London, England, 1891
He reached down and lifted the skull from the grave. It was old and battered, its jaw missing, the eye sockets fixed in an eternal stare. The man who held it brushed dirt from the cheeks and brow and held it in one hand, considering the lines and planes of the old bones. The eyes of the skull and the eyes of the man met and for a long minute they shared the secrets of eternity, the subtle truths of the grave.
"Alas," murmured the man in a voice that could hide no trace of the real hurt that wrenched his heart. "Poor Yorick." He half turned to his companion. "I knew him, Horatio."
In the shadows beyond a row of candles, thousands of invisible hands began applauding. Lawrence Talbot did not flick so much as a covert glance at the audience. His eyes remained locked with those of the skull, though his features shifted with a half dozen emotions as he turned the skull this way and that. When he regarded the brow his own brow knotted as if remembering old conversations; when turning it away from him his mouth betrayed the sadness of a boy suffering the disappointment of a beloved tutor; when he tilted the head back he smiled in remembrance of countless old jests. He shared the moment with the skull while the applause ran its course, and when it abated he spoke softly.
". . . a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times. And now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? No one now to mock your own grinning. Quite chap-fallen?"
Lawrence did not shout or bleat. He spoke with tenderness to the skull and everyone in the theater bent forward to be included in the private discourse, hanging on his words, their senses entirely given over to the soft voice of the Prince of Denmark, for— to the watching crowd— this was not Lawrence Talbot, the American actor, this was Hamlet himself. Alive, real, his mocking words clear evidence of the tortured pain within his troubled soul.
Except for one man, a well-dressed buffoon to whom Shakespeare was a bore and Shakespeare performed, a torment. Before Hamlet and Horatio had wandered into the cemetery the man had nodded and drifted off to sleep and now his buzzing snore sought to undercut the moment.
But Lawrence was too practiced a professional to allow a fool to upstage him. He tossed the skull into the man’s lap and continued with his soliloquy as if the act had been staged to include this moment. The skull landed hard on sensitive softness and the man shot upright in his seat, flushing red as the crowd around him erupted into laughter.
"Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her," continued Lawrence as he drew his energy and all eyes back to center stage, "let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come . . ."
Lawrence wore a suit of dark velvet and a ruffled shirt open to midchest. His wavy hair was as black as the pit and it framed a face that was rough and thoughtful and angry and handsome. "Brutally handsome" was the phrase used by The Times theater reviewer. He knew that everyone packed into the theater had read that review, and more than half of them were there because of it. When he stepped close to the footlights he was able to see past them to the rows of faces, each as pale as the moon, tilted up toward him, eyes fixed on him. The naked adoration in the faces of the women stoked fires within him, but the similarity of the faces— each as empty and vacuous and uncomprehending as the next— made him feel cold, empty. Gutted.
His full lips curled into a sneer. But they saw it as a smile and the applause rolled over him in waves.
Excerpted from The Wolfman by Jonathan Maberry.
Copyright © 2010 by Jonathan Maberry.
Published in February 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates.
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