Bentley Little’s “Washingtonians”

Mike has come across an unusual parchment manuscript which, if proven to be authentic, could change the way we Americans view our founding fathers and turn our nation’s history on its head. The parchment in question reads “I will Skin your Children and Eat Them, Upon Finishing, I will Fashion Utensils of Their Bones.”

The message itself is gruesome enough to make one’s flesh crawl, but what makes this particular parchment so special is that it was written by none other than George Washington! Incredulous, Mike has it appraised by a Mr. Davis, who after trying to persuade Mike of its significance and his responsibility to see that it falls into the right hands, offers to put him in touch with a buyer if he is willing to relinquish it. Mike, put off by Davis’s overzealousness, opts instead to hold onto it for the time being and returns to his wife and daughter at home. Davis begrudgingly acquiescing, asks him to sleep on it.

Although he is a little disturbed by the whole interaction, he brushes it off and carries on with his normal home life. That night, however, the household is awakened by a thunderous clamor on their doorstep which turns out to be four men clad in white powdered wigs and satin Colonial garb, pounding on their door demanding he give them the parchment.  Mike bluffs that he’s called the police and by fortuitous happenstance a siren is heard in the vicinity causing the strange agitators to disperse, but not before threatening, “We’ll come back for you!”(…) “You can’t escape!”

The next day Mike decides to drive to New York University to speak to a professor in the History department to sort out what is going on. Upon arrival he is directed to a Dr. Hartkinson, a short elderly man with spectacles and “whiskers of a Disney movie college professor.” As soon as Mike describes the costume of his late night visitors, Dr. Hartkinson exclaims “Washingtonians!” then shuts the door and explains to Mike that they have spies everywhere and warns him whom he is up against. He guesses rightly that Mike most likely has something they want and he confesses to having the parchment.

The good doctor then explains that during the harsh winter at Valley Forge Washington and his men were forced to eat their dead when supplies were low. Unfortunately, our founding father found that he liked the taste and began slaughtering a man a night even after supplies came through. After the war, he carried on his cannibalistic activities in secret with some like-minded cronies. The Washingtonians carry on this tradition and do their best to maintain the squeaky clean public image of him the rest of us know today.

Hartkinson asks if Mike has any children, specifically daughters, to which Mike replies that he has one daughter, Amy. The doctor then informs him that these benighted individuals prefer the meat of young virgins. He asks whether Mike has seen the insignia on their uniforms of the hatchet and the cherry tree, then explains that the cherry tree is, among other things, a modern day reference to Washington’s preference for young virgin meat.

Just as they are sorting out what to do about the parchment, the door bursts open and a group of Washingtonians falls upon them. Hartkinson manages to escape, but Mike is grabbed and thrown into a van then taken on a long drive to what turns out to be Mount Vernon, Washington’s old estate in Virginia.  Once there, he is taken to a shed with a secret stairwell that leads to a tunnel that leads back under the house to a secret lair. He demands to see his wife and daughter whom he has been informed are also being held captive. He is first given a brief tour of the macabre collection of Colonial artifacts and artwork that hearken to Washington’s cannibalistic proclivities. Mike gets impatient and demand they do what they will and be done with it. “Eat me, you sick assholes!” he says, to which they reply “Don’t worry. We will.”

At that moment, they bring in his wife and daughter and just as things look their bleakest for our hero and his loved ones, something totally bizarre yet apropos happens that I will not share with you here so as not to ruin the story for you. Suffice it to say that it was a welcome slice of levity after all of that gruesome build up.

Bentley Little’s “The Collection” (Signet 2002), which features story “The Washingtonians”.

The Washingtonians is really a clever story; the gem in Bentley Little’s “The Collection”, which consists mostly of creepy awkward tales that either try too hard to be outré or just don’t go anywhere. HBO’s Masters of Horror did an episode based on it and stuck fairly close to the story but changed the location to Virginia (understandably) and camped it up a bit by making it seem as if everyone in the town his family had just moved into was in on the Washingtonian business and out to eat his child. If memory serves, the phrase “sleep on it”, which was only used once by Mr. Davis in the story, was used again by the cops who come in response to the first visit by the Washingtonians, implying that they were privy to Mike’s conversation with Mr. Davis.  My only major complaint with the show, however, was the ending which was changed to a more straightforward denouement, with a tacked on last laugh epilogue. If you get a chance to see it, it’s fun, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the story which is more subtle with its black humor approach.

The cover-art for the DVD of the Masters of Horror adaptation of “The Washingtonians”.

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