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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Undead

Mark Twain

  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

  and the Undead

  By Mark Twain

  and Don Borchert


  Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be decapitated by the co-author, who wields a sabre sharper than his epee-like wit.

  Mark Twain


  In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and the four modified varieties of the last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and personal familiarity with these forms of speech.

  Similarly, the mannerisms and speech patterns of the Zum have been written down with honest and assiduous first-hand knowledge of their exhalations and vocal patterns, such as they are.

  I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

  The authors

  Chapter One

  I discover Moses and the Bulrushers

  You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead”, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain and his sometime drinking companion, Mr. Don Borchert. They told the truth, mostly, I guess – as much as they was able. There was things they stretched, which is how they get when they sit and tell stories to each other, but mainly they told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly – Tom’s Aunt Polly, that is – and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretches, like I said before.

  Now the way that book winds up is this – Injun Joe got what was coming to him, along with every single man who lined up with him. Tom and I wound up with the money Injun Joe hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece – all in gold and a little silver. It was an awful sight of money when it was all piled up. Well, the Widow Thatcher’s people took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round – more than a person could figure what to do with. The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would civilize me, but it was rough living in a house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags and started sleeping in my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and told me I could do whatever I wanted and be whatever I wanted to, what with the fortune and all. I told him I liked how we helped put down Injun Joe and his little Zum rebellion, and we resolved to put together a crew in the next few years and do the exact same thing on a grander scale, and so I went back and told the widow, thinking she would be pleased.

  The widow said she was glad, but she cried over me, and she said she was crying over the lot of us and not just me, and she called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names too, but they was all meant to be good. The Zum just had her frazzled, like they did most everyone else.

  So I went back to the widow and surrendered myself to her for the time being. She put me in them new clothes and I couldn’t do anything but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up again. The widow rang a bell for supper, and you had to come. When you got to the table you couldn’t go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her hand and grumble a little over the victuals. Mostly it was prayers for them that was taken away by the Zum – there warn’t really anything the matter with the victuals. I guess she liked to think of dead people before she lit into food, which is an odd this if you thought about it, but no odder than anything else we lived with day in and day out.

  After supper she got out her books and learned us all about Moses and the bullrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him, but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people. I’m prudent round them, because I know sure as shootin’ what’s going to happen next, but when they’re just dead, I have no objection against them, and more important, no interest.

  Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn’t. She said it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean, and I must try to not do it anymore. That was her way. Here she was botherin’ about Moses, which was no kin to her and no use to anybody, being gone, you see, yet finding a fault in me for doing a thing that had some good in it. And she took snuff too; of course that was all right, because she took it herself. And she’d take a wallop of port sometimes when the Zum were about, moaning in the dark and thrashing around under the moon and her nerves were on edge. It straightened her right out. But let her catch me sniffin’ the cork, and you’d never see such a ruckus. She knew all about my pa, and didn’t want me going down that road. But for her, like I said, it was fine.

  Her sister, Miss Watson, a tolerable old maid, had just come to live with her, and took a set at me now with a spelling book. She worked me middling hard for over an hour. Then it got deadly dull. Miss Watson would say “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry”; and “”Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry – set up straight”; then she told me all about the bad place, packed solid with headless Zum, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said, and that maybe this was why God had afflicted us with the Zum curse in the first place – to test us and separate us from the unbelievers, like chaff from the grain. She was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn’t see any advantage in trying to go where she was headed, so I made up my mind that I wouldn’t even bother. But I didn’t say so, because it would only make trouble, and lord knows there was enough of that floating around.

  But now that she had got a start, she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. The men would have swords strapped to their waist like they did here, but you’d never have to use them in the good place, the Zum being all gone and someplace else. So I didn’t think much of it. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight, and I was glad enough for that. I wanted him and me to be together.

  Miss Watson she kept pecking away at me, and it got tiresome and lonesome. By and by the guards in front of the stockade lit the nightly bonfires, and everybody but them went off to bed. I got up to my room and sat in a chair by the window, trying to think of something cheerful, but it warn’t no use. I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead, and I would sort the rest out when I got to wherever I was going. The stars were shiny, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful. I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about someone that had died and turned into one of the undead, and a dog was crying and yelping about things walking around in the night, things not even knowing it was night, and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and it made the cold shivers run over me. Then away off in the woods I heard the sound a ghost makes when it wants to say something and can’t make itself be understood, but was probably just one of them new
Zum that was fixing to learn to speak and was smarter in every way than the old ones – the ones that just walked around, moaning and tearing at things until they rotted themselves into the ground, or got their heads loped off. Pretty soon a spider was crawling up my shoulder and I flipped it off and it lit in the candle; and before I could budge it, it burst into flame and shriveled up, and it reminded me of Injun Joe in his last few moments in this world, his face all green and purple, all gone to Zum, but haughty and arrogant like he was going to last forever, until the Welshman soaked him with whale oil and lit him up.

  Just thinking of Joe scared me and made me think I was headed for bad luck, so I turned around three times and crossed my breast each time, and then I tied up a little lock of my hair with a thread, which is what you do to keep witches and bad things away. But I had no confidence.

  I sat back down by the window and got out my pipe for a smoke. The house was still as death now, and after a long while I heard the clock away in the town go bong-bong-bong - twelve licks. Pretty soon I heard a twig snap down in the darkness amongst the trees – something was a-stirrin’. I sat still and listened. Directly I could barely hear a ‘brr-oo-uk! Brr-oo-uk!’ down there. That was good! Says I, “Brr-oo-uk! Brr-oo-uk!” because I know this was the Eastern spadefoot toad that Tom was working on imitating, as he was not content with limiting his calls to birds and such. I put out the light in my room and scrambled out the window, onto the shed and to the ground without being seen by the guards, who were really looking for things walking up to the place, not scrambling down. Sure enough, there was Tom Sawyer waiting for me, though it was a green treefrog call he was giving me, not the Eastern spadefoot.

  Chapter Two

  The Gang’s Dark Oaths

  We went tiptoeing along a path away from the bonfires toward the edge of the widow’s garden, stooping down so the branches wouldn’t scrape our heads. When we was passing by the kitchen I fell over a root and made a sound. We scrouched down and laid still. Miss Watson’s big nigger, named Jim, was sitting in the kitchen door, smoking a pipe. I have to tell you this was another thing about Miss Watson I didn’t hold with. The Widow didn’t own people; she had a bunch of servants, and she paid them, and sometimes dressed and fed them, depending on their needs. Miss Watson owned people, and she acted like she owned them. They was all called niggers, which is what you called people you bought and sold. I had me a fortune, the thing Tom Sawyer and I found when we was tracking Injun Joe, but not everyone can find such a thing, it seems. So I didn’t have a thing against these people who somehow get themse’ves owned. A lot of people in this life have done mean and horrible things to me, but it’s never been done by niggers, so I don’t call them that. As Aunt Polly says, life is hard enough - and ain’t it the truth.

  Anyway, we made a noise, and Jim was sitting in the kitchen door between us; we could’a touched him, nearly. Well, it was minutes and minutes and there warn’t a sound, we was all so close together. There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I dasn’t scratch it; and then my ear began to itch; and next my back. Seemed like I’d die if I couldn’t scratch. Well, I’ve noticed that thing plenty of times. If you are with the quality, or at a funeral, or trying to get to sleep when you ain’t sleepy – if you are anywheres where it won’t do for you to scratch, why you will itch all over in a thousand places. Pretty soon Jim says:

  “Say, who is you? Some evil Zum gwint’a come at me in my sleep. Dog my cats if I didn’ hear sumf’n. Well, I know what I’s gwyne to do: I’s gwyne to sit down here and listen till I hears it agin.”

  So he sat down on the ground betwixt me and Tom. He leaned his back up against a tree, and stretched his legs out till one of them most touched one of mine. My nose began to itch. It itched till the tears came into my eyes. Then it began to itch on the insides. Next I got to itching underneath. I didn’t know how I was going to keep still. This miserableness went on for as much as six or seven minutes until I reckoned I couldn’t stand it a minute longer. Just then Jim began to breathe heavy; next he began to snore – and then I was pretty soon comfortable again.

  Tom made a sign to me – kind of a short little burp that was just the first part of one of his frogs – and we went creepin’ away on our hands and knees. When we was aways off, Tom whispered to me that he wanted to tie Jim to the tree for fun. But I said no, saying it might make a disturbance. But I was also thinking it was a poor trick to play on a soul who was pretty much constrained on his movements as it was.

  I was in a sweat to get away, but Tom said he must crawl to where Jim was, on his hands and knees, and play something on him. I waited until Tom got back, and we cut along the path, and by and by fetched up the steep top of the hill to the other side of the house. Tom said he slipped Jim’s hat off and hung it on a tree limb right over him. Afterwards, Jim said it was the witches what done this to him, and no one disagreed, as no one had ever crossed paths with a Zum that found it funny to prank people. No, it was some kind of witch that did this to him, and put him in a trance, hanging his hat on a limb to show who done it. And the next time he told it, he said they rode him down to New Orleans; and the time after that, they rode him in the air, and every time he told it, the story changed more and more, until by and by it was devilish nightmare Zum witches and they rode him all over the world, and tired him most to death, and his back was all over saddle-boils. Jim was monstrous proud of it, and other owned folk would crowd around just to hear Jim tell about it, their mouths opened up as if he was some kind of wonder. Owned folk is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire. As they was property, people was careful to keep them away from where they might be attacked by the Zum at night. They might be out in the fields at dawn, but they warn’t allowed to walk around after dark. So their stories were not so much about Zum, which was a real thing, so much as they were about devils and witches, which were made-up and so much more frightening. Jim was almost ruined for being a servant, because he got so stuck up on account of having seen the devil and being rode by witches.

  Well, when Tom and I got to the edge of the hilltop we looked down into the village, and you could see the lights of the village twinkling. Then we went down the hill and found Joe Harper and Ben Rogers and two or three more of the boys. So we borrowed a skiff and went down the river a few miles, to a big scar on the hillside, and went ashore.

  This was the hole to the cave Tom and I came out of after fighting off that one last Zum and hauling out the treasure. Tom made everyone swear to keep the secret, and then showed them the hole into the hill, right there in the thickest part of the bushes. Then we lit candles we brung and crawled on our hands and knees. Pretty soon, the hole opened up, and we went along a narrow place and got into a kind of room, all damp and sweaty and cold, and there we stopped. I listened a bit to see if that last Zum was still thrashing around in that pit he fell into, but I guess he was completely burned up by the fire we set on him. It was quiet, and the only thing we heard was our own panting. Then Tom says:

  “Now let’s start this band of Zum hunters and call it Tom Sawyer’s gang. Everyone that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood.”

  I can tell you I felt a mite disappointed, cause when Tom and I first talked about putting together a gang, I was thinking ten or fifteen people, adults, guns that would take a person’s head clean off, supplies, wagons with provisions to last us a month, scouring the countryside and wiping out the Zum wherever we found them. This was something else, a few notches below. But everyone in the cave was willing, so Tom got out a sheet of paper that he read the oath on, and read it. It said we would all swear to stick by each other, never tell any of our secrets, and that if any of us died and commenced to turn Zum, the rest of us would come together, hack off the head, and carve a cross in the breast of the dead person, which was a sign that we had gone and done our job. And nobody else could use this sign on a dead Zum, and if they did they might be sued. And if anybody that belonged to the gang told th
e secrets they had learned, he must be killed and have his head taken off so as to prevent the Zum from gaining a foothold to the body. Then we would burn the carcass up and scatter it around, like what the Welshman did to Injun Joe, and his name would never be mentioned again by the gang, but be forgot forever.

  Everyone said it was a real beautiful oath, and asked Tom if he got it out of his own head. He said some of it, but some came from pirate books and robber-books, and every gang around that was high-toned and worth its salt had it.

  Then they all stuck a pin in their fingers to get blood to sign with, and I made my mark on the paper.

  “Now,” says Ben Rogers, “what’s the line of business of this gang?”

  “The Zum,” Tom said. “That’s mostly it. We hunt ‘em down and kill ‘em. Or dispatch I guess is the word. The ones that walk through the fields and moan and such, we just strike down. T’other kind, the new ones that speak and reason, we grab and interrogate to see if we can find somethin’ out from ‘em. Then when it looks like they have nothin’ left to say, we dispatch them too.”

  Ben said “Will we also be robbers? Gangs are always robbers when they get the chance.”

  “We’ll be highwaymen,” Tom said. “We stop stages and carriages on the road, with masks on, and tell them they are furthering important work. We won’t go into houses or steal cattle, cause that’s burglary. That ain’t no kind of style.”

  “Do we kill the people after we rob them?”

  Tom had to think about that one. “Nope. It would ruin our reputation as a gang, specially if we slip up and kill the wrong kind of people. And we’d be creating Zum, not reducing them. Most we’ll do is take them, and hide them out somewhere, and ransom them.”