~ the raven chronicles ~ 11

18 Jun

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

Fr. Michael Leavell, OP.
Sacred Heart Church
Raven, Ohio

November 18, 1932

I had a visitor last night. Despite doors locked and windows latched, I had a visitor. Though forewarned by my trip to Sterns-Carson and my encounter with Rhea Sinclair, I failed to note the danger or even consider its possibility. It was a mistake that I must not make again; but if thinking of the only woman that I have ever loved in this life is the mistake that I made, I don’t see how I am not doomed to repeat it.

It was a cruel hoax played on me by Rhea Sinclair, to let me feel and see and touch that which is never to be, but could have been. After leaving Sterns-Carson and spending the rest of the daylight hours in Saint James Cemetery, I returned to the Sacred Heart rectory with a sense of contempt for myself and a smoldering longing for that which I had once held in the palm of my hand, but could never regain.

I entered the rectory, hung my coat in the foyer, then sat in the den and stared into the fireplace. Monsignor Byrne strolled into the room, casually leaned on the mantle, and inquired about my day off. It was all I could do to resist the temptation to tell him everything: every single detail of why I had been assigned to his parish; my clandestine visits to Sterns-Carson; and the truth as I knew it, regarding the horrible events this past Halloween inside the yellow house at the Echo Lake Spiritualist camp. I bit back my tongue, there was naught else I could do. It is ironic that my pledge to seek out and combat evil has so far turned me into little more than a liar. No dispensation for the work I do can change that fact or release me from the debt I owe to the Monsignor and others like him.

I muttered that I had an uneventful day.

Monsignor Byrne tried to alleviate my perceived doldrums by announcing that he had finally hired a full-time housekeeper for the rectory. We could have found none better, he said, for she is fastidious and an excellent cook. It was through God’s grace that she came to us, her previous employer has dismissed her for being in the family way, even though she is a married woman.

What nonsense is that? I wondered aloud while keeping my gaze on the fire.

The nonsense of a pretentious little man who owns a small factory in Raven, yet puts on the airs of a gilded-age industrialist, the Monsignor replied. And as a Methodist, he apparently thought it unseemly for his family and guests to be served by a woman whose biological condition could no longer be hidden from the world, or from the man’s teenage son.

I snorted and said, Yes, we wouldn’t want to let our children know anything about the facts of life, now would we?

The Monsignor was taken aback by the snide tone of that response, so out of character for our conversations. I apologized immediately, and begged off for a headache.

Don’t worry, he said, after tonight’s dinner you will be right as rain. We have acquired an absolute jewel for our kitchen.

Who is this wizard of the culinary arts? I asked.

Monsignor Byrne let my tart remark pass without comment, and continued. You might recognize her from church, though a no-account husband has been the fault of her missing Mass more often than she’d like. Her name is Annie Sullivan, nee  Griffin, Monsignor Byrne said, a big Irish family. Her sister is married to that friend of yours, Wallace.

I bolted upright in the chair. Mary Wallace is her sister?

The Monsignor looked at me for a moment like I was daft. Are you sure it’s nothing more than a headache, Michael? he said. Should I call a doctor?

I’m sorry, Father, I said and sank back against the chair. I’m still having trouble sleeping.

Well, maybe you should see a doctor, because eventually, a lack of sleep can have dire consequences. I had an uncle who didn’t sleep much for a month and he keeled over dead. Monsignor Byrne gazed into the fire and then said, Of course, he was drinking like a drowning man that whole time. Then he stood straight and rubbed his hands together and said, Come, let’s go to table, dinner must be almost ready.

We walked up the hall and engaged in random small talk about the domestic aspects of the rectory. It had been several months since our former housekeeper had retired and left us to our own devices. Meals had been a patchwork of what either of us could cook,  or the occasional covered dish from our parishioners. As we stepped into the dining room, Monsignor asked if I had any favorite foods, because Mrs. Sullivan would more likely than not, gladly prepare them.

Before I could answer, the kitchen door swung open and I got my first look at Annie Sullivan. She was younger than I expected, but no blushing bride either. Her slender frame accentuated the mounded belly beneath her apron. She had a wooden spoon in one hand and a look in her eyes that was all business. Dinner is nearly ready, she said. Without further ceremony, she returned to the kitchen and let the door swing widely after her. We took our seats at the table. Monsignor shook out his napkin and laid it across his lap in anticipation of the coming repast.

The Monsignor and I were seated for long enough to have moved on to a second glass of wine, before the kitchen door swung open again and Mrs. Sullivan entered the room. She carried a platter laden with food, and that baby inside her, with the same air; like a stevedore trundling a gangplank. She set the platter down near the Monsignor, lifted a slice of roast and laid it on his plate. He immediately cut off a piece and stuck it in his mouth.

Mrs. Sullivan, I ventured, when is your baby due?

Probably next week, she said, as she continued filling the Monsignor’s plate. Though the doctor has been wrong three times before. Then she gave me what I can only call a reproachful look and said, Don’t you worry about me missing but a day, that’s all I need to get back in the pink. In what seemed to be an exclamation of her independence, she moved the platter closer to me and arranged the carving knife and fork in a way that indicated I was to serve myself.

Well, you take all the time you need, Monsignor Byrne said, after dabbing his mouth with his napkin. This roast is delicious, by the way.

Thank you, Father, she said. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave the cleanup until the morning. I need to get home and tend to a few things. But starting tomorrow, I’ll be here full-time, everyday.

Her declaration made me fully realize what this seemingly innocuous turn of events could mean to me: Mary’s sister working at the rectory; Mary working at Sterns-Carson; between the two of them, it’s merely a matter of time before word gets to Wallace that something is afoot. I concluded that circumstances had forced my hand; I must consult with Wallace, even if I don’t tell him all that I know and all that I’ve seen. I now need to keep him close at hand, if for no other reason, than to make sure he doesn’t reach his own conclusions and take actions that are premature. After the night that followed that dinner, I realize that I will need all the aid I can muster.

Mrs. Sullivan left the dining room, and soon thereafter, the rectory, without a further word. After the front door had closed, the Monsignor expressed his pleasure with the dinner and congratulated himself for acquiring the services of our new domestic. After that, he was so content that he merely enjoyed the food and hummed a little tune occasionally, instead of trying to engage me in his usual dinner discussion regarding the state of society and the role of the Church therein.

I finished eating in short order and excused myself under pretense of the headache again. I offered to clear the table, but Monsignor said to leave everything, he’d gladly tend to it. So, I merely carried my plate to the kitchen. On the return trip past the table on my way  out of the dining room, he smiled up at me and nodded with a chunk of roast speared on his fork; he looked like a dog in clover.

I retired to the den,  poured myself a whisky and stared into the fire; Mrs. Sullivan had stoked it before she left, and a fresh stack of logs burned brightly. She’ll soon spoil us, I ventured, and make sure that we toe the mark, too. She brooks no nonsense, that is plain as day; probably just the thing for two bachelors of the cloth.

I finished the whisky and a wave of fatigue washed over me. The events in Rhea Sinclair’s cell reared in my memory like a tiny monster. I winced and rubbed my eyes and decided a good night’s sleep would go a long way toward putting things in perspective. I trudged up the staircase, entered my bedroom and closed the door.

The rectory was quiet from top to bottom and for that I was thankful. I went to the small lavatory in my room and completed my ablutions. Then I undressed and donned pajamas, pulled back the covers and got into bed. Not yet ready for sleep, I decided to read a bit of Lao Tzu from the small volume of the Tao Te Ching that I keep on the night table. I find this philosophy to be a comfort without effort; the words are cryptic, yet laden with meaning. The Monsignor views it as some type of spiritual voodoo and is unable to see that the tenets put forth in this book are exactly what we preach and teach on a regular basis. He’ll have none of that kind of talk, but is liberal enough that he doesn’t judge me for my point of view, about that or anything else. Thank God for small blessings.

I studied the following passage for quite some time, just as I have been wont to do on other occasions:

The valley spirit dies not, aye the same;
The female mystery thus do we name.
Its gate, from which at first they issued forth,
Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth.
Long and unbroken does its power remain,
Used gently, and without the touch of pain.

I finally rambled on and was arrested by this verse:

Colour’s five hues from th’ eyes their sight will take;
Music’s five notes the ears as deaf can make;
The flavours five deprive the mouth of taste;
The chariot course, and the wild hunting waste
Make mad the mind; and objects rare and strange,
Sought for, men’s conduct will to evil change.

‘…men’s conduct will to evil change.’ A warning of the perils of desire; the sharp precipice over which we all dash at some point or other in our lives; and always with a consequence. Is that the place where I am headed? The question hung in the air like the fog off Cape Wrath; thick and manifest, yet intangible and enigmatic.

I closed the book and stared at the ceiling for a long time. I did not realize just how long a time, until I turned my eyes towards the bedside clock. It seemed that the evening had passed me by, for the hands indicated it was 11:45. Mrs. Sullivan had served dinner at 6:00; I had retired in short order thereafter and must have been in bed by 7:30 at the outside of things. This loss of time made no sense, but many things had made no sense the past several days. I wrote it up as a rather innocuous variation of the other phenomena I had experienced; I should have known that there is no such ward in the realm of evil.

I laid the book on the table and switched off the lamp. The interior of the room flashed to darkness. The moon must have been out and near full luminescence, because the world outside my windows glowed from the reflection of the thin layer of snow that remained on the ground.

My eyes suddenly grew heavy; I could not have kept them open for a moment longer; ’twas like they were under the weight of a dead man’s pennies.

Sleep hit me like a velvet hammer; I do not even recall falling asleep; I was unconscious, in an instant.

The dream began immediately, I do know that.

I stood at the rail of the Cape Wrath lighthouse; the great light in the tower had been extinguished and could not be reignited. I sensed a ship approaching, but could neither see nor hear anything. I held a lantern out against the foggy sea, and swung it back and forth hoping that the feeble light shining from it’s glass globe would help the sailors in dire straits. Yet, a voice told me that it was futile, even foolish to hope that a mere candle could penetrate the shroud before me. I began to yell, hoping that my voice would carry out to those in danger and veer them away from the rocks below. I called, and then shouted, with greater and greater ferocity, until my words rang like thunder out into the mists.

From behind me, a gentle voice finally returned my call.

I swiveled around and found my self in a great wood, under a canopy that seemed  to reach to the sky above me.

Michael, the sweet voice called again.

I gazed deep into the forest and saw a figure off in the trees, waving and beckoning. Despite the distance, I knew who it was, as well as I’d know my own face in a mirror. It was Katy, calling to me in a voice that fired the great green cathedral in which we stood. She laughed, turned away and ran off. Without hesitation, I gave chase, and sang out her name.

As we streaked through the moonlight, I shortened the distance between us, and got a better view of my quarry, a view that ignited a mad lust within me, for she was dressed in only a thin whisper of a gown, gauzy and effulgent. She would turn every so often with a smile that bid me hasten, and each time she did, I caught a glimpse of the shape of her breast, or the curve of her thigh. I galloped blindly on, like a madman, until I realized that I had lost sight of her, and unsure that I had not strayed from her path.

I stood in the middle of the green towers and turned in circles and called her name and scanned as far as my eyes could see for a glimpse of my love. I hung my head, feeling that I had lost her once and for all. Tears welled up behind my eyes. Then, Katy’s sweet voice cut the night.

Michael, she whispered again.

I wheeled and there she stood, not ten feet from me, with arms outstretched; I could fully see her body now beneath the silk, and my mouth went dry. Her fingers moved come hither, and she spoke again, in a lilting cadence.

Michael…come to me…come to me, now.

I hurried to her embrace.

As soon as we touched, I felt as if I’d been slammed to the ground from a great height and all breath had been forced from my lungs. While I lay there stunned, I heard her whisper my name once more, but this time, her voice had something of an animal quality lurking beneath the angelic tone. She covered me with violent kisses, tore at my trousers, took me in hand, and impaled herself. I cried out at the unexpected pain, but no sound left my mouth. She began to ride me wildly, like some mad Godiva on a great horse bound for the gates of oblivion. I cried out a second time, for now I was in considerable agony, and though my eyes were open, I could no longer see, and I was paralyzed from the neck down, unable to move.

A cold hand touched my cheek; my mind was repulsed, yet I leaned into that frigid caress, and kissed the fingers as they wandered over my lips. I cried out a third time, for the pain had intensified beyond any discomfort imaginable. A voice that was no longer Katy’s, no longer anything human, whispered once more, the same mantra as before; Oh, Michael.

I then felt my body sag under an oppressive weight and breathing became even more difficult. Matters worsened as gelid lips pressed against my mouth, and seemed to suck the last vestige of air from my lungs. The weight upon me grew; I felt as if my ribs would collapse.

The creature astride me was suddenly seized with frenzied spasms that rippled down through my body. The seizures intensified, and lengthened in duration. I summoned a cry from deep inside my being, willed it to life, commanded it to rise and set me free; for I knew that was my only chance at survival.

I finally cried out, and when I did, I found myself back in my bed in the rectory. The very faint light outside my windows announced the coming dawn. I was paralyzed for a few more moments. An excruciating pain shot up my neck. My mouth was filled with the taste of blood. I jerked up in the bed and saw the blankets strewn onto the floor. My pajamas were splayed, my body fully exposed to my knees.

I repeatedly ran the back of my hand across my mouth, in an attempt to wipe clean the taste of blood and death. I finally collected my wits, swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up. I gathered my pajamas from around my knees and staggered toward the bathroom. As I undressed, I discovered a sticky substance covered me from chest to thighs; an oily secretion that oozed down my torso as I stood and examined myself in the mirror. I hurriedly cleansed my body, rushed to the satchel I carry for visiting the sick, and applied holy water to the affected areas. Then I went to the dresser, donned a fresh pair of pajamas, and stumbled to my bed. I took my rosary from the small drawer in the night stand, laid on my back, and prayed until the faint golden-blue rays of dawn crested the horizon; soon thereafter, I fell into a deep sleep.

A knock at the door awoke me, accompanied by a woman’s voice calling my name. A brief flash of fear shot through me until I realized that I was in my own bed and the voice belonged to Mrs. Sullivan, not some demonic phantasm. I responded in a hoarse, feeble voice, Yes, what is it?

The Monsignor asked me to check on you, she said. He wants to know if you are feeling alright.

Yes, I’m fine, I answered. I’ll be getting up directly.

That’s good then, she responded, I wouldn’t want you to miss breakfast entirely. This won’t be like a dining room in a hotel, you know, meals served whenever one has the whim to order.

I nearly laughed out loud at her comment; it was both unexpected, and reassuring. After my night of helplessness, a dose of reality from that feisty woman did wonders for my mental state. I’ll be right there, I replied.

I hopped from my bed, washed my face and combed my hair, dressed and went down to breakfast.

©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved

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