Archive | January, 2012

~ the raven chronicles ~ 21

28 Jan

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

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

November 19, 1932

As Wallace and I walked the hall from Bloodworth’s room, new questions about Tavish and Mrs. Sinclair and the mystery of this past Halloween night tumbled through my mind. Wallace maintained a stony silence that did not invite conversation; I knew him well enough to understand that this was a time to keep my own counsel.

During our descent down the wide staircase from the second floor to the massive foyer, I spotted the cyprian who had greeted us upon our entry to the hotel, still stationed behind the desk; languid to the point of decadence as she thumbed a celebrity magazine and whistled softly along with a radio ensconced in a nook among the hanging room keys and mail slots behind. She had put on some proper clothes, but I knew that they were but a shell to be molted at the first opportunity for compensation.

I wondered if she could, or would, provide us with any additional information; any more than what Bloodworth had begrudgingly divulged. I determined to wring what I could from her before leaving the hotel, even if it meant using my collar as emotional blackmail. We reached the bottom of the stairs, I donned a friendly smile, and approached her.

Wonder if I might have another word with you Miss, I said. She looked up from the magazine and her lower lip flashed out in a pout; then she spoke not unlike a child being brought to task; About what, then?

About Mr. Tavish, mostly; Did you know him well?

She stood, cocked one hip, and laughed in her mouth like that was a joke; Well as anyone, I suppose.

Did he ever confide in you about any of his activities at the yellow house or the old church, I asked.

The expression on her face changed to a door slammed shut. I worked for Mr. Tavish, she said. And minded my own business.

A valuable trait in any employee, I replied, then immediately cringed inwardly at my tart remark; but the woman seemed to take it as a compliment; a bit of color rose in her cheeks; perceived flattery begets an opening.

You must forgive my lack of manners, I said, it is rude for any man to engage a woman in conversation without a proper introduction; I’m Father Leavell, and this is Mr. Wallace. I’m Sadie, she replied, Sadie Faire.

Wallace looked on with disapproval as Sadie Faire and I shook hands. Her delicate bones reminded me of a small bird; she exuded a subtle, irresistible allure with the soft clasp of her hand, the sparkle in her eyes, and the coy, knowing smile on her lips; whether her name had been given at birth or assumed for professional purposes, it fit her perfectly.

Our hands separated and I asked, Were you at the Halloween Ball; All of us were there, she replied, as if I had inquired about a family reunion; Mr. Tavish liked to throw parties and that was the best one ever.

A tragic end though, I said. It was that gangster, Sadie replied; He killed everyone; It was just horrible. She searched my eyes, as if seeking answers there, answers that she obviously thought I could give her through some perceived connection with the Divine.

Were you in the ballroom before the group left for the yellow house, I asked.

Oh yes, she replied, brightening a bit; I spent the evening with Mr. Claudette, a lovely man from Chicago; And a very good dancer; He had such high hopes of winning the lottery that night—here she paused and a sour look crossed her face—as if Gareth hadn’t rigged it to suit his own purposes, just like everything else around here.

Sadie pursed her lips and looked like she expected retribution for speaking her mind; but her expression also told me that she wished to say more, but for assurance that she could do so, safely. It’s alright, I said low and laid my hand on hers, tell the rest of it; He’s not here to hurt you anymore; Tell me about the lottery.

She glanced behind me and I followed her look; a man with rolled-up shirtsleeves and suspenders sat slouched in a Windsor chair in the drawing room across the foyer; head lolled to one side, newspaper open in his lap as he slept. The strap across his shoulder indicated he was armed. After assuring herself that the man was indeed asleep, she looked at me with her head lowered and spoke.

The winners were going with Gareth to his cottage for a special Halloween seance; He said that that wand he’d carried around all night in his belt was magic, that it was a passport to somewhere.

Wallace snorted and said, Havers, a magic wand.

Sadie glared at Wallace; I shot him a warning glance; I certainly didn’t want to antagonize Sadie before she could tell us something that might be of import.

Tell me about the magic wand, Sadie, I said, redirecting her attention. She looked back at me and her eyes softened again; she obviously had a mistrust of men, deservedly so, I’m sure, but she had invested a bit of faith in me due to my office and I knew she would unburden herself if encouraged.

Gareth had just gotten it a couple of weeks before, she said; Came from England, I think; He kept it with him nearly all the time after that.

Can you describe it, I asked, as gently as possible.

It was about 2 feet long, she said, looked kind of like gold, but it was all tarnished; It had a ball or a spike on one end and what looked like the head of a dog on the other.

Her descriptive words coursed though my mind like a reanimating electric shock, igniting memories of my days of study in Rome; What did the dog head look like, I said.

A skinny dog, Father. With long, pointy ears.

Some moments after her pronouncement, I realized that I had just been standing there, mute and staring intently at Sadie; she must have felt threatened, for she had stepped back away from the counter. The sight of tears welling in her eyes brought me to my senses; I swallowed hard and said, Thank you Sadie, you have been very helpful.

Then I abruptly turned and headed for the door; Sadie beckoned me with a voice that sounded for all the world, just like the voice of my Katy, the Katy of my recent dreams. Filled with a mixture of dread and hope that perhaps this was all but another of those dreams, I turned round.

Father, would it be alright if I came to your church for Christmas?

Of course, I replied; Come to Midnight Mass, the choir is always exceptional.

Thank you, Father, she said, with a trembly smile; I’ll hope to be there.

I fixed my gaze on those plaintive eyes, and the next thing I knew, I found myself standing at the bottom of the steps outside the hotel; twas if I’d blacked out, so totally distracted by Sadie’s words about the wand and the intrusion into my waking hours by the ghost of Katy past, that I didn’t even recall going out the door.

Wallace called to me from the hotel porch; Michael, where are you off to? He hustled down the steps and joined me; What’s wrong with you, man; What did that harlot say to send you off in a tizzy?

I looked at my friend, and struggled with my memory of lost love, and my pledge of secrecy made as a member of The Council.

Tell me about the wand, he said, or I’ll not take another step with you.

I knew that to speak of it would change everything, and embroil Wallace in dark matters that should be of one’s choosing, not of happenstance.

Let’s sit in the car for a moment, I said.

We sat silent in the automobile for a length of time, how long, I’m not exactly sure, but the patience displayed by Wallace showed me that he understood the gravity of what I was about to tell him.

There is a manuscript in one of the Vatican libraries, I began finally, that has never left there since the Crusades; Nor has it been seen by many persons in all that time. I paused and Wallace waited once again; the man possesses an unnatural patience when he is of a  mind. The manuscript speaks of the Exodus, and the events preceding and subsequent; And of the Princess Meritaten, and her flight from Egypt with a devoted band of followers.

Tales of the Grandmothers, Wallace said; More fanciful than fact I always reckoned.

Yes, I replied, if you rely on the historic record to verify those tales, nothing awaits but a dead end; But one particular parchment mentions the theft by Meritaten’s lieutenant of a jackal-headed wand.

A skinny dog, Wallace said; God bless the whore for a clue that might get us the upper hand for once; Tell me all about it, Michael.

I have no more to tell, I said; I never completed reading the entire set of scrolls; It was merely a diversion for me during a period of study in preparation to take my oath, and I totally forgot all about them soon afterward, until this day; A mistake on my part, it seems.

Wallace let out a long sigh then stared out the side window. Silence ruled like a scolding monarch while both of us pondered.

Well, Wallace finally said; no sense sitting here any longer bemoaning a half loaf. We’ve got about an hour or so of daylight left, and  I want to be in and out of that accursed cottage before nightfall.

Wallace was right, we had neither the time nor the evidence to draw any conclusions from what was probably coincidence; It is one my failings, perhaps, that I sometimes think instead of act; just as it is one of Wallace’s failings that he often acts without thinking; but that is why we make a good team, though I doubt that Wallace would ever deign to define our relationship in those terms.

You’re right, I said; Let’s get on with it before we lose the day.

I started the car, and backed out of the parking slot. Before we drove off, I gazed at the Echo Lake Grand Hotel once more; the fair Miss Sadie stood just outside on the porch, staring at our car, arms wrapped about her silky dress in protection from the bitter wind, and I felt some pang of guilt for leaving her there, though I do not know why, or what else could be done; she must play out the choices she has made, just like we all must do.

For my own selfish reasons, I hoped she would come to Christmas Mass.


We exited the hotel grounds, turned left onto Echo Lake Road, made a quick right turn, then climbed the dirt and scattered gravel drive that led to our destination; a sense of dread crept up my spine as we approached and passed under the wooden arch lettered, Spiritualist Camp.

The last time I had been here, evil pervaded the grounds; today, the compound seemed nearly pastoral, if a bit careworn. A cluster of two-story cottages, a small theatre, a cemetery, and the remains of the Spiritualist church stood out in relief against the winter sky above and the dusting of fresh snow on the ground below.

I pulled the the car off the drive into a small parking area, shut the engine, then reached into the glove box and retrieved my flashlight. Come prepared, eh, William said; I hope so, I replied.

Wallace and I got out of the car and studied what remained of the skeletal, scorched framework of the clapboard Spiritualist temple. Though the building had burned to the ground several years ago, the smell of char remained, still pungent despite the frigid air.

Curiosity seized me, and I walked over to the cemetery just to the north of the ruins. Wallace followed a few paces behind me as I strolled among the markers. The plot consists of about 40 or 50 graves all told; for so many to be interred at a place of transience struck me as odd. As I inspected the dates of  birth and death on the markers, it became obvious that the majority of the departed were fatalities of the fire.

Must have been like a charnel house, I said.

Doc Prater told me they had candles throughout the entire church, some kind of group seance, Wallace replied; A stumble at the rear of the meeting and the next thing you know, the whole place is all up like a bonfire.

The inscriptions on the modest headstones illustrated the real tragedy of that day; So many children, I said.

Sins of their elders, Wallace replied.

Right then I wondered about Wallace’s religious beliefs; he’s baptized and a member of Sacred Heart, but he never attends Mass, even though Mary is there every Sunday and early mornings several times a week.

I always suspected if I asked Wallace, that he would tell me it was none of my affair. Perhaps that is true for each of us; faith is a personal article that we all must come to terms with in our own way; some never do, and that is a tragedy, for we all must first be our own judge, and preside at our own reckoning, before we stand and come to accounts in front of our Creator.

Wallace headed for the rear of the ruined church; I followed suit.

We walked along the length of  the razed building with the floorboards adjacent to our path and barely a step up from ground level, until we reached the back corner, where the landscape sloped precipitately away toward the creek. I turned to my left and a wall some 8 feet from the ground to the rear foundation sill appeared; in the center of that unexpected elevation, lay a stout wooden door; and in deep relief on that door, the detailed carving of a snake devouring its tail.

Plato described the Ouroboros as a self-eating, circular being; the first living thing in the universe; an immortal, mythologically constructed beast. The first recorded mention of this archetypal creature is in the Egyptian Book of the Netherworld; It has been iconic for many sects and religions, primitive and civilized, ever since, from the Hindus to the Freemasons, utilized as a potent symbol of destruction begetting regeneration; I shuddered to imagine what use such a one as Tavish would employ.

Bloodworth didn’t lie about this, I said.

I’d want hard proof of anything that galoot told me, Wallace replied.

William, I said, you have a very healthy skepticism.

He grunted, then said, Try the door, Michael.

I reached for the handle and saw below it, a substantial, primitive padlock fastened to a rusty hasp.

There’s a problem, I said.

Wallace gently moved me aside. Then he reached beneath his coat and pulled out the largest revolver I have ever seen. I’ve also come prepared, he said. He took aim and fired; after the 3rd shot the hasp fell away and took the padlock with it. After you, he said, with a little bow.

I pulled the door open; a waft of damp air redolent of a tomb filled with decayed funerary bouquets greeted us. Vision ended beyond the threshold. I pulled the flashlight from the deep pocket of my overcoat and shone it into that black maw; the beam cut through the moat filled atmosphere like a lighthouse cutting through fog out on some dreadful dark sea.

I don’t relish going in there, Wallace said, it’s not a good place. Well, you’ve got your gun, I replied. Wallace gave me a look of mild rebuke and put the gun back inside his coat; You’ve got the light, he said. I swallowed hard and stepped inside.

My tubular lamp did not provide a wide field of illumination, the dim room around the beam always remained full of barely discernible, dark shapes. I swept the torch to my left and found that a sizable copper oil lamp with a large reflective disc hung on the wall just inside the doorway; Wallace retrieved matches from his coat, opened the small glass door on the fixture, and ignited the wick.

Twas as if the very early morning sun had risen in the room; soft yellow light radiated outward and laid a more complete definition on our surroundings.

Ornate tapestry panels that resembled heraldic banners, decorated the walls; strange runes and facsimiles of Egyptian glyphs ran from top to bottom on each one.

4 rows of chairs, 8 chairs in each row divided in the center by an aisle, faced a slightly elevated stage.

A vibrant blue curtain surrounded three sides of the riser and lent the rough plank platform the look of  an Elizabethan proscenium.

A square framework sat positioned center stage; it appeared to be about 8 feet tall and 4 feet square.

What the hell is that, Wallace said.

I shone my light ahead of us as we walked toward the platform, our attention riveted to that odd framework. Once we reached the foot of the stage, the structural details of the machine became clearly visible.

Lumber of 2×4 inches comprised the thing. Horizontal bars, three per side, held the four vertical posts together, with the center rails being mounted on the face of each plane.

Two ropes secured at the left and right intersections, hung from the upper front brace. A single rope dangled from the middle of the front lower brace, and a small loose block sat on the stage below. I read the Latin inscription carved on the center rail: Inigatum pro Illuminatio; Bound for Enlightenment; And the purpose of this devilish contraption took terrible shape.

I pictured a Tavish acolyte, standing on the small block, feet bound  together at the ankles in the center of the lower rail,the spine arched across the center rail, arms stretched and each wrist tied on the upper rail; then the support beneath the feet would be kicked aside, and the supplicant would find themselves suddenly hanging in excruciating crucifixion.

My mind reeled as Bloodworth’s words returned in a dreadful echo;  “And Tavish loved to inflict that suffering on others, especially women.”

I glanced at William; he stood with jaw clenched, just staring at the diabolical device before us.

The flashlight hung at my side; I looked down and noticed an Oriental runner beneath our feet that led away perpendicular from the stage to the opposing wall where another runner joined it that ran perpendicular from the first runner for 8 feet or so until it disappeared behind a large dressing screen.

Without a shared word, Wallace and I walked that direction; my flashlight illuminated the richly woven walkway; a sharp contrast to the packed dirt floor beneath.

Behind the screen we found  a solitary long bench that faced the wall opposite; on the wall were 5 open divided cabinets, like those found in a gymnasium dressing room, with a smaller compartment above the larger below.

They were all empty save for a bundle of clothing in the top compartment of one. I pulled it  out and we examined it beneath my light; upon unraveling, it proved to be a set of women’s undergarments and a pair of stockings.

They stripped naked for that son of a bitch, Wallace said; Stripped themselves naked and then let him truss them up.

I deduced as much from the clothing I held in my hand, but Wallace could see the whole thing like it was a photograph.

I wondered all at once, if Rhea Sinclair had participated in any of the perverted rituals; if perhaps the intimate clothing I held in my hand, had belonged to her. The possibility shot me through with disgust, and I quickly re-bundled the silk and satin garments and stuffed them back into the cubby.

I’ve seen enough, I said. Let’s go.


We emerged from that subterranean den of torment into the remains of the day. The sun, visible as a diffuse white globe through the thin winter clouds, hung just above the horizon.

Coming on sundown, I said, perhaps we should return another time. Wallace studied the horizon and said, I’ll not return to this God forsaken place again.

Before his words faded, a great commotion rose from the trees on the west bank of the creek, and swooping black birds stained the pale sky; a murder of crows on the wing; cawing like a horde of harpies to the world below.

William and I both watched the rambling assemblage in awe, until the whirling mass of black feathers, beaks and talons crested the trees on the eastern horizon and vanished from sight.

I flashed my light on and off to check the remaining charge on its batteries. Satisfied that we would not be caught in a blackout, I said, Alright, let’s get the thing done.

We hiked up from behind the church, walked south along the dirt road, and soon came to the short picket fence that surrounded our destination. With a burst of purpose that had me hastening to keep up, Wallace opened the gate, strode the flagstone path to the front porch of the yellow frame house and bounded up the steps. A shiny padlock and hasp fastened the door, and a cardboard placard had been tacked up over the small, foursquare window.



Sheriff Blackwell, Wallace scoffed at the warning broadsheet, that layabout shan’t come here again unless a pot-luck dinner is involved.

Then, without hesitation, he took the  big revolver from his coat; one shot did the trick this time. Wallace turned the knob and pushed; the door had swollen jammed; a solid kick with the sole of his heavy boot knocked it open.

The sparsely furnished front room lay in semi-darkness; wispy daylight streamed in through the the kitchen door opposite us at the rear of the cottage. A faint scent of incense and tobacco mingled, laced the air. I don’t know Wallace’s emotions at that moment, but I confess that I wished I would have been any other place on earth; standing in the yellow house again was like revisiting a horrible dream.

Without a word, Wallace lifted the globe on an oil lamp sitting on a small table next to the door and ignited the wick. He looked at me, my trepidation all too evident, and said, Stood here won’t answer any of your questions, Michael, down to Satan’s pit we go. And with lamp in hand, he marched forward; I followed like a devoted dog, its master.


The cellar door, hidden behind and beneath the staircase to the upper floor, is the single entrance to the lower chamber of the yellow house; what Tavish dubbed his Spirit Room. A narrow, spiral flight of steps winds down to that infernal sanctuary; I am unsure of the depth, but I counted 39 treads as I followed Wallace in our cautious descent.

About halfway down, the smell of musty earth and the ferrous marker of blood arose from the depths, and increased in intensity with each step, as if we were submerging inch by inch into some type of noxious fog. The repulsive aroma permeated my nostrils; I put a hand to my mouth in an attempt to filter my inhalations.

As soon as my companion stepped off the last riser, he exclaimed, None too fresh in here, my barn smells a mite better; See what you need to see, Michael, and then let’s be shut of this place.

Wallace held the lantern up and ventured into the room; he stopped at the 5-sided table where the murders had occurred, and with his free hand, traced one of the points of the brass pentagram inlaid on the surface. I fixed my gaze on the wrought iron centerpiece; two snakes twined vertical  with the remains of a large pillar candle at the apex.

Then I glanced away to my left and traced that line of sight with my flashlight. I discovered one of the wall panels standing open; twas like an irresistible invitation to come and see where the charlatan’s henchmen ensconced themselves while pulling the strings and levers that made Tavish’s claims to communicate with the dead, come to life.

I walked over and shone my lamp into the secret compartment behind the built-out wall and stepped inside.

Narrow ports for monitoring the proceedings in the room outside had been situated at regular intervals; a waist-high shelf ran along the inside of the wall; mounds of gauzy pale fabric, lengths of filament, and an assortment of clackers and noisemakers dotted the tray for as far as my light shone. A creeping sense of claustrophobia stopped me from traveling further into the narrow passageway.

I backed out into the room, turned around, and saw Wallace still staring at the table, one hand on the high-backed, ornately carved wooden chair where we had found Tavish’s bloody body that night; the subsequent 3 weeks seemed like an eon. The intense expression on his face told me that an dara sealladh, the second sight, was upon him.

Wallace slowly looked my direction; he fixed a silent gaze on me for a moment, then said, Douse your light, Michael; And don’t turn it on again, until I say, no matter what you hear before my signal.

I merely nodded and switched off my flashlight.

Then Wallace raised the lantern and slowly retracted the wick.

At that nexus where the light died and the room went into darkness, I saw shadowy figures appear seated around the table; even as I write this account, I remain uncertain as to who or what they were, but I’m certain that it was all more than a mere trick of the light.

My eyes strained to see any form in that utter pitch-black.
Anxiety swelled inside me.
I heard Wallace exhale loudly.
I tried to estimate the distance of our separation in the darkness; I knew it could be no more than 10 feet, but it felt like 10 miles.

A rush of air, at first warm and then gelid, flowed across the floor in a great wash; the invisible flood rose almost to my knees.

A most unnerving phenomena followed; twas as if two large snakes slithered over my feet. When one of them paused and coiled my ankle, I almost switched on my lamp in panic to see what the devil was about, but my recollection of Wallace’s instructions compounded by my fear of what I might see, stayed my hand; mercifully, they passed quickly.

I tried to quell my rapid breathing, and listen for any telltale sound. I heard nothing for several moments save my heart beating like a drum; then a susurration arose from across the room, near where I judged the table to be.

I tried to understand the low, diffuse murmur, but my concentration just made the sounds all the more unintelligible. Like the fleet figures around the table that had  appeared to my unfocused gaze just as Wallace extinguished the lamp, I could only discern coherence in these whispers if I let them enter my mind without qualification.

The vocalists were in turmoil, that much was evident; sounds of condemnation, anguish and pain whirled in my ears; a woman cried out and then sobbed uncontrollably; several loud snaps, like the report of a gun, sprinkled the din; gnashing not unlike a large  predator rending its prey, swelled out of the cacophony and sent a wave of revulsion through me.

Suddenly, a familiar voice arose from the cloud of sound; Wallace seemed to join in some conversation—a guttural diatribe in no language familiar to me—then he abruptly let out a loud, anguished moan; Without hesitation I called to him, Wallace, are you alright?

The response to my query was preceded by a palpable foul smell; like hair singed by a black powder flash; then a pronouncement quickly followed; one that was clear and forceful and full of menace.

The voice belonged to some malevolent thing; it could not have been my friend. Though unintelligible, the threatening intent of the message drove into me like a spear. I stood paralyzed by the verbal onslaught like an insect trapped in amber, half expecting to be struck down.

Wallace cried out again and then silence fell across the room, like a curtain fallen at the end of some macabre theatrical performance.

After some moments, a voice came softly through the darkness; Your light, Michael, switch on your light.

I depressed the switch on the flashlight and aimed it Wallace’s direction. In the beam he stood, leaning heavily on the high-backed chair.

After a moment, he set the lamp on the table, raised the globe, fumbled matches from his coat pocket and ignited the wick. The pale light seemed astoundingly bright after that frightening embrace of utter darkness.

Wallace  raised his head and I saw the glint of a single bead of sweat running down his left temple. I walked toward him, and noted his shortness of breath and his face masked with fatigue. I finally broke the silence; What did you see, William.

He looked into my eyes and replied, I saw the darkness of Judgment Day, Michael, swift and final vengeance delivered; Tavish finally raised a spirit, but not one in a congenial mood.

Wallace pointed to his right, at the one wall in the room devoid of paneling; packed dirt covered with a type of stucco. It entered there, swept through the room like the Angel of Death, and spared but one.

Rhea Sinclair, I said softly.

Wallace looked at me again; That’s your riddle, Michael, he said. Why, she?

I pondered our current circumstances and realized what little we had learned, scant more than the reality of the events of which we were already cognizant; I didn’t need this field trip to convince me of anything regarding Tavish; I had already guessed he was a manipulative and monstrous individual. But the why of it all still loomed so large that I could barely grasp it.

Did you see a reason for any of this, William, I asked.

Reason has little to do with evil, Michael, he said; And what happened here was evil incarnate; Tavish called, and his call was answered; I can say that the wand had something to do with it, but exactly what that something is, I’ve no ken.

I wonder what’s become of the wand, I said.

I didn’t see that, Wallace answered; The images quickly became blurred and distorted; Twas a great power came into this room, one I hope never to encounter again.

I’ve already glimpsed it, I said, and by my oath, I’m required not to retreat.

No retreat, no surrender, eh, Michael, Wallace said; A mandate put on you by those who would never stand their ground against one such as this.

They are not warriors, William; I volunteered for my commission, and I will do what I must.

Wallace studied me for a moment, and that particular crooked smile that is so much the epitome of his personality, came over his face.

He put a friendly hand on my shoulder and said, Let’s get the hell out of this place; Somewhere warm and dry where we can enjoy a dram together, and plot a course.

Those words gave me more comfort than I’d known for some time.

I simply nodded in agreement, and we climbed the spiral staircase up out of that room of dreadful sighs.

©2012 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved