~ the raven chronicles ~ 29

17 Jun

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

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

November 21, 1932

Today broke clear and cold; the grey cast of the previous driven away. I had a peaceful sleep, the first in nearly a week. Though I should be grateful for the respite, the resulting serenity has given me pause, like the calm before a storm that one knows is rapidly approaching.

I came downstairs to breakfast and found the dining table empty and the room quiet. My watch told me that the six o’clock hour was just underway; I may have been late yesterday morning, but I was right on time today.

In the kitchen I found Mrs. Sullivan at the sink, washing dishes. Without a glance, she told me to help myself to coffee, the pot was on the stove, that Monsignor Byrne had left very early to administer Last Rites to Mrs. Bronkowski; he had assured her that he would return in time for 7AM Mass; she would prepare eggs for my breakfast and how did I wish to have them cooked.

That she could convey all of that information in one, long sentence did not surprise me; I thanked her and said that scrambled would be fine and if there was a link or two of sausage about, that would make the meal. She looked up at me, shook her head, and returned her attention to the sink; You can wait at the table, Father, she said, won’t take me long. I nodded like an idiot, thanked her again, poured myself coffee and went to the dining room.

The morning paper lay on the table; I picked it up and searched for any news subsequent to the discovery of the body of Kendree Sinclair. I found nothing related to the case, not a single sentence. That struck me odd, caused me to wonder if Jacob Drummond had managed to silence all reportage of the matter. He certainly demonstrated his power after the events at Echo Lake this past Halloween; not a word of the bloody incident seeped out of those dark woods, even though the number of people in proximity to the carnage ran well into the hundreds; a testament to Drummond’s power over the local organs of information.

I sat down and sipped coffee and collected my thoughts. Monday is usually my day off, but the guilt I carried from my missteps yesterday caused me to consider foregoing the regular routine and take up any slack I might find that would help the Monsignor.

I also decided that there was no reason, day off or not, taking up slack or not, that I should not have time to visit Sheriff Blackwell; he must be aware of the situation at the Echo Lake Grand Hotel; if he is not, I will press what details I know, upon him.

Before long, the kitchen door swung open and Mrs. Sullivan laid a plate of eggs, sausage, and toast before me, then refilled my coffee cup.

Thank you, Mrs. Sullivan, I said.

You’re welcome Father, she replied in a clipped tone, before she turned heel and went back through the swinging door.

I had just got into my breakfast when Monsignor Byrne returned to the rectory; I heard him and Mrs. Sullivan talk briefly in the kitchen before they both burst out laughing; a twinge went through me as I wondered if Mrs. Sullivan had made some little joke about me that the Monsignor found amusing.

Shortly thereafter, Monsignor Byrne came through the swinging kitchen door still wearing his overcoat; a cup of coffee in one hand, a doughnut in the other.

Well good morning, Michael, he said; Got plans for your day off?

Actually, I replied, I thought I might find some work I could do around the rectory.

He finished a sip of coffee then gave me a quizzical look. Go off away from here for a bit, he said. I know there’s a pile of questions in that head of yours that need to be sorted out. Do that whenever you get the chance, or sooner or later you’ll question why you even became a priest.

Truer his words could not have been; I could lie to myself but not hide it from the Monsignor; ever since I’d had a glimpse of Katy, even though I knew her to be a phantasm in a dream, the question of my vocation nagged me with tiny whispers and gnawed at me with tiny bites.

You’re right Father, I said. There are a few things I need to straighten out, and the sooner the better. It’s affecting my work and the work of this parish; I owe it to you to get back on the path.

He smiled that crooked little smile and said, Michael, you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself.

Then he dunked his sinker, took the wet bite, smiled again, and walked from the room.

Soon thereafter, I finished my breakfast, donned my overcoat and headed off to visit Sheriff Blackwell.

*****

There was no wind on the street; a good thing because of the extreme cold. The sun shone brightly but none of it’s majestic warmth reached our little town.

I have no idea why such a climate should whet my appetite for a cigar, but immediately after I crossed Spruce Street from Sacred Heart, I entered Munro’s Busy Corner in search.

The fragrance of tobacco smoke filled my nose as I strolled past the newsstand and up to the tobacco kiosk. I perused the cigars arrayed behind the glass and selected two good-looking Perfectos to enjoy after dinner before the fire. The thought of that simple activity put all troubles momentarily from my mind.

Find something you like there, Father?

I looked up from my daydream at Blain Munro, standing behind the counter. On every other day he greeted me with a smile, today a cloud hung over his usually sunny expression.

I’d like two of these Perfectos, I said.

Coming right up, he replied.

Absent his usual enthusiasm, he reached for the cigars and wrapped them in brown paper; I handed him a dollar bill which he took without a word before listlessly ringing the sale.

Everything all right today, Blain, I asked him as I took my cigars and change from his extended hand.

He looked at me with a blank face, not one devoid of emotion, but with an expression that spoke of emotion expended.

Lost my dog last night, he said; Lost my Gertrude.

I am sorry to hear that, I replied, touched by his obvious feeling for his departed pet.

Let her out for her evening run, she liked to tear through the woods behind the house for a bit before turning in, but she never returned. I called and called, it didn’t do no good. So I grabbed a lantern and went out looking; I was frantic you see, she’s never not come back before.

That’s understandable, I said, dogs do answer the call of the wild sometimes; When you get home tonight, you’ll probably find her waiting by the door.

I found her last night, Father, he said, in a tone that chilled my blood. About fifty yards into the trees. I wasn’t even sure it was Gertrude when I first came upon her, what with the dark and just having that lantern too see with. Something had got a hold of her. She was torn to pieces. I’m not sure how long I just stood there, but I finally went back to the house and got a shovel and buried what was left of her right on the spot. He paused and slowly shook his head. Just doesn’t make sense, what would do such a thing?

By the simple fact of my office, I sensed that Blain Munro, like so many others I meet, had an expectation that I might have an answer that would allay his fears and ease his heart. I didn’t wish to offer platitudes, but I stopped short of voicing an opinion lest I speak of things that need to remain unsaid. Instead, I put forth a proposition that in my heart I knew was patently untrue.

Perhaps, I said, a bear wanders the woods.

Blain looked at me like I was daft. A bear? There’s been no bears around Raven since before the town was founded.

Well, I’m on my way to see Sheriff Blackwell, I said, I’ll mention it to him, see if he knows anything about it.

Thanks, Father, Blain said; Enjoy the cigars.

And with that, he stepped down from the tobacco kiosk to the counter, and cleared away some dirty breakfast dishes.

*****

After spending time inside the warm, smoky confines of Munro’s, I felt the need to loosen my muffler. That is, until I stepped back out into the frigid morning air.

As I hustled up the cold, hard sidewalk, I tried to put the thought of Blain Munro’s slain dog from my mind. The more I tried, the deeper the grisly image burrowed in, until it took root and grew and blossomed into the dreadful tableau I had worked so hard to banish from my consciousness; Gareth Tavish, slumped in the great chair in his Spirit Room, throat torn open from ear-to-ear and the smell of death and blood heavy in the air. I cursed the day I bore witness to that horror and wondered why I had been chosen to exact the inevitable reckoning on the perpetrators and why God had taken from me the one person that I loved and sent me into such a dark and desolate breach in His creation.

As my mind roiled, I maintained a brisk pace all the way to the Darke County Courthouse. By the time I opened the door marked Sheriff’s Office, my toes tingled, my nose dripped, and I had gotten no closer to any useful answers.

The jingling of the little door bell brought Sheriff Blackwell out of his office. His hand lay on the butt of the revolver nestled in the holster on his hip.

Morning Father, he said, what can I do you for?

I was taken aback by his combative stance and dry perfunctory greeting; I’d always found the Sheriff to be somewhat affable and hoped that he would lend me an empathetic hearing.

Before I could reply, he asked, The McCutcheons belong to your church? Dan McCutcheon, that works over to the hardware store?

I don’t believe they are members of Sacred Heart, I answered, stomping my feet to get the blood flowing again.

Sheriff Blackwell removed his hand from his gun and cracked his knuckles. Well, I’m afraid they’re gonna need a preacher before long. Their little girl, Daisy, went missing sometime after dark last night.

That news struck a new chord of dread inside me. If my suspicions were correct, geography would tell the tale.

Where do they live, I asked.

Sheriff Blackwell returned a wary look before he answered.

They’ve got a small farm not too far out of town. Rydell Road. Just south of Echo Lake.

The wheel had turned in a most unexpected direction; I had come seeking assistance from Sheriff Blackwell only to find that he was now, albeit unawares, ensnared by the same web as I.

The Cleveland paper said that Kendree Sinclair’s body was discovered in the vicinity of Echo Lake, I said.

Sheriff Blackwell tensed up again.

I believe that something nefarious is afoot at the Spiritualist Camp, I continued; Perhaps this child’s disappearance can be traced to those left occupying the Grand Hotel.

The Sheriff leveled a finger at me.

Father, I listened to a load of mumbo-jumbo about that Spiritualist Camp from you and Wallace after Tavish was murdered. All your advice got me was a visit from the Bureau of Investigation informing me to tend to my jurisdiction. I’m not about to go again and stick my nose in something that ain’t none of my business. I figure this little girl wandered off in the middle of the night and we’ll find her in the woods soon. I just hope it’s soon enough that she hasn’t froze to death.

I knew that further conversation with Sheriff Blackwell about my concerns would come to naught, so I let it lay.

Sheriff, I said, let me know if I can be of any assistance in the search, or in any other way.

I’ll call you, Father, he replied, with his hands resting once again on his revolver, if I need any prayers said.

The telephone rang. Sheriff Blackwell excused himself, went into his office, and closed the door.

*****

As I made my way back to the rectory, a frigid westerly breeze arose and flowed around me like a I was a ship at sea, fighting a headwind back to home port.

The revelations of my short sojourn into Raven left me anxious that events would soon spin out of control. A dog mutilated and a child missing; If Sheriff Blackwell knew of the former, it was doubtful that he had made any connection to the latter. In my mind, the nexus was inevitable.

I soon entered the rectory back door into the kitchen; Mrs. Sullivan was chopping vegetables and dropping the pieces into a large steaming pot on the stove; a comforting aroma filled the room. I removed my hands from my pockets and rubbed them vigorously.

Forget your gloves, Father? Mrs. Sullivan inquired in a voice that sounded like a prelude to admonishment.

I rarely wear gloves, Mrs. Sullivan, I replied, but today would be the day, wouldn’t it?

Without affirmation, she returned her attention back to the cutting board and said, You’ve a visitor waiting for you in the library.

And who might that be, I asked.

A young lady, if I might call her such; Wouldn’t tell me her name, but said she had to see you and would wait until you returned.

I guessed, and hoped, that my visitor could only be Sadie Faire; in this morning full of surprises, I wondered if her visit boded good or ill.

I hurried from the kitchen, through the dining room and up the hall, hung my coat and muffler on the tree near the front door, went to the library and collected myself.

I opened and quietly closed the library door; Sadie stood with her back to me, gazing out the window onto the frosty morning. At the sound of my entry, she turned; My heart sank when I saw her; below her left eye, a deep purple bruise feathered out onto her cheek. My stupefied gaze at her beautiful, disfigured face, prompted her explanation.

I called you yesterday, Father, but Bloodworth caught me before you came on the line. He took me to my room and gave me a good going over. Sadie lowered her gaze, obviously embarrassed to even relate the story. I’ve plenty other bruises that don’t show. He said he’d kill me the next time I got out of line and no one would care; No one would care what became of a filthy whore.

So I packed a few things and snuck out early this morning. I got lucky and hitched a ride with a farmer into town. She paused again, stared at the floor for a moment then looked up at me. Anyway, I wanted to say goodbye and thank you.

I moved across the room toward her. I was the cause of your abuse, I said, why would you thank me?

Just talking to you, I started to feel different about myself; Like I wasn’t just a whore; Like I could be something better; Like maybe I deserved something better.

Tears welled in her eyes, overflowed and ran down her cheeks; I followed my natural impulse and took her in my arms.

Before I knew what was happening my lips met hers and we kissed. Not a light skimming kiss, but a deep and loving kiss, like the ones I had known once upon a time in the arms of my Katy. As she clung to me, I heard the voice again, Katy’s voice.

…Michael…oh, Michael…don’t let me go again…never let me go…

I held her tight and answered with fervor, Katy…Katy…please…don’t go…

Then the woman in my arms struggled out of my embrace, and pushed herself away from me. A look of confusion on Sadie’s face flashed to contempt. I did not see her raise her hand, but I heard the slap and felt the subsequent sting on my cheek.

Katy? Katy is it? How many women have you lured in here and raised their skirts pretending that you cared about their problems? Do you take them to the sofa or just lay them across the desk here?

She plucked up her carpetbag and glared at me.

I should have known better; Men are all the same; You want one thing and one thing only; You buy it or tell any lie to get it; You’re just like the rest of them; I hope you burn in Hell.

And with that, Sadie Faire stormed from the room.

I just stood there.
Mouth agape like some dumb animal.
The front door slammed.
I felt hollow and dead inside.
My mind emptied of all conjecture.
My heart drained of all desire.
My life seemed like a cruel hoax.
Or worse.
A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

*****

Sometime later, I am unsure of the duration, I heard a voice calling to me.

Michael…Michael…

I looked up from the chair where I found myself without recollection of ever having sat down. The Monsignor and Mrs. Sullivan hovered over me.

Michael, Father Byrne said, are you all right? Should I call the doctor?

I gathered my wits enough to answer, I’m fine…I’m fine.

I got to my feet, still visibly shaken.

You should go to your room and lay down, The Monsignor said to me. At least until lunch.

No, I’m fine, I replied again; A cup of coffee and I’ll be right as rain; I’ve just received some distressing news, of a personal nature, and I must attend to it immediately.

I’ll fix you a sandwich to go with that coffee, Father, Mrs. Sullivan said, with a look of true concern. Then she turned and headed toward the kitchen.

Once she had left the room, the Monsignor said, Is there anything you need to tell me, Michael?

Would that I could, Father, I replied; I don’t mean to vex you, but I am sworn to complete confidence regarding these matters.

I didn’t add that my oath just happened to be to a certain Chamber of the Vatican. Or that Monsignor Byrne could never know why I had been assigned to the parish of Sacred Heart Church. Or that the events now in motion could be a harbinger of disaster; a presage to the breaking of the Seven Seals.

©2012 j.edwardfitzgerald ~ all rights reserved

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3 Responses to “~ the raven chronicles ~ 29”

  1. Teresa Blackburn June 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    Just when I get really into the story each time….it’s the end! Very intriguing and spooky and dark. My kind of story.

    • JEF June 26, 2012 at 6:06 am #

      …thanks, T!…more to come…

  2. Kimberley Eason-sims August 31, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    Wow, that slap in the face was intense, but I totally get it, the heart wants what the heart wants…

    There was some excellent advice enclosed in this passage, you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself…
    Excellent writing dearest Ed…👍

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