Up next, a creepy tale from Roald Dahl, written for an adult audience. Definitely not as depressing as the Nabokov but one of those "ick" stories that make you crinkle your nose in distaste. Or so it made me, being wimpish about any matters related to blood... But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I only recently learned Dahl had this other side to him, dark and clearly adult prose in style which he wrote a number of books of short stories. Maybe novels, as well. I don't recall. I was intrigued, so I picked up one of his story collections at Barnes & Noble. Now I come to find out some of his stuff's available for free online, like "Man from the South." Huh. What do you know. Perhaps I should have checked that first but I assumed his work was still in copyright. Then again, maybe it is and this one slipped under the radar.
It's not as if Dahl's exactly cheery in his writing for children, either, which is why I enjoy his stuff. He doesn't dumb down, doesn't pretend life's one fun experience after another or that childhood's one, long sunshiney day filled with rainbows and lollipops. I like that he doesn't shield children, doesn't shy away from negativity. His writing for children is just a bit more judicious as far as avoiding adult situations and more graphic violence.
"Man From the South" is set in a vague location, somewhere the weather is nice and warm. The time period isn't mentioned but it's definitely modern. It starts with an unnamed Englishman 'Everyman' sort of character, of middle class or so, who's sipping a drink by a swimming pool, watching American sailors splashing around with English girls, just having a good time.
A small, well-dressed man with darker skin walks up and joins him, asking who these people are, and the man answers. The little man's accent could be Spanish or Italian, the Englishman can't distinguish what it is. He only knows the little man is foreign.
One of the American sailors appears, offering cigarettes. The Englishman takes one, the little man refuses, saying he smokes cigars. Brandishing his lighter, the sailor offers to light the little man's cigar. He scoffs, saying no way will his lighter light on this windy day. The sailor argues, then the man asks if he's a betting man. The sailor is, so he suggests a wager. If the sailor's lighter will light ten times in a row, up in the little man's hotel room, he'll get the man's car - a one-year old Cadillac.
The sailor's shocked, protesting he doesn't have anything to offer that's worth anything near that kind of money. The little man responds that isn't necessary:
"Some small ting you can afford to give away, and if you did happen to lose it you would not feel too bad. Right?"
"Such as what?"
"Such as, perhaps, de little finger of your left hand."
"My what! The boy stopped grinning."
"Yes. Why not? You win, you take de car. You loose, I take de finger."
"I don't get it. How d'you mean, you take the finger?"
"I chop it off."
The sailor relents, deciding to take the bet. After all, it's only ten flicks of the lighter and he knows it's never failed to light before. Plus, inside there's no wind. The prospect of winning a Cadillac is too compelling and the thought of losing the little finger on his left hand trivial.
The Englishman, the sailor, the little man and an English girl who was with the sailor go to the little man's room, where he gets set up for the bet.
The sailor starts flicking the lighter: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight...
Then... WHAT? You think I'm actually going to tell you? Methinks not but the twist is one you won't expect, I can almost guarantee it, unless you're a medium or something.
I have to run. But note I did finish two entire short stories...