~ the raven chronicles ~ 15

31 Aug

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

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

November 19, 1932

By mid-morning, yesterday, Monsignor Byrne had returned to the rectory. He looked in on me and said that he was going to retire to his room to pray; I could tell by the sheen of his eyes that the very large breakfast he had consumed had finally overtaken him; he was headed for an early nap.

When I told him that I was going out for a bit and would return by dinner time, he nodded with a slight grin, likely prompted from anticipating another of Mrs. Sullivan’s epic repasts. As he trudged up the stairs, I gathered a few of my books, packed them into a valise along with my journal, and left the rectory.

Though the distance to Wallace’s farm is not great, one would think it on the other side of the world for the few times I have visited there.

It was but a short drive until I was beyond the city limits and enveloped by the countryside. The mostly fallow fields glistened with the night’s dusting of new snow; this epitome of tranquility and pastoral beauty hung a stark contrast to my experiences of the past several days. I lowered the window and let the icy fresh air swirl into the car. It smelled heavenly; crisp and sweet. To imagine that such beauty is the presage of death for so much of life in this world, seems paradoxical; a wonderful and terrible mystery.

My mind wandered aimlessly as I drove the straight dirt roads through the heart of numerous family farms and  intermittent stands of dense woodlands. Escape from the concerns that possessed me, was far too brief, for the moment that I spotted the Wallace farm off in the distance, a wave of anxiety crept up my spine, and the memory of all the  previous night’s horrors flooded over me.

I wondered once again if Wallace had any idea about the situation at Sterns-Carson; if he even had an inkling that Rhea Sinclair was an inmate there. I knew in my heart that he could not help but be suspicious; conversations with Mary must have aroused his curiosity, especially if she had discovered that I had visited the sanitarium; and how could she have not?

While I wrestled with how to best broach the subject once I faced Wallace, the driveway leading to his big white house suddenly appeared before me. I turned right, off of the packed gravel road, and slowly rolled along the driveway, across the small bridge, past the pond, and on up the front hill. All appeared quiet as I approached; but that is not unusual on a working farm where most daylight is spent out in the fields or in the barn.

I pulled around the far side of the house and parked on the cul-de-sac near the back porch. Wallace’s truck was nowhere to be seen; I wondered if perhaps he wasn’t home; then, as if they had been waiting in ambush, two large dogs appeared at my door, barking to wake the dead.

Ajax, Sampson, I heard a voice bellow.

I looked out the side window toward the barn and saw Wallace, approaching in great strides, frosty breath pumping out of him like a chugging locomotive. Where he and the dogs had come from, I cannot say, it was if they materialized out of thin air.

The two big Airedales ran playfully to their master, circled him one time then dashed back towards my car. I had gotten out by the time they returned; one of them nuzzled my hand and insisted on some affection; the other stood on fours and studied me, tongue lolling and tail wagging, determined to remain aloof as long as possible. Wallace came around the back of the car and looked askant.

Michael, he said, as if biting back something bitter, how you be.

Fine, I replied. Doing the best I can at the Lord’s work.

Will the Lord allow his working man to have a drink of whisky midday, he asked.

I believe dispensation can be arranged, I replied.

He looked at me with an uncertain expression, before he finally said, Stood here won’t fill a glass. Then he abruptly turned heel and strode toward the house. A little whistle from their master and the two dogs abandoned me to tag along with Wallace, nipping at each other and running circles around him as they went.

The brusque invitation to imbibe increased my suspicions; I gathered my valise and followed man and dogs into the big, white house.

Wallace hung his barn coat on one of the pegs by the door; I followed suit with my overcoat. A cedar fire warmed the spacious kitchen; the room was cozy, and redolent of home cooked meals.

I’ll heat some coffee, Wallace said.

He lifted the pot from the stove and placed it near the hot coals at the front of the fire. I knew from experience that my friend had a penchant for very strong black coffee that most people would consider unfit to drink; since he added neither water nor fresh grounds, I deduced that the pot contained coffee left over from breakfast; which after reheating on the hearth, would probably resemble something like pitch.

Several drawing tablets and large pieces of newsprint lay scattered across the big kitchen table. Wallace possessed artistic talent equivalent to that of a professional illustrator, but considered himself strictly a hobbyist, content to create work for personal enjoyment. I spotted a sketch partially hidden under some other drawings and slid it out for inspection.

I like this, William, I said, as I examined his rendition of a majestic elk ; You’ve got hold of the essence here, I think.

He turned around and absentmindedly regarded the drawing; I’m getting close, he said, but it’s not barry yet.

Not much is, I said, in an awkward attempt to bring a bit of levity to what, so far, had been a rather cool and perfunctory meeting; Wallace is not the warmest soul on earth, but he was acting a bit more reserved than usual.

I carefully collated and stacked enough of his loose papers to clear a place at the table for myself and my valise. Wallace reached up into the cupboard and brought down 2 glasses and a bottle of whisky and set them on the table. Then he turned back around, got two mugs from the drying rack near the sink, placed them on the stove, retrieved the pot from the fire, and filled the mugs with hot coffee. He put them on the table, one in front of me and one at the place opposite. Then he sat down, blew a cooling breath over the brew, took a sip and muttered, Havers! He uncorked the whisky bottle, lifted it and poured. He raised his glass and said, Alba Gu Brath.  Alba Gu Brath, I said in return. We both took a drink. He set his glass on the table, wiped his mouth and looked at me. After a few moments, he spoke; Are you here to unburden your conscience Michael, or just blow smoke up my arse?

I sensed right then that the cat was out of the bag; but tail and all? I took another sip of whisky; What have you heard, William.

I’ve heard that you’ve been up to Sterns-Carson more than once lately, he replied; and that ever since a new patient, a Mrs. Bartholomew Scott, was admitted to the sanitarium, things have been shooglie.

My concern turned from exposition to keeping our conversation confidential; Where is Mary, I asked.

Wallace gave me a hard look before he answered; She’s at the hospital; spending more and more time there, sleeping in that infernal place almost as much as in our bed; I don’t like it, Michael, and if you’ve got an inkling, I’d  like to know what in Satan’s hell is going on.

I stared into my whisky; rolled the glass in my hand; caught the morning light in it’s facets; considered where to begin. I knew Wallace deserved the truth, and if I expected him to assist me, he must have it.

Jacob Drummond has locked his daughter away in Sterns-Carson, where he hopes no one will ever discover her, I said. Through a fortuitous twist of fate, the hospital’s director, Dr. Sylvester Agnostica, is related by marriage to one of my parishioners; a man who could not keep a secret if his own life depended on it. I visited Sterns-Carson on a hunch; and though the good doctor attempted to thwart my inquiry, I drew him out as simply as one would a kitten that thirsted for a bowl of cream.

You’ve got the gift of blarney, Michael, Wallace said, from your father’s side of the family.

I smiled at his comment; it signaled in his own inimitable way that Wallace had no defined feelings of ill-will toward me regarding the current circumstances. I can hold my own, I replied.

How far in the bog are we, he said.

I realized that I had no ready answer for that question, and my lack could prove a provocation. I took another sip of whisky, set the glass down, and opted for the truth. I don’t know, I said.

Wallace lifted his whisky glass and drank. He set the glass back on the table, but kept his hand curled around the tumbler. Finally, he drew a long breath and said, Has she shown herself?

Yes, I said, she has shown herself. I have been in her presence on two occasions, alone in a closed room. The first time, she turned away and simply stared out the window; The second time, she took possession of my mind and I saw my life as it might have been, not as it is.

And you’ve had dreams, he said.

Yes, I replied, I’ve had dreams; ignited by an unbridled longing that possessed me to my very soul and brought a spawn of Hell to my bed last night.

Wallace quaffed the rest of his still-steaming coffee, stood up, refilled his mug, turned back around, leaned against the stove, and gingerly sipped the piping brew.

You’ve kept all this from me, he said, contrary to our oath.

There’s more than meets the eye; I didn’t want to speak of it until I was sure.

But the dreams you’ve had, he said, have brought you surety.

Yes, I answered, they have.

Well, here is more surety for you, Michael, he said. With Mary gone so many nights, I’ve been keeping the dogs in the house; I sleep soundly when I do sleep, but these lads hear everything.  Just before dawn they woke me whining and getting at the door. I dressed and fetched my gun. When the door went open they both flew across that field right out there and set to pacing  back and forth all along the tree line with their snouts to the ground. I found tracks; expected a bobcat or the like; but I found footprints; footprints the size of a child; a barefoot child.

I felt the color drain from my face as my mind made the horrible, inevitable connection; I reached for my whisky and drained the glass. The image of Zeke, the wild-child at Sterns-Carson, filled my mind; the way he pointed me out in the corridor now made him seem like a Judas.

I heard Wallace, speaking as if from somewhere far away; Does that mean something to you, Michael?

I looked up, and said, William, there are many things unimagined that I gained knowledge of during my training by the Council; things that I never expected to see that I have seen the past few days; I have come here to enlist your help; you have the gift; you see things others cannot; I intend to return to the Echo Lake Spiritualist Camp and enter the yellow house; I want you there with me.

Wallace considered what I had said, then replied, I told ye I would never enter that place again; yet you ask me to do so.

Only because it is imperative, I replied.
You know the stakes, even better than I.

When, he asked.

Right now; Today, I replied.

The ensuing silence felt like an eternity.

Well, he finally said, stood here surely won’t beat the Devil.

Then he strode over to the door and put on his coat.

At that moment, my admiration for Wallace grew by leaps and bounds; I had a sense of what it meant for him to agree to a return to the yellow house; to descend to that subterranean room; to allow his senses to be enveloped by the ghosts of the horrible events of the recent Halloween night; to wallow once again in a vision of blood and terror that had left him in a weakened state for several days after our last visit.

I stood and paused to regard my briefcase before lifting it from the table; I am a lover of books, books give me knowledge and succor, but nothing to be found in a book could match the insight garnered from watching my friend display the courage of a warrior; the strength of his heart, strengthened my heart.

I hope that I can live up to that ideal.

©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved


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