He Who Drinks From Lethe… is a short story by John Wayne Falbey. I would feel guilty if, during the month of Halloween, I failed to read and comment on at least one “spooky” story. The story description on Amazon calls this a “Neo-Gothic horror tale in short story format.” I do not have a sense of what that means so …
There are several interesting contrasts in this 17-page short story. The four fishermen each represent a different social environment. Sir Edward is an old school polite English nobleman. Major Cedric Smythe-Thomas is s former, perhaps retired, British officer and son-in-law of Sir Edward. He is fond of telling war stories which leaves listeners wondering about their veracity. Major Cedric over compensates possibly in his desire to be a nobleman. Larrigan is an investigative journalist and an employee of one of Sir Edward’s tabloids. Arrogant, he observes others carefully as he seeks to find and exploit their weaknesses. Taggart is a one-armed native tourist guide from Florida. He is there to guide the party but he is not in charge; he is there to serve. Taggart feels that he and “his people,” the locals, are looked down upon by all tourists but especially by this aristocratic British fishing party.
The four are in two boats. The arrogant Larrigan is paired with the boisterous extrovert Smyth-Thomas. The reserved Sir Edward is in a boat with the silent, taciturn, slightly resentful Taggart. As they travel along a river, they observe the mouth of a creek that seems to have darker water and an abundance of trees that shade its course. Three Brits want to investigate. The silent Taggart indicates through body language that he is terrified. Verbally, he warns each person of danger and tries to stop them from entering the creek. But he won’t tell them why. As the weather seems to worsen, the fishing party returns to camp for a night of drinking and card playing. Eventually, Larrigan goads Taggart into telling the story of the mysterious creek, the lake into which it opens, and the mysterious deserted mansion that the party did not have time to explore due to bad weather.
This is a 17-page story so if you want to know the tale, you will have to spend the USD 0.99 or get it free through a promotion. The tale is unusual and worth the money. Larrigan, of course, didn’t believe the story. And he was tired of drinking and playing cards so he decided to return to the creek and explore on his own. Bad decision. The reactions of the other three will amaze the reader.
The contrast in language use among the members of the party is fun to read. Here are a couple of examples:
From Smythe-Thomas trying to avoid exploring the mysterious creek, “I say, there’s a bloody awful chill hereabouts. What say we move along, old stick?” (Kindle location 73).
From Taggart trying to discourage a foolhardy disregard of local legend, “’Cause ain’t nobody ever goes up thar’.” (Kindle location 62) And …
“Ain’t sayin’ thar’s anythin’ back up thar’!” (Kindle location 73).
The author’s language use in this story is of an older, more traditional style than modern use. Here is one of my favorite passages describing the creek:
“Strangely, the creek’s turbid waters seemed even darker than those of the river into which it flowed. At this confluence, the water of the much larger river appeared to shrink back from those of the smaller creek, as though purposely recoiling from something sinister and frightening.” (Kindle locations 62-64).
I gave this five Amazon stars because of the amount of information and numbers of conflicts the author deals within such a short story. Have you ever wondered about the origin of the word “cracker?” You will find it in this story. On its surface, as used today, it is insulting. But Taggart is proud to call himself a cracker. Read the story to discover this fun fact.