~ the raven chronicles ~ 9

10 May

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

Dr. Sylvester Agnostica, MD.
Sterns-Carson Sanitarium
Green Pines, Ohio

November 18, 1932

I am sitting at the dining room table in my home, surrounded by darkness; dawn has yet to break outside the windows. My daybook lays open in front of me, and I am writing by the light of a single lamp that I carried over to the table in order to create a makeshift desk. I removed my daybook from my office and brought it home yesterday evening, for the first time ever; I have decided to travel with it close by from here forward; events are happening too fast, if I don’t write them down immediately, they will slip by, and I may miss a piece of the puzzle that has become my life.

inside on a winter dayIf someone were to approach me and describe yesterday’s events, I would deem the narrator to be deluded, maybe dangerously so. As a matter of fact, I would summon Jenkins and have that person strapped in a jacket and locked in a cell. Perhaps that is where I belong; perhaps my years of proximity to the insane has infected my mind and body and soul; it would not be the first time that a physician was repaid for his good work by perishing from the disease carried by the patients he was treating. I will leave the final diagnosis to someone else, perhaps to a stranger who reads this volume after all is said and done regarding the affair of Mrs. Sinclair.

Last night, when I opened the front door, my home was dark, just as it was on the evening before last. I came inside and called out to my wife, and then called for Maddie; silence answered me on both queries. I ventured inside and found a house as cold and as uninviting as one could imagine. No spirit of warmth or welcome greeted me; only stony silence and the forbidding atmosphere of a tomb. I ventured to the dining room and found a covered plate with a note on top; it read:

   I have gone to visit my sister. I don’t know when I shall return.
   I have arranged for Maddie to cook your meals and keep the house.

So, it has come to this, I told myself, paid the wages of sin for all my good deeds and all that I have given; that woman has gone from my life and my life will never be the same. So be it, I told myself; her disregard for my authority and her cold-blooded affections will not be missed, and at any rate, I must dedicate all my energies to my work; if I had done so before now, I might not find myself in these dire straits.

I sat down and ate the cold meal left for me; roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and marinated asparagus. The food was surprisingly good, Maddie really is a fine cook, and the bottle of Claret I brought up from the cellar enhanced the entire affair. After I had finished the food and the bottle of wine, I left everything on the table; it is all still here waiting for Maddie. Then I retired to my den, took one of my best cigars from the humidor and poured a snifter of my best cognac. Luckily, Maddie had also left a low-burning fire in the hearth; after stoking it with some kindling and adding a few split logs, it came to full bloom, burned brightly and gave off a soothing warmth. I seated myself in the leather club chair in front of the blaze and attempted to unburden my mind, all to no avail; the weight upon it was, and still is, oppressive. I resigned myself to my cerebral fate and let my mind wander over yesterday’s events, much like a bird in flight would survey the landscape beneath, to try and ascertain the shape and form of all that lay below.

As my mind rambled, the large meal and bottle of wine began to take effect and a heavy lethargy overcame me. I stared into the fire and fell into a mesmeric state watching the flames dance and lick across the clefts and peaks of the logs’ split face. After a time, I am unsure how long, I began to sense that I was not alone in the room; I seemed to hear breathing behind me, as if someone stood over my chair, watching me. I snapped out of my trance and turned around; no one was there, but the door was closed and I could not recall having closed it. A wave of anxiety seized me for a moment, until I finally asked myself, what did it matter if I had closed the door or not, had I come to such a neurotic state that I would second guess the mundane actions of everyday life that one forgets immediately after they are done because they are of no more import than a leaf in a breeze?

I turned back to the fire and quaffed the cognac. I raised the cigar to my lips and discovered it nearly burnt down and the ash tip agnostica mantle clockcold. I glanced into the firebox and saw that the logs had been consumed to a state of thin remains and had collapsed upon themselves. I looked up at the clock on the mantle and could not believe my eyes; the small hand lay square on 3 and the big hand lay slightly past 12; I knew I could not have entered the den any later than 9:30, or 10 o’clock at the outside, yet I seemed to have stood still, ceased to exist, while the rest of the world spun by around me; that is the notion that gripped my consciousness. I took one last look at the cigar and then flung it onto the dying embers. I arose and strode to the cabinet and poured another cognac and drank half of it, straightaway. I gathered my wits about me and made my way over to the mantle with my snifter in hand and gazed down onto the feeble conflagration below me. A horrible vision seized me; I pictured myself the size of an insect and trapped inside the midst of the red-hot cinders, like a mortal sinner damned for eternity, burning in a lake of fire without end. I jumped back with a start and dropped the snifter onto the fieldstone hearth; the shattering of it sounded like a bolt of lightening in the quiet of that room. I stood and stared at the pile of shards at my feet for a few long moments, like a dumb animal that has just been struck in the head. I finally regained my senses and realized that I had better retire and capture what little sleep might be left to me before the cock crowed and I had to return to the asylum.

I opened the door and stared out into the darkness; the silence that had greeted me on my arrival home seemed even more profound, and a sinister ambiance pervaded the house. I walked over to the foot of the stairs, the stairs that just last night I had bounded up with the agility of some great ape on the way to defile my wife, and I paused with one hand on the banister finial. Then, what I heard, I don’t know any other way to describe it, I heard the house, the house itself, breathe. Words fail in the depiction as I gaze at them on the page; a house breathes, what does that sound like? It sounds like awakening in the dead of night and feeling the cold lips of the devil on your cheek. The blood in my veins ran to frost and all breath left my lungs. I suspected that I was merely drunk, too drunk to even realize how drunk I was; if I had sat in that club chair for 5 hours or more, surely I drank more than a snifter of brandy, I probably refilled the glass many times in an alcoholic daze and simply lost track, but I remembered the cigar in my hand, and knew that I had only had one cigar during my sojourn in the chair, and that meant that I was not drunk, but experiencing everything just as it seemed to be.

After some moments, that terrible susurration ceased, and I just stood there, poised like a stygian figurehead, awaiting the next terror. The house went still as ever and remained so. Silence reigned supreme for close to 10 minutes before I had the nerve to even remove my hand from the banister. I finally exhaled and mocked myself for a superstitious fool and rounded that banister and trudged up the stairs; a picture of myself as a puny mortal, climbing to the top of some dark Olympus seized my consciousness like a vise; I knew that I had to wrest control of my mind before I truly drove myself insane. I paused and made a Herculean effort to bring my thoughts back to the here and now, succeeded in doing so, and continued my trek to the top of the stairs. I paused and glanced up the hallway to my right, in the direction of my wife’s bedroom, and recalled the events of last night; though I found myself morally repulsed by my actions, something deep inside my physical being twinged and flexed with pleasure, wishing to indulge his bestial nature again. I turned from that perverted vision and made my way to my room.

I closed the door behind me and turned on the night lamp next to my bed. The room looked familiar, my bed inviting, seductively so, a decided change of pace from my experience with the rest of the house. I removed only my jacket and laid down on the quilted coverlet. After great effort, I managed to ease the knotted cord of my body. I did not sleep, so much as lay in bed with my eyes closed and dream; though I know they were not dreams, I dare not name them anything else. What I will call sleep for the purpose of narration, soon washed over me, and I tumbled into a deep, dark pit where it seemed that no light of day had ever been seen; my room was immersed, or covered, or washed with the blackest aspect imaginable. I heard the breathing of the house again, but this time, the exhalations had a sweet melodic quality that tugged at the strings of my very spirit; and soon the breath, as I must call it again, arose in a symphonic cadence and seemed to divide itself and become the vapor of three distinct beings. How I deduced this, I cannot say, other than there was no need for me to deduce it, I just knew it to be so. As I lay there, I heard sweet murmurs and felt gelid hands caress me with a touch so light as the wisp of a gentle breeze; that touch was cold, oh so cold, yet for some reason, I was seduced by it, reveled in it, hungered for more of it. Suddenly, like the snapping of fingers, it all vanished and my eyes flew open.

I sat up on the edge of the bed and retrieved my watch, it indicated nearly five o’clock; I found myself perplexed once again, just as I had been when I awoke in my club chair, surprised by how much actual time had passed for events that seemed so fleet in my mind. I arose and donned my jacket, smoothed my hair and came down to this table. A thought occurred to me as I descended the stairs; though my wife was always prim and reserved, she had an appetite for vulgar literature and lurid stories. I recalled one book from her collection that I inadvertently picked up one day and soon found myself immersed in; Dracula, written by the Irishman, Bram Stoker. That recollection struck me as a revelation and I hurried to the bookshelf and found the volume. I laid it on the table, retrieved the lamp and set up my workspace and opened the book to the ribboned mark where I had left off reading quite some time ago; long enough ago that I could not recall when that was, exactly. I had left the story with Jonathan Harker laying his journal aside and falling asleep in a chair in the part of the castle forbidden to him by the Count Dracula.

”I must have fallen asleep. I hope so, but I fear, for all that followed was startlingly real, so real that now sitting here in the broad, full sunlight of the morning, I cannot in the least believe that it was all sleep…I was not alone.”

I laughed loudly and heartily, thinking that I had experienced some type of delusion, probably triggered by the stressful nature of my current circumstances, based on a fanciful tale written, no doubt, to frighten and titillate repressed females. Would that it were so; reading what I have just written seems like a rationalization, not an explanation; I have no explanation for much of anything that has occurred over the past several days. The phantasms and hallucinations have been something more than that, they must be, or I am, truly mad.

I will lay my pen aside now and return to Sterns-Carson, the place that seems to be the wellspring of my torment; though I must admit that it is not the place, but one particular person there, who has triggered my perplexed anguish, Rhea Sinclair. To even write her name now causes some type of frisson to course through my bones. Perhaps she is in such an intense state that she exudes a magnetic charge or energy field of some type; though I’ve never subscribed to such notions, they smack of superstition rather than science, I must not discount any avenue of inquiry as a means to solving this puzzle. Another day awaits, so into that breach, I go. Heaven help me.

©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald all rights reserved


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