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Shockley House

Evil! Complicit in thought and deed with the Devil himself am I. My cold, black soul is doomed, as it should be, for all eternity. No amount of guilt, remorse, repentance, or atonement can, nor should, save me now. Would Satan be forgiven if he asked it? No! There is nothing left for me but to confess my part and name the one who has dragged me to Hell with him; for we shall be together for all eternity in that pit. It is that thought that stays my hand from ending it all this very instant!

The other day I saw the following article and recoiled in horror at its implications:

Can Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) induce ghost sightings?

For Emily Cage, the apparition that haunted her daughter’s room was something more than a child’s fantastic imagination. Emily decided to call in a team of experts to test the environment. What they found might surprise you. A team of researchers from Northwestern University’s Palmer Psychiatric Research Lab have been studying the possibility that hauntings might be induced by anomalies in the environment that affect the brain.

The team’s lead researcher, Dr. Forrest Vandergrift, explains: “The brain is susceptible to electromagnetic fields that may interfere with normal brain processes. Believe it or not, we located an EMF in the daughter’s room that was coming from a toy that the girl slept with by her head; once we removed the source of the EMF, the hauntings ceased.”

The team has had mixed results reproducing the findings in the lab, but there is no doubt that some of their results have yielded pretty bizarre perceptions in certain test subjects in regard to experiencing anomalous sensations such as odd sightings, strange sounds, and tingling sensations in the extremities.

The research is perilously close to the work that Dr. Matthew Remy and I conducted on those poor, hapless mental patients. Such research can only lead to horrible outcomes. Dr. Remy may not be as famous as his great grandfather, but he inherited the same obsession that was ultimately both of their undoing. His great grandfather, Dr. Calvin S. Moody, was initially championed as a groundbreaking psychiatrist, but I know too much about his barbaric and cruel methods to let this view of him persist.

Matt Remy and I were colleagues for many years in Denver as psychiatrists at University Mental Health Clinic; and I knew he was the great grandson of Dr. Calvin Moody, but that was when I held the putative view that Dr. Moody was a great psychiatrist and researcher. One day Matt and I were having lunch and for whatever reason the topic of a current patient of mine came up. I explained that she was suffering from hallucinations and was convinced that she was being haunted by a ghost.

Matt found this case oddly interesting and continued to question me in great detail. Several days later I found myself on a rather unusual lunch trip with Matt that he assured me would be well worth it. Imagine my surprise when he pulled up to the foreboding remains of Shockley House!

****

The old Shockley House is a legendary place, although it had fallen into neglect for decades. The old manor home was in dire need of restoration and appeared a creepy husk of its former glory. Of course, I knew some of the legends about the place: it was an old sanitarium, Doc Holliday had convalesced there in his latter consumptive days, in later years it had become a home for mental patients who had nowhere else to go, and finally, it was haunted.

As I sat gazing at the faded, cracked walls and foreboding gothic architecture with its columned façade and lone octagonal turret, I could plainly see why the legend of it being haunted applied. While I didn’t believe that particular legend myself, it was obvious that this old home fit the stereotypical description of a haunted house and anyone who believed such pseudoscientific silliness would readily gravitate to such conclusions. Of course, Matt had brought me to this place for a very calculated reason and he soon began to tell me the story of the house.

Towards the end of the Civil War, Dr. Charles Brice Shockley built the house initially as his retirement residence. The elder doctor was too restless in his retirement to putter about the house and soon transformed the manor into a sanitarium for the then prevalent Tuberculosis patients who struggled through the disease with little to no effective treatments. In the parlance of the day, these people were said to suffer from “consumption”.

Shockley House remained in the Shockley family for the next four decades and was largely operated as a sort of resort or spa for most of that time. Just after the turn of the century it was then purchased by Dr. Calvin S. Moody, the forebear of Matt Remy; and the reason why Matt had brought me here began to become a bit more coherent. But there was yet more to the story before I finally understood what he wanted my role to be in his fantastic scheme.

Dr. Moody had refurbished the manor to create his in-patient mental hospital as the locus of his research. My knowledge of Dr. Moody’s work at this time was what the current psychological literature commonly taught; he was one of the prominent champions in the 30’s and 40’s of using psychotropic drugs instead of the more traumatic or invasive techniques such as shock therapy and lobotomy that were widely used by numerous professionals and colleagues of his day. These practices are considered barbaric by today’s standards, but it was not so long ago that they were considered legitimate, scientific treatments for mental maladies.

And then Matt told me this: “Shockley House has passed through the family into my possession. I’ve planned on renovating it for many years, but I just can’t bring myself to commit to it. You see, Keith, there’s something historic and romantic about it the way it is. I find a certain air of mystery surrounding it; like it’s still got more secrets to discover. Modernizing it would destroy my chance at finding them, I should think.

“The reason I brought you here, though, is to show you what secrets I’ve already learned from the place. You know the case of yours we were discussing the other day, the lady who believes she’s seeing apparitions?”

I told him I did.

“Well, it would seem that Calvin Moody, in his later years, became quite obsessed with many such cases. That phase of his life is left out of his biographies about his work. I suppose that on the surface it reeks of treading too close into the realm of the paranormal. The truth, however, is that his work was very methodical and that his obsession with this work finally led to his undoing.  In the end he committed suicide right up there.”

My gaze followed his pointing finger up to the octagonal tower that dominated the top of Shockley House.

“Come on,” Matt continued after a brief pause, “I want to show you his office and some of his case files.”

We made our way up the overgrown path and up the creaking, worn stairs. As Matt rummaged through a key ring searching for the right key to unlock the front door, I marveled at the state of the structure. It was sad, in a way, to behold this fantastic specimen of gothic architecture in such a neglected state. The paint was flaking to the point that the bare wood was as prominent as the painted portion. One had to carefully navigate the steps and porch for fear of treading upon a rotten section of wood that would surely give way underfoot.

Matt succeeded in finding the right key and we were soon inside. I was surprised to find the electricity was working as Matt proceeded to flip on switches as he led us through the front hall and several rooms. I had to keep up but wanted to pause and explore each room. The dust was thick, and most furniture was covered with sheets that were also caked in films of dust and cobwebs. The walls still held pictures and décor that had probably been in place since the early part of the 20th Century. Following Matt, we soon entered the old office of Dr. Moody. It appeared as it must have appeared in his day except bereft of any cleaning. There was a large wooden desk with papers, paper weights, a name placard and a mortar and pestle upon it. The walls were covered in diplomas, certificates, and pictures. Several bookcases lined the walls, each filled with textbooks, reference books, and random medical devices. On one wall was a large sitting couch and recliner.

Matt strode over to one bookcase and removed a thick set of patient records. “These are, in my opinion, the most interesting cases as well as the most representative of his categorization scheme.”

“Categorization scheme?” I asked confused.

“Oh, yes. As I said, he was very thorough and methodical in researching the many ways in which a person may be haunted by various apparitions. He codified several distinct types of hauntings which he was able to induce in his patients.”

“Induce? You mean he caused these patients to believe they were being haunted by ghosts?”

“Yes. But further, he was able to orchestrate the particular type of haunting he wanted!”

“I’m sorry, Matt, this sounds quite intriguing, but what is the point of you showing me all this exactly?”

A curious grin spread across his face as he said, “Because I want you to help me reproduce his work.”

****

That night I sat at home with the case files Matt had given me. He had insisted that before I read any of the case files that I read a paper Moody had written explaining his theories behind his work. I give a portion of his treatise here because I hope to show how persuasive a hypothesis Moody lays out. After reading his cogent argument I was fully drawn into the research one would need to conduct to prove his theory. Before reading his argument, I was at a loss for why Matt was so entranced by Moody’s later work, but after reading his treatise, I was intrigued.

“A PSYCHOLOGICAL BASIS FOR HAUNTINGS by Dr. Calvin S. Moody

Humans are a species of storytellers and as long as man has created and shared stories, his tales have included beliefs in the supernatural. For a scientist who holds a materialistic view of the world, one must wonder why it is so prevalent throughout the multitude of races and societies that supernatural hauntings be a common belief theme. Is there a rational explanation that can be proven empirically?

Before embarking on this venture, I must make a thorough definition and classification of what I mean by the term ‘haunting’. When a person claims that they have experienced a haunting they may mean that they have seen a ghost or other such apparition, heard unexplained noises, been tormented by demons through possession, or simply felt a presence that can’t be explained. In all such cases, the causative agent is some type of spirit or energy that is incorporeal in nature somehow interacting with the corporeal world.

What changes from case to case is the motive of the entity in why it is interacting with the senses of the material percipient.

Initially, I was tempted to make a first categorization of two types of hauntings: personal and impersonal. But closer reflection shows that all types of hauntings are ultimately personal in nature. For example, a personal haunting would be one wherein the victim feels like the apparition is targeting them for some purpose, such as a possession or to deliver a warning. One would be tempted to say that a passive haunting such as merely seeing a ghost walk past a doorway would be of the impersonal kind. The ghost didn’t try to interact at all with the witness. But is it not still a personal, subjective fact that this particular person believes they saw a ghost? Ultimately, it falls into the psychological realm because a statement of belief about witnessing something supernatural, i.e. outside of the normal natural order of things, is a statement about the psychological state of the person’s belief in what their senses have conveyed to them.

I therefore took a different tack and searched for a categorization schema that centers on the psychological state of the hauntee. It became readily apparent that hauntings carry with them a strong emotional component and that these emotions are completely in the realm of negative emotions that serve to hinder the flourishing of a healthy psyche. One would also be tempted to default to the emotion of fear as common to all types of hauntings. While fear is a common reaction, it is not necessarily the causative emotion. In researching many such cases I have recognized just three types of hauntings based on the negative emotional, psychological state of the hauntee.

The first type of haunting involves the emotions of loss or remorse. I call this type ‘The Sad Haunting’. This type of haunting is typified by a spirit that is unable to pass over to the afterlife because of an emotionally charged episode that leaves them replaying over and over the same moment of emotional tragedy. As for the witness of this type of haunting, they have lying latent in their subconscious, or even overtly recalled in their consciousness, an episode of extreme attachment to someone or someplace that has been severed. They are therefore compelled to find psychic equilibrium by externalizing the feelings of loss being replayed.

The second type of haunting is centered upon the emotion of anger. I have titled this ‘The Angry Haunting’. This haunting manifest in two primary ways: either by possession or through the mischievous poltergeist. In the former, the spirit inhabits the body of a person to force them to commit violent, aggressive, or vindictive acts on those around them. This is many times attributed to malevolent entities such as demons but may also be a channeled spirit of a deceased person. In the latter, the entity manifests in the environment by causing disruption through noise, vandalism, or disorder. One can easily see how these are all displays of anger being projected onto others. From a psychological standpoint of the hauntee, there is again a repression of anger either needing to be expelled or reciprocated from receiving anger from someone else.

The final, and most complex, category I call ‘The Guilty Haunting’. There are many ways in which the feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or shame can be manifested in a person’s belief they are being haunted. A common type of haunting in this category is the apparition that is coming to somehow punish the hauntee; displayed as a vengeful spirit coming to set right the scales of justice. This is the most extreme and overt case wherein the person is fully aware of their transgression and feels deep down inside that they must atone for their sins. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a spirit, either. The person may merely feel like a curse has befallen them and that it is the curse that is acting as the judge of morality in rectifying their immoral act. But it need not be such a conscious form of guilt. A less overt form is the spirit that has come to act as a warning spirit or harbinger of impending doom. In this case, the hauntee has an unconscious feeling of guilt that is being externalized. The psychiatrist must uncover just why it is that the patient possesses these latent feelings of unworthiness or guilt. And finally, but very similarly to the harbinger haunting, is the watcher, shadow being, or unseen presence that points to a form of paranoia in the hauntee. They feel like judging eyes are upon them indicating yet another form of underlying guilt that must manifest itself in order for their psyche to seek a healthy balance again.

There are countless symbols with which human beings ascribe meaning to and the supernatural haunting stories of our species are no different. Many times it is these universal symbols that allow a person to rationalize their negative emotions being manifest in the world of the external. For example, based on the above theory, let’s suppose a devout and pious priest is walking through a park when suddenly, a black cat darts across his path. A witness sitting on a nearby bench comments to him that he will now be the recipient of bad luck. The black cat superstition is a widely held cultural symbol that could very well open the person up to a belief that they will actually befall ill luck. But our priest, being a person of healthy psyche and adhering to his belief system without serious transgression, will likely chalk this experience up to a silly superstition; or, he may likely believe it to hold truth but will very likely choose not to dwell on it because he will think that things are rightly in God’s hands and that his piety will surely ensure that God will see that the bad luck is so insignificant that he need not worry. Now imagine a person who possesses an unhealthy amount of unconscious guilt who is ripe for this imbalance in their psyche to find release being in the same predicament as our priest. The cat and the ensuing remark by the bystander will likely fester in their psyche inviting some type of pressure release in their belief system. For it is the belief system of the person that must be preserved. One can easily see how this one meaningless cat can be imbued with such symbolism that they are quickly carried away into a phantasy where they are the victim of a curse returning upon them for the bad deeds they have committed. And thus, they are suddenly haunted by a curse.

So you see that it is fear comingled with these other forms of negative emotion that causes the mind to override the senses in order to create a belief system that allows an outlet for such psychologically damaging emotions. If the psychiatrist could find a patient in such negative emotional distress and cause them to believe they were haunted in one of the various ways specific to their particular type of emotional distress, would this ultimately help the patient to achieve psychic equilibrium? The following case studies are the culmination of years of research along these lines and should suffice to prove that the above presented hypothesis is true.”

And there you have it, Dr. Calvin Moody’s presentation of his theory was wholly lucid and presented with fine logic for its case. In short, I was sold; at least well enough that I couldn’t wait to dive into the case files that now sat upon my desktop to see exactly how he managed to pull off these orchestrated hauntings. But before I cracked the first file, there was one burning question that needed to be answered.

I called Matt and he answered quite quickly saying, “Keith! Have you read his treatise? What do you think?”

“Fascinating! I must admit, Matt, at first I actually thought you were wasting my time, but this is actually quite riveting stuff.”

“And the case files? Even better, huh?”

“Well, I haven’t even started those yet. I wanted to ask you a question first?”

“Sure.”

“What happened to Moody? Why hasn’t this work been brought to wider attention in the field?”

“Well,” he breathed a heavy sigh, and I knew that I had stumbled upon the rub of the story, “As I mentioned today, he committed suicide before publishing.”

“But why didn’t anyone publish posthumously?”

“Because of the reason he killed himself. How would his theory stand up to the scrutiny of the fact that he killed himself because he claimed he was being haunted by the ghosts of Shockley House?”

****

To gain some insight into Moody’s methods, I’ll give here the story of one of the case files which he cited in his treatise. The patient was only referred to as Marla; most likely a fake name used to protect her real identity. Marla presented to Moody as a patient suffering from numerous personal issues that she felt were keeping her from leading a normal, healthy social life. She was neurotic and suffered from chronic anxiety and depression. She struggled with both personal relationships and professional relationships, having been through many boyfriends and jobs. The catalyst for her seeking Psychiatric help was a nervous breakdown.

After several weeks of sessions, to include some sessions of hypnosis, Moody determined that her neurosis was rooted in her feelings of guilt towards her father. Marla’s father was a stern man who was mentally abusive in how he manipulated Marla’s emotions. Marla and her father’s relationship was horribly strained up until her early 20’s. He was heavily controlling, and she rebelled against his attempts to control her so thoroughly, but he would always manage, in the end, to force her to feel guilty about her behavior. Usually this would end in him drinking too much and breaking down into a drunken fit of apologies and entreaties for her to understand that his actions were out of love and not out of malice towards her.

Marla’s mother had left her husband when Marla was just a small child and there were also issues of guilt associated with Marla not feeling like she was good enough for her mother’s attention and approval. Marla’s mother had died several years after leaving of some unknown reason and had been so estranged from her ex-husband and daughter that Marla had no real closure with her mother. Marla had no siblings.

Marla tried to distance herself from her father once she reached her 20’s but he would always manage to call or contact her, usually in a fit of drunkenness, begging for her assistance and playing upon her guilt. At one point Marla met a man and they dated for several months in which time Marla had, through a struggling willpower, managed to avoid her father and his antics. Tensions built to ever increasing extremes and her boyfriend began to grow tired of the inconvenient intrusions of Marla’s father.

One night, he drank himself into an uncontrollable rage that led him to Marla and her boyfriend’s doorstep. Marla and her father argued in the front yard, screaming at one another, and causing such a commotion that Marla’s boyfriend had to intervene. The old drunk became ever more belligerent towards the young man until the argument became physical. This escalated quickly out of control and suddenly Marla’s father attacked. In his liquor-addled brain, however, he was too dull of sense to find his mark and the boyfriend found a rock and crushed the old man’s skull. He fell dead.

The authorities arrived and the boy was immediately charged with murder. The outcome of the trial was that he was found guilty, and the man was given a life sentence for his crime. The relationship between Marla and her boyfriend ended as well.

Marla was left feeling like she was the cause of both her father’s death and her boyfriend’s incarceration. The guilt plagued her for near 20 years at which time she found her way into Moody’s care at the age of 41.

Marla was also a semi-religious person, not devout but open to the idea of a supernatural reality. Dr. Moody took her feelings of guilt and her open mindedness towards the supernatural as traits he felt would be a perfect fit for one of his test subjects.

Moody’s experiment entailed subtlety in causing Marla to be haunted by one type of “The Guilty Haunting”. He could never overtly persuade her to believe she was being haunted, though. In order for his theory to work, he could only expose her to the right symbols that would push her to believe some type of apparition was haunting her.

The first thing Moody did was to convince her to move into Shockley House for a short period of time. Having her as an inpatient would allow him more control of her care and her environment as well as more ability to observe her.

The room Moody prepared for Marla was carefully decorated to include a large, dark portrait of a man with an intense gaze whose eyes seemed to follow you no matter where you moved in the room. There were many other lesser pictures, but all contained subjects whose eye produced a similar such optical illusion. The room was also painted and decorated with darker colors with the lights engineered in such a way that the room was only ever dim at best. 

The real priming of Marla’s psyche took place in the one-on-one sessions with Dr. Moody. During these sessions Moody steered Marla into conversations about her relationship with her father and why she felt his judgment still held sway over her life. Each week there were also sessions of hypnosis; in these sessions Moody would help her connect the symbols of judging eyes with her guilt. Of course, Marla would have no memory of what was discussed while she was under hypnosis. And, while Moody did allude to judging eyes always upon her, he never told her directly that she would see any ghosts or mysterious figures stalking her.

Finally, after nearly two months, Moody’s efforts paid off. Marla was found early one morning in the living room looking quite haggard and obviously shaken. Moody brought her into his office and during this session Marla became emotional and began sobbing. Marla told Dr. Moody that she needed to leave Shockley House but would not articulate exactly why. Moody had to coax her for quite some time till she finally revealed that she had seen a shadowy figure several times in the house. The first time she saw it was at the end of the darkened hallway as she was walking from the bathroom to her room across the hall. She described the figure as a tall, dark figure with pale eyes intensely staring at her.

She quickly ran into her room and convinced herself that she had only seen a trick of the shadows in the hallway. It was many nights later that she saw it again and this shook her up so bad that she began to suffer from insomnia. The room became an intolerable place for her. The previous night she had awoken to see the figure standing in the corner of the room watching her. This is why she was found in the living room.

After this success, Moody convinced Marla to remain in his care but agreed that it would be better for her to move out of Shockley House. His treatment plan for Marla took a different direction after this. He stopped focusing on the symbols that encouraged her guilt and began to treat her in a manner that removed those guilty feelings.

This particular case was an example of a very successful case. Not all cases progressed in such a fluent manner. In some cases, it took more time to yield results. In other cases, Dr. Moody eventually resorted to medications. Generally, he tried not to augment the treatment with drugs, but was willing to do so when results were not forthcoming. And finally, in yet other cases, there were no results at all.

Most unusual of all, though, was how the cases took a dramatic turn towards the end of the research. Just before Dr. Moody committed suicide, the patients began to experience extreme hauntings much more easily than prior patients. This anomaly was quite inexplicable to Matt and me until our own research struck a similar crescendo of terror.

Looking back upon this now, I expect some might see with clarity the unethical aspects of Moody’s research. Keep in mind that in his day, such experimental techniques would’ve been considered normal fair. Also be aware that our research took a slightly different approach in which the ethical concerns were addressed. Still, considering the unintended course things took, our naiveté is no excuse for inflicting such horrors as resides in Shockley House upon anyone. And, while I stand guilty, it was poor Matt who paid the ultimate price with his life just as his forebear, Calvin Moody, did.

****

Initially, our research was conducted in our offices. We conducted interviews on patients to find the right candidates and fully informed them of the nature of our research into paranormal encounters. After gaining the consent of 21 patients, we began our research by using electromagnetic frequencies while patients were hooked up to an EEG machine.

The results were horribly inconclusive. In Matt’s eyes the results were an utter failure. So, we decided to try new methods. Again, we met with poor results. This cycle continued until we found ourselves slipping closer and closer into Moody’s original methods. Finally, one day Matt came into my office and announced that he was beginning the renovations to Shockley House.

“It has to be done, Keith. We need the right environment to prime the patients. The office here is just too clinical an environment for a ghost sighting.”

Three months later the work was done, and the house was refurbished throughout. We were ready to begin with a new batch of eight patients who would be living in the house for a two-week “retreat”. Matt had finally convinced me to keep the real nature of our research from these patients while the experiments were conducted. Gradually, ever so slightly, we had acquiesced on protocols to the point that we were now duplicating Moody’s research almost exactly.

We hired on for the staff two nurses, a housemaid who handled cooking and laundry, and a technician to assist with the EEG and EMF machines. Matt and I worked the day shift, and the two nurses were to work the night shift.

On the third day we still had nothing significant to report. I left for the evening and was awoken in the middle of the night by my phone. I was met with the frantic voice of Nurse Stephenson.

“Dr. Ballinger! You must come quick! Dr. Remy and a patient are fighting!”

“Edith? What are you talking about?”

“Dr. Remy stayed late after you left and apparently tried a procedure on Meagan.”

“A procedure?”

Then there came an awful yell from somewhere in the background and the line went dead. I dressed as fast as I could while trying to call back Edith. She didn’t answer so I tried Matt. There was no answer from his cell either. As I ran out of my house to the car, I found myself confronted with a hellish thunderstorm. I was thoroughly soaked by the time I unlocked my car and jumped into the seat.

It’s a wonder I even made it to Shockley House with the storm raging, my car speeding, and me trying to frantically call Matt, Edith, and Mary, the other nurse. No one answered and a feeling of dread began to settle over my rain-drenched body.

When I pulled up to the house the first thing I noticed was how dark the place was. The storm had obviously taken the power out. Lightning cut through the sky followed by a cacophonous boom of thunder. In the brief moment of illumination, I saw that the front door stood wide open. I rummaged through the glove compartment and found the small emergency flashlight and then I stole my nerves, took a deep breath, and ran for the house.

No sooner had I made it to the steps than I saw Donald, one of the psych patients in our experiment, ambling across the yard. I called out to him, but he was unresponsive. I ran over to him and was taken aback by the expression on his face. The poor man was in a daze. His features were vacant, and his eyes glazed. He acted as if unaware that the rain was pelting his face. He was mumbling something I couldn’t make out.

I tried to talk to him, but it was useless. I managed to hold him by the arm and guide him to the back seat of my car. “Wait here Donald,” I said even though I knew he didn’t hear me. It was then that I was able to discern what he was mumbling.

“It’s always watching me. It’s always watching me. It’s always watching me. . . .”

I shut the car door and made my way to the front door again.

The house was dark and quiet. I played the flashlight over the front room but saw nothing. “Matt!” I yelled into the darkness. “Hello! Matt! Are you there? Edith! Mary! Hello!” Nothing.

I started towards the old office of Dr. Moody. Then a blood curdling scream split the silence from somewhere above me. The flashlight beam shot up the stairs just in time to see a shape flying towards me. By the time I realized what it was the body landed headfirst on the first few stairs with a sickening crack.

I rushed over to the body and rolled it over. It was Mary; one of the nurses. Her head was flopped over to one side and blood was coming from her nose, mouth, and ears. She had broken her neck upon impact against the angulated stairs. The worst part was her eyes. They were wide open staring into oblivion but still held a look of horror as if she had seen something so terrible that it froze her expression even after death. I checked her pulse to ensure she wasn’t still somehow alive. Nothing. I stood up and a wave of nausea hit me. I had to rush back out into the rain and vomit.

I wiped the foul taste from my lips and pondered calling the police but just then a scream from the upstairs grew in volume over the din of the storm. I rushed back inside and made my way upstairs calling for Matt once more.

When I reached the landing at the top of the stairs I paused, scanning the hallways with the flashlight beam. There was no movement anywhere. And then I caught a faint light coming from one of the patient’s rooms. Slowly I walked down the hallway straining to hear if there was any movement within. Reaching the door, I shined the light into the room. The room was empty of people, but it was in complete disarray. The bed sheets were strewn about, and equipment of various types were knocked over. The light emanated from a digital camcorder mounted on a tripod. I recognized it as the one Matt and I used to film various interactions with patients.

I pressed the menu button to retrieve the last video clip. I pressed play and watched. The clip began with a shot of the room less than an hour prior. Meagan, one of our patients, appeared in the clip strapped to the bed. Her wrists and ankles were secured in leather straps, but most disconcerting of all was that her head was immobilized. She was struggling against the restraints, obviously panicked by what was taking place. She was screaming and kept crying out “No, Dr. Remy! No! No, Dr. Remy! No!”

Then Matt’s back appeared in the frame as he approached the bed from the angle of the camera. I could see that he held instruments in his hands. He reached the bed and then crouched over her head. As he turned to gain a better angle above her head, I caught a look at his face. It was somehow not right. It was and wasn’t Matt all at the same time. Something in his features had contorted. Then he said in an angered voice, “I told you! It’s Dr. Moody; not Dr. Remy!”

Then he lifted the instruments and I realized what they were. In one hand was a mallet and in the other was an orbitoclast, an instrument used in transorbital lobotomies. He placed one into her eye and began to pound. Meagan began to scream a tortured wail that shot ice through my body.

Suddenly the room’s light changed. It was the flicker of lightning followed by a clap of thunder. Then the lights went out in the room. The last image the camera caught was a mysterious figure materialize from the wall behind Matt.

I stood perplexed; in shock about the meaning of the film; about what in the hell to do next. What happened? Where were Meagan and Matt now? Where were the other patients? Where was Edith? My thoughts fumbled over each other in a blind chaos of adrenaline-fueled madness. Then I heard a long scrape followed by a thump from up above and it repeated ever so slowly again. And again.

While I stood listening and trying to interpret the nature of this sound another sound came from down the hall. It was a moan. A pitiful, sorrowful moan as if someone was sobbing. I inched my way to doorway and called softly, “Hello? Who’s there?” The light shot down the hallway and illuminated a crouching figure in the corner. They faced the corner, and it was impossible to tell who it was from just the hump of their back, but I believed it was Demetrius, another one of our patients.

I walked slowly whispering his name, “Demetrius. It’s alright Demetrius. It’s me, Dr. Ballinger.” As I reached him, I could tell from the back of his head that I was right. It was Demetrius. He didn’t respond to his name, though. He just shivered and kept sobbing. I reached out and touched his shoulder. He jerked as if hit with a Taser and looked up in stark, naked terror. He was pitiful to behold. His eyes were hollow, and spittle ran down his chin. A long, pathetic moan crawled from his idiot mouth. The poor man was worse off than Donald.

As the moan died away my attention once again locked onto the slow scrape-thump coming from upstairs. I made my way back to the steps and probed the darkness above. The only thing up there was the thing that I always found the most ominous about the place – the octagonal room that brooded over the whole house like a lurking vulture.

Slowly I mounted the creaking stairs. Millions of years passed as my heart thundered in my chest. I reached the first landing and turned to make my way up the final set of steps. Shining the light up above I saw what made the noise. It was Matt Remy hanging from the rafters by a rope about his neck. At his feet sat Edith, her lunatic features distorted into a look of sheer madness. She turned towards me and began to cackle an insane gurgle of laughter as she continued to push Matt’s legs, swinging him like a child swings its dolly. His feet scraped the wooden floor and then he thumped into the wall only to return to her for another push. The worst part of the whole daemonic show was Edith’s eyes. Protruding from each socket was a bloody, gore-encrusted orbitoclast.

My grandmother passed away after a prolonged illness.  My grandfather died when I was a small child.  My memories of him were scarce.  I was close to my dear grandmother and her illness affected my family greatly even though we foresaw the inevitable decline of her health.  The fatal day arrived when she could fight no more and her frail spirit faltered.  At such times it is a natural reaction to attempt to come to grips with the loss and rationalize that the suffering had finally come to an end.  While this might be true it doesn’t really make the passing of a loved one any less upsetting.

Next followed the tasks of making the funeral arrangements, the burial, and the reading of the will.  The estate was to be divided equitably between my mother and her brother.  So began the task of sorting through my deceased grandmother’s possessions.  Her house had been in the family for many generations and was a large house.  I was assigned the job of sorting through the basement.

The stairs were steep, and the basement was dank and small.  I could not imagine it being used for anything other than storage.  Many of the boxes contained holiday items such as Christmas ornaments, Easter baskets, and Halloween pumpkins.  There were numerous boxes of old clothing and outdated periodicals.  Amongst all these boxes there were pieces of furniture.  A couple of these pieces of furniture appeared to be antiques, which had been covered with sheets to protect them.  They included an old chair, a bureau, and a mirror.  It was after weeding through most of these things that I discovered an old worn trunk.  In this trunk there were many old items of family memorabilia.  I perused through these things looking at pictures and reading old newspaper articles of weddings and other various announcements.

The wall in the back of the cellar was lined with shelves, which contained cans and jars of non-perishable foods.  I was rummaging through these shelves when something caught my eye.  One of the boards of the wall had become dislodged which revealed something metallic behind it.  I moved away the jars, took off the shelf and removed the wooden panel to reveal an old safe hidden in the wall.  I looked at it for several moments wondering who would have knowledge of the combination.  If my grandmother was the last person to have this information, then the safe’s contents might never be known again.  Then I recalled that I had seen an old instrument resembling a screwdriver beside the trunk.  It was certainly a long shot but worth an attempt, nevertheless.

I retrieved the instrument and returned to the safe.  With very little force I was able to pry open the safe.  It was obviously a very old safe and put up very little resistance.  Now, knowing what I know, I wish the safe would have put up a tougher fight and held fast, for it was the safe that contained the horrifying memoirs of my great grandfather.  There were no other contents in the safe besides the small journal.

I read the first few pages and was so taken by his tale that I decided to take it home and read it.  I didn’t tell any of the other members of my family about my discovery.  I had planned to keep the story a secret, but circumstances have forced me to write this confession.  I have already been affected by it; but before I describe my encounter, I must tell you about my great grandfather.

My great grandfather’s name was Albert Jennings.  He was a somewhat eccentric man who learned one of the more unusual trades of our species.  It was he who is the basis of the third local legend I have already related to you.  The version I told was scant in its telling.  The truth of the story was more intriguing than any fiction could manufacture.

Why someone would want to become a mortician is quite beyond me, but this was the path Albert Jennings took.  His memoirs recount the entire tale of his supernatural ordeal.  It is this tale I will now explain.  His memoirs begin with the events of how he came to meet Lilith Morgan, the alleged witch residing in the Sadler Plantation Home.  This meeting was the result of the death of Seth, the widow Morgan’s son.  Albert described how the boy had become quite defiant towards his mother and had been sneaking away from the house on frequent occasions.

Seth would usually keep to the woods around the local area of the house but there were times when he would be seen about town.  He was shunned by everyone, and he wouldn’t do more than just make the folks in town uncomfortable.  Immediately the rumors would be re-ignited and small groups of whisperers would form, watching him sidelong.

On one particular day Seth wandered about town and headed for the General Store.  Just as he walked past Jesse Brown’s wagon the horses grew uneasy and one tore loose from the hitching post.  The horse began to buck and rear in its panic to distance itself from Seth as its large, equestrian eyes rolled back in its head.  The poor boy, who desperately wished for normalcy, tried to calm the beast but this only caused the horse to plunge deeper into its fear.

By the time the townsfolk began to witness the unfolding of this whole display, the horse had struck the boy square in the head with a wild kick.  The sound produced was a sickly thud and blood flew.  Mr. Brown emerged from the store and managed to gain control of his horse while Clarence Wilford, the store manager, ran to the fallen boy’s side.

The boy was still alive but there was no doubt that the blow would be fatal.  Clarence later said that he could see skull and gray matter in the mix of blood and hair.  Doctor Grenier was summoned along with the authorities.  They removed the boy from the street and carried him to Dr. Grenier’s office.  By the time they arrived there, the Doc had pronounced the boy dead.  The authorities sent two officers to the Sadler House to notify Mrs. Morgan of her son’s situation.  This was accomplished by the drawing of lots – even then there was much arguing and bribing.

In the meantime, Dr. Grenier and Sheriff Doss carried the body to my great grandfather’s funeral home.  Albert asked Dr. Grenier and Sheriff Doss to please remain behind until the news was delivered to Mrs. Morgan.  They agreed to do this.  Albert placed the body in the basement of the funeral home where he did the grisly task of preparing corpses for burial.  The Doc and the Sheriff waited in the parlor while Albert cleansed the blood and other tissue from the wound so that when the widow beheld her son it might be more tolerable.

After he finished this he adjourned to the parlor with the other two gentlemen.  They anxiously awaited the arrival of the widow and speculated on her reaction to such terrible news.  Eventually the two officers arrived with the widow.  Contrary to the expected hysterics, she was quite composed.  Albert described her demeanor being more disturbing than if she had been moaning and wailing.  She was somber and made little show of emotion while the Sheriff explained all that had transpired.  The widow asked to see the corpse and Albert escorted her downstairs as requested.  She asked Albert not to begin the embalming process and told him that there was a very rational reason for doing this.  Albert thought this request rather unusual but assured her that he would wait until she gave him permission.

After this she excused herself and returned home.  The men commented on her strange behavior, but this was typical of Lilith and should have been expected.  Shortly thereafter the men departed.

That night Lilith came to Albert’s house and asked to speak with him alone.  The two went over to the funeral home after Lilith suggested that after they talked, she would like to see her son one more time.  Albert recounted that conversation in some detail in his memoirs.

What transpired then was a secret so demonic that it has lived only in the memoirs of my great grandfather in the forgotten safe until I happened to discover it.  Lilith wanted to remove her deceased son, Seth, back to the old Sadler House.  Albert thought that she had the intentions of burying her son in the old cemetery that was on the property.  Lilith, however, made Albert promise that he would never speak of the night and what had transpired.  She also made him promise that no matter what should happen afterwards, he must never speak of the death of her son again.

He felt very confused and uncomfortable about the things she asked; but he finally relented to her request and agreed to what she asked.  Why he did this is a matter of mystery to me.  He never explains in his memoirs why he agreed to this.  I suspect that he had no choice.  He described her as being a woman who possessed an aura of profound power.  It is very likely that she had cast some sort of magical charm over him, and he had no will to resist her.  Whatever the case, the deal was made between them, and Lilith left that night with the dead corpse of her son, Seth.

Several days later there was a report by a neighbor of Lilith’s that the boy had been seen about the Sadler House quite alive.  This neighbor was Samuel Baylor.  He came into town and this rumor spread in a matter of hours.  Most people thought that Samuel’s eyes were obviously deceiving him.  But it was just a matter of days before several other people confirmed his story.

When the news of this reached Albert, his reaction was to fabricate a story of how the boy had regained consciousness.  The Sheriff came by to get a statement from Albert.  He retold his story, and the Sheriff just shook his head in disbelief.  He found the story to be too fantastic to believe but he really had no choice but accept it.  While he had never heard of such things, he was no undertaker and had very little experience with corpses.  The Doctor was a different story altogether.  He was completely at a loss for an explanation.  His only comment was that he had heard of all manner of medical anomalies but this one was, by far, the strangest he had ever heard before.  He was sure the boy was quite dead.

About a week after this was when there occurred an encounter between a neighbor and Seth.  Maude Laslow was walking down a dirt road close to her home when she saw the boy lumbering towards her.  Although she had the urge to avoid Seth, there was really no place for her to go.  She said that the boy looked wild and was acting erratically.  When Seth got close to her, he began to growl at her and claw at his head.  She became so afraid that she began to scream.  This caused the boy to begin moaning and whimpering and then he abruptly turned and fled into the woods.  It was several weeks before anyone reported seeing the boy again.

The reports of encounters with Seth grew fewer and fewer as the months went by.  Many people reported seeing him in the woods around Roupes Creek close to the Tannehill area.  It is obvious to me now that Seth grew into an adult and continued to live in the woods around Tannehill.  The infrequent sightings of Seth surely were the source of the legend of the Tannehill Monster.

Albert did mention that Lilith descended into a deep depression after Seth disappeared.  She rarely came to town and when she did, the townsfolk shunned her as if she were invisible.  She apparently didn’t seem to mind because she never made any effort to talk to anyone.  A couple of years passed, and the entire incident of Seth’s strange recovery faded from everyone’s memories.

Then, one afternoon, a terrible accident befell my grandmother’s oldest sister.  Albert had four children.  The oldest was my grandmother’s sister Sarah.  She was nine years old when the accident that claimed her life occurred.  My grandmother would have been only a year old.  The children were playing near the house in the woods by a creek.  Sarah lost her footing on the moss-covered rocks and fell hitting her head with a tremendous force.  She lost consciousness but didn’t die immediately.  The children went to get their parents for help and Sarah was removed to her room.  Dr. Grenier was summoned but there wasn’t much that could be done.  Brain swelling continued throughout the night and Sarah finally passed away in the early hours of the morning.

As bizarre as it sounds, Albert faced the grim task of preparing his own daughter’s body for burial.  Albert hadn’t forgotten about Seth though.  Albert decided that it was time for Lilith to pay back the favor of keeping her dark secret.

You must remember that this was never known beyond Albert and Lilith.  Albert kept this secret till the day he died.  The only place it was ever revealed was in Albert’s memoirs that I found.

Albert went to see Lilith and asked her to perform the same ritual on Sarah that she had done on Seth.  Lilith refused, however.  She explained to Albert that Seth had somehow changed and wasn’t the same child.  But Albert was racked with grief and refused to listen.  All he wanted was his precious daughter back.  They continued to argue until things escalated into a heated exchange.  Lilith continued to refuse Albert and he became so consumed with emotion that he attacked her.

Albert recounts that he used the poker from the fireplace to kill Lilith.  His blows were wild, so Lilith didn’t receive the fatal blow at first.  She was able to ward off his blows long enough to issue a vile and terrible curse upon Albert.  Hearing her arcane and disturbing words, Albert at first laughed at her and then he flew into an even more violent fit of rage.  He struck her square across the forehead, and she crumpled to the floor dead.

Albert knew that if someone found her, she would be brought to him for preparation for the burial.  He wanted to be done with Lilith Morgan forever.  He waited till the cover of night and removed her body to the woods where he buried her in the soft dirt by Roupes Creek.

The people of the town thought that it was the fact that Albert prepared his daughter for her burial that drove him mad.  It surely affected him but not to the point of insanity.  No, that was the work of Lilith.  Albert recounts the manner in which she exacted her revenge.

It is quite plausible to suggest that it was Albert’s task that drove him mad and that he was merely imagining the things that took place thereafter.  But there is one thing that convinces me otherwise.  I have proof.  Let me finish the tale of my great grandfather so that you might better understand the meaning of the thing I saw.

In the basement of the funeral parlor was the embalming room where Albert prepared the bodies.  The room was long and narrow and contained two embalming tables along the side walls.  At the far end of the room was a table with all manner of tools and vials upon it.  Hanging on the wall above this table was a large mirror.  Next to the table was a narrow alcove that was actually a small, manually operated elevator that was used for raising the bodies to the second floor after the embalming had been completed.

Sarah lay upon one of the embalming tables covered by a sheet.  Albert sat before the table at the back of the room, drinking whiskey, sobbing, and preparing himself for the horrendous task that lay before him.  Hearing the voice of his daughter, he glanced up into the mirror to behold Sarah sitting upon the table.  He whirled around only to see that it was some cruel trick of his imagination.  He returned to his drink.  Then, clearly, he heard her say, “Daddy, she’s coming”.  He looked up into the mirror and once again Sarah sat upon the table looking at Albert in the mirror.  This time Albert didn’t turn around.  He continued to watch his beautiful and animated daughter in the looking glass.

“Who’s coming, Sarah?” Albert asked.

“The bad lady who wants to kill you.”  Before Albert could respond to this strange reply, he heard the sound of someone walking down the stairs very slowly.  Sarah’s expression changed into one of fear and she moved with her back against the wall and the sheet pulled up tight about her face as if she were trying to protect herself from whatever was coming down the stairs.  Her eyes were wide with fear, and they were riveted to the stairs just beyond the door.

It took Albert a mere second to behold the cowering form of Sarah.  He wheeled about in his chair only to see the lifeless and covered corpse of his daughter still lying in the same position as he had left her the night before.  Albert attributed this strange occurrence to the whiskey.

The next day the body of Esther Ingram was delivered to the funeral home.  She was placed on the table opposite Sarah and covered in the same fashion with a white sheet.  Esther was an elderly woman who had been battling ill health for several months.  She had finally grown too frail to fight anymore and had succumbed to death’s thin embrace.

That night Albert once again adjourned to the small embalming room to attempt the job of embalming Sarah.  And once again he sat at the small table sipping whiskey and sobbing.  Two hours passed and Albert finally worked up enough nerve to begin the task.  He gathered and arranged his tools, postponing the grisly task as long as possible.  He thought that it might make the task somewhat easier if he prepared the bodies of both Sarah and Esther at the same time.  He rose from his chair and went to retrieve his instruments when he heard Sarah speak again.  “Daddy,” she said, in the childish voice that could not be mistaken.  He turned to look but there was no one there – just the still and lifeless forms of Sarah and Esther.  Then he turned and looked into the mirror.  The sight he beheld made him freeze in terror.  Sarah sat up on the table with her legs swinging as she looked in the mirror at her father and smiled.

“Sarah, is it really you?” he sobbed.

“Of course, Daddy,” she giggled.

“What’s happening?” Albert moaned.

“What do you mean, Daddy?” Sarah said naively.

“Sarah, are you hurting, Darling?”

“No, Daddy, but I am worried about you.”  She replied.

“Why?”

“Because the bad lady wants you.”

“What bad lady?” Albert asked.

“The one with the blood on her face.  She’s so mean and scary.  Uh oh, she’s coming again, Daddy!”  Then Albert heard someone walking down the stairs again.  The instruments fell from his hands to scatter across the floor, and he struggled to remain standing.  Although every ounce of his being screamed for him to turn around, he continued to stare into the mirror.  Once again Sarah crawled across the table, up against the wall, and pulled the sheet tight about her as she watched in abject horror at whatever it was that made its way down the stairs.  Albert noticed that Esther remained inert upon her table.

Albert continued to watch, struggling to overcome the fear that so gripped him.  Whatever was coming down the stairs was almost to the doorway.  Slowly the footsteps approached.  The door creaked open.  And then the hideous form of Lilith entered the room.  She was pale and her hair was in disarray.  Her face was covered with dry blood and the wound Albert had inflicted with the fire poker was plainly visible across her forehead. Her face was twisted into a grotesque and evil expression of hate.  But it was the eyes that caused Albert the most distress.  They were locked onto his eyes.  She walked deliberately in his direction.

Albert could stand no more.  Upon beholding the apparition of Lilith, he spun around and once again there was nothing there.  No one stood in the doorway and the two bodies lay covered as before.  Albert cautiously approached the stairs.  Once he was sure that no one was upon the stairwell he ran home.

When Albert arrived home, he poured himself a drink and sat down in the living room.  Albert’s wife, Emily, entered and asked him if the task had been completed.  He admitted that it had not, but he didn’t tell her about the apparition in the mirror.  He thought that she would think him crazy.  The death of Sarah was enough to strain their emotions and this news only made matters worse.  A fight ensued and the alcohol only served to make the matter worse.

The next day Albert could wait no longer.  Sarah’s visitation was to be the following evening, so he had no choice but to complete the embalming of Sarah.  Albert descended the stairs slowly and reluctantly.  The atmosphere of the embalming room was so charged with apprehension that he decided to return to the house, sneak a bottle of bourbon into his coat, and return to the stairwell only after a few swigs.  He resumed his slow descent, all the time hugging the bottle of liquor close to his chest.  He had already made up his mind that he would refrain from looking into the mirror.

Albert knelt on the floor and retrieved his scattered tools from the day before.  He rose, took a deep breath, and then he set to work.  It was beyond difficult.  One can’t imagine the pain involved in the work of preparing your own daughter for burial, for it is such a bizarre profession that most of us are thankful to have no gauge to fuel our imaginations into the realm of horror that Albert inhabited.

At one point Albert paused to regard the quiet, peaceful face of his young child.  He began to cry and stroke her hair.  His sobs intensified until he found himself cradling her to his breast.  So involved in his grieving he had become that he unconsciously wiped his eyes and looked into the mirror.  He saw himself embracing his daughter, not in death, but in the living form of his child.  “Why are you crying, Daddy?” Sarah asked.

“Because I miss you dear,” he said through tears.

“But I’m right here, silly.”

“I know, Dear. I know.”

“Daddy, the bad lady is coming again.  Please don’t leave me alone,” she pleaded as she clung to her father for protection.

“I won’t.”  Already the sound of her slow descent down the stairs could be heard.  Albert held Sarah and watched the mirror.    The door creaked open again.  This time Lilith was full in the room and walking at a slow, determined pace, with her hands outstretched straight for Albert.

Albert waited till her hands were just about to close around his neck and at the last moment Albert gasped and turned to defend himself.  The sudden release of Sarah caused her to fall back to the table with a loud thump just as Albert realized that his hands were raised to protect himself from nothing but empty air.  Albert became sickened by the careless way he had let Sarah fall and this gave way to rage at the old crone, Lilith.  It was a rage just like the night he had taken the fire poker to her.  He reached for the bottle of bourbon and made to throw it at the mirror, but something kept him from going through with the act.  He couldn’t shatter the mirror because of Sarah.  He regarded himself in the mirror with the bottle raised above his head.  His gaze fell on the lifeless form of Sarah.  Although it was but a moment, he had seen her alive again.  Even though it was in the most unnerving grip of terror, she had been alive.  Albert lowered the bottle and took a long drink.

Finally, the task of embalming Sarah was completed.  Throughout the remainder of the procedure Albert kept looking up into the mirror.  A part of him wanted to see Sarah alive again, but another part loathed the possibility of seeing the form of Lilith with her distorted expression, cloven forehead, outstretched hands, and piercing eyes that burned into his mind.

The visitation was a bleak and mournful event.  The entire town came by to pay their respects and console the family who had lost one of their dearest and sweetest children.  Emily cried and screamed the entire time.  She cursed the God who let such cruel and unjust things happen in this world.  Dr. Grenier was on hand to administer a sedative.  As for Albert, he stood by stoically with a rather blank expression upon his face.

After the visitation there was a large gathering at the Jennings’ residence.  Family and friends came by with food and kind words, as is the usual custom when a loved one has passed away.  The sedatives finally took hold and Emily dozed while Albert listened to the endless litany of comforting comments that didn’t serve their intended purpose.  Finally, all the guests departed, and Albert left the other three children in the care of a relative.  He explained that there were preparations he needed to make with Sarah at the funeral home and then he excused himself.  The real reason was that Albert dearly wanted to see his daughter in the mirror again before the funeral.

Albert arrived at the funeral home and proceeded to wheel Sarah’s casket to the elevator.  He slid the coffin in the narrow shelf that was just large enough to hold the casket and then he lowered her down with the hand crank.  Next, he removed the bottle of bourbon concealed in his coat and took a strong belt before descending the stairs.

Esther still lay upon the one table with the sheet concealing her corpse.  Albert went to the back of the room and opened the elevator door, slid the coffin out, and removed Sarah to the other table.  Then he sat sipping whiskey and watching the mirror.

How long he waited he wasn’t sure, but he found himself waking up to the sound of Sarah’s voice.  “Daddy, are you going to stay with me?” she was saying as Albert looked up into the mirror to see her sitting on the table.

“I’m here, Sarah.  I’m here with you now,” Albert said thinking of the burial that would be arriving soon.

“Is Mommy still sad?”

“Sarah, when I’m not around what do you do?” Albert asked.

“Mostly I sleep but sometimes I hear people talking.  I try to wake up or move but I can’t.  And then, sometimes the bad lady says things to me.”

“What kind of things?”

“Things about you, Daddy.  She hates you and wants to hurt you.  It scares me but I don’t think she can hurt me unless you’re around.  That’s why she always comes when we’re talking,” Sarah said glancing nervously at the doorway and the stairs beyond.

“Is she coming?” Albert asked noticing Sarah’s agitation.  But before Sarah could answer the sound of a footstep on the stairwell answered Albert’s question.

“Daddy, please don’t leave me again,” Sarah pleaded.  “Stay with me or make her go away, Daddy!”  Albert got up and backed up to Sarah so that he could keep her reflection in sight the entire time.  He put his arms around Sarah and comforted her.

“It’ll be all right, Darling.  I’m right here.”  Then the emaciated form of Lilith entered the doorway.  Sarah began to sob and clutch Albert.  He stroked her hair and continued to meet Lilith’s scathing glance in the mirror.  She made her way across the room with her hands raised to lock around Albert’s neck.  Albert could see that her hands were marked with blood and dirt.  He waited until the last possible moment and just as he felt the touch of Lilith’s hands upon his neck he turned around.  Lilith was gone.  He looked down at the lifeless corpse that he still held in his arms.  Albert broke down and began to cry.

The last entry in my great grandfather’s memoirs is at this point of the tale.  The last thing he wrote was about how heartbreaking and difficult it would be to inter Sarah and give her up to the cold and bitter sleep of death.  His very last statement was that the pain was too much to bear, and he had resolved to see Sarah one final time before the burial but this time he would not turn from the mirror.  He would face the mirror till the end.

This left me wondering about whatever happened to him.  I have never heard anyone in my family mention that he died in any mysterious or bizarre manner.  I did, however, recall the local legend of the undertaker who talked to the dead and was found murdered amongst the dead bodies awaiting preparation for burial.

I decided to question my mother under the pretense of being curious about many of the people pictured in the photo albums that were in my grandmother’s basement.  When we got to the subject of her grandfather, I asked how he had died.  She told me that he died of liver disease when she was a child.  This only served to confuse my assumption that he had died when my grandmother was still a small child.  I then asked her what he did for a living.  She said that he used to be a mortician until her Aunt Sarah died.  After she died, he began drinking and had a nervous breakdown.  Apparently, they sold their house for the money and the family moved into the former funeral home.  My great grandfather then got a job at a lumber mill where he worked till he retired.   I certainly didn’t expect the answer my mother gave me to the next question I asked.  I asked her what had ever happened to the funeral home.  She told me that it was the same house where Grandma was living when she died.

I thought about this for a few moments and then I realized that the basement room where I had found my great grandfather’s memoirs was the very room where he had embalmed my great aunt’s body.  This was a bit unsettling to say the least.  Just reflecting on the fact that such a bizarre thing should have occurred in a place where I had so recently been standing sent a shiver down my spine.

My mind was preoccupied with my great grandfather’s tale for the rest of the evening.  I wondered what had happened after the funeral and why he had so suddenly quit writing.  And then I remembered the mirror that was still in the basement.  I wondered whether or not it was the same mirror.  Even though the room had taken on an eerie aspect in my mind, I couldn’t wait till the next day to go and inspect the mirror.  I didn’t really know why I felt this way or how I could even tell if it was indeed the same mirror, but I felt the impulse to inspect it anyway.

The following day we returned to my grandmother’s house to continue the job of sorting through her belongings.  I stood for several moments at the doorway leading to the stairwell down into the basement and gathered my nerves.  The knowledge that the basement room had been the embalming room of Albert Jenkins was, to me, a disconcerting piece of knowledge that filled me with a feeling of apprehension of descending the stairs.  I doubt that I could have done it if it were night.

I did manage to go down the stairs, however.  The first thing I did was try and imagine what the room would have looked like according to Albert’s descriptions.  Next, I went to the mirror again.  Removing the sheet that covered it, I inspected the size and craftsmanship of the mirror.  It was large and appeared to have been hand crafted.  Then, I stepped back a few feet and regarded myself in the glass.  The sound of a voice startled me.  It was the muffled sound of a small girl’s voice that said, “Daddy?”  I turned around but there was nothing there.  Although the voice was soft, there was no doubt in my mind that I had heard it.  I turned back to the mirror, and I decided that I would control my nerves and refrain from turning around.

Once again, I heard the unmistakable sound of a small girl’s voice coming from, what sounded like, the far corner.  “Daddy?” and then the words were too muffled to make out.  I heard something about “the darkness” and once again the words couldn’t be made out.  I continued to listen to the sound trying to discern from where it originated.  It sounded like the voice was coming from inside the wall in the far corner.  Then I heard a creaking noise and faint knocks that grew louder.  Then the voice grew louder and more intense.  “Daddy, It’s so dark!  Why won’t you let me out?”  My heart was thundering in my chest and my legs were shaking.

I was just about to turn around when I heard a footfall on the steps.  At this I nearly fainted and it was all I could do to control my urge to turn around.  The voice inside the wall was louder now.  I could make out the words of “bad lady” and pleas for “Daddy”.  I clutched the edges of the mirror, my knuckles turning white.  I forced myself to watch the smooth surface of the mirror with the doorway reflected in its shiny glass.  The steps on the stairwell were growing closer.  I imagined the apparition that would enter the room.  The cries were growing more strained as the steps descended.  And then the form of Lilith entered the room.  My breath froze in my body.  She was shrouded in a discolored, long dress.  Her hair was in disarray and her filthy hands were outstretched towards me.  But it was her face that I shall be haunted by in my dreams.  Twisted into a grotesque grimace of hatred and clotted with blood and dirt; the mangled head wound was clearly visible upon her forehead.  Our eyes met and I could feel the hatred searing into my soul.  I could take no more and I whirled about with the mirror still clutched in my hands and threw it at where she would have been; but there was no one there.  The heavy mirror flew a few feet and crashed onto the floor shattering into a million shards.  And then I fainted.

My mother and my uncle rushed downstairs upon hearing the loud crash of the old mirror.  They found me lying on the floor in a swoon and assisted me back upstairs where they attended me.

After I recovered my senses I recounted the entire story of the previous day, night, and recent ordeal.  They listened patiently while I explained all the horrific details of Albert’s memoirs.  They were skeptical but my Uncle Lawrence still was intrigued enough to go and investigate the room while my mother tended my recovering anxiety.

He went back downstairs to explore the wall from whence the voice had originated.  It was behind the wall that he discovered the old lift that had been concealed for so many years.  Inside of the lift he found the coffin that contained the mummified body of my great aunt.  She was finally buried two weeks after her sister who died at eighty-two years of age.

When your will has been tackled again and again

And the flag of the soul is but ribbons in wind

“Rise Again!” they cry, “Rise Again!”

___

And the stones of accusers flail the skin

Don’t wail your own dirge, spit out the blood and grin

“Rise Again!” they cry, “Rise Again!”

___

Though they twist the meanings beginning to end 

Hopes are now bleak and virtues now sin

“Rise Again!” they cry, “Rise Again!”

___

Chaos now risen about you might spin

And no chance to make pace and manage to win

“Rise Again!” they cry, “Rise Again!”

___

They’re the voices that scream from deep down within

Scream through the ashes a cacophonous din

“Rise Again!” they cry, “Rise Again!”

_______________________________________________________

[The first pic is my drawing followed by AI art using my pic as a prompt.]

The Blackfoot boy named Tail Feather Shaking was on the fourth day of his Vision Quest. He stood at the base of a tall cliff-face staring up at its heights. There was no purpose to his gaze; he was just admiring the angles, colors, and size of it.

Suddenly, a sting to his leg caused him to jerk his leg up and slap at the pain. A scorpion? Snake? Spider? No, it was an ant. As his realized this, another bite followed. He saw that ants covered his feet. He had been standing on an ant mound. Frantically he slapped and swiped, brushing the insects from his skin.

As he stared at the ants in their chaotic motions, he momentarily forgot that he was supposed to be in the midst of some sort of spiritual awakening. He should have been feeling like his body was going through a metamorphosis; that his mind should be undergoing a radical illumination of transformation. Instead, he just felt hungry and rather bored.

As he watched the ants, he noticed that a line of them led off towards the base of the cliff. A highly organized file of ants marching as if they had been given very specific orders by their leader to head towards a certain location. So, Tail Feather Shaking decided to follow them and see just where they were going.

Carefully he followed the line of ants over the rocks and dirt, through the brush, and up to the cliff wall. They snaked up the rocks and then seemingly disappeared between a crack. Tail Feather Shaking took several minutes to investigate just where they might have gone, but it was in vain.

Standing so close to the cliff, he turned his gaze from the ants and looked straight up. The cliff loomed high above, and he somehow knew that it was up there that his Vision Quest led. And so, he placed his hands on the rocks and tested the holds and then, he began to climb.

It was over an hour later that he threw an arm over the rim of the top and pulled himself up. It had been a relatively easy climb – not too easy, but not too difficult, either. He had taken his time to ensure that he didn’t make any error due to his weakened state. Now that he had reached the top, he rolled onto his back to catch his breath and noticed that once again there were ants on the ground. Not an organized line as before, but there they were, crawling around as if they had made the climb with him.

***

Three days later Tail Feather Shaking was back in his village. It was early evening and a large fire burned in the middle of the village. All around the fire sat the entire tribe. Over thirty people, men, women, and children, all sat waiting to hear him and his childhood rival, Wolf Cries At Moon, the other boy who had also gone on a vision quest at the same time as Tail Feather Shaking. He saw his mother and the other mothers of the tribe, his father and all the other fine warriors, the elders, the children were even sitting waiting. There was Chief Stormcloud and the Shaman, Pale Feet, sitting front and center. This night they would recount their Vision Quest and the ordeal that had caused them to have an epiphany – the moment of their Vision Quest when The Great Spirit had moved through Nature and guided their lives to greater meaning. The only problem was that Tail Feather Shaking hadn’t had any such moment. He was completely at a loss for what he would say.

For the moment, though, he would have a slight reprieve, since it was Wolf Cries At Moon who now stood before the tribe and spoke:

“At dawn of the fourth day I arose and wrapped my furs about my body. I was just about to gather wood to build the fire when out from the trees came the largest bear I have ever seen. I was terrified because it saw me and began to grumble and trot towards me. It came right up to my fire pit and rose on its hind legs and growled.

I was shaking and scared, but The Great Spirit suddenly was there whispering in my ear. It said, ‘Fear not for this is one of your tribes’ ancestors and I will tell you what he says. He begs you to stand and greet him.’ Feeling somewhat better, I obeyed The Great Spirit and I stood, held my arms wide, and welcomed my ancestor to my fire pit.

The bear growled again, and The Great Spirit said, ‘Ancestor says that you must never fear the animals but respect them. They are guides and the ancestors come through them to teach you. Ancestor wants to show you something.’

The bear then dropped to all fours and turned to go. I followed Ancestor until we came to the river, and I watched as Ancestor began to catch salmon. And so, I joined him in the river, and he taught me how to catch the fat fish in shallow pools.

I returned to my fire pit and stoked my fire and I thanked Ancestor Bear and The Great Spirit for providing me safety and food and allowing me to return to you so I might be of service to my tribe.”

Then, everyone began to whoop and cheer and clap and rattle their gourds. Everyone sang a song of thanks and welcomed Wolf Cries At Moon back from his Vision Quest, for he had done very well.

It was then time for Tail Feather Shaking to speak, and he was still unsure of what he might say. He hated to admit it, but he resented Wolf Cries At Moon for being so good and eloquent and having such a fine Vision Quest. He wracked his mind about what he should say, but all he kept thinking about were those tiny ants, toiling away in a frenzy and marching towards the cliff. It was then that he was inspired to just make up a crazy story.

He looked upon all the expectant faces and he cleared his throat and said:

“On the night of the third day of my Vision Quest, I stood beneath a cliff and my attention was drawn towards an ant hill. I watched the ants going about busily building their mound, gathering their food, and guarding their home from tiny invaders. I slept by the ant hill as if by instinct and awoke on the fourth morning well before dawn.

As I awoke, I beheld a group of ten ants in a straight line setting off towards the cliff and I somehow knew that they were on a very important errand, so I followed them. For several hours they climbed the cliff and I climbed, too. I stayed with them and watched over them and we eventually arrived at the top of the cliff.

It was still dark, but I knew the sunrise would soon arrive. I beheld the ants split up and gather leaves. It was an amazing feat to see these small ants carry leaves so much bigger than themselves as easily as I would carry a gourd of water. They all returned to the edge of the cliff and as the sun rose, they all clutched their leaves and one by one they jumped! They rode upon the leaves floating down and I beheld their mound far below. It was to the mound that they were returning.

And then The Great Spirit possessed me, and I was filled with an urge to gather small branched ripe with many leaves and fashion them together into a large canopy. I stood at the edge of the cliff, and I too jumped clutching the canopy of leaves. And lo, I floated down ever so gently.

As I was nearing the ground, I could see the ant hill and I could see all the ants gathered upon it gazing up at me in awe as if they beheld a god descending upon them from the sky.

When I reached the ground, I laughed at the ants and thanked them for teaching me their ways.”

When Tail Feather Shaking finished, everyone, including Chief Stormcloud and the Shaman Pale Feet, stared at him in stunned silence. And then he started laughing.

It is said that fear feeds on itself.  I don’t doubt this to be true, but being equipped with such wisdom doesn’t diminish in the least any amount of fear once it has begun to feed.  Even though the rational part of the mind understands the unwarranted reason for such trifling feelings of uneasiness, it is the subconscious portion that whispers that such justifications are mere Potemkin villages erected by the mind in an effort to preserve all sanity.

You will think me mad, no doubt, to hear me confess that the doll was alive.  That is your right, but I advise such rash criticisms to be checked before hearing my testimony.  For no man is above such horrors when they grow so imperceptibly slow.  Yes, I would advise my story to be a warning of such slow gnawings of fear that eventually escalates into irrational outbursts of horror.

Not only did I suspect the doll to have a life of its own, but I also knew it plotted against me.  It was all very mental, you see.  Whether it was an evil force working through the guise of a doll or my own convoluted paranoia, the effect was still the same; and, of these two choices, I cannot honestly say which is more horrifying if proven to be the truth.

The first time I toured my elderly aunt’s house the doll had no effect on me at all.  I didn’t even notice the damn thing, to be honest.  My dear aunt was ill, you see, and I made arrangements to assist her in her convalescence.  The poor dear couldn’t manage by herself.

It was my first time to behold her exquisite manor.  I never had the opportunity to visit her on any happier occasion.  My aunt showed me around, but even this wore her out to the extreme.  I helped her return to her chambers and she drifted to sleep almost immediately.  So, I quietly closed her door and went downstairs to unpack and rest.

On the tour of the house she showed me to the spare bedroom, which I would be occupying during my stay.  The room had once belonged to my cousin, and my aunt had preserved it for all these years.  It appeared just as it had when Clara was a child.  The doll sat on a small child’s chair in the corner of the room closest to the foot of the bed.  It was a porcelain doll with brown hair in pigtails, tied with blue bows.  The bows matched the dress, which was frilly and lace adorned.  It wore white stockings and shiny black shoes.  It was about two-foot tall and sat on the chair slumped down to one side with its big glass eyes staring straight at the bed.  The effect wouldn’t have been so unsettling if it weren’t for the sinister, little smile upon its rosy-cheeked face.  It was truly an evil expression.

I didn’t notice it until I had been busy unpacking my suitcase for many minutes – hanging my clothes in the closet and placing them in the bureau.  It was then that, all of the sudden, I had the strangest feeling that I was being watched.  I instinctively turned to the door but there was no one there.  Then my eyes came to rest upon the doll.  I regarded it with little more than a cursory glance and resumed my unpacking.  I next went around the bed and retrieved my alarm clock and a couple of books in order to place them on the nightstand.  Again I chanced a look at the doll.  I placed no importance or second thought into these glances, but each time I moved to a different part of the room I stole a glance at the doll.  Its eyes followed me wherever I happened to be in the room.  It was really not such a fantastic thing.  Portraits are notorious for this quality if the artist captures the angle right.  And they are mere two-dimensional objects.  A fully three-dimensional doll should, theoretically, possess this quality in even greater range.  But it still gave me the creepiest feeling that I was being watched.

The remainder of the evening was spent with dear Aunt Sophie.  She awoke after her nap and came downstairs whereupon I prepared dinner for the two of us.  After dinner we adjourned to the living room to talk and catch up on family affairs.  The night was chilly so I stoked a healthy fire so that Aunt Sophie would be comfortable while we reminisced about my childhood escapades.  It was about this time that Aunt Sophie began talking about Clara’s death.  Poor Aunt Sophie broke down in tears talking about how much she still missed Clara, even after all these many years.  Clara and I were close in age until Clara passed away at the tender age of eleven.

I let her sorrow run its course while offering an occasional consoling word or phrase, but the cheeriness of our reunion was thoroughly quelled by the gloominess of the atmosphere that hung in the house after evoking the memory of Clara.

The subject changed to other things in an effort to lift the sadness but it wasn’t long lived.  I helped Aunt Sophie to her chambers once again.  She smiled at me and thanked me for taking time out of my busy schedule to help her through her lingering illness.  I assured her that it was the least I could do to assist my favorite aunt and then we said goodnight.  I returned to the living room and sat reading for a short time, waiting for the fire to burn low.  I was tired from my travels so I decided to retire to the bed and resume my reading.

I washed, donned my nightclothes, retrieved my book, and crawled into bed.  And there sat the doll – glaring at me.  I attempted to read but my concentration was destroyed.  I barely got through a paragraph before I was compelled to peer over the top of my book right into the face of that little fiendish expression.  I was being irrational, I told myself.  It was just a doll for God’s sake.  Just a child’s doll!  But its eyes tore right into me.  Its eyes would not stop imploring something of me.  Accusing me of something I could not name or know.  I became irritated and closed my book with a snap, extinguished the light, and rolled over to go to sleep.

Sleep didn’t come, as it should to a person who has been traveling all day.  I refused to look at the doll.  But I knew it was there.  It was still there watching me.  Knowing that I only pretended to sleep.  Knowing that I only pretended it didn’t bother me; but it knew all right.  It knew because it witnessed my annoyance.  It had the satisfaction of seeing my display of annoyance by slamming my book closed.

I awoke three times that night.  Each time I tried to resist looking at the doll but it was futile.  I couldn’t fight it and I looked to see the eyes staring right at me – the face smirking at my misery.  I wanted more than anything to just get up and reposition the doll where its face was turned away from me; but I kept telling myself that a grown man of sound mind wouldn’t bother with such inane actions.  Those were the acts of a child or a superstitious fool, not a grown man of mental soundness such as myself.  But, somehow, I endured the night.  When I awoke the next morning I expected the sunlight to have a calming effect.  The morning light is notorious for converting strange night thoughts into laughable embarrassments.  This wasn’t the case, however.  The doll’s expression was still there in the corner gazing at me in accusation.  So, I busied myself with changing clothes and grooming and such, trying my best to ignore the doll.  It was a useless attempt.

Finally, I couldn’t take any more of the eyes upon me and decided to reposition the doll.  Once I decided this course of action I immediately felt in control of the situation.  I promptly marched over to the chair and reached down to grasp the doll, but my hands stopped short.  I felt repulsion at the thought of touching it, like a person might feel at touching a maggot-ridden corpse of an animal.  I didn’t stop to analyze why this might be so. Instead, I reached down and grabbed the leg of the chair and turned the entire chair, doll and all.  The doll, which was already leaning over, fell from the chair and I instinctively reached out and caught it by the arm.  I was so repulsed by its touch that I quickly flung it back onto the chair.  So quick and sporadic were my actions that its arm nearly ripped completely off.  I felt ashamed of how ridiculous I was acting.  It was just a stupid doll!

At breakfast I decided to tell Aunt Sophie about the doll’s arm.  Of course I didn’t tell her how it really happened.  She would have thought me a lunatic.  I told her I accidentally bumped the chair on passing and tried to catch the doll.  She immediately got up and rushed into Clara’s room to see the doll.  I followed, a bit confused at her overreaction.

She picked the doll up and cradled it like an infant while investigating the damage.  I found this to be so repulsive that I had to restrain myself from slapping the nasty little thing out of her arms.  The doll knew I felt this way.  It stared at me the whole time with its smug little grin.  I knew that it was already plotting its revenge.

Then my aunt revealed to me the reason why the doll had caused her to react in such haste.  The doll was very dear to Clara’s heart and it was her closest companion all the way up till the moment of her death, which was in the very bed where I had slept last night.  I was completely unaware of the fact that Clara died in her bed.  I just assumed she passed away while in the hospital.  This knowledge laid upon me a new uneasiness, which only served to compound the sinister atmosphere of the doll.  Aunt Sophie said that Clara had named the doll Tiffy, which was a children’s pronunciation of Tiffany.  And now, suddenly, the object of my derision had a name – Tiffy.

Aunt Sophie took the doll away to her sewing room and commented that she would have to repair the damage later.  She assured me there was no harm done since the rip had occurred along the seam and could be mended without any indication that it had ever occurred.  I apologized and conveyed my relief that no permanent damage was done.  Of course these were bald-faced lies and I merely acted like I was concerned for Tiffy’s well-being when, in reality, I was rather sorry I hadn’t done worse.

I was, nevertheless, glad of the fact that the doll was removed from Clara’s room.  As long as the doll wasn’t around, my rest would be much better.

That evening after dinner Aunt Sophie and I once again adjourned to the living room before the fire.  I was enjoying an after dinner drink as we talked.  Then Aunt Sophie remembered the doll and retrieved it from her sewing room along with a needle and thread.  When she entered the room and I saw what she intended to do, my spirits plummeted.  The evening I thought would be relaxing and free of the presence of the doll, now turned out to be doubly stressful.  For, I not only had to endure its presence in Clara’s room, but also its presence in the living room as well.

As she worked on mending the arm of the beast it stared at me relentlessly.  Aunt Sophie talked as she concentrated on her sewing and was oblivious to my anger.  Conversation was strained because I was so furious.  I longed to snatch the doll from her hands and hurl it into the fire.  Its stare was so reprehensible.  As the needle went in and out of its arm it just looked at me and smiled as if to point out the fact that it was impervious to physical pain.  No, I knew what it meant even though there were no words.  That was the point see?  Its power was mental in nature.  It projected its grotesque and evil aura through the eyes straight into the mind.  And though you might think that the little beast was but an inanimate object and my hatred was misplaced, I tell you, there was most assuredly life there.  It may not have possessed life like you or I possess but there was a life present, an unnamable and unwholesome life that resided behind that atrocious smile and those accusing eyes.

I just prayed that Aunt Sophie wouldn’t finish the job.  But my hopes were soon dashed as Aunt Sophie announced her completion of the job, even going so far as to rise and offer the doll for my inspection.  I attempted a smile and commented on her handiwork but made no move to touch the creature.  The doll obviously thought this was befitting because it mocked me with its nasty little smile of triumph.  Then, to my horror, Aunt Sophie proceeded to take the thing back into Clara’s room and deposit it right back upon the chair.

I prolonged the inevitable all that I could, but I eventually resolved to go to bed.  Aunt Sophie had dismissed herself some hours prior and I passed the time reading.  I dreaded the thought of being in the same room with the doll again.  No matter how much I tried to convince myself of the absurdity of such fears, it still gnawed at my brain.  Finally, I decided to exert my true courage and go in the room without looking at the doll and go straight to bed.  And this is what I did.

I couldn’t go to sleep though.  I lay there knowing her big, glassy eyes were locked on me.  What manner of vile being could she be, I wondered?  A child’s toy! Oh No!  There was something much too sinister in it to be a mere child’s plaything.  She wanted something of me and that was certain, but what?  Why was she conducting the undoing of my sanity?  It couldn’t be the rending of her arm.  That came after it all began.  But I swear that as I flung her into the chair, she grabbed back!  I felt it and there is nothing that can remove that certainty from my head.

I could take no more.  My thoughts were swarming in intensity.  I couldn’t resist!  Knowing that her eyes were piercing me like knives!  I peeked out from beneath the covers and the sight was so horrible that I sat bolt upright in bed!  The horrid little beast had moved!  By God it had moved!  I sat staring at it, my breathing fast and hard, and my heart thumping so fast I thought I would pass out.

It occurred to me then that the doll hadn’t actually moved, but that Aunt Sophie had replaced it in a different position more erect in its sitting posture upon the chair.  I wiped my brow and tried to gain control of myself.  What a fool I had become.  I took a long, deep breath and regarded the doll.  “Tiffy.”  I said the name out loud, almost spitting the name from my mouth in disgust.

It may not have actually moved but its expression had changed.  I tried to convince myself that it was just because the doll was sitting more upright than before, but this, of course, was not true.  Its mouth was more twisted than the angle could account for.  For whatever reason why it plotted against my sanity, it was getting angrier the longer it took to accomplish my undoing.

I tried one more time to ignore the thing and go to sleep but it was useless.  I couldn’t bear the test of wills any longer and rose from the bed with a rush, growled at the little monster, and went into the living room to sleep on the couch.  I immediately fell into the most relaxing and comfortable sleep.

Then I was being awakened!  The doll’s hands were upon me and its eyes were no farther away than a foot!  I was had!  The beast had me!  I moaned in distress and came to my senses.  And there, replacing the doll’s devilish face, was Aunt Sophie.  She had risen in the middle of the night to find me asleep on the couch.  Thinking I had dozed off unintentionally, she awoke me and told me to go to Clara’s room and get into bed.  I couldn’t tell her the truth so I played along with her assumption and went to the room.

I was so tired that all I wanted to do was return to the world of sleep from which Aunt Sophie had snatched me from to deposit me once again in this tormented hell.  I could hear Aunt Sophie go in the kitchen to get something to drink.  I crawled under the covers and turned to my nemesis.  She mocked me like never before and I became furious.

“What – do – you – want – from – me?”  I said each word forcefully but quietly.  I thought to myself that eventually I would grow so tired that not even the doll could keep me from sleep.  But sleep did not come.  Only thoughts of those eyes ripping into my mind!  I prayed for sleep.  Even the sleep of death would be better than this agonizing torture upon my senses.

Thoughts of death made me think of Clara and her deathbed.  That is when it hit me – the realization of the doll’s motive.   Aunt Sophie said that Tiffy was Clara’s companion until the last moment of her life.  Obviously she saw me as an intruder on her mistress’ property.  The connection to the deathbed was such a strong psychical bond that an interloper would only breed ill will.  But my anger only grew.  Even with this realization I continued to stew in my hatred.

Exhaustion, fear, anger, and repulsion all mixed together in a maddening blend of psychotic rage that erupted from me uncontrollably.  The smirk on the damned thing had changed again and the eyes finally succeeded in affecting my mental breakdown!  I rose from the bed with a scream and threw the covers off.  I grabbed the little demon up and began shaking it back and forth as I screamed, “Stop staring at me you damn little beast!  Stop staring at me!”  I shook and cursed and ranted as all of the pent up rage boiled out of me.  I couldn’t shake it hard enough I tell you!  I continued cursing and screaming until finally I caused Aunt Sophie to come running.  And just as she arrived in the doorway I took the doll by the feet and swung it round.  As I screamed, “Go be with your precious Clara!” I dashed the doll to the floor and raised my foot to stomp in its hideous, porcelain head.  But before I could deliver the fatal blow I noticed Aunt Sophie staring in horror at the scene before her.  Before I could do anything further she fainted to the floor, crumpling in a heap.

I regained my senses and rushed to her side.  The poor dear must have thought me a lunatic!  For that is exactly what I had become!  My condition was only a temporary malady, but how was she to know this?  She didn’t know the tortures I had endured from the demonic little imp.

I picked her up and placed her on the bed.  I checked for breathing signs.  Although faint, she was, thankfully, still alive.  The strain had been too much for her feeble condition.  My outburst must have appeared like shear madness to her!  But it wasn’t really me who caused this, no!  It was the doll!  The damn doll!

“It was the doll!” I cried.  I turned to finish the deed I had started, but I froze at what I beheld.  Tiffy’s eyes no longer watched me!  The eyes were now looking at the swooning form on Clara’s bed.  The eyes now looked at Aunt Sophie.

Dr. Middleton and Dr. Harris strategized a plan of how they were going to handle the patient Lucius Rivera as they strode the sanitized, white hallways of Rathbone Asylum.

“His nephew said that he was a very accomplished musician in his youth,” Dr. Middleton said.

“I have no doubt that at one time he was,” replied Dr. Harris.

“He even studied classical guitar under the Cuban Maestro Rubio Colon.”

“I’m sorry; I’m not familiar with him.”

“Well, anyway,” Dr. Middleton continued, “after nearly fifteen years of seemingly no interest in playing, Lucius suddenly began to hum snatches of music and to ‘play guitar’ on whatever surfaces were available to him – mostly just his own body or the air.”

“Hmmm, interesting.”

“Yes, we thought so. You can see that we thought it would be healthy for him to have a go at playing guitar again after learning from his nephew that he used to be a virtuoso.”

“Really? He was considered that good?” Dr. Harris said with some skepticism.

“Well, that’s what his nephew claimed anyway. We gave him the green light to bring Lucius’ instrument to the asylum so that Lucius might be reacquainted with the guitar.”

“From the sounds of it, the two still hate each other.”

Dr. Middleton chuckled.

Ever since John Graham, Lucius’ nephew, had brought the guitar, Lucius had been playing the most grating, discordant music ever heard. Not only was the music insufferable, but it had actually caused the staff, and especially the other patients, to become more agitated and cross.

Almost immediately one of the patients had broken down in tears while another began to rage and curse and strike at anyone who came near. The nurses and orderlies were at their wits end trying to placate the patients while the ward deteriorated into chaos and dysfunction.

One of the nurses had gone to Lucius and attempted to confiscate the instrument but Lucius retaliated by screaming at her and threatening to boil her alive as he obsessively hugged his guitar.

The next step in the protocol of the ward was to isolate the patient and notify the senior Psychiatrists on duty. Dr. Harris was the most senior staff member and Dr. Middleton was the treating physician on Lucius Rivera’ case.

The two doctors continued to discuss Rivera until they arrived at the door to his room. Dr. Middleton knocked.

***

Lucius Rivera sat in his sterile, soft cell mulling over the Baron’s revelations. For so many years Lucius had struggled to understand his plight, knowing that things were askew. It wasn’t until Baron Shadowmancer arrived that he had begun to learn the true nature of so many things.

The first major revealing was the nature of the stone pillow. That was difficult to figure out. But after Lucius had determined that the smooth stone in the yard was to become his seer’s pillow, then the rest flowed quite quickly. Lucius had managed to elude the baleful eyes and sneak the stone into his pillowcase. Almost immediately, his nightly visions had started in a glorious procession toward epiphany.

The first evening that he noticed the Baron’s arrival would be forever etched in Lucius’ mind. It was terrifying to behold. The Barron didn’t arrive alone – apparently couldn’t manifest alone. He had to come in the company of the Wild Witch. For you needed light to create the proper shadow. You needed the proper shadow to manipulate the gateway. At first, Lucius was confounded by the light, not realizing that the real power resided in the shadows behind him.

So, night after night, Lucius had lain in his bed as the yellow light summoned the Wild Witch and captured his awe. Mesmerized by her glory, he sat in fear and watched her cavorting in the light, not realizing that behind him the shadows danced too.

It was on the fifth night – for the Baron dealt in fives – that Lucius sat watching the play of light and heard a soft whisper from behind. Turning his head slowly and in growing terror, he saw the Baron towering in the corner’s shadows. Tears began to stream down his face as he realized the immensity of his power.

***

Under his old, murky delusions, Lucius had suspected that his demonic captors disguised themselves behind masks. The Baron had dispelled this notion by showing Lucius that there was but one mask that needed to be removed – it was the mask that shrouded Lucius’ vision. Once Lucius had knowledge of where to grasp the edges of that mask, he need only peel away the proper amount to behold the world as it really existed.

Lucius had not the wherewithal to remove it all at once; the world was just too alarming. It required degrees. But he had removed enough to see the two “doctors” entering his room in their true forms.

The two demons strode into the room on their insectoid legs and the one who called himself Dr. Middleton spoke. “Lucius, this is Dr. Harris and we’re here to talk to you about your guitar.”

Lucius smirked, seeing through their ruse. He decided to confront them openly. “Did you know,” he began as he sat up on his bed, “that Benjamin Franklin invented the insane asylum and then invented an instrument that drove people mad just so he could use the instrument to fill the asylums?”

“Lucius, I don’t think that is true.” Dr. Middleton began, but then Dr. Harris jumped in.

“Just a moment, Dr. Middleton, I’d like to hear more about your theory on Franklin, Lucius.”

“Oh, it’s no theory. It’s the truth. Go research it yourself, if you like. Franklin created the first modern hospital. In those days, doctors traveled from house to house in circuits, just as circuit judges did – that’s why they’re called ‘circuit’ judges. The first hospital specifically had a ward for the mentally ill. It was done quite purposefully. And then Franklin unveiled the glass armonica – an instrument that produced insanity by its haunting and ethereal tones. Even Mesmer used is to subdue his victims. Now, why do you suppose a genius like Franklin would create an insane asylum and then create an instrument to produce the very thing he was claiming to want to treat?”

“Oh, come on now – “

But Dr. Harris held a hand up to shush Dr. Middleton.

“Lucius,” Dr. Harris said, “I’ll have to do as you say and research this. But we are here because of the music you are playing on your guitar. Do you realize that the things you are playing are causing everyone distress?”

Lucius ignored Dr. Harris and looked at Dr. Middleton who was standing defiantly with his alien, insect arms crossed over his thorax. “Dr. Middleton, does my music drown the calls of your cicadas?”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Just that I know your true form. You’re not fooling me anymore.”

Dr. Harris spoke again. “Lucius, we don’t want to completely revoke your guitar privileges; we just want to ensure that your playing doesn’t bother the other patients and the staff. Would you be alright with playing an hour three days a week under the right conditions?”

Lucius broke his glare upon Dr. Middleton and turned to look at Dr. Harris. “That’s alright, Dr. ah, Harris, was it?”

“That’s correct.”

“You may take my guitar. I’ve been playing under guise anyway. The world isn’t quite ready for the Baron’s true compositions. When and where shall I polish the rest of the pieces?”

Dr. Middleton spoke up. “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons in the South Wing’s isolation room. I know you detest that room but it’s the only room where the sound cannot carry throughout the hallways.”

“Fine, fine. It’s only a temporary hindrance anyway.”

“Thank you, Lucius,” Dr. Harris said as he stepped over and took the guitar that was leaning against the wall.

“Yes, thank you Lucius,” Dr. Middleton echoed.

“You’re welcome, Gentlemen.” Lucius spat the last word with sarcasm because he knew they were creatures of the abyss. It was alright, though. The Baron had prepared him for this eventuality well in advance.

As the two doctors were exiting Lucius spoke up. “Oh, and, Dr. Harris, remember to look up the information on Franklin. But I must warn you, Do Not listen to Mozart’s Adagio in C for the Glass Armonica no matter how tempted you may be.”

Dr. Harris smiled and reassured Lucius. “Yes, Lucius, I’ll be sure and do that.”

After the two had gone, Lucius chuckled to himself. He knew that the demon Harris would give into the temptation and have to listen to the Mozart piece.

***

Claire, one of the night-shift nurses, and Bruce, one of the night-shift orderlies, sat at the nurse’s station chatting and drinking coffee.

“So, is it true that Dr. Middleton confiscated Lucius’ guitar?” Bruce asked.

“Yes.”

“Thank God we don’t have to listen to that infernal racket anymore, huh?”

“It’s hard to believe that he used to be an amazing guitarist.”

“What?” Bruce said.

“Yeah, his nephew was telling me that he used to be this incredible classical guitarist who performed all over the place. You know, it doesn’t surprise me. There’s something about him that makes me think there’s something going on with him that we don’t get.”

Bruce snickered at the absurdity of Claire’s statement. “Come on, now. Surely you’re joking. The guy’s as whacked as they come. He plays in the toilet water and talks to the corner, for Chrissake.”

“I know he’s lost his mind. I’m not trying to say he’s lucid, but I do think that there’s some kind of method to his madness that makes sense to him and no one else. For example, the talking to the corner. If you watch him, he only does it after dark when the hall lights come on. The light from the hallway casts a certain shadow in the corner that is kind of human shaped. It’s the shadow that he sits and talks to; no other time will you see him conversing with the corner.”

“That’s just creepy,” Bruce said.

“Yeah. It’s so bizarre. And I’ve watched him while he plays guitar. He’s actually pretty good.”

At this Bruce nearly spit his coffee out. “Now I know you’re messing with me, Claire. There is no way you can call that atrocious twanging, good.”

Claire giggled and continued. “I know it sounds horrible, but if you just watch his fingers, he plays the same patterns over and over quite deftly. The weirdest thing is that he’ll pause to tune the guitar and once he has it tuned, he’ll mess up the tuning in different ways before starting to play again. But then he’ll play the exact same patterns in that out-of-tune manner before doing it all over again.”

“Well, I think you give that kook too much credit. I think he’s just as nutty as the rest of these poor saps around here – maybe even worse.”

Claire smiled and said, “Maybe you’re right”.

“I know I’m right. Well, I gotta go walk my rounds. Thanks for the coffee, Claire.”

“You’re welcome.”

As Bruce moseyed down the hallway, Claire muttered to herself, “I wonder what it would sound like if it were in tune?”

***

Baron Shadowmancer: After the modulation to C minor, the piece also transitions to five-four time. Beginning on C on the fifth string, next go to E flat on the fourth string –

Lucius: Hold on. I can’t keep all this straight unless I have my guitar in hand. It’s too hard to remember all of it in my head.

Baron Shadowmancer: That’s alright, Lucius, you’re doing splendidly. Tomorrow you work on what we’ve covered and we’ll pick up from the C minor modulation after that.

Lucius: How much longer must we endure these arrangements?

Baron Shadowmancer: Not much longer. After you’ve learned this piece, I believe it will be time for you to go.

Lucius: Go? Go where?

Baron Shadowmancer: Out of this place, Lucius. Down south, I should think. Not too far; maybe the Springs or so. The time for your unveiling is very close at hand. But I want you to be ready – I want the Suite to be ready.

Lucius: I don’t know if I can make it out there. After all these years in here, I’m afraid I’d be lost. I’m afraid I’d just be . . . well, afraid.

Baron Shadowmancer: Lucius, my subject, my prodigy, my child. Lucius, you’ll be under my protection and my guidance. You have nothing to fear so long as you are the vehicle of my grand work. The Ne Plus Ultra of my creative output. My Magnum Opus.

Lucius: How will I get out, though? Those beasts are too watchful. Their cunning is too thorough.

Baron Shadowmancer: The one called Claire will help you.

Lucius: Yes, she seems nice. Are you sure she’s one of them. I’ve been so afraid to withdraw the mask and see her true form – afraid I’ll really see her as she is and then I’ll be devastated.

Baron Shadowmancer: That’s probably for the best. You must trust me when I tell you that she is one, but do not look upon her without the mask, Lucius. Even though she is one, she still will serve her purpose – for me; for us.

***

Claire and Lucius walked down the hall of the South Wing to the small, padded isolation room. A chair and Lucius’ guitar sat in the far corner.

Lucius smiled at Claire as he entered the room.

“Alright, Lucius, you have one hour and then I’ll be back to escort you back.”

“Thank you.”

Claire shut the door and then proceeded to go into the adjacent room. This room was dark but Claire didn’t turn the lights on. Instead, she left the door ajar so that light from the hallway could illuminate enough of the room.

In times past this room had been used as an observation room. The shared wall with the padded cell was a one-way mirror. From Lucius’ point of view, it looked like a large mirror, but for Claire, it was a window. She could see Lucius adjust his chair and then almost lovingly pick up the guitar.

The room was equipped with a microphone and speaker so that Claire could have listened to Lucius, but that was unnecessary – she knew he would meticulously tune his guitar only to skew the tuning before playing. Besides, it wasn’t the audio she wanted to record, it was the visual performance.

Claire had already deposited a camcorder on a tripod in the room. She turned it on and ensured the angle and focus were correct, then she pressed the red record button and left.

***

Lucius wasn’t the least bit surprised that Claire had been the one to retrieve him and escort him to his playing session. The Baron had already told him that today was the day of his escape.

His patience and practice had finally paid off and he was ready to spread the performance now.

The Baron had requested that before he help Lucius escape, that Lucius play the entirety of the suite one more time. At the end of today’s session, Claire would help Lucius leave Rathbone Asylum for good.

And so, Lucius poured his heart and soul into his final practice within the walls of the asylum. And his performance was incredible.

After he had finished, he placed the guitar back against the wall and sat waiting for Claire to return.

Shortly, Claire opened the door and smiled at Lucius. “Okay, Lucius, are you ready to head back to your room?”

Lucius merely smiled pleasantly and followed her into the hallway. They took no more than a few steps when Lucius said, “Oh, Claire, one moment, please. I must look upon you for what you are.”

Claire turned confused and Lucius proceeded to peel the mask completely from his face so that he might behold her in her true form.

What Lucius saw was shocking – almost too shocking for him to believe, but the Baron had not lied. Claire was one of the insect things just as the Baron had warned him. He stood transfixed as the human-like covering finished sloughing off into a pile in the floor. Her head reminded Lucius of the head of some great praying mantis. If was triangular with two enormous compound eyes. The antennae wiggled, testing the air and then the strange, sideways mandibles opened and a horrendous screech issued forth like the forest erupting with the sound of a host of cicadas.

Lucius’ hypnotic stare was broken and he realized that now was the time to act. He lurched into the Claire-creature and struck the thing exactly how the Baron had told him. There was a brief struggle where the creature tried to use its insect appendages to fend off the attack, but Lucius persisted through his revulsion until the creature was still. Then Lucius took the swipe key from the body and returned to the isolation room to retrieve his guitar.

After that, it was a relatively easy task to use the key to exit out of the little used and empty South Wing.

Lucius Rivera was now free to introduce the world to the Baron Shadowmancer’s grand Suite Insanity in E minor.

***

“So, what do think?” Claire said. She and her neighbor Mike sat watching the video of Lucius playing guitar in the isolation room. Claire lived in an apartment complex and her neighbor Mike, who lived across the hall, was the first-person Claire had thought of who played guitar. Claire had wired the camcorder up to her television so that Mike could see the playing better.

“Wow! Even though you can’t hear it, you can see how well his playing is,” Mike said as he sat on the edge of Claire’s couch and leaned forward to study the playing of Lucius. “And you say that this guy attacked you and escaped the asylum?”

“Something like that. Attack might be a pretty strong word for it. He tackled me and took my swipe card, then he ran out before anyone could stop him.”

“I’m so confused, Claire. Why were you taping him and then he just ‘tackled’ you and fled? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“What? You think I helped him escape?”

“No. I didn’t say that. It’s just all so weird.”

“Oh, it’s weird alright. Before he tackled me he literally clawed his own face. I mean diagonally across his entire face he dug all his fingernails in and just gouged long cuts across his face. He told me to stop and that he wanted to see me for what I was; then, I just watched in horror as he did it. The blood just started pouring from the wounds and then I started screaming. That’s when he tackled me and knocked me out.”

“What the hell! He knocked you out? Claire, I thought you said he just tackled you?”

“Would you relax? I’m fine. And I don’t think he was trying to hurt me or single me out. I just happened to be the one who was there when he decided to escape. He was just trying to go, ya know?”

“Do you think he was upset about you recording him?”

“No. He didn’t know I was recording him. At least I don’t think he did. Besides, he didn’t take the camera. He just took his guitar and my card and left.”

They sat in silence for a moment while Mike thought about the scene Claire had described. After a moment Claire said, “So, do you think you can learn what he’s playing?”

“I doubt it. Claire, I just plunk around on the guitar. I can’t even play fingerstyle without a pick, much less execute some of the things that guy is playing with his right hand.”

“Oh,” Claire said, her dejection evident in her tone.

“But I bet there’s someone who could.”

“Really! Who?”

“I don’t know. I mean I know a guy who probably can, though. I work with a guy named Ted who plays in a band. He’s a much better guitarist than I am and I bet he could do it. If not, I bet he knows someone who could.”

***

Lucius Rivera had made it to the Springs. It was a hard couple of weeks following his escape. He had no food, no money, no warm clothes, nothing but the guitar slung across his back. But the Baron had provided. Still, it was hard going and his spirit faltered.

He had crossed paths with other vagrants and homeless folks who had helped him to improve his situation ever so slightly. A ragged coat here. A worn-out pair of shoes there. A scrap of food to stave off the gnawing pains of hunger.

This particular day had been the best so far. He arrived at the mission for the lunchtime doling out of hot soup and bottles of water. It was like a feast to Lucius. Afterwards, Lucius wandered the nearby streets looking for a secluded alley in which to rest. He found a spot off the main path within an alley and sat down. His belly was actually full and he proceeded to unsling the guitar from his back.

Lucius ran his hand over his face feeling the long scabs from where he had finally peeled away the mask for the last time. Naked to the world and to the new reality he now inhabited, Lucius tuned his guitar and prepared to play his first real performance of the suite.

Prolegomenon to a Tragedy

The Baron Shadowmancer

And The Wild Witch Dancer

Infect like ritual

Or a growing cancer

Bonfires sprout elemental architecture

Great towers of licking flames

A phantasmagoric orgy

Of shadows and light

She dazzles the eye

A hypnotic beast of brightness

He subverts the mind

A mesmerizing demon of darkness

Lowdown and dirty is the night

Punctuated by conflagrations

The Witch’s Sabbat

Encircled by the Baron’s Madness

***

“The inspiration in a sense is my entire spiritual upbringing. Once you have a meditative life you start to see that the world is really far different than what it appears to be. What appears to be finite is really couched in the infinite, and the infinite imbues everything in our lives.”

~ Bruce Joel Rubin on the film “Jacob’s Ladder”

***

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ 17 He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.”

~ Genesis 28: 10-19

***

“Coronation Chair—the Coronation Chair was made for Edward I to enclose the famous Stone of Scone, which he seized in 1296 and brought from Scotland to the Abbey … Legends abound concerning this mysterious object and tradition identifies this stone with the one upon which Jacob rested his head at Bethel”

***

“Once I had a little game
I liked to crawl back in my brain
I think you know the game I mean
I mean the game called ‘Go Insane’

Now you should try this little game
Just close your eyes, forget your name
Forget the world, forget the people
And we’ll erect a different steeple

This little game is fun to do
Just close your eyes, no way to lose
And I’m right there, I’m going too
Release control, we’re breaking through”

~ Jim Morrison, The Doors


***

“According to my thinking, they were the universal, archetypal, psychologically based symbolic themes and motifs of all traditional mythologies; and now from this paper of Dr. Perry I was learning that the same symbolic figures arise spontaneously from the broken-off, tortured state of mind of modern individuals suffering from a complete schizophrenic breakdown: the condition of one who has lost touch with the life and thought of his community and is compulsively fantasizing out of his own completely cut-off base. Very briefly: The usual pattern is, first, of a break away or departure from the local social order and context: next, a long, deep retreat inward and backward, as it were, in time, and inward, deep into the psyche; a chaotic series of encounters there, darkly terrifying experiences . . .”

~ Joseph Campbell

***

Though this were madness, was there yet method in’t?

Madness

Madness and music

The artists of music, whether they be musician, composer, singer, songwriter, poet or performer

There are those among those ranks who skirt the threshold of genius and madness

The Curse of the Ninth

The 27 Club

But none more so than the ones who write their madness into their music

With Death looking over their shoulder

***

“Savage fancy, curiosity and credulity illustrated in nature myths– In these all phenomena are explained by belief in the general animation of everything, combined with belief in metamorphosis–Sun myths, Asian, Australian, African, Melanesian, Indian, Californian, Brazilian, Maori, Samoan–Moon myths, Australian, Muysca, Mexican, Zulu, Macassar, Greenland, Piute, Malay–Thunder myths–Greek and Aryan sun and moon myths–Star myths–Myths, savage and civilised, of animals, accounting for their marks and habits–Examples of custom of claiming blood kinship with lower animals–Myths of various plants and trees–Myths of stones, and of metamorphosis into stones . . .”

And of metamorphosis into stones!

~ Andrew Lang

***

We wear the mask that grins and lies, 

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 

This debt we pay to human guile; 

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, 

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise, 

In counting all our tears and sighs? 

Nay, let them only see us, while 

  We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries 

To thee from tortured souls arise. 

We sing, but oh the clay is vile 

Beneath our feet, and long the mile; 

But let the world dream otherwise, 

  We wear the mask!

~ Paul Laurence Dunbar (afflicted with depression and died of TB at age 33)

***

I fell down from Grace

And my world was shattered shut

All those dreams of crystal youth

Were strewn about like dust

I fell down from Grace

And all hope was abandoned here

Soul turned gray and withered

Yet no one shed a tear

I fell down from Grace

And my mind became my cell

But I did hear someone laughing

On that journey when I fell

I fell down from Grace

About my neck I wore my sin

And so far all eternity

Until the Baron, he walked in

***

“Paganini was considered a genius, a god, a devil worshiper, anything but that of reality. There was a rumor, for instance, that when Niccolo was only six, his mother made a pact with the Devil and is said to have traded his soul for a career as the greatest violinist in the world.

Paganini was a legend. In fact, he was so amazing no audience could succumb to any type of disturbance during the trance he created through his musical renditions. After borrowing a Guarnerius violin for a single concert, the lender begged him to keep it for fear of coming under Paganini’s supernatural powers. He also won a Stradivarius violin in a similar manner by playing a technical piece by sight which was insisted that nobody could perform even after preparation.

Besides his superb technical ability, his cadaverous appearance led to myths of all sorts. He was tall and thin, had a long nose, a pale and long-drawn face with hollow cheeks, thin lips that seemed to curl into a sardonic smile, and piercing eyes like flaming coals. The rumor was spread that he was the son of the Devil. It was difficult to think much otherwise as Paganini dressed in black, played weaving and flailing, with skinny fingers cavorting over the strings, and contorted shoulders giving him the appearance of a giant flapping bat. Paganini’s every movement and every tone emanating from his violin seemed to support the 300-year-old myth that the violin was the “Devil’s consort” and that the violinist himself was the Devil. Some people, when in his presence, would actually make the sign of the cross to rid themselves of what they believed were his evil powers. He was once forced to publish letters from his mother to prove he had human parents.

For five years the Church, disturbed as to his orthodoxy, refused his body interment in consecrated ground, and so it was laid to rest in a village graveyard on his own estate. The people in nearby towns use to say that every night they heard the sounds of a ghostly violin emanating from that coffin. The legend of Paganini’s life lasted until the very end.”

***

Beethoven once contemplated suicide

Berlioz was afflicted by depression

Tchaikovsky was manic-depressive and may have died by suicide

Mahler was a manic-depressive

Rachmaninoff was afflicted with depression and dedicated his Second Piano Concerto to his Psychiatrist

Schumann suffered terribly from depression and once tried to commit suicide by jumping into the Rhine. He died in an insane asylum

***

“He has made himself a new ideal world in which he moves almost as he wills.”

~ Franz Grillparzer (the man who wrote Beethoven’s eulogy) on Robert Schumann

***

“The Berlioz centenary, which occurs this year, is being quite generally celebrated. There has been one Berlioz festival in England, and there are yet to be Berlioz concerts there. There will also be concerts in France, his native land, which did not appreciate him while alive, and in Germany, which discovered him. In Chicago this week Mr. Thomas will conduct a Berlioz program.

At the festival in England the composer’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ was played – a composition well known here. To The London Lancet, one of the leading medical surgical journals of the world, it must have been new, as that paper devotes considerable space to the analysis of the story of the composition, and refers to the music as bringing out all the ‘vague aspirations, the longings, the loneliness, and the horrible visions of insanity’. It naively remarks ‘it is not soothing music, but so far as one man can enter into another’s brain and convey his sensations to others Berlioz has certainly made his music a means in so doing. Medical men who have not heard this work should take the first opportunity of repairing this neglect’.

It is not exactly clear what the Lancet means by this, whether it thinks Berlioz was insane when he wrote the composition, or that he was describing the insanity of the musician with ‘the fixed idea’, who is the hero of it, or that the medical gentlemen could have an opportunity of studying the insane persons who go to listen to it.

Whatever it may be, it is gratifying to learn from this expert authority that insanity has to do with it in some form. There has never seemed to be any other satisfactory way of explaining this medley of opium dreams, funeral marches, witches’ Sabbaths, orgies, the dies irae, ‘Idea fixe’, and pandemonium of noise. As the Chicago orchestra will play this composition this week the doctors should follow the Lancet’s suggestion and be on hand for a diagnosis. If it shall turn out to be the work of insanity it may be of value as a curative agent in the lunatic asylums, upon the homeopathic theory of like cures like.”

~ Chicago Tribune, December 6th, 1903

***

Step by step, alone I crept

Step by step by lonely step

And then I felt a brushing touch

A gentle voice that whispered much

About which note and tone of choice

About the timbre and the voice

About the inflection of the string

And how to make the guitar sing

Step by step, together we crept

Step by step by maddening step

***

“The glass armonica’s ghostly notes will cause insanity in its musicians and listeners! At least this is what was thought to be true in the 18th century. People were frightened by the armonica’s sound due to it’s strange interactions with the human brain and ears. Benjamin Franklin invented the glass armonica in 1761 after being profoundly moved by the sounds of the glass harp.

The glass armonica’s sound is perceived by human ears differently than other instruments because its range is between 1,000 and 4,000 hertz, the human brain compares ‘phase differences’ between the left and right ears to triangulate the origin of the sound rather than comparing volumes. This causes hearing disorientation and a ‘not quite sure’ feeling about where the sound is coming from.”

***

“Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. With individuals he would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient’s knees, pressing the patient’s thumbs in his hands, looking fixedly into the patient’s eyes. Mesmer made ‘passes’, moving his hands from patients’ shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient’s hypochondrium region (the area below the diaphragm), sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were regarded as crises and supposed to bring about the cure. Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing some music on a glass armonica.”

***

“Mr. Mesmer then seated him near the armonica; he had hardly begun to play when my friend was affected emotionally, trembled, lost his breath, changed color, and felt pulled toward the floor.”

***

“There were accounts of the instrument being banned by physicians who cited possible ill effects including prolonged shaking of the nerves, tremors in the muscles, fainting, cramps, swelling, paralysis of the limbs’ and seeing ghosts.”

***

Fifteen years in this asylum

I cry and cry

I laugh and laugh

Mostly at the exact same things

There’s no distinction between these scenes

Just my particular state of mind

***

“Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin ‘to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia.’”

***

“A similar expansion took place in the British American colonies. The Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 as a result of work begun in 1709 by the Religious Society of Friends. A portion of this hospital was set apart for the mentally ill, and the first patients were admitted in 1752. Virginia is recognized as the first state to establish an institution for the mentally ill.”

***

I want to be a little bird

And fly out of my mind

I want to sing a song of hope

A tune for all mankind

Mostly, I want to be free

The entire nightmare culminated on an unusually cool night in August.  That was the night the scarecrow got his revenge on Uncle Nash.  I didn’t understand what was going on until after that night.  You see, I thought the scarecrow was after me.  Aunt Leda caught me one day after Uncle Nash’s death standing in the burnt spot where the scarecrow used to stand just gazing at the house.  It freaked her out pretty bad because she knew my preoccupation with the scarecrow. She didn’t believe that it was the scarecrow that killed Uncle Nash and thought I was crazy for talking about such things.  I guess she thought that I was really crazy standing there after the scarecrow was gone.  I can’t blame her, but I wasn’t crazy.  I was just on the verge of figuring the whole thing out.  All I was doing was trying to see the house from the scarecrow’s vantage in order to determine whether or not he could see inside the house.  When I realized that he couldn’t see inside the house that’s when I knew that he hadn’t been after me.  I was scared for my life and didn’t even think that it was Uncle Nash he was after all along.

I guess I should start from the beginning in order to give you the whole story.  You probably agree with Aunt Leda and think I’m talking a bunch of nonsense.  The first thing I need to tell you is how I came to live with my aunt and uncle way out here in the middle of Indiana.  My mother died when I was just a little baby so I never even knew her.  She got real sick when I was about to turn a year old and the illness killed her.  My dad tried to raise me the best he could but he had a hard time.  He traveled a lot with his job and was always leaving me with this or that person.  I didn’t have a very stable parental figure in my life those first several years.  Finally, my mom’s oldest sister Leda offered to take me in.  Dad used to come by and visit pretty regular but as the years went by I saw less and less of him.  Sometimes it makes me mad but he and I never really saw eye to eye on much anyway.

I remember the day Uncle Nash built the scarecrow.  I watched in fascination as he fabricated the creature right in front of my very eyes.  I helped where I could but he did most of the work.  He started with an old pair of coveralls and an old flannel shirt.  We stuffed the hay and patted, bent, and kneaded the straw until the body was the shape he wanted.  Then he took a ratty pair of boots and attached the feet.  Next he gave his creation hands in the form of old gardening gloves.  He took an old burlap bag and made the head.  The first thing he did was cut out two eyeholes, then he drew on the nose and mouth, and finally, he stuffed more hay into the bag.  The first time I beheld the face I thought it looked odd.  Not odd in a scary way because the expression looked like a happy expression.  It was weird in a lot of ways.  It didn’t look real, yet it didn’t look fake, either – almost like it was both alive and dead at the same time.  I can’t really describe it any other way.  But it did look happy at first.

Uncle Nash attached the scarecrow to a cross with its arms outstretched and then we hauled it out of the barn and stood it up in the spot I told you about earlier.  My bedroom was on the first floor of the house and I could look right out of my bedroom window at the scarecrow.  It was about 50 or 60 yards across the lawn and just inside the cornfield but that was plenty close enough for me to see it staring in my window.  At least I thought it could see in my window.

Uncle Nash and I stood back from the newly erected scarecrow and admired his creation.  “Billy, it needs one more thing to make it complete,” he said to me after a moment.

“What’s that, Uncle Nash?”

“A hat.  Run to the barn and fetch me that old straw hat hanging by Trixie’s stall,” he instructed.  Trixie was one of our milk cows.  I hurried off and returned with the straw hat in a matter of seconds and he hoisted me up so that I could place the hat on its head.  While I was up there my face was just a few inches from the scarecrow’s face and that’s when I saw something strange in the scarecrow’s eyes.  Something I can only describe as sadness.  When Uncle Nash lowered me down and I was able to behold the final product I noticed the entire expression had changed.  It no longer looked like the smiling, happy face in the barn.  Now it had drooped a bit and taken on a horrible look of anger.  It made me feel very uncomfortable.

I had drapes on my window, thank God.  I never used to close them until after Uncle Nash put the scarecrow up.  The first few nights weren’t too bad and I didn’t really even pay much attention to the scarecrow.  There were a couple of times that I happened to look out the window and see him there at the edge of the corn.  I didn’t look long because I felt my skin crawl.  It was like he was staring at me.

It was probably on the fourth or fifth night that I looked out the window and thought I saw him move.  At least, that was my first impression; and you know what they say about first impressions.  But, then I just told myself it was the wind that did it.  Well, the next night I couldn’t resist watching him again.  I hid behind the drapes and peeked out because I felt for sure he wouldn’t move if he knew I was watching him.  It wasn’t long before I saw him moving his arms; and there was no mistaking that it wasn’t the wind because the corn was as still as a rock.  Boy, did I ever have a tough time trying to go to sleep that night.

It was the next day that we found the first dead crow.  I was following Uncle Nash and he happened to walk right near the scarecrow.  I didn’t like walking that close to the thing but as long as Uncle Nash was with me I did it.  He would’ve thought me a pansy if he new I was scared of his scarecrow.  Anyway, we were walking by it and I was making an effort to keep my eyes away from its face.  That’s when I saw the mutilated crow.  I pointed it out to Uncle Nash and he knelt down to take a closer look.  Its wings and head had been ripped clean off of its body.  Uncle Nash grunted in confusion and mumbled something about a wildcat in the cornfield then we left.  But the strange thing is that I saw Uncle Nash glance back at the scarecrow.

That wasn’t the only crow we found torn apart like that.  After that we started finding them all over the place.  At first they were always close to the scarecrow but one day I walked upon one a good hundred yards or so from the scarecrow.  I froze stiff as a board and stared at it thinking of the implications of what I was seeing.

Then one night I peeked out the window and saw the scarecrow’s cross was empty.  It took a second for my brain to register what I was seeing but then I saw a boot disappearing into the corn and I screamed.  It scared me so bad I went running to Uncle Nash and Aunt Leda and told them about how scared I was of the scarecrow and how I thought he was alive.  Of course they thought I was a certified loon.  Uncle Nash was a stern man and he wouldn’t entertain any non-sense at all.  He was going to make me go back to bed but thankfully Aunt Leda intervened.  After that I was allowed to sleep in their room on the floor whenever I got too scared, which was pretty much every night.

I should mention that I never went to church until I moved in with Aunt Leda and Uncle Nash.  Since living with them I had started going with them to Sunday School like clockwork.  It was a ritual that I enjoyed quite a bit because I love good stories and we always came home to the best meal of the week.  I mean, I loved Aunt Leda’s cooking all the time, but on Sunday she put a little extra effort into her cooking.  Anyway, it was the stories I had heard at Sunday School that affected me most about the making of the scarecrow.

While we were making the scarecrow I kept thinking about God making Adam.  I know that the Bible says God blew into a bunch of dust but seeing Uncle Nash building a straw man made me think about it all the same.  It was like Uncle Nash was creating new life.  That’s why the scarecrow looked happy.  But then, when we built the wood cross and mounted the scarecrow on it I began to think of Jesus and how he was crucified.  And that’s why the scarecrow looked sad.

Now I’ve finally figured it all out and I realize that the reason he was angry and wanted revenge on his creator was because he was crucified so soon after being born.  It’s like he was enslaved the moment he was born.  Stuck up on that pole unable to do anything but watch and plot.

Keep in mind that I hadn’t figured all this out at the time.  I was just plain scared of the thing without really being able to explain why.

Aunt Leda’s sister, my Aunt Peggy, lived in Cincinnati and she came down with a real bad illness.  Aunt Leda volunteered to go and help her out for several days.  I begged her to take me but she wouldn’t let me.  I had to go to school and help Uncle Nash with chores.  Well, as I said, Uncle Nash wouldn’t put up with any craziness like being scared of scarecrows and sleeping on the floor at the foot of their bed so I had to return to my room.

The next few nights I didn’t sleep very well at all.  It was all I could do to keep from running upstairs to Uncle Nash.  Then, on the third night after Aunt Leda left was when everything came to a head.  That’s the night the scarecrow killed Uncle Nash.  I was lying in bed with the light on trying my best to keep my mind off of the scarecrow.  I remember I was reading a comic book.  It was probably about 11:30 or so when I suddenly heard a noise outside.  I’m telling you my heart sunk and a chill spread over my whole body.

I figured that I could either sit and be scared or I could peek out the window just to be sure that there was nothing there.  Slowly I crept to the side of the window and peeked around the edge of the drape.  And there was the scarecrow with his face pressed right up to the glass searching the room with his vacant eyes.  I jumped back and screamed as loud as I could.  My mind was yelling at me to run but I was frozen solid.  The scarecrow disappeared from the window just moments before Uncle Nash burst into the room.  I was crying a flood and trying to explain to him what had happened but he would have none of it.  He took a look out of the window, closed the drapes, and said, “The scarecrow is right where he’s always been out in the cornfield.  Now I want you to quit talking this childish nonsense about that darn scarecrow and go to bed.  It’s late and you gotta get up and go to school tomorrow.”

He turned and left and I thought to myself that he had been lying.  The only way to see the cornfield was to turn my bedroom light off so I knew that he didn’t see the scarecrow when he looked outside.  After Uncle Nash left my room I shut the door and locked it.  Then I climbed in the corner of my closet and hid trying the best I could not to cry too loud.  It was about ten or fifteen minutes later when I heard Uncle Nash scream.  I didn’t move, though.  I was in too big of a shock to do anything but sit and rock and try to keep my whimpering as quiet as possible as I waited for the scarecrow to arrive.

The next morning I was roused from my torpor by a policeman breaking down my door.  Everything was a flurry of faces and questions.  I remember telling the authorities about the scarecrow and asking about Uncle Nash.  Of course they thought I was delusional and that I was making up the story to compensate somehow from the shock of discovering my Uncle Nash’s lifeless body in his bed and having to spend the night alone with his corpse.  Then, the next thing I remember was being in Uncle Nash’s room with a whole bunch of people.  Uncle Nash was lying on the bed with a physician over him.  I could see his eyes staring dead and vacant at the ceiling.  His old, wrinkled face was frozen into an openmouthed look of horror.

The doctor announced to no one in particular that it appeared he had died of a heart attack but I knew that he had really died of fright.  That’s when my eyes came to rest on the straw on the floor and I knew that it was the scarecrow.  I retreated from the room unbeknownst to all of the officials.  There was only one thing for me to do – destroy the scarecrow.

I went directly to the barn and retrieved a can of gasoline and matches then proceeded to march out to the cornfield.  I had to work fast because if the police discovered that I was missing from the house they would stop me.  I half expected the scarecrow to be gone never to return, but as I crossed the yard I could see him upon his cross.  My steps slowed and a wave of apprehension spread through me.  The fear rose in me making my hands shake so bad that I nearly dropped the gas can.  I thought about Uncle Nash’s face frozen in that final scream I had heard echoing in my mind all night and his eyes now vacuous like a dead fish’s eyes.

Tears began to stream down my face but thinking of the scarecrow killing Uncle Nash succeeded in replacing the fear with anger.  I unscrewed the cap and as soon as I arrived before the scarecrow I began splashing the gas onto him.  I looked into his face and I saw that now his expression was one of evil satisfaction.  A devilish and hateful grin mockingly jeered at me, for he had finally completed his hell-spawned mission of killing Uncle Nash.  

As I circled him splashing as much gasoline onto the ratty coveralls as I could his head turned to watch me.  Then his arms began to move as he worked at disengaging himself from the cross.  I made a trail of gasoline from him across the dirt and once the can was empty I dropped it and stepped back.  He had nearly freed himself by the time I pulled the box of matches from my pocket.  I kept glancing from the matches to the scarecrow trying to hurry and get a match out of the box.  He was freeing his legs.  I struck a match and dropped it but nothing happened.  The match had gone out.  The scarecrow dropped from the cross.  I struck a second match cupping my hands around it as I lowered it to the ground. Then there was a resounding whoof as the gas erupted in flames and raced across the dirt.  The scarecrow was advancing towards me.  He looked at the fire not comprehending what it meant until it was too late.

The scarecrow burst into a roaring conflagration.  The flames caught on the dry hay that was his body and threw up great licking flames along the cross.  I stood and watched in amazement, oblivious to anything else.  I took great pleasure in seeing the scarecrow thrash about in pain.  It was screaming a high-pitched whine that didn’t belong to any creature I had ever heard.

Finally, it fell to all fours and tried to crawl towards me.  I just stared at its blackened face and backed away slowly.  Then it fell to the ground and tried to make one last effort to reach out a hand towards me.  Then, it died.

I kept staring at the burning remains of the scarecrow until a voice of one of the policemen broke my attention.  I looked up to behold a sight stranger than anything I dared imagine.  In a circle about the scarecrow, the cross, and myself – filling every available inch of the cornstalks – were thousands of crows watching the scarecrow burn in perfect silence.

The old man said it would happen.  He said that Simon would forget the route to the bay.  Now, in the early morning dawn, Simon clambered across the rock-strewn shore straining his gaze into the bay for a glimpse of the isle; but it was too dim to discern anything through the thick fog.  All that he could see was the glass-like surface of the calm, dark water receding into the wispy mist.  He cared little for routes now.  The destination was the sole focus of his mind.

Simon looked like a figure from a by-gone era traversing this rugged shore in a long, woolen, white cloak.  He looked closer to an ancient druid than a well-to-do gentleman.  The old man was adamant about the cloak – going so far as to supply the garment himself.  He said it was the only attire that would ensure the meeting would take place.

Simon was beginning to wonder if he had discovered the wrong inlet when he spotted the boat mooring about fifty yards down the pebble-ridden shoreline.  He turned in its direction and picked up his pace in anticipation.  Arriving at the mooring, he quickly began to inspect its ancient structure.  The wood was aged, but timeless.  Not of any tree that had grown on this Earth for an unimaginable epoch of time, it appeared dark and shiny.  The metallic fastenings and accoutrements were of a metal no man could have identified.  They had a luster completely alien to anything Simon had ever seen.  He rubbed his hands over the wood and the metal fascinated by their texture and timelessness.

As he exercised his sense of touch, his gaze once again strained for the island.  Still concealed by the copious amounts of fog, it was useless to strain the eyes.  It was not like growing accustomed to a darkened environment.  No amount of re-focusing or iris adjustment would penetrate the cottony, ghost-like haze rising from the surface of the dark waters.  But it didn’t matter to Simon.  Oh no, he knew by the mooring, which his hands still caressed, that this was the destination he so longed for.  But now it was time to find a hiding place, for Death would be arriving soon to meet the Ferryman with another load of his precious passengers and this was the spot where the transfer of cargo would take place.

Simon picked his way up the eastward slope of the bay to find a place of concealment amongst the large boulders.  He wanted to find the perfect vantage point to witness both the island and the boat landing.  Finding a low spot behind a large rock outcropping, Simon squatted down into the cool shadows and tried to find a comfortable position to wait for the dawn’s events.

Simon turned his gaze from the misty bay towards the inland direction from which Death would be coming.  He tried to imagine in what form Death would appear.  Would it be as the Grim Reaper, with his black, hooded cloak and harvest sickle poised above his head like the antithesis of a halo, walking slowly in front of the dead as a shepherd leading its doomed flock?  Or would he be riding some nightmare steed and come with the long line of the dead, shackled in tow?  And then it struck Simon that he had never asked the old man in what form that ghastly apparition called Death would appear.  How very odd this seemed to him now.

Simon had more-or-less stumbled across the eccentric old man while in transit aboard The Juleinder from America to Scotland.  That particular night was a pleasant night – neither too cold nor too muggy.  A cool breeze was blowing out of the North Atlantic.  Simon went out onto the promontory bow for a cigar to complement his cognac after dinner.  He was enjoying the cool, night air when the old man joined him uninvited.  Rather than being put off by the intrusion, Simon was more than welcome for the company. “Delightful night is it not?”  The old man announced in a Scottish accent as he looked out across the sea.  He could have been talking to anyone, but Simon was the only one within earshot.

“Yes, sir, it is that.  Would you care for a cigar my good man?”  Simon offered out of politeness.  “They are from my farm in Winston-Salem.”

“That would be magnificent,” the old man replied.  Simon produced another cigar and assisted the old man with the lighting.  The old man took a long draw on the cigar, smacked his tongue and lips as if tasting a piece of cake then he exhaled the smoke and nodded in approval to Simon.

“Excellent cigar, lad.  So, you own a tobacco farm you say?”

“Yes, sir, it is a family business my father started, and I am now the chief executor of the estate and the family business.  The name is Simon Bancroft,” Simon said offering his hand in formal greeting.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance.  I am the Earl Roland McDermott.”

“Ah, a nobleman.  I am honored by your company,” Simon said in surprise.  He didn’t expect this elderly gentleman to be more than common folk.  Simon leaned his back against the railing of the ship and regarded the old man.

“Yes, but I am afraid it is little more than a title in this day and age.  I was out of my homeland for quite some time on business and upon my return I was saddened to discover that my family had mismanaged my estate and land holdings.  But, I am happy to announce that I have made great strides in the recovery of my estate and am just now returning from a very productive business venture in the United States.”

“Well,” said Simon growing more intrigued by this mysterious old man of royal blood, “I am pleased to hear of your recovering good fortune.  As I said, my business is the tobacco business, but my pleasure is something entirely different; and, while it is your business that brings you to my homeland, it is my pleasure that brings me to yours.  I should very much like to talk to you about my hobby so that maybe you can assist me on my trip.  I am quite a bibliophile, and I am going to Scotland in search of some antiquarian books.”

“Oh, you are a collector of classical texts then?” the old man said, his eyes lighting up with interest. 

“Well, in a sense, yes; but, to be more precise – books that are of an occult nature,” Simon said cautiously, not sure exactly how the elder gentleman would receive this.

The old man’s face broke into a broad grin and he said, “My son, I believe now it is me who must congratulate you on your good fortune.”

The two men talked through the night until the first tentative rays of light topped the distant, unobstructed horizon.  They did not even pause to enjoy the beautiful sunrise, so enthralled in tales of the arcane and forbidden.  The Earl told stories of ancient and forgotten locales that so intrigued Simon that Simon could swear the man had actually been there.  It wasn’t until late into the night, and several cognacs later, that the old man finally told of his intimate knowledge of the Isle of the Dead.  While at first Simon was skeptical of this tale, he was more than impressed with the Earl’s knowledge of the occult and especially rare books.

After making landfall the Earl invited Simon to his estate just north of Perth.  He promised him that it would be worth his time and promised fine hospitality.  Simon had several appointments in Edinburgh with book dealers but promised to rendezvous with the Earl at his estate in four days’ time.

Any doubts Simon had about the Earl’s integrity were quickly abolished upon beholding the Earl McDermott’s impressive library.  At first, he was thinking of avoiding the estate altogether but something in the old man’s mannerisms had arrested his intrigue.  The old man seemed to be a man out of place in the current day even more so than the average elderly person who is not “with the times” – almost as if the old man were from a bygone era of time.  Fortunately for Simon he decided at last to visit the estate, partly out of disappointment in his book hunting in Edinburgh and partly out of a peaked interest in the vague timelessness of the old man.

Upon beholding the rare and well-preserved texts in the library at the McDermott Estate the two men once again descended into conversations of the occult and arcane.  It was on this evening that the Earl McDermott swayed the conviction of Simon in regards to the existence of the Isle of the Dead.  The old man had been there himself!  Not only did the old man discover the location and visit the exact spot where Simon now waited amongst the rocks, he had met with Charon!  Yes, the old man had met with Charon, the Ferryman of the River Styx; and the Earl promised Simon that he too could make that same journey!

Simon was, of course, skeptical in the fashion of any man with sound reason.  That was when the Earl escorted Simon into the underground tunnels that led through secret, subterranean passageways, which appeared to have been carved from the rocks under the Scottish soil in ancient and mythical days.  Through twisting labyrinths of lichen and niter covered stone they progressed until they arrived at the Earl’s hidden prize – a small, circular room lined with ancient tomes.

“Here you will find the most forbidden and ancient works, dating back through the epoch of the human soul into the distant and remote infancy of our race.  There have existed many dark and secretive societies throughout time.  From the most sinister tribes of the darkest jungles to the most horrific and power mad dynasties.  What is represented here very few men would believe and even fewer have seen,” the old man spoke in a delicate whisper as if speaking his words too loud would invite the presence of ill forces.

Simon browsed the books without touching them in an awe he had never felt in his life.  The old man said, “It’s all right, go ahead and touch them.  I encourage you to read them.  Many are in languages that this Earth has not heard for eons of time; but these here are in Arabic, Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek.  These here are the ones that have been translated into English.”  Simon reverently touched the thirty or so books the old man had indicated.

“I will leave you to read now,” he said preparing to return to the main part of the mansion above ground.  “I shall return to retrieve you when dinner is ready and we shall discuss the things you have read.”  The old man left, the light of his lantern creating a flickering orb of light on the stone walls that slowly disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel.  Simon watched the old man go and then he began to devour the books like a stray dog on scraps.

It was in these forbidden and ancient texts that Simon discovered the most shrouded and clandestine knowledge ever uncovered by the human species.  Forces of such magnitude and mystery that most men would laugh in disbelief should they be touted in a public forum.  But here, here in these books, Simon found indisputable reason, logic, explanation, and even proof of things many cultures had only hinted at and few had directly encountered.  The ramifications of these things were mind-boggling, terrorizing, and even maddening.  When the old man returned to announce that dinner was ready, Simon was swarming with questions.  His entire outlook on reality had altered and he viewed the world in a new and radically alien comprehension.  The Earl smiled as one being “in the know” of some inside joke.

“You have plenty of time to read to your heart’s content.  Come now and let us eat and talk about the things you have read thus far.”

It was over dinner that the Earl offered to arrange the meeting between Simon and Charon.  “It was many years ago that I learned the name of Charon – his real name I mean.  It is essential to the task of meeting him to obey certain rites.  Charon used to be a mortal just like you or I and he has a mortal’s name.  It is imperative to speak his name when the time is right or else he will not heed you.  Charon is descended from the Germanic tribes and his name is Wilhelm Fruehling.  You must call to him his full name in order for him to be lured back to the shore,” the old man said pausing to take a long sip from his wineglass.  Simon had never had such exquisite wine pass his lips before.

“What do you mean, lure him back to the shore?”  

“You must wait till Death has delivered his cargo and departed,” the old man explained.  “Charon will come from the isle to the shore to meet Death when Death comes.  You must wait till Death has departed.  Death must not see you.  Must not.  As soon as Death leaves, you must hurry to call to Charon.  He has to prepare his cargo, but it doesn’t take long.  He will push back out into the waters, and you must call to him before he gets too far.”

“Will I be able to ride with him into the Underworld?” Simon asked.

“Yes,” said the old man.  “You must also wear a cloak like the one Charon wears on this journey.  You must be as inconspicuous as possible in the Underworld or else suspicions will be raised.  If you’re discovered, you may not ever return to this world.”  Simon leaned back heavily in the ornate and high-backed chair.  The thought of actually taking such a journey had his head spinning.  This on top of the knowledge gleaned from the books in the Earl’s secret repository was too much for one evening.  The Earl recognized this and saved the trouble of an excusal.  “My servants have prepared a room for you.  You have had quite an eventful day.  Get some sleep and we will have plenty of time to continue talking tomorrow.”  Then, just as the Earl was about to ring a bell sitting on the tabletop, he paused and said, “One more thing you must promise.  Never, ever, mention one word of the passages below my manor to anyone.  There are very few people in the world that know of their contents.  Do you swear to never tell a soul about it?”

“I promise.  On my word as a scholar and a gentleman, I promise,” Simon said looking the old man straight in the eyes.  “I thank you for allowing me into your confidence.  You are a most gracious host.”

“You’re quite welcome Mr. Bancroft.  I see something in you that I haven’t seen in anyone for quite some time. A trait that is very rare and very unique.  I think it is a combination of curiosity, fortitude, and a desperate need to know the truth.  Now I bid you goodnight and sleep well.”  Then the old man rang the bell and a servant arrived to escort Simon to his room.

“Goodnight, Earl McDermott.”

It seemed like an eternity but was really only about fifteen minutes before Simon realized that the sun was beginning to burn through the fog.  Instead of a roiling mass of fog above the water there were now thick columns of fog.  It was still very dark since the sun was just rising and was still obstructed by the overcast skies.  

Then Simon thought he heard the sound of water.  Could it be?  Yes! There again was the unmistakable sound of water being disturbed!  Very faint but it was there.  It was the rhythm of an oar dipping into the water.  Simon strained once again to locate the origin of the sound.

It continued for several minutes, slowly getting closer and closer, louder and louder.  And then, finally, the ferryboat emerged from the fog far out in the bay – a ghostly figure standing in the boat.  Its gaunt body draped in a white cloak just like the one Simon wore.  A long pole was in its thin hands, and it rowed with the slow precision of a dead leaf falling from a tree in autumn.   Charon’s face wasn’t visible.  The cowl of the hood hid any trace of a form beneath.  Simon’s heart was racing.  He beheld the boat and its occupant the way an old woman would behold an apparition in the night.  He forced himself to swallow hard and tried to regain his composure.  He was shaking and his breathing was labored and irregular.

Could he still go through with it?  Did he possess the will to rise from his haven amongst the rocks and approach this being that radiated such gloom and utter despair?  He seriously doubted if he could.  He could not tear his gaze from this figure.  He watched for many minutes as Charon made slow but deliberate progress to the boat mooring.

Simon was completely oblivious to the gradual increase in the brightness of the morning.  As Charon continued to get closer to the boat mooring Simon suddenly realized that the day had dawned and that the fog had lifted.  He turned his gaze back into the bay and beheld the awesome sight of the Isle of the Dead.  It was the most enigmatic and majestic terrestrial object he had ever beheld.  Most of the isle was a U-shaped, granite cliff.  The height and sheer vertical surface was staggering.  Simon estimated that these cliffs must be about forty or fifty feet high, but it was difficult to gauge such dimensions due to the distance and with no reference for measurement.  The inside of the “U” formed a small lagoon that was enclosed by a wall.  This wall was made of large rocks stacked in such a way as to form a barrier that extended from the tips of both arms of the “U” and met in the middle in two pillars of stacked rock that formed an entrance, or doorway into the lagoon.  In the very middle of the isle grew gigantic Cypress trees that towered over the lagoon.  These large Cypress trees cloaked the lagoon in an ominous darkness and prevented the eyes from penetrating that which the lagoon contained.  The most mysterious and strangest aspect of the isle was the queer doorways in the cliff walls at infrequent intervals.  No two doorways were at the same height and there appeared to be no steps or ladders with which to access these openings.  Each one looked as if it were designed with a different architecture from a different epoch of time.  One appeared to be in the Greek fashion with large, ornate columns flanking the arched aperture while another was little more than a hole in the cliff face.  Simon could not determine the purpose of these openings, but he knew that the isle was the gateway into the Underworld.

A noise of rattling chains aroused Simon from his hypnotic inspection of the isle.  Turning to determine the source of this sound his eyes found Charon reaching the boat mooring.  Simon thought that the sound was coming from Charon and the small boat, but this was not the case.  The sound was coming from further up the shore.  The squeaking, jangling sound was coming from the crest of the hill.  It was a wagon.  The wagon was black and square.  Simon had seen a similar looking wagon one time when a huckster had come through his town selling some kind of magical elixir.  But this wagon looked far more disturbing than the huckster’s flashy wagon.  Two thunderous black steeds with long flowing manes hauled this wagon; and the driver of the wagon was none other than Thanatos, Prince of the Dead.

Charon reached the boat mooring before the wagon of Thanatos but did not exit the boat.  The figure of Charon began to prepare a large burial shroud upon a platform inside the boat.  Meanwhile, the ebony wagon of Thanatos continued its rattling descent from the hill until it halted before the ancient pier.  The horses shook their massive heads and snorted steam into the clammy dawn.  Thanatos sprung off the wagon surprisingly quick – his black cloak swirling about but not revealing his form beneath.  He went around the back of the wagon and just as he was about to be lost from Simon’s point of view he stopped and turned.  Simon’s heart twisted in his chest as he froze in fear.  His breathing halted and his skin crawled with a million chemical needles of terror.  The eyes of Thanatos could clearly be seen beneath the cloak cowl, red and searching.  The moment lasted for only a brief second but to Simon it was the end of all perceived time – an eternity of doubts and fears in one agonizing second.  Then Thanatos disappeared behind the wagon to retrieve his cargo.

A large, amorphous mass of undulating souls was herded from the wagon.  Distinct body parts could occasionally be seen emerging from the main body of the mass as Thanatos, the Reaper of Souls, nipped around them as sprightly as a dog about sheep.  They were driven onto the pier and then aboard the ship.  Once onboard the boat they were wrapped in the shroud that Charon had prepared, at which point they became as still as the bodies which they had so recently vacated.  Upon completing the placement of the shroud the souls took on the form of one, single dead body lying on the platform in the boat – still and lifeless.  Thus they were set for their final journey into the Underworld.

Thanatos, having delivered his cargo, bounded back across the mooring, swung into the driver’s seat, and set his steeds in motion.  The wagon lurched and began to climb the hill.  Charon, having settled the souls, untied the boat, picked up a long pole, and pushed away from the pier.  Simon watched the wagon receding, his heart thundering in his chest as he waited for the right moment to emerge from his concealment.  The boat was drifting further out into the bay, and it seemed as if the wagon would never disappear.  Simon feared that his window of opportunity would be lost and that he would never have this chance again.  The moments were tense, and his gaze kept flitting back and forth between the wagon and the boat, trying to determine the right moment.  Finally, he could not endure another second, so he cautiously rose and began a low run towards the boat mooring.  The wagon was just cresting the hill.  He reached the mooring and ran to the edge.  He looked back to see the wagon disappear, and then he turned, raised his hands to his mouth and began to call out, “Wilhelm!  Wait!  Wilhelm Fruehling, come back!”

He kept calling, not knowing if his cries were reaching the vessel when finally, the figure turned and looked back.  He heard!  Charon heard his real name!  The boat began to slowly turn under the guidance of the mysterious figure.  Simon tried with all of the ocular intensity he could muster to penetrate the darkness of Charon’s cowl, but to no avail.  Slowly the boat made its way back to the pier and Simon grew more and more uncomfortable.  The morning fog had now completely lifted but the sky remained overcast and gloomy.  The sunlight only served to provide a sickly, yellow glow giving a surreal aura to the day.

The boat reached the mooring for the second time with a soft thump.  Simon still could not see the face of Charon.  An awkward moment passed as the two figures stood in silence and then Simon began to speak.

“My name is Simon Bancroft, and I am an acquaintance of the Earl McDermott.  He told me how to get here and that you could take me to the Underworld.  He said that I should call your real name and wear this cloak and that I…”

Simon trailed off into silence as Charon lifted one skeletal hand in a gesture of silence.  Then Charon extended his hand and motioned for Simon to board the vessel.  This was it!  Simon’s mind was flooded with conflicting impressions. Excitement, trepidation, and bewilderment all fought for superiority of Simon’s emotions.  He went to lift one foot towards the boat and was suddenly struck as if he were embedded in a thick viscous fluid.  His foot was sluggish and felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds.  This physical feeling was accompanied by a similar psychological feeling of weightiness.  It was as if this decision to climb aboard carried with it great ramifications and a strong will to continue was required.  There was no doubt for Simon though.  His mind resolved long ago to attend this journey.

The feeling passed as quickly as it arrived, and Simon’s foot reached its destination in the boat.  Once aboard, Simon stood just a few short feet from Charon – the body of the dead souls lying between them.  Charon leaned forward as if studying Simon’s face then he raised his hands to his hood and pulled it back to reveal his skull.  Simon stared transfixed into the dark orbits of Charon’s eyes – so vacant yet, so full of life.  The two regarded each other for several moments.  Simon couldn’t help but feel a sense of the macabre as he gazed upon the grinning visage of the Ferryman to the Underworld.  But, strangely, he felt in no danger from this deathly form.

Charon straightened back up and offered Simon one of his skeletal hands.  Simon looked at the hand.  Did Charon intend to shake his hand in greeting?  Simon found this normal gesture so out-of-place in this fantastic setting that he hesitated in confusion for a second.  Then he lifted his hand and wrapped it gently around the frail hand of Charon and said, “Nice to meet you Wilhelm.”  But the hand of Charon was not as frail at it appeared.  The bones of the hand locked around Simon’s hand in a grip that was inescapable.  Simon at first winced and then he tried to pull away, but it was useless.  What was happening?  Simon’s eyes darted back and forth between Charon’s face and their locked hands.

“What is the meaning of this?  Let go!  Let go of me you beast!”  Simon shouted and pleaded trying to free himself desperately from the clutch of Charon.  His struggle was met only with the demonic grin on the skull of Charon.  Simon continued to scream and fight until something altogether unexpected occurred.

Simon fell into a shocked silence as the transformation began.  The tissue of Charon began to reform around the bones.  Tendons, ligaments, vessels, and muscles all weaving and knitting together at an incredibly fast rate.  Simon was so transfixed by the regenerating man in front of him that he didn’t notice the opposite happening to himself.  By the time he realized, his hand was nothing more than exposed muscle and veins.  The air was filled with the wet, sticky sound of tissue and blood churning and roiling along the two men’s bodies.  The horror of the situation struck Simon as he realized what was happening.  But now he was helpless to do anything.  He couldn’t even speak now that his mouth was no more than a bony smile.

The transformation ended and Wilhelm stood before Simon as he looked before he became Charon.

“Vell Mr. Bancroft,” Wilhelm said with a thick German accent, “I bet you are regretting coming to zis place now.  No?”  Simon looked at his skeletal hands, turning them back and forth.  “It vas a long time ago that I vas in your place and your Earl McDermott vas here vhere I am now,” Wilhelm continued massaging his newly formed face.  “Don’t vorry zough, one day I shall find you a suitable replacement and send zem here.  But, until zen, enjoy your living hell in ze Undervorld.”

With this he began to laugh uproariously as he climbed out of the boat.  Simon tried to follow him, but he was overcome with the same feeling of extreme heaviness that gripped him before.  This time, however, he didn’t possess the strength to fight it.  Wilhelm saw him struggle and turned to say, “Don’t bozer trying to get out Mr. Bancroft.  It is a fruitless effort.  Believe me I tried for years; and now I must be gone but not before I have zanked you for freeing me from zat God forsaken damnation.”

He danced down the pier and began to jog up the hill.  Simon watched him go, helpless to do anything about it.  All Simon could think about was the brewing hatred he felt for the Earl McDermott.  When he got out of this accursed state, he would murder that deceitful bastard!  That was a promise he intended to carry out and all of the legions of Hell could not stop him!

Wilhelm halted part-way up the hill and called back, “In case you are vondering how long I vas in your current state I must tell you I lost count after about twenty years!  But, if I vas to guess, I vould say fifty years is about right!  Oh, and don’t vurry about Earl McDermott!  After I find him and kill him myself, you vill get your revenge vhen Thanatos brings him back here!  Goodbye Mr. Bancroft!”

Simon watched him until he crested the hill and was lost from sight.  How would he recognize the Earl in that amorphous conglomeration of souls?  Simon looked at the sheet covering the communal body in the boat and wondered.  He reached down and slowly raised the corner to peer at what was underneath.  The sight he beheld would come to be a common sight for him over the years that followed.  But the first time a person beholds a sight so disturbing there can be no words to describe the torment and disgust.  Simon recoiled from the body in shock.  It was a writhing mass of contorted faces groaning and pleading for mercy.  Some were gaping open, and others were twisted in grief and pain.  It was their eyes!  The utter hopelessness of their damnation was reflected in their eyes!  But every day in the years that followed Simon would force himself to take inventory of everyone, looking each one in the face until he found the man who had sentenced him to this demented prison.

When Wilhelm got out of sight of Simon, he began to talk to himself.  After all, it had been quite a long time since he had exercised his vocal cords – or had any for that matter.

“Poor Mr. Bancroft.  His hell is only just beginning.  I haven’t the heart to tell him that Earl McDermott rode the boat vith me yesterday.”

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The artwork that inspired this story was originally done by the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin. He did several versions of the same image with slight variations. The following are three of his versions:

Several artists have creation their own versions of the picture. Here is a version done by H.R. Giger (of Alien artistry fame).

The artist Guang Yang did this variation that incorporates Cthulhu in it.

Finally, this next image is a panel from the graphic novel Dune done by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The illustrators of this are Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín. Notice what picture is hanging on the wall.

The Russian artist Ksenia Svincova, who goes by the name Iren Horrors, created this image of the ferryman Charon.

These next images are results from the AI Artist program Wonder with prompts “The Isle of the Dead” and “Charon”.