall, told him to wait for a moment, to try and breathe. Surely, I could have repurposed some of the hanging garments to stop the bleeding. I had enough rum left to dull his pain. There were other things I could have done, too. If he could just hold out until the morning, when the stage arrived, when the storm had passed, I could get him to the nearest town, get him proper medical care.

But it was all for naught.

He died in my arms.

I was too late. If only I had come to the door sooner, perhaps I could have saved him. If only my Presidential duties had not interfered. Why had I sent the rider out with such weather approaching? I saw the warning signs, but chose to ignore them.

Charles was dead. Killed by a horrible beast, a horrible beast that still roamed the Presidential Palace. I held him against my chest, his blood soaking my clothes There was nothing more to be done.

A rumble of thunder gave the roof a shake. The rain lightened, stopped, started all over again. I do not know what came over me, but I reared back my head and screamed. I cursed the beast, this palace, God himself, Thomas Jefferson, Republicans, Federalists, the lot of them. And myself. Myself, most of all. I screamed and screamed until I could scream no longer. Until my lungs set ablaze. 

Then the clock struck midnight, and I wept.

I still do.

I never stopped.

Washington March 4, 1801

Dear Charles

My son, I am so sorry. I have failed you again. I have wasted so much of my life fathering an ungrateful nation that I neglected my duties as a real father. And look what it did to you.

I learned of your death the morning of December 3, the day the electors convened. It is not as if the news did not strike me, but I admit to feeling a certain numbness. I took those feelings and buried them deep in my stomach, somewhere unseen, unfeeling, and carried on about my day. Channeling all that sorrow into the election. Channeling all that rage.

The rage that comes when a father knows he is to blame, for everything. For I knew the drink had grabbed hold of you, squeezing your life with every drop. I remember the last time I saw you, your constitution was so shaken, every movement a dreadful, painful chore. Your mind seemed so deranged. The vibrant, young boy I once knew was gone. A lost, pained man now stood in his place.

The pressures of being the son of John Adams, the younger brother of John Quincey, the heir apparent to the political throne, must have weighed on you so. And yet, I said nothing. You were a boy of many interests, a child so tender and amiable, yet I forced you to follow in my footsteps – to farm, to practice law, to be a statesman. It was all so natural for John Quincey, but not so for you. Rather than embrace your unique spirit, I ignored it, forced you down a path you did not wish to travel. And for that, I am ashamed.

What is worse, I saw the toll this life took on you, yet I demanded you get on with it, toughen up, as if I am one to speak on such things. There is too much of my own father, Deacon John, in me. God rest his soul.

When I learned that you had disappeared, gone bankrupt, lost your faith, and turned to the drink, I said such horrible things, thought such horrible things. I would do anything to take them back. I would do anything to see you again.

And now, as darkness settles over this horrid land, and the fireplace dampens in this horrid room, and the beast continues its horrid dance around this horrid palace, waiting for the moment to burst through the walls and finish what it started, I shall wait.

I shall wait for it to put me out of my misery. I shall wait for it to reunite us in eternity, where I will be in your debt, begging for forgiveness.

Your tender father

J.A.

March 4 1801. Wednesday. 12:30.

I have retreated to one of the guestrooms for the remainder of the night. I feel safer here. The fireplace provides good warmth in close quarters. I am writing on the floor, tucked away in the corner, with a small candle to my left and the rum to my right.

I fixed the bed against the door and pushed the wooden dresser in front of the window. My clothes have been stripped and tossed into the fire. If I should die, be ripped limb from limb, I would rather it be in my natural state than in clothes stained with the blood of my dead son. 

Outside, the rain has calmed, but the lightning and thunder continue, trading blows like two towering knights in and endless joust. The beast is circling the grounds. Always circling. Always howling. Whatever pleasure it got from killing Charles has not quenched its bloodlust.

I shall see what happens first. Daybreak, or the beast gaining access to the palace. I fear the latter is far more possible.

12:48.

The great grandfather clock ticks away, echoing down the mighty halls. That is how I am keeping time. An exact science, it is not. But it is helping to keep me sane. That and the rum, this sweet sweet rum that has numbed me to the point of total indifference. If the beast is to come inside, let it. I am ready.

12:55.

My mind has begun a tournament of cruel tricks. Across the room, a pulpit rose from the ground. Deacon John emerged, dressed in his finest cloth, arms raised to the sky. From under the bed came the pained tears of an infant. I would swear on my mother’s life that Susanna, our poor little girl, was suffering through her fatal illness all over again. Abigail appeared, too, weeping tears of blood, pointing at me, her arm a quivering arrow.

On and on these visions have come. I cannot stand this much longer.

1:03.

Oh! The sound of shattering glass, somewhere in the house. The beast is inside. It has come for me.

1:06.

Footsteps, marching along the floorboards. Two long shadows appeared beneath the door, moved away. Perhaps it has not heard me. Perhaps it is confused. Perhaps I am safe after all.

1:08.

Something has angered the beast. It is ripping open doors, one after the other, clawing at the walls, frothing at the mouth, howling its terrible howl. It is only a matter of time before it arrives again at my door. God be with me.

1:09.

It is here. God have mercy, it is here! Outside the door, the shadowed feet have returned.

1:10.

I cannot believe it.The beast laughed. In place of its animalistic howl, a deep belly laugh rang through the halls. Then, the beast continued on, resuming its destruction in the next room, tearing through the Presidential Palace like some kind of manic storm.

1:12.

 If only Thomas Jefferson could see me now. He and all his Republican cohorts. Alexander Hamilton, too, that damnable villain with the devil’s eyes, and all the Federalist minions he bamboozled. If all of my enemies could see me, they would undoubtedly join with laughter of their own. Perhaps louder than the beast!

Here sits President John Adams, cowering in fear, a naked old fool of a man, counting down the minutes until his inevitable demise. A mere boil on the hindquarters of George Washington. Just like they all suspected. I have become the myth they made me out to be.

But no longer.

While I still remain in the Presidential Palace, I intend to act like the President. I will not sit idly by while some abominable beast runs amuck, destroying the People’s property, waiting to be killed like some ailing pig!

I shall avenge Charles’s death. Or I shall die trying.

Washington March 4, 1801

My Fellow Americans

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one person to dissolve a ruthless monster from its own head, so it must be done. For we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights (Benjamin Franklin’s idea, it should be noted), that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Anything that stands in the way of these rights, be it of earthly or supernatural origin, shall be dealt with in the most absolute manner, using the full power of the Presidency. And until Thomas Jefferson rides up from his sprawling estate at Montezillo Monticello, I am still the President, and I will do my duty.

Yes, I, John Adams, having never fought in battle, having never donned a uniform of war, having never fired a musket at the enemy nor manned a cannon, will lead the charge. For even though I lack the experience (and youth) of a soldier, I have served this nation with something far greater. My mind.

Though I was not granted a second term, I am filled with Pride. I am prideful of the new navy of more than 50 ships and 5,000 officers, prideful of our peace with France, prideful of an administration without a hint of scandal or corruption (my eyes to you, Mr. Hamilton), prideful to have staved off the warmongers who would lead us to ruin, prideful to have secured the backing of powerful allies during the Revolutionary War, prideful of the part I played in the first Continental Congress, the second Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the founding of this very nation.

I accept the decision of the electors, of the American people, and will take my defeat with grace. The American people do not deserve a broken and bitter President, incessantly airing their grievances and blaming others for their misgivings. For that is the ultimate sign of weakness. And I am done being weak.

As I write this, a beast runs rampant through the Presidential Palace. It wishes to destroy me and wreak untold havoc across our lands. But I shall not stand for it. I will march out of this room with my shoulders back and my chin high. I will take up arms against it. I will defend this land, as I have done throughout my life. I will defend my people.

I, therefore, President John Adams of the United States of America, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of my intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, that I will kill the beast.

You’re Welcome

J.A.

3:22.

My body is covered in all manner of blood, viscera, brains, the messy coating of a man who has been reborn. I will describe what has transpired in real time, exactly as it happened:

The Hunt.

Rum splashes across my lips, the last drops trickling from an empty bottle. I toss it on the floor but the glass does not break. I will need to show more strength than that in my duel with the beast.

I clear my throat, swallowing back a lump, another lump, my body protesting what is about to transpire. On wobbly knees and aching feet, I march forward. The fireplace crackles behind me, washing the walls in shadowed flame, breathing against my naked back. I inch forward, closing and opening my fists, knuckles cracking with the flames.

The bed is easy to move, easier than I thought, for it was not as secure against the door as I intended. The beast could have breached it, gained access to the room, and killed me in an instant. But that was before, when courage evaded me. Now, it is firmly in my grasp.

I crack the door ajar and peer into the hallway. Darkness shrouds my view, but the Palace is alive with noise. Howls, heavy footsteps, scratching along the walls, froth and drool swirling inside a cauldron-like mouth. The beast is close, yes, somewhere in the black abyss. I have a small window to act. And act, I shall.

The floor is cold against my feet. I walk with a measured pace, careful not to slip and fall, which would all but seal my fate. My skin comes alive with gooseflesh.

Deep scratches run along the walls. The floor is rife with holes. Sharp gusts of wind whip down the hallway from every direction. The windows have been shattered.

The weather worsens, but it is not unwelcome. The lightning guides me forward. The thunder steadies my heart. Raindrops run down my back, keeping me alert.

The bedroom door seems so far away now. I think of turning back, of locking myself away again. This was a horrible mistake, the ludicrous idea of an old, drunken fool. Yes, I must turn back.

But something emerges in the distance. Two glowing orbs at the end of the hall, close together, narrowing. A flash of lightning reveals the lupine creature, crouching on four legs, thick with black fur, baring talons for teeth.

I have reached the point of no return. My mission shall proceed.

I turn back towards the great room and press forward, my pace quickening. A gallop starts behind me, gaining in speed. But this is the Presidential Palace, and I know it as well as the farms of Braintree. I can throw the beast off my tail.

I bank hard to the right, through the kitchen, past the servants’ quarters, feeling my way through a blackened fog. My sudden movements have confused the beast, taken it by surprise, just as intended. It crashes from wall to wall, its large body struggling through unfamiliar terrain. The woods are its natural element. But it is in my element now.

With the time I have afforded myself, I hurry into the great room, the fireplace still alive, the portrait of George Washington watching over me. The clothes are right where I left them, the only thing in the house the beast has not disturbed. It howls, somewhere in a nearby room. I must be quick.

The sword is awash with red flame, glistening near the fire. I raise it from the ground, the handle hot to the touch. I hold it high in the air, studying the blade, attempting to stab at the electric sky.

I think of Abigail, the children, the grandchildren. I think of plunging my hands into fresh tilled soil. I think of the mosquito-filled days of Summer in Philadelphia, spending countless hours in cramped quarters with wig-clad statesmen, forming this nation which we are fortunate to now reside. I smile. Perhaps my first of the night. Perhaps my first in ages. I close my eyes tight, imagining it all.

Then I hear it.

The approaching footsteps, fast at first, but slowing. Slowing until they come to a full stop. There is a deep breathing, a few inches from my face, pouring out of wicked nostrils. A foul odor fills the room.

I open my eyes to the beast, so close we stand nose-to-snout. It sits back on its hind legs, straightening its back, until it towers over me, blotting out the room. The fireplace, the clothes, George Washington, all of it gone.

We stare at each other, our unspoken game, neither backing down. No clap of thunder, no strike of lightning, no whisk of wind, nothing will break our concentration. Not even the tick of the grandfather clock. The hour turns to three.

The beast stands tall, proudly, blood coating its mouth. It has the body of a bloated wolf, stretched to unimaginable limits, the physique of a fierce Hessian mercenary. Its face, a terrible face, with burning eyes and a serpentine tongue, curling its mouth into a demented smile, no doubt waiting for me to attempt the first blow.

“You do not scare me,” I say, as if it speaks American English. “I have faced worse enemies than you.” I tighten my grip on the sword. “In fact, one will be here tomorrow. And he is much uglier.”

The beast cocks its head, trying to understand. It drops its claws for a moment.

That is when I strike.

Sparks erupt, the sword’s blade colliding with raised claws. The beast blocks my first swing, but I do not give in. I strike again, harder, but the beast follows the blade with its paw. Strike and block, strike and block, two great fencing partners engaged in a delicate dance. The beast roars after another block, lowering its face towards mine. I roar back, not giving an inch.

We go back and forth like this for an eternity, working our way around the room. I am fatigued, but I try to push through it. My form is looser now, sloppy, as the strength in my arm recedes. My shoulder wails in pain with each strike. I stab at the beast, straight ahead, wildly, but it jumps backwards, causing me to stumble.

This is my fatal error, for the beast strikes a crushing blow, cutting me from wrist to elbow. The sword falls to the ground. I reach for it, but the beast digs its claws into my chest and, with a swift, upward motion, sends me hurling across the room.

I hit the floor knees first, wrapped in a painful cocoon. I tumble against the wall. The portrait of George Washington rattles above me.

My thoughts again turn to Abigail as the beast approaches, its long shadow working across the floor, climbing up the wall. Oh Abigail, how I wish to have seen you one last time. How I regret to leave you in such a manner. Perhaps you will rest easy knowing your husband fought until the bitter end. That he died defending his country.

The beast plants its monstrous feet in front of me, claws plunging into the floor. It crouches back again on its hind legs, mouth wide open. The laughter returns, rattling the walls. The portrait swings back and forth, bringing George Washington to life, like he is ready to burst through the brushstrokes and charge into battle. An idea strikes me.

As the beast rears back its foul head one last time, I summon whatever strength I have left and spring to my feet. I bring my fists back against the wall as hard as I can. The portrait falls, loosened by a night of commotion. I catch it on its way to the ground, the great frame heavier than I anticipated, but I cannot let that stop me. I raise the portrait in the air, leap off the balls of my feet, and smash it on top of the creature’s head.

By the sounds that come from its mouth, the beast does not appreciate the warm embrace from General Washington. I sympathize. Its arms are fixed at its sides, struggling to break free from the golden frame. I do not have much time. I must make my move.

The sword glistens in the distance, showing me the way, leading me to it. I maneuver around the beast and pick it off the ground. I return, weapon in tow.

The beast howls, shrieks. Dare I say, a look of panic crosses its face. I have it now.

I lose count of the strikes to its neck. More than ten. Less than fifty. Blood splatters along the walls, coats the floor, covers my face, dampens the fire, but I do not stop. I think of all my enemies, standing in front of me, with one collective neck. I strike and strike and strike until a severed head hits my feet and the monstrous body follows suit.

My shoulders slump. I take in measured gulps of cool, night air until the flames on my lungs are extinguished. I holster the sword in an invisible sheath.

I lean forward, hands fixed to my knees, and wretch. It all comes out of me, the Madeira, the rum, this morning’s hard cider, all of it. With the contents of my stomach empty, I catch my breath.

The severed head has the size and girth of a young bull. It begins to shrink, to change form. The black fur peels off, the eyes expand, the snout disintegrates. The face of a beast washes away. The face of a human emerges.

My face. By God, it is my own face! It stares back at me with dead, lifeless eyes. The head of John Adams. Bidding one final adieu to the Presidential Palace.

And then it melts away, until it is nothing more than a festering puddle of muck. The night is over. The beast is dead. 

Washington March 4, 1801

My Dearest Friend

Though it is still too early for sunrise, I feel the day beginning anew. I am writing as a man ready to embrace the next chapter of my life, ready to leave the past where it belongs, and to let historians be my judge. Most of all, I am ready to be the husband, father, and grandfather that my family deserves. It is what Charles would want.

The crates are packed, but please do not be disappointed if I have forgotten a thing or two. I am an aging man, after all. So much so, that I had a minor fall in the wilderness which left me with many cuts and bruises. Do not be alarmed, I shall recover. And as for my loose-fitting clothing, well, that is a long affair to recount.

I bid farewell to the Presidential Palace with a smile across my face. This is a residence more suited for a man like Thomas Jefferson anyway. I made sure to leave behind a letter congratulating him on a hard-earned victory. I also left him a special gift in the main bedroom. It is sure to give him a frightful surprise.

The stage is approaching now, emerging from the rain-soaked swamp, clearing the fog as it goes. Despite tonight’s turbulent weather, it appears I shall be leaving on time. I cannot wait to be with you again. I cannot wait to tend the land, to read, to be amongst my countrymen as a citizen of this great Nation. Oh Abigail, I am ready to be home.

Most affectionately yours,

J.A.


Kevin Johnson is a Product Manager by day and a writer of creepy tales by night. He grew up in the horror aisles of Blockbuster Video and lives by the creed, “what if you added a monster?” You can find him on Twitter @KevinDGJohnson.


If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy “The Thwarted Kingdom” dark fiction by Titus Green.

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