Beyond Fantasy Fiction/Volume 1/Issue 1/Share Alike

Share Alike  (1953) 
Jerome Bixby and Joe E. Dean

Share Alike

By JEROME BIXBY
and JOE E. DEAN

Illustrated by KOSSIN


Casting bread upon the water is fine

— as long as you're not the bread!


THEY spread-eagled themselves in the lifeboat, bracing hands and feet against the gunwales.

Above them, the pitted and barnacled stern of the S. S. Luciano, two days out of Palermo and now headed for hell, reared up hugely into the overcast of oily black smoke that boiled from ports and superstructure. Craig had time to note that the screws were still slowly turning, and that a woman was screaming from the crazily-tilted afterdeck. Then the smoke intervened—a dark pall that lowered about the lifeboat as the wind shifted, blotting out the sky, the ship.

Fire met water. One roared; the other hissed. Gouts of blazing gasoline flared through the smoke like flame demons dancing on the waves.

Groaning, shuddering, complaining with extreme bitterness, the ship plunged.

Sky and smoke became a sickening whirl, as the lifeboat tore into the churning water in a suicidal effort to follow the parent ship to the bottom. Spray flew; waves loomed, broke, fell away; the lifeboat shipped water. Craig cursed aloud, making rage a substitute for terror. Facing him, Hofmanstahal grinned sourly.

The small boat righted itself. It was still in violent motion, lurching aimlessly across a sea jagged with whitecaps; but Craig knew that the crisis was past. He lifted his face into the cold wind, pulling himself up from the water-slopping bottom of the boat until his chin rested on the gunwale.

A wide patch of brownish foam and oil-scum spread slowly from the vortex of exploding bubbles that rose from the vanished ship.

The sea quieted. A gull swooped down and lit on an orange-crate that had bobbed to the surface.

“Well,” said Craig. “Well. That’s that.”


HOFMANSTAHAL peeled off his shirt, wrung it out over the side. The hair that matted his thick chest and peeped from his armpits had a golden sheen that was highlighted by the sun. A small cut was under his left eye, a streak of oil across his forehead.

“You were of the crew?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“But not an A. B. You are too spindly for that.”

“I was navigator.”

Hofmanstahal chuckled, a deep sound that told of large lungs. “Do you think you can navigate us out of this, my friend?”

“I won’t have to. We’re in a well-traveled shipping lane. We’ll be picked up soon enough.”

“How soon might that be?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even knew if we got an SOS out; it all happened so fast.” Craig sighed, rolled over so that he sat with his back curved against the side of the boat. “I doubt if we did, though. The tanks right under the radio shack were the first to go. I wonder who got careless with a cigarette . . ."

“M’m. So we’ll eventually be picked up. And in the meantime, do we starve?”

Craig got up tiredly. “You underestimate the Merchant Marine.” He sloshed to the stern of the lifeboat, threw open the food locker. They saw kegs of water, tins of biscuits and salt meat, canned juices, a first-aid kit.

“More than enough,” Craig said. He turned, searched the surrounding swells. “I wonder if any other survived . . .

Hofmanstahal shook his head. “I have been looking too. No others. All were sucked down with the ship.”

Craig kept looking. Smoke, heaving stained water, débris, a few dying gasoline-flames — that was all.

Hofmanstahal said, “At least we shall be well fed. Did you have any close friends aboard?”

“No.” Craig sat down, pushed wet hair back from his forehead, let his hands fall to his lap. “And you?”

“Me? No one. I have outlived all my friends. I content myself with being a man of the crowd. A select group of bon vivants for drinking and conversation . . . it is enough."


SITTING with a seat between them, as if each somehow wanted to be alone, the men exchanged backgrounds. By his own account, Hofmanstahal was an adventurer. No locality could hold him for long, and he seldom revisited a place he already knew. He had been secretary to a former Resident in Malaya, and concerned himself with gems in Borneo, with teak in China; a few of his paintings had been displayed in the Galerie des Arts in Paris. He had been en route to Damascus to examine some old manuscripts which he believed might contain references to one of his ancestors.

“Although I was born in Brashov,” he said, “family records indicate that we had our beginnings elsewhere. You may think it snobbish, this delving into my background, but it is a hobby which has absorbed me for many years. I am not looking for glory; only for facts.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Craig said. “I envy you your colorful past.”

“Is yours so dull, then?”

“Not dull . . . the colors just aren’t so nice. I grew up in the Atlanta slums. Things were pretty rough when I was a kid—”

“You weren’t big enough to be tough.”

Craig nodded, wondering why he didn’t resent this second reference to his small size. He decided that it was because he liked the big man. Hofmanstahal wasn’t insolent, just candid and direct.

“I read a lot,” Craig went on. “My interest in astronomy led me into navigation while I was in the Navy. After I was mustered out I stayed at sea rather than go back to what I’d left.”

They continued to converse in low, earnest voices for the remainder of the afternoon. Always above them the white gulls circled.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” asked Craig.

Hofmanstahal looked up. His pale eyes narrowed. “Scavengers! See the wicked eyes, the cruel beaks! Pah!”

Craig shrugged. “Let’s eat. And hadn’t you better do something for that cut under your eye?”

Hofmanstahal shook his massive head. “You eat, if you wish. I am not hungry.” He touched his tongue to the dribble of blood that ran down his cheek.


THEY kept track of the days by cutting notches in the gunwale. There were two notches when Craig first began to wonder about Hofmanstahal.

They had arranged a system of rationing for food and water. It was far from being a strict ration, for there was plenty for both of them.

But Craig never saw Hofmanstahal eat.

The Rumanian, Craig thought, was a big man, he should certainly have an equally big appetite.

“I prefer,” said Hofmanstahal, when Craig asked about it, “to take my meals at night.”

Craig let it pass, assuming that the big man had a digestive disorder, or perhaps was one of those unfortunates who possess inhibitions about eating in front of others. Not that the latter seemed likely, considering Hofmanstahal’s amiably aggressive personality and the present unusual circumstances but, on the other hand, what did it matter? Let him eat standing on his head if he wanted to.

Next morning, when Craig opened the food locker to get his share, the food supply was apparently undiminished.

The morning after that, the same thing.

Another notch. Five days, now. And Craig found something else to puzzle about. He was eating well; yet he felt himself sinking deeper and deeper into a strange, uncaring lethargy, as if he were well on his way toward starvation.

He took advantage of the abundance of food to eat more than was his wont. It didn’t help.

Hofmanstahal, on the other hand, greeted each day with a sparkling eye and a spate of good-humored talk.

Both men by now had beards. Craig detested his, for it itched. Hofmanstahal was favoring his, combing it with his fingers, already training the mustache with insistent twiddlings of thumb and forefinger.

Craig lay wearily in the bow and watched.

“Hofmanstahal,” he said. “You’re not starving yourself on my account, are you? It isn’t necessary, you know.”

“No, my friend. I have never eaten better.”

“But you’ve hardly touched the stores.”

“Ah!” Hofmanstahal flexed his big muscles. Sunlight flickered along the golden hair that fuzzed his torso. “It is the inactivity. My appetite suffers.”


ANOTHER notch. Craig continued to wonder. Each day, each hour, found him weaker, more listless. He lay in the bow of the boat, soaking in the warmth of the sun, his eyes opaque, his body limp. Sometimes he let one hand dangle in the cool water; but the appearance of ugly, triangular shark fins put a stop to that.

“They are like all of nature, the sharks,” Hofmanstahal said. “They rend and kill, and give nothing in return for the food they so brutally take. They can offer only their very bodies, which are in turn devoured by larger creatures. And on and on. The world is not a pretty place, my friend.”

“Are men so different?”

“Men are the worst of all.”

Seven notches, now. Craig was growing weaker. He was positive by now that Hofmanstahal was simply not eating.

There were nine notches on the gunwale when Craig found that Hofmanstahal was eating, after all.

It was night, and the sea was rougher than it had been. The slap-slap of waves against the hull wakened Craig from a deep, trancelike sleep. That, and the oppressive feeling of a nearby presence.

He stirred, felt the presence withdraw. Through half-shut eyes he saw Hofmanstahal, darkly silhouetted against a sky ablaze with stars.

“You were crying out in your sleep, my friend.” The big man’s voice was solicitous. “Nightmare?”

“My throat . . . stinging, burning. I . . .

“The salt air. You will be all right in the morning.”

Craig’s face felt like a numb mask of clay. It was an effort to move his lips. “I think—I think I’m going—to die.”

“No. You are not going to die. You must not. If you die, I die.”

Craig thought about that. The rocking of the boat was gentle, soothing. A warmth stole over him, though the night was cool. He was weak, but comfortable; fearful, yet content. Head back, breathing easily, he let himself become aware of the glory of the heavens.

The constellation Perseus was slanting toward the western horizon, and Craig noted almost unconsciously, with the skill of long practice, that the variable star Algol was at its maximum brilliancy. Algol—the ghoul.

The thought lingered. It turned over and over in his mind, as his unconscious seemed to examine it for some hidden meaning.

Then, abruptly, the thought surged up into his conscious mind.

And he knew.

He lifted himself up to his elbows, supporting himself weakly.

“Hofmanstahal,” he said, “you’re a vampire. Aren’t you?”

The other’s chuckle was deep and melodious in the darkness.

“Answer me, Hofmanstahal. Are you a vampire?”

“Yes.”

CRAIG had fainted. Now it was as if layer after layer of blackness were being removed, bringing him closer to the light with every moment. A tiny sullen orange disk glowed in the darkness, expanding, increasing in brightness until it filled the world.

The blackness was gone, and he was staring up into the blinding, brassy heart of the sun.

He gasped and turned his head away.

There was music. Someone whistling a German folk tune.

Hofmanstahal . . .

Hofmanstahal sat in the stern, his brawny gold-fuzzed forearms resting on his knees.

The whistling stopped.

“Good morning, my friend. You have had a good, long rest.”

Craig stared, his lips working. Far above a gull called harshly, and was answered by one skimming at water level.

Hofmanstahal smiled. “You mustn’t look at me that way. I’m almost harmless, I assure you.” He laughed gently. “Things could be much worse, you know. Suppose, for example, I had been a werewolf. Eh?”

He waited a moment.

“Oh, yes, Lycanthropy is real—as real as those gulls out there. Or—more fitting, perhaps—as real as those sharks. Once, in Paris, I lived for three months with a young woman who was a public bath attendant by day and a werewolf by night. She would choose her victims by their—”


CRAIG listened numbly, aware that Hofmanstahal was merely making idle talk. The story of the female werewolf turned into an anecdote, patently untrue. Hofmanstahal chuckled at it, and seemed disappointed when Craig did not. There was a certain sensitive shyness about the big Rumanian, Craig thought . . . a sensitive vampire! Aware of Craig’s revulsion, he was camouflaging the situation with a flood of words.

“—And when the gendarme saw that the bullet which had killed her was an ordinary lead one, he said, ‘Messieurs, you have done this pauvre jeune fille a grave injustice.’ Ha! The moment was a sad one for me, but—”

“Stop it!” Craig gasped. “Go turn yourself into a bat or something and fly away. Just get out of my sight . . . my blood in your stomach . . .

He tried to turn away, and his elbows slipped. His shoulder-blades thumped the bottom of the boat. He lay there, eyes closed, and his throat thickened as if he wanted to laugh and vomit at the same time.

“I cannot turn myself into a bat, my friend. Ugly little creatures—” Hofmanstahal sighed heavily. “Nor do I sleep in a coffin. Nor does daylight kill me, as you can see. All that is superstition. Superstition! Do you know that my grandfather died with a white ash stake through his heart?” His beard tilted angrily. “Believe me, we variants have more to fear from the ignorant and superstitious than they from us. There are so many of them, and so few of us.”

Craig said, “You won’t touch me again!”

“Ah, but I must.”

“I’m still strong enough to fight you off.”

“But not strong enough to get at the food if I choose to prevent you.”

Craig shook his head. “I’ll throw myself overboard!”

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“That I cannot permit. Now, why not submit to the inevitable? Each day, I will supply you with your ration of food; each night, you will supply me with mine. A symbiotic relationship. What could be fairer?”

“Beast! Monster! I will not—”

Hofmanstahal sighed, and looked out over the tossing sea. “Monster. Always they say that of us; they, who feed off the burned flesh of living creatures.”


IT WAS the face of his father, stern and reproving, that Craig always saw before him during those long nights in the lifeboat. His father, who had been a Baptist minister. When the lifeboat drifted on a sea that was like glass, reflecting the stars with such clarity that the boat might have been suspended in a vast star-filled sphere, and Craig felt the warm, moist lips of the vampire at his throat—then conscience arose in the form of his father.

Well . . . he wasn’t submitting willingly. Not at first. But the food had been withheld until his belly twisted with hunger and he cried out with parched lips for water. Then, shudderingly, he had allowed the vampire to feed.

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It was not as bad as he had expected. An acute, stinging sensation as the sharp canines pricked the flesh (strange, that he had not noticed before how sharp they were); then numbness as the anesthetic venom did its work. The venom must have been a hypnotic. As the numbness spread toward his face, and his lips and cheeks became chill, strange colors danced before his eyes, blending and twining in cloudy patterns that sent his thoughts wandering down incomprehensible byways. He was part of Hofmanstahal. Hofmanstahal was part of him. The feeling was almost lascivious.

And each time it was less painful, less shocking, till finally it was mere routine.

Strangely, his conscience did not torment him during the day. The comfortable warmth and lassitude that before had only touched him now enveloped him completely. His thoughts were vague; memory tended to slip away from what had gone before, and to evade what was to come. The sea, the sky, the wheeling gulls were beautiful. And Hofmanstahal, vampire or not, was an interesting conversationalist.

“You are pale, friend Craig,” he would say. “Perhaps I have been too greedy. Do you know, with that wan face and the beard, you remind me of a poet I knew in Austria. For a long time he was one of my favorite companions. But perhaps you did not know that we prefer certain donors to others. Believe me, we are not the indiscriminate gluttons that literature would have you think.”

“How—did you become as you are?”

“How did I, Eric Hofmanstahal, become a vampire? That is a question with broad implications. I can tell you that my people were vampires, but that leaves unanswered the question of our origin. This I cannot tell you, though I have searched deeply into the matter. There are legends, of course, but they are contradictory.” Hofmanstahal stroked his beard and seemed lost in thought.

“Some say,” he went on, after a moment, “that when homo sapiens and the ape branched from a common ancestor, there was a third strain which was so despised by both that it was driven into obscurity. Others maintain that we came to Earth from another planet, in prehistoric times. There is even mention of a species which was quite different from man but which, because of man’s dominance over the earth, imitated him until it developed a physical likeness to him. Then there is the fanciful notion that we are servants of the Devil—one battalion among his legions, created by him to spread sorrow and misery throughout the ages of the world.

“Legends! We have been persecuted, imprisoned, burned alive; we have been classified as maniacs and perverts—all because our body chemistry is unlike that of man. We drink from the fountain of life while man feasts at the fleshpots of the dead; yet we are called monsters.” He crumpled a biscuit in his powerful hand and cast the pieces upon the water, which immediately boiled with sharks.

“Man!” he said softly.


LIFE went on. Craig ate. Hofmanstahal fed. And horror diminished with familiarity.

There were only the two of them, under the vast sky, rising and falling gently to the whim of the sea. The horizon was the edge of their world. No other existed. Night and day merged into gray sameness. Sea and sky were vague, warm reflections; the motion of the boat soothed. This was peace. There was no thought of resistance left in Craig. Hofmanstahal’s “symbiosis” became a way of life; then life itself.

There was time in plenty to gaze up at the stars, a pleasure which everyday exigencies had so often denied him. And there was strange, dark companionship; lips that sought his throat and drained away all thoughts of urgency or violent action, leaving him exhausted and somehow thrilled. It was peace. It was satisfaction. It was fulfilment.

Fear was lost in stupor; revulsion, in a certain sensuality. Hofmanstahal’s nightly visit was no longer a thing of horror, but the soft arrival of a friend whom he wanted to help with all his being, and who was in turn helping him. Night and day they exchanged life; and the life they nurtured became a single flow and purpose between them. Craig was the quiescent vessel of life, which Hofmanstahal filled every day, so that life might build itself against the coming of night and the return of its essence to Hofmanstahal.

Day and night marched above them toward the pale horizon that circumscribed their world. In their world values had changed, and the fact of change been forgotten.

Still, deep in his mind, Craig’s conscience wailed. Legend, history, the church, all at one time or another had said that vampires were evil. He was submitting to a vampire; therefore, he was submitting to evil. Food or no food, the Reverend Craig would never have submitted. He would have sharpened a stake or cast a silver bullet—

But there were no such things here. His father’s face rose before him to tell him that this did not matter. He sought to drive it away, but it remained. During the moments of nightly meeting, of warmth and strange intimacy, it glared down upon them brighter than the moon. But Hofmanstahal’s back was always turned to it; and Craig, in all his weakness and agony and ecstasy and indecision, did not mention it.


THEY had forgotten to carve the notches on the gunwale. Neither was certain now how long they had been adrift.

There came a day, however, when Hofmanstahal was forced to cut down Craig’s ration of food.

“I am sorry,” he said, “but you can see for yourself that it is necessary.”

“We’re so near the end of our supplies, then?”

“I am sorry,” Hofmanstahal repeated. “Yes, we are nearing the end of your supplies . . . and if yours end, so will mine eventually.”

“I don’t really mind,” Craig whispered. “I’m seldom really hungry now. At first, even the full rations left me unsatisfied, but now I don’t even like the taste of the food. I suppose it’s because I’m getting no exercise.”

Hofmanstahal’s smile was gentle. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. We must keep a sharp lookout for ships. If one does not come soon, we will starve, though, of course, I will now cut down my own rations as well as yours.”

“I don’t care.”

“My poor Craig, when you regain your strength you will care very much. Like me, you will want to live and go on living.”

“Maybe. But now I feel that dying would be easy and pleasant. Better, maybe, than going back to the world.”

“The world is evil, yes; but the will to live in it drives all of us.”

Craig lay motionless and wondered, with a clarity of mind he had not experienced in many, many days, whether he dreaded going back to the world because the world was evil, or whether it was because he felt that he himself was tainted, unfit to mix with human beings again.

. . . And Hofmanstahal might be a problem. Should he be reported to the authorities? No, for then they would know about Craig.

But was all that had happened so disgraceful, so reprehensible? Had Craig had any other choice but to do what he had done?

None.

His conscience, in the form of his father, screamed agony.

Well, then perhaps Hofmanstahal would try to force him to continue the relationship. Had he — pleased the Rumanian? He felt that he had . . .

But surely gentle, considerate Hofmanstahal, the sensitive vampire, would not try to force—

Craig’s mind rebelled against such practical thoughts. They required too much effort. It was easier not to think at all—to lie as he had lain for so many days, peaceful, relaxed, uncaring.

Clarity of mind faded into the gray sameness of day and night. He ate. Hofmanstahal fed.


HE was scarcely conscious when Hofmanstahal spotted the smoke on the horizon. The big man lifted him up so that he could see it. It was a ship, and it was coming in their direction.

“So—now it is over.” Hofmanstahal’s voice was soft; his hands were warm on Craig’s shoulders. “So it ends—our little idyll.” The hands tightened. “My friend . . . my friend, before the ship comes, the men and the noise, the work and the worry and all that goes with it, let us for the last time—”

His head bent, his lips found Craig’s throat with their almost sexual avidity.

Craig shivered. Over the Rumanian's shoulder he could see the ship approaching, a dot on the horizon. There would be men aboard.

Men! Normalcy and sanity, cities and machines and half-forgotten values, coming nearer and nearer over the tossing sea, beneath the brassy sky, from the real world of men that lay somewhere beyond the horizon . . .

Men! Like himself, like his father, who hovered shouting his disgust.

And he, lying in the arms of—

God, God, what if they should see him!

He kicked. He threw his arms about. He found strength he hadn’t known he had, and threshed and flailed and shrieked with it.

The lifeboat rocked. A foot caught Hofmanstahal in the midriff. The vampire’s arms flew wide and he staggered back with a cry:

"Craig—”

The backs of his knees struck the gunwale— the one with meaningless notches carved in it. His arms lashed as he strove to regain his balance. His eyes locked with Craig’s, shock in them. Then he plunged backward into the sea.

The sharks rejected him as food, but not before they had killed him.

Craig found himself weeping in the bottom of the boat, his face in slime. And saying hoarsely again and again, “Eric, I’m sorry—”


IT seemed a very long time before the ship came close enough for him to make out the moving figures on the deck. It seemed so long because of the thoughts and half-formed images that were racing through his brain.

A new awareness was coming over him in a hot flood, an awareness of—

Of the one thing popularly believed about vampires that must have solid foundation in fact.

Had the venom done it? He didn’t know. He didn’t care.

He lay weakly, watching the steamer through half-closed eyes. Sailors lined the rails, their field glasses trained on him.

He wondered if they could see his father. No, of course not— that had all been hallucination. Besides, a moment ago his father had fled.

It was a Navy ship, a destroyer. He was glad of that. He knew the Navy. The men would be healthy. Strenuous duty would make them sleep soundly.

And at the end of its voyage lay the whole pulsing world.

Craig licked his lips.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) before 1964, and copyright was not renewed.

Works published in 1953 would have had to renew their copyright in either 1980 or 1981, i.e. at least 27 years after they were first published/registered but not later than 31 December in the 28th year. As it was not renewed, it entered the public domain on 1 January 1982.