~ the raven chronicles ~ 33

20 Aug

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES)

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

November 22, 1932

Overcome by ennui from my encounters of the morning, I sat at the dining room table and ate the sandwich Mrs. Sullivan prepared for me. Despite consuming more than a few cups of coffee, I was unable to resist the compulsion to climb the stairs and lay down on my bed.

Dreams dark and foreboding possessed my slumber, and when I awoke, darkness surrounded me. In a panic, I jerked upright and found the switch to the bedside lamp; a jumble of images and sensations tumbled through my mind as my consciousness gradually returned to the world of the living.

My throat was parched; the shirt beneath my jacket soaked with sweat. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up. An oppressive mental weight slowly floated from my mind, along with a phalanx of nebulous dream fragments.

The one distinct image from my sojourn in the world of shades was the face of Rhea Sinclair; she had spoken to me in a strange tongue, showed me images of great cities in ruin, landscapes laid to waste, and populations slaughtered. Even as the dreadful tableux faded from my mind, the light of her piercing blue eyes coursed through me like an electric current.

After some moments, the sensation ended and I was able to rise fully from my bed. I stumbled to the bathroom, opened the faucet, leaned and drank from the running tap until I could drink no more.

Possessed by a primal hunger, I burst from my room and headed downstairs.

*****

As I entered the dining room, I was startled by a single chime of the Grandfather clock; I glanced at the stately cabinet and3AM could plainly read the pale face, luminous in the darkness—just past 3AM; I had slept away the day and come alive in the Devil’s Hour.

I knew a return to bed and more sleep would be fruitless and a waste of what precious time I had left to make preparations for the confrontation that was bearing down on me like a swift moving train.

My first thought was to go to the church and pray; my second thought was to go to my library and seek an answer to my conundrum; I chose the latter, but not before I first attended to my hunger.

I entered the kitchen, and as the door swung slowly back and forth behind, I turned around at the sensation of a spirit or some phantasm following me. After standing stock-still for some moments and listening to the peculiar sounds of the stillness of night, I finally exhaled and moved to the icebox.

I gathered some cheese, pieces of chicken, and a bottle of beer. After cutting some bread and making a sandwich, I left the kitchen.

Once again, on my trek up the hallway to the library, the creeping sense of being stalked came upon me; I paused more than once to turn and scan the passage; each time, of course, nothing was there.

After I reached my destination and took one last furtive glance behind, I closed the library door. Moonlight through the curtained windows provided enough light for me to find a place to set down my freight and locate the switch on the desk lamp.

I scanned the high shelf where my esoteric volumes reside, selected a half-dozen that I thought might aid me in solving the puzzle before me, then laid them stacked on the low table where I had placed my plate and bottle.

I tore into both the books and the food with gusto. I finally sat back on the sofa and let out a long exhalation and glanced at my watch, shocked to find that it was moments from 5AM; I had spent nearly two hours poring over the various writings and none of them had yielded so much as a clue to solving the riddle of Rhea Sinclair.

A flash of inspiration swept over me; the only way for me to understand Rhea Sinclair, to know what forces drive her, to get a glimpse of her motives, would be to see what is inside her beautiful head; to know her mind; and the best way to achieve that end would be to somehow obtain her diary. No sooner had that thought developed, than the way to achieve that end laid itself out before me; Mary Wallace must act as my agent and surreptitiously spirit the diary out of Sterns-Carson. Then the next thought presented itself as a roadblock—a rather formidable roadblock—to my plan; William would never allow Mary’s direct involvement unless I could somehow convince him that there was no alternative. A tall order, to be sure.

As I pondered how best to work all this out, I heard the rectory’s back door close; Mrs. Sullivan arriving to begin another day of domestic domineering. I decided to wait until she had unpacked and started coffee before I ventured out of the library; the closed door would keep her at bay until then.

After 10 or so minutes had passed, the phone in the hallway began to ring; a call at that hour always indicates that someone is in need of a priest at a hospital, accident site, or a deathbed in some dimly lit room; I decided to answer the phone myself rather than stand on ceremony just because Mrs. Sullivan had arrived. As I stepped into the hall, she opened the dining room door; we exchanged a glance and then I picked up the receiver.

Sacred Heart Rectory, I answered.

Like to speak with Father Leavell, a curt voice responded.

This is he, I replied.

Sheriff Blackwell, Father, the voice said; Wonder if you could come to my office; Right away.

The tone in his voice conveyed the earnestness of his request. Yes, I can be there in just a few minutes; Tell me the nature of the situation, so I will arrive prepared.

The McCutcheons are here, he said; Found them sitting outside my office when I arrived; That’s the parents of the little girl that disappeared; The mother’s saying that—here the Sheriff took a long pause that made me wonder if we’d been disconnected; he continued just as I was about to click the receiver—you best come on and hear for yourself; I don’t know what to tell her.

I’ll be right there, I replied.

I hung up the phone and Mrs. Sullivan said, By the looks of you, Father, you’d best have at least one cup of coffee before you run off; And with that, she turned and headed back toward the kitchen.

*****

As I made my way through the bitter cold up the sidewalk to the Darke County Courthouse, random stars twinkled in a crystal clear sky as the curtain of night rose to herald the sun not yet visible. Feelings of wonder and fragility suffused me as I took in the majesty of the hour; and I wondered, once again, if all my feeble efforts so far could be for naught, like those of a deluded warrior who stands armed with bow and arrow against the lightning.

I decided to take a chance that the front door of the Courthouse might be open, affording a warm shortcut; luck rewarded me. As I strode through the building, I encountered not a single soul; the empty corridors reverberated with my footsteps. Once out the rear entrance, I turned right and reached my destination.

Inside the Sheriff’s Office, with it’s ever-present redolence of coffee and tobacco,  I found Sheriff Blackwell sitting on a desk; A couple dressed in the heavy rough clothing of the farm, sat on chairs below him; A Deputy stationed at one of the other 3 desks in the front room, had pen and book before him, taking their statement.

As I stepped in and closed the door, Sheriff Blackwell said to the woman, I’m sorry, it just doesn’t make sense. The Sheriff and his Deputy both subsequently looked at me; the man and woman kept their eyes downcast.

Father, I’m glad you made it, Sheriff Blackwell said; These are the McCutcheons; I told you about their little girl gone missing.

With this introduction, the man and woman turned and looked up at me in unison with a light in their eyes both desperate and hopeful; a look that a priest often sees when he is summoned to a scene of human turmoil.

Yes, I was sorry to hear of that news, I said, as I loosened my top coat and scarf, I’ve prayed for her safe return.

A veil of contempt crossed the man’s face and he looked away from me; the woman held her gaze and said, It’s alright, Father, I seen her last night; She was out playing behind the barn.

I checked Sheriff Blackwell; he responded with an ambiguous look and a measured tone; Mrs. McCutcheon claims she saw the girl last night, called to her, but she wouldn’t come inside.

The woman let out a nervous laugh and said, She wanted me to come out and play with her; Can you imagine that; It’s freezing cold and she’s begging me to come to her.

With dread blooming inside me, I pulled up a chair, sat next to the woman, opened myself to her and said, Tell me all about last night, Mrs. McCutcheon; Everything that happened. She blushed slightly, fiddled with the string on her purse, then began.

I had finally gone to bed about midnight, I’d been awake for a day and a half doing nothing but worrying and praying that Daisy would come home and I just couldn’t stay awake no more.

She looked at me with forlorn eyes and I reassured her; It’s alright, none of this is your fault; Tell me what happened last night.

I crawled into bed and just stared at the ceiling, she said, but I must have fallen asleep because I woke up when I heard Daisy calling to me.

She woke you up, I said, are you sure you were awake.

Yes, I know that I was awake, because first I heard her calling to me in a dream; Then when I woke up I still heard Daisy calling; I went to the window and looked down and there she stood at the edge of the woods in the moonlight calling to me.

I had to loose my tongue and force myself to ask the next question—What did Daisy say; What words did she use.

She kept repeating the same thing, singing the words like it was a song, over and over and over, “Come to me mama, come to me”.

I looked away as those words echoed in my mind, recalling how first Katy, and then Sadie Faire, had beckoned to me with the exact same lyric; Dan McCutcheon looked down at the floor and twisted his cap with both hands; helpless, frustrated, angry, and Lord knows what else.

Then what did you do, Mrs. McCutcheon, I asked.

I woke Dan and told him; Told him Daisy was outside and we had to go fetch her; Then we both put on our shoes and ran downstairs and got our coats and went out into the yard; But she was gone; Daisy was gone again; Or else she’d never been there; I just don’t know.

The woman covered her face with both hands and broke down in sobs; Dan McCutcheon offered no solace, and I wondered what more there was to the story.

Mr. McCutcheon, I said, is that the way it happened.

He looked at me with jaw clenched and anger in his eyes.

I got out of bed because my wife said that Daisy was in the back yard calling to her; I went out and looked; Hiked into the woods a good ways and didn’t find any sign of her; That’s what happened.

Mrs. McCutcheon said that this ain’t the first time something like this has occurred, Sheriff Blackwell said. Off my quizzical look, the Sheriff responded, I’ll let her tell it.

Like an actor given an offstage prompt, the woman took her hands from her face and spoke to me through halting breath.

Three days ago, I got up before light to fix breakfast and found Daisy standing on the back porch in bare feet and just a night dress, staring off into the woods; I hustled her inside and asked her just what she was doing out there; She said, “Waving goodbye to my friend.”; I said, what friend and she said, “The boy who lives in the woods”; And I told her what nonsense was that, and she said it was true and that her and the boy had been playing outside at night regular lately; Well I got mad and told her she would get a good whipping from her Pa if she didn’t tell the truth straightaway and she said that was the truth and I said what’s the little boy’s name then and she said he didn’t really have a name but told her that some people called him Zeke.

The woman’s eyes searched mine for some type of answer; I know she saw grim truth there, hanging like a noose: That I believed her story; That I knew things about her story that she didn’t know; And that if so inclined I could say exactly what had become of her baby girl; A fist went to her mouth and she bit down on it to stifle a scream.

Dan McCutcheon bolted to his feet and said; It’s her family; They’ve got the madness through and through; I was warned before I married her, but I didn’t listen; Thought I knew better than everyone else; Now I’ve got my due, eh?

Sheriff Blackwell stood and put a hand on McCutcheon’s shoulder; Calm down, Dan, he said, no good will come of talk like that.

No good came down on me the day I married this woman; I had a fine farm that now won’t even pay for itself; I’ve got to work at the hardware store just to keep my head above water while all the while handing all the chores without a God damn lick of help; And this…crazy bitch…couldn’t even keep track of my baby girl; Let her wander off more than once without ever sayin’ a word to me; My life’s ended up a load of heartache, just where people said it would by marrying her.

The woman buried her face in her hands again and sobbed.
The the rest of us, inserted into this intimately ugly confrontation, stood by and watched, adrift and at a loss for what to say or do.

A great cloud of anger swelled in McCutcheon’s face and I feared that he would strike his wife, as I suspected he’d already done on previous occasions; instead, he thrust the rough cap on his head and stormed from the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Blackwell looked at me, but spoke to his Deputy.

Paul, sit with Mrs. McCutcheon while I have a word with Father Leavell.

Then he turned and walked into his office; I followed, he closed the door behind me, and spoke without preamble.

Does any of the woman’s story mean anything to you?

Suppose it did, I responded, what then?

Well, since I haven’t a clue about anything she’s said this morning and we’ve had no luck locating the little girl, I’d be inclined to follow your lead.

Even if meant venturing back to the yellow house.

He thought for a moment, then replied; I’ll do what it takes to find the girl, that’s my only concern; I’ll not get caught up in chasing after some other fanciful notions of yours; If those terms suit you, I would appreciate any help you can provide.

Those terms suit me fine, I said.

I offered my hand and Sheriff Blackwell shook on the bargain; unwitting or not, at that moment he became a much needed ally.

©2012 j.edwardfitzgerald ~ all rights reserved

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