April 14th, 1885,
Rhode Island, America
The Applebaum mansion
I awoke that morning lathered in a cold sweat, the echoes of that devilish voice sounding in my head, that unearthly laughter that haunts me still. My nightmare lingered, fresh upon my mind. I hastily clambered out of bed and slipped my feet into my cozy warm slippers. I threw my dressing gown over my nightclothes and made my way downstairs. Emma, one of the maids, greeted me with her usual smile, waving cheerily at me while dusting off an old curio cabinet. I forced a smile onto my face and nodded at her. I ran into the dining room and sat down in one of the tall, stern oak chairs that circled my equally stern table. Never before had I so fervently wished I could bring my breakfast to myself.
After a few minutes of sitting at the table, still shaking, still pale, my round tired cook came into the dinging room yawning loudly. She looked at me, a worried look coming across her face.
“Why Mr. Applebaum, you don’t look very well. Are you feel quite all right?” she asked nervously.
“No, Berta, I don’t feel right at all.” I answered, pushing my chair back and standing up. I began to pace back and forth, counting my steps as I paced. I always counted when I was upset, though I never knew why. I could feel Berta’s eyes on me as I paced, and I could almost sense her anxiety as well.
“Mr. Applebaum, what is troubling you?” she asked, though her tone indicated that she already knew the answer. I sighed deeply, trying to suppress the emotions that would overcome me if I let them. I considered not telling Berta what was really bothering me. After all, as my father would say, she was just a servant. But inside I knew that no matter how much father wished I did, I did not look at servants the same way he did., I looked at them as family, as friends, not as mindless slaves whose only purpose was to obey. So, I taking a deep breath, I summed up my courage and told Berta everything.
“Dearest Berta, you know you are much more then a cook to me. In fact you are most like a mother to me, and because of that I will confide in you-” but I wasn’t allowed to finish. Beta tapped her foot impatiently then said, “Oh spit it out already Alex.”
I smiled at her gratefully, took a seat at the table, waited for her to do so also, then began.
“I have tried very hard to cope these past few months, and personally I think I’ve done a damn good job. At least, in front of everyone. But Berta,” I leaned forward and lowered my voice. “Berta, they won’t go away. Every night, they are waiting for me, and I know they are not the ones who… Not the ones who took her from me, but instead the masks my mind has chosen for them, but still they haunt me every night. Imagine Berta, being afraid to fall asleep for fear the demons will come for you. I’ve become a child again Berta, with the same fears I once had.” I leaned back in my chair and gazed despondently at her. Berta bit her lip, tucked her long brown hair behind her ears and looked at me with her sad brown eyes.
Everything about her was brown, from her hair to her eyes to her skin. As I sat oh so involved in my own self pity I remembered all the times my father had chided me for speaking to her. He had ordered me to not even look at her, for she was a supposed blight, a curse upon society. She had been, and always will be, my friend, and so I’d laughed at him and defied him almost every day. However he had thought I was obeying him, and so when he saw me talking to her, walking her home from Cherrywood park, that’s when we told me we were moving. He said he was getting me away from ‘A dreadful curse that will corrupt us all’, and I hated him for it. I never got to say goodbye to Berta, though it didn’t matter in the end. Now I am a grown man, and can make my own decisions, though my father apparently doesn’t think so. He still has his spies in my household, which is why Berta and I are always careful hen we speak each other. My father may be but an old man, and I may be a grown one, but he still has the ability to have Berta taken away, and I would not suffer another loss. He had been rather pacified when notified that my ‘Silly childish notions had been forgotten’ and now Berta was just another servant in my extensive household.
I sat silently in my reverie when Berta’s voice drew me out of my own mind.
“Alex, have you been taking that sludge-I mean medicine your father gave you?”
I snorted through my nose.
“Of course not, Berta, I may have absolutely no common sense but I’m not a complete idiot. I poured that stuff in my wash bin last night. It was actually sort of purple when I poured it in water. And it bubbled.” I said smiling. Berta raised her eyebrows but said nothing. Her eyes, usually soft and kind, seemed to pierce my soul. After a few moments of silence I rose and again began to pace. Berta remained silent as I paced and counted. However I soon grew tired of pacing and started toward an old cabinet that contained pocket watches. Many visitors to my household had found the appearance of pocket watches in my dining room to be humorous, but the reason for them being there was that there was simply no where else for them to go. My house was packed.
When I reached the cabinet I bit my lip and jerked open the door. My mind vaguely registered Berta’s voice asking me where on earth I was going to wear a pocket watch, seeing as I was in my dressing gown. I mumbled something along the lines of “Not my intention” and started moving pocket watches around. You see, the pocket watches were extremely unorganized, so I began to file them according to size, color, and value.
For some reason there were several things that I sometimes felt I had to do, and that always made me feel better when they were done. The first was counting, I counted everything. When I was a small boy I once climbed onto a roof to count the tiles. God only knows how I survived to be a grown man. The second thing I did was organize. I was a man who would have fits if the blue china cup with the dark blue rim was placed next to the blue china cup with the light blue rim. Everything in my house had it’s place and I appreciated if those things stayed in their place. The third thing I felt that I absolutely had to do was move. I had to move. If I was forced to sit then I tapped my foot. If I was forced to stop then I tapped my fingers. I paced when I was upset and I hated staying in the same place for more then a few minutes. Neither of these three things ever bothered me much, but I’d been taken to a doctor as boy, just to see why they happened. The doctor didn’t have a clue, nor the patience to even try to figure it out. A few months later I had visited a doctor again and he was of equally little help. He told me it was stress. I exploded on the man and yelled that I was perfectly fine and had never been stressed a day in my life. He vowed never to deal with me again. And so I’d continued on with my life. I’d grown up and kept on counting, tidying and moving as usual. Of course, then I’d met someone, someone who helped me to realize that I didn’t have to do anything, that everyone always had a choice. But of course when that person was gone I began to have even more trouble controlling myself. And so there I was franticly rearranging pocket watches when I felt Berta lay her hand on my shoulder. Berta was more help then any stuffy old doctor.
“It’s all right Alex, the pocket watches can wait.” she said quietly. I reluctantly stepped back from the cabinet.
“Besides, I have something to ask you.” Berta continued. I nodded and I resigned myself to sitting once more.
“Alex, have you been writing lately?” Berta asked curiously.
The question stunned me. I saw absolutely no connection between my writing and what was happening, and told her so. She sighed.
“The things that are happening to you, the nightmares, the compulsions, everything, is perfectly normal. You are going through something many people have gone through before. Different people deal with things different ways. Some despair, some forget, and some deny.” Berta went on, reassuring me and telling me everything was going to be alright. I would have been grateful if I’d been listening, but my mind was still on ‘compulsions’. I’d forgotten that they had a name. The three things I had to do.
“Oh yes, that beady eyed doctor Walter, the one with a face like a rodent.” I interrupted. Berta looked taken aback.
“The what?” she asked curtly. She hated being interrupted.
“Doctor Walter.” I repeated. “He called them compulsions, and I’d almost forgotten.”
Berta sighed loudly, and when that didn’t get my attention she snapped her fingers in front of my face, a cross look on her face.
“Were you even listening?” she snapped. I shook my head, then recovered and nodded. It was to late. A shadow spread across Berta’s face.
“Alex, what we have to figure out is if you are in denial, in despair, or just trying to forget.” she said. I grinned at her.
“I think it’s all three.” I said ruefully. “I’m just a basket case Berta, face it. Your old friend’s gone batty.” I made a face. Berta laughed lightly.
“If you were batty then I’d tell you so.” she said smiling as well.
At that moment my stomach growled loudly.
“I’d best make you some breakfast sir.” Berta said curtly, nodding her head and bustling off toward the kitchen. I was confused for a moment, then understood what had caused the change in Berta’s behavior. Someone was coming down the stairs, and they might have been either one of my fathers spies or yet another maid that hired herself and started dusting. I sighed and slid my hands over my face. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
After a large breakfast I bathed, dressed, then flopped down in a large plush armchair in one of my countless sitting rooms. I picked up the closest book, a small battered copy of “Thy Hollow Heart” lying on the table beside my chair. I found it to be unbearably depressing and reached for another. That’s when I noticed Emma the maid dusting a vase on the other side of the room. I was rather intrigued by this as I seemed to remember that the vase had already been dusted this morning. I was looking at her Emma quizzically when she turned around and blushed violently. That’s odd, I thought. Emma was not one for blushing, in fact I’d never seen her blush, not once. She smiled at me, told me not to mind her and to continue reading my book. I did so, and was finding the book to be quite engaging when I turned the page and accidentally dropped the book on the floor. I reached down to pick it up and as I did I heard something. It was odd, strangely high pitched, and rather inhuman. I looked up, startled, and realized that it was Emma. She was holding her hand in front of her mouth for some reason, and making the strangest sounds. I was completely flabbergasted. It took me a few minutes to realize she was giggling. At me. I turned a violent shade of red, grabbed the largest book I could find, and hid behind it.
The rest of the day went as normal; Berta cooking and addressing me as either Alex or Mr. Applebaum, the various servants scurrying about, as well as some interesting gossip between the maids Esmé and Josephine about what they think would have happened if ’the war’ had happened. By ’the war’ they of course meant the war the would have been known as The Civil War had it been waged. A war to free the blacks from slavery, it was rather unnecessary seeing as all blacks were freed not five years after the war was first considered. Thank God it did not happen, I shudder to think of those who would have died in a war like that. However, I also wonder what the world would be like had it happened. Would the dubious organization known as “The Pure Ones” still exist? Would their belief that black people were lesser then whites still remain? And would black people still be snatched from their homes if they did not act subservient to ’their superiors’? Yes, I am glad that the war did not happen, but I also wish that this attitude would change. This attitude my kinsmen have against people whose only crime is to be born a little darker of skin then the rest. If it is so wrong to be black, then why is it not also wrong to be white? It shouldn’t be wrong to be either. But these were the ideas that made my father hate me so, for so firm is he in his resolve that those of darker skin are a blight. I pondered everything that might have been, as well as everything that was, and was quite content in my theories when my mind took a frightening and unexpected turn.
I started thinking about her. Not Berta, Not Emma, nor Esmé, Josephine, Alice, or any of the other maids. I was thinking about Sarah, my plain and beautiful Sarah. I was thinking about the way her hair blew in the wind, how it shone like fire in the sunlight, and how it seemed like a moonbeam when the stars light was upon it. As always, I remembered my vow, my vow never to think of her, but unlike always I broke it. I clutched the book to my chest and thought hard. In one might moment everything rushed back to me, all the things I had shut out for so long. I couldn’t cath my breath as I remembered, I felt like the memories were crushing me, but it was the weight of my emotions. I’d never let them out, I’d placed a stone mask on my face and kept it on for all these long months, never daring to take it off. But now I did. Now slowly opened my Pandora’s box . I’d kept it shut in the past and I couldn’t any longer.
I remembered long walks in the parks, the feeling of her dainty hand in mine, the feirce wildcat that was contained in that delicate woman. I rembered the ring, a pitiful band of silver with a tiny sapphire, I rembered how I felt when I slid it on her finger, the sheer joy and happiness that was mine. I held her in my arms, we cried, but we were so happy. I showed her my house; she had seen it before but now we both looked at it differently. This wasn’t my house anymore, it was ours. I carried her over the threshold, then we kissed. We kissed in front of God and everybody. I smiled at the memory.
But then a shadow passed over my heart and my thoughts turned from joy to grief. I remembered her lying there, bleeding, the murderers dagger on the floor beside her. I remembered the blood. There was so much, everywhere. Then the room started to spin, the real room that I was sitting in, the one that tried to call me back from my mind. It almost jolted me out of my memories. Almost, but I couldn’t stop remembering. I thought about when I held her in my arms, when I held on to her as if I would fall if I let go. And those words, she whispered them, her voice was so faint, but I heard them nonetheless. “Don’t let them get win, Alex. Don’t let them win” she had said those exact words, then she had died.
“Mr. Applebaum? Mr. Applebaum are you alright?” worried voices drew me out of darkness. I groaned, sat up, and looked around. I was in my bedroom surrounded by people. There were my dozen or so maids, there was Berta, looking grim, Emma looked as if she would faint, my sole guard Rufus, my bodygaurd as you might say, was standing with his arms rossed, and several other household members were also crowded into my small bedroom.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked rudely. Berta made shooing motions with her hands and ushered everyone else out. Emma shot me another worried glanse before scurrying away. When everyone was gone I looked at Berta with a confused expression and repeated my earlier question.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked impatiently.
“You fainted.” Berta said bluntly.
“I what?” I asked. Berta repeated herself. I stared at her, my mouth open. In all my life I had never fainted, passed out, blacked out, or otherwise departed from the conscious world without willingly doing so. I finally managed to stammer,”How’d I get up here?”
“Rufus carried you. The doctor said you either started breathing to fast or stopped breathing altogether. He said that whichever happened it was because there wasn‘t enough oxygen making it to your brain. Your brain shut down because it couldn‘t really do anything else, and when you blacked out you forgot the thing that made you breath strange to begin with. You were breathing very shallowly when the doctor arrived and he assumed that it was because you automatically started to breath, but you weren’t awake so your brain couldn‘t accurately tell your lungs to work right.”
I blinked. I hadn’t understood a word of what Berta had just said. My thoughts were still on ‘doctor’. All I could keep thinking was why in the world Berta would get a doctor.
“You fetched a doctor?” I asked angrily. Berta crossed her arms, shifted her stance, and eyed me with one of her signature ‘God you can be an idiot’ looks.
“Alex, when the master of the house passes out the floor, makes a terrible thump, and refuses to regain consciouness, you let that stupid girl Emma scream her head off while you fetch the doctor.” she said contemptuously. I nodded, regretted doing so when the world started to spin, then asked Berta how long I’d been unconscious.
“A few hours. I would have splashed water on your face but the doctor said you needed to wake up when your body said it was time to get up. I actually considered splashing water on your face anyways, but doctor Gremmingway is a good man, he knows what he’s doing.” Berta began fishing in her pocket and brought out a small bottle of clear liquid.
“This will help you sleep.” she said, sitting the bottle on my bedside table. “Unlike your father’s ’remedy’, which no doubt would have rendered you a mindless idiot. Gremmingway says it will give you a dreamless sleep, which no doubt sounds even better. He also says that you should visit him when you’re feeling better. ‘Send the lad over to me, will ya? When he’s feeling a wee bit better, eh?’ he said. So we’re off to Gremmingways tomorrow” Berta nodded once at me then went dowstairs, presumably to fix some food. At least I hoped so, I was starving.
I slipped out of bed and closed my door. I rummaged through my assortment of pocket watches, found one that informed me it was April 14th, 1885, and slightly past seven-O-clock at night. As I slipped my pocket watch in my pocket I heard some voices from downstairs. I opened my door just a crack to hear what they were saying. It seemed to be Berta and some other maid.
“So ma’am, what were you and the mister talking about, eh?” I heard a prim girls voice ask. I expected Berta to tell the girl ot was none of her business but instead Berta said,”I was giving the master his medicine and the doctors orders miss.” she said politely. Then Berta added, “I thought that would be quite plain young miss.” with what I assumed would be a tight cursty and a curt smile.
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