Deacon Hood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


Beware the Raven's Nest....

Submitted: July 06, 2018

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Submitted: July 06, 2018

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My name is Brock Selden.  I don’t expect you to believe this godawful story, even though, to the best my shattered memory will serve, each and every word of this emotionally disturbing account is the exact and literal truth.  I don't blame you for being skeptical.  If I hadn’t been there to bear witness to the diabolical nightmare as its unspeakable atrocities began to unfold in merciless succession like insidious imps crawling from the darkest bowels of the pit, I would be no more inclined than you to give credence to such a morbidly shocking statement of the supernatural.

It was the time of year when the equinoctial gales signal the alteration of the seasons from summer to autumn.  I had just approved the galley proofs for The Secret of Hope, the newest epic of the paranormal to flow from my pen, which had taken me nearly two years to write.  I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, so I decided to visit a dearly cherished relation for some much needed rest before embarking upon my next novel.  

Aunt Madeline lived in a sprawling antique of a house situated high on a stony bluff overlooking the vast mysterious deeps of the Northern Pacific Ocean.  Having never married, she was childless, so, with the exception of her housekeeper, Mrs. Putnam, Aunt Madeline lived all alone in the gloomy old house that had been built by her great-grandfather, Deacon Ellsworth Hood.

Deacon Hood was a self-made millionaire, a wealthy industrialist who had amassed a staggering fortune in the shipbuilding business and speculation in dubious foreign capitalist ventures.  His cutthroat entrepreneurial tactics gave him the cast and mold of a robber baron.  Not all of his business dealings were said to be ethical, or even legal.  Dark rumors circulated that his fleet of merchant ships brought back ghoulish cargoes, otherworldly things from secretive sea voyages to far-flung seldom-visited remote islands off the coast of Tasmania or in the dreaded Doldrums - even going so far as to collect bizarre specimens from the legend-haunted Sargasso Sea in the Bermuda Triangle, where miles of ghostly brown seaweed drift in sinister silent tangles upon the surface of the eerie unusually calm blue water.

Deacon Hood maintained a peculiar notion that our present time is not the original timeline of Earth, which is in actuality untold ages into the future so that we are the distant arcane past.  Uncanny beings of a radically divergent future civilization have unraveled the technological convolutions of time-travel, so that every now and then, one of the highly advanced antitheticals pays a visit to our time - what we perceive as the present moment.

Obsessed with the occult, particularly witchcraft, Deacon Hood held seances in the parlor of his private residence.  The cunning spiritualist invoked visitations from the dearly departed during which he derived charnel knowledge from beyond the grave.  His icy Nordic blue irises glazed over amid shocking revelations of unutterable blasphemies distilled from provocative secrets obtained through the ghoulish act of communing with the dead.  Those adventurous votaries who dared attend the sepulchral seances came to fear that the aging patriarch had succeeded in re-opening certain heretofore closed channels of what many would consider evil understanding.

Among his corporate associates and employees, Deacon Hood’s glum social manner had won him a macabre appellation.  Of course, no one ever said it to his face, but behind his back the shrewd industrialist was known as ‘The Raven’, after the woeful poem Poe penned once upon a midnight dreary.  Correspondingly, the ill-rumored tycoon’s huge house was referred to as ‘The Raven’s Nest’.  The old mogul detested such evocative monikers as juvenile and vulgar.  The word ‘mansion’ was never to be spoken in Deacon Hood’s house.

A combination of architectural motifs gave the vast estate an appearance every bit as strange as its inscrutable owner.  Some said the rambling house could best be described as an eclectic hodgepodge of styles - Queen Anne, Second Empire, Gothic Revival - that included irksome turrets, those curious towers with the pointy round roofs projecting from the superstructure of the house making a place look bewitched, what many refer to as Victorian.  Dormer windows, mansard roof, widow’s walk - the Raven’s Nest had it all.  It was whispered that the master of the monstrous abode dabbled in strange religious customs and abominable superstitions.

It was a cold house.  Anyone who’s ever lived near the rocky cliffs of the northern ocean knows that the wind is always in motion.  At the Raven’s Nest, sea-borne airs endlessly carried an icy soul-subduing chill around ancient eves and through dank shadowy hallways.  This is the decaying cheerless remnant of former unorthodox splendor in which my dearly beloved Aunt Madeline resided.

Educated by private tutors, Aunt Madeline was a gifted student.  Her curriculum and her exceptionally high grade point average had won her academic scholarships both at Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke.  Yet, sadly, she also suffered from hirsutism that worsened as she grew older - her face, chest, and back showing man-type hair growth.  Aunt Madeline’s anxiety about being ridiculed by classmates as the bearded lady of the carnival freak-show was overpowering.  She declined the coveted opportunities for education at a prestigious college campus, choosing instead the life of an introverted recluse, hiding herself away with her books, through which she pursued in quiet solitude her love of learning and passion for acquisition of knowledge.  Aunt Madeline’s fabulous library contained over five thousand volumes, many of which were esoteric, rare, and out of print.  She maintained an unusually comprehensive collection of occult titles, most of which had belonged to her great-grandfather.  There was a certain room high upstairs on the third floor, always kept locked by the master of the house, where the glowering magnate devoted many hours to strange researches into the paranormal.

All these and many other bleak thoughts were stalking my mind as I journeyed to Aunt Madeline’s for the restful distraction of a pleasant visit with my only living relative.  I had been driving up the fog-shrouded Coast Highway all that long dreary afternoon.  It being Sunday, traffic was slack.  My tired mood was as gray as the weather, the dismal day fading to its inevitable close, the shades of evening drawing down like an oppressive warning of approaching danger.  When I finally arrived at my destination, approximately 20 miles north of Deception Pass, it was in the drenching blurred darkness of a heavy nocturnal downpour.  Frequent flashes of pale lightning were faint.  Low rumbles of thunder echoed in the distance.  I steered my vintage Wrangler through the sagging wrought-iron gate and on up the winding weed-choked drive to park in the dilapidated courtyard at the side of the looming house.  The old Schloss was immense, hulking.  I never ceased to be in awe at the overwhelming magnitude of the gargantuan structure.

Still sitting in the driver’s seat, I wrestled my rain parka on, then reached in the back for my suitcase.  In the torrential fury of the pounding rain, I hopped out and made a run for the entrance to the brooding abode.  Under the protection of the portico awning, I stood dripping and panting.  A single incandescent bulb emitted a dingy yellow light.

The huge brass knocker on the massive charcoal-gray oak door was sculpted into the hideous face of a snarling werewolf.  Deacon Hood had morbid tastes in home decor.  I detested the idea of putting my hand on the gruesome ornament.  My knock went unanswered for several minutes.  I was reaching for the repulsive knocker again when I heard the sharp snick of the deadbolt.  The huge door creaked slowly open.  In the golden glow of the elegant foyer, I was relieved to see the short prim figure of Mrs. Putnam.  The elderly little housekeeper’s fashion sense was of a somberly grave tint.  She always attired herself as if she were on her way to the funeral of a dearly departed loved one.  I stepped in, my suitcase and raincoat still dripping.  The heavy door groaned on its ancient iron hinges as the silver-haired little woman pushed it closed.  She greeted me warmly, although something in her eyes and the faint tremble in her voice betrayed a hidden anxiety at work on her frail nerves.

"Oh thank goodness you're here, Mister Selden!  What a blessing it is to see a warmhearted familiar face!"

"I'm as happy to see you as you are to see me, but honestly, Mrs. Putnam, you seem all out of sorts.  Whatever is the matter?"

The dapper little lady cast a furtive glance over her shoulder as if in fear of some unseen eavesdropper, then, lowering her voice to a whisper, looked up at me with a nervous wringing of her wrinkled arthritic hands, "It's your aunt, sir.  She's not been herself of late.  I'm worried something terrible.  I've pleaded with my lady to let me ask my son to have a look at her, but she won't hear of it.  Her health is declining.  I'm at my wits end as to what I can do.  It's a tremendous relief to know you're here.  Your presence encourages my heart with a revival of hope."

The faithful old servant was obviously much overwrought.  My deepest sympathy went out to the poor shivering creature.  No matter how many times I assured her it was all right to address me by my first name, the dedicated diminutive housekeeper unfailingly called me Mister Selden or .  If I remembered aright, her son was a psychiatrist employed as a staff physician at the Thorn Hill hospital for the criminally insane.  Why would Mrs. Putnam think Aunt Madeline needed to be examined by a psychiatrist?

I was escorted into the cavernous family room where a cheerful blaze crackled merrily in the megalithic stone fireplace.  The feeling was one of warm welcome, yet there were no lights on in the lofty chamber, so that the ruddy glow of the flickering flames cast weirdly dancing shadows on the high walls.  In the corners of the big room, the deep darkness was impenetrable.  Disembodied shapes chased each other across the petite housekeeper’s wizened cherubic face - a pleading face that had been worn pasty and haggard with soul-choking worry for her mistress.

I placed my suitcase on the hearthrug and hung my raincoat near the mantel so it could dry.

“Mrs. Putnam,” I queried the little lady as delicately as I could, for it was obvious even to a casual observer that her emotional endurance had been stretched dangerously thin, “how long has my aunt been afflicted with her mysterious malady?”

“Since the arrival of the visitor, sir, about a month ago.”

“Visitor?  What visitor?”

Our hushed conversation was abruptly interrupted by the unmistakable drawl of Aunt Madeline’s smoky seductive voice, “Hello, Brock.”

Without a word, Mrs. Putnam grabbed the handle of my suitcase and began lugging the heavy baggage, leaning to one side as she walked.  I knew it would be in vain for me to protest that I could take the bag upstairs myself.  Away the somberly-clad little woman walked, silent and alone, toward the staircase, disappearing into the watching stillness of the cold shadows of the gloomy old house.

The first most striking feature I noticed about Aunt Madeline is that her facial hair was all gone.  I wondered if she had been undergoing medical treatments for hirsutism.  She didn’t hug me, which was very odd.  Aunt Madeline always wrapped me in her harms in a warm welcoming hug whenever I arrived for a visit.  She was dressed in a heavy nightgown over which she wore a thick flannel housecoat that was buttoned all the way up to her neck.  She sat down in a cushy armchair near the fireplace and propped her slippered feet up to the fading blaze as if she had a chill.  I thought of stirring the coals and adding another log, but something in her detached manner forbade me doing so.  I sat in a chair opposite my strangely behaving relative.  With the eerie flicker of the dwindling crimson flames reflecting in her watery gray eyes, Aunt Madeline gazed at me in silence.  Ghostly fingers of an unseen hand crept up my spine.

“Aunt Madeline, are you all right?”

“Yes, Brock!  I’m fine!  Why shouldn’t I be all right?”

Her brusque manner frightened me.

“I don’t know.  I mean, I’m sure you are doing fine, it’s just that you seem a little, I don’t know, under the weather, maybe, not your usual self.”

She lowered her wan eyelids as if settling deeper into the sumptuous luxury of the soft chair, “Forgive me, Brock.  I didn’t mean to snap at you.  The truth is, I have been feeling a little offish lately, but don’t worry yourself over me.  I’m just a bit tired that’s all.  It’s that time of month.  How was your trip up from the city?”

I had opened my mouth to reply when a subtle hint of movement in the shadows at the far end of the elongated room distracted my attention.  I focused my vision toward the shuffling thing and, with utter astonishment, my widening eyes beheld a very disturbing commotion.  A small child, a girl no more than six years of age with a yellow ribbon in her long auburn hair and dressed in a tea-length cornflower-blue dress ornamented with a pale green pinafore went prancing across the far end of the family room, skipping her feet from the door through which the housekeeper had guided me to a small door at the other extremity of the gloomy chamber whence she disappeared as though she had never been there at all.  At first, I thought that due to my excessive exhaustion I had grown delirious and was hallucinating, but when I turned back to my aunt, her eyes, too, were peering in the direction of the mysterious child’s cavort.  Before I could stop myself, my mouth had blurted out the question, “Aunt Madeline, who is that little girl?”

With adroit psycho-social tact, my reclining aunt sidestepped the question, “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming, Brock?  I could have had Mrs. Putnam prepare one of her award-winning suppers for you.”

“I don’t know.  I’m so tired after finally getting the new novel safely into the hands of the publisher.  I suppose I just wanted to get away from the city for awhile to rest.”

Without realizing it, I had swallowed her red-herring - hook, line, and sinker.  Aunt Madeline had successfully decoyed me into another channel away from the subject of the unexplained presence of the haunting little girl.

“I understand how bone-weary you must be, my darling Brock.  I’m sure you’re ready to retire to the tranquil seclusion of your bedchamber.  I feel one of my migraines coming on.  I’m going to the kitchen for a warm glass of milk sweetened with a teaspoon of honey, then straight upstairs to bed.  Good night, dear.  As always, and I know I don’t have to say it, please make yourself at home.  I’m delighted you’re here.  With the wholesome tonic of your charming society, I’m sure my health will begin to perk up.  I’ll see you in the morning light.  Sweet dreams.”

With her shrewd cunning, my dearly beloved and intellectually formidable Aunt Madeline had outwitted me again.  With undisguised physical effort, she lifted herself from the inviting seat.  Her back to me, I watched the hem of her long housecoat gliding across the glossy hardwood floor, the muffled shuffling of her padded feet fading as she vanished into the shadows of a side door, leaving me alone in the irksome stillness of the immense family room, my tired eyes gazing in abstract bewilderment at the dying fire.

The flickering flames faded into sporadic puffs, then disappeared altogether leaving the deep red of a heap of coals glowing in the bottom of the sooty fireplace.  I don’t know how long I sat there staring in mute contemplation at those deceptively luminous embers while pondering the series of irksome eventualities that had fallen in rapid succession since my arrival at the Raven’s Nest.  It must have been getting very late when I finally raised myself from the cozy warmth of the hearthstones to amble upstairs to my room.

After showering and toweling dry, I hurried into my pajamas, because in spite of the steamy scouring I had given myself, a piercing uncanny chill crept in from every gloaming nook and cranny of the antiquated bedroom.  I was standing by the radiator adjusting the dial for heat when I heard the unmistakable sound of an automobile driving into the courtyard below.  Who would be arriving at Aunt Madeline’s at such a late hour?

I parted the heavy burgundy drapes and looked out the bleary window through angled sheets of drizzling rain.  Down on the disjointed flagstones of the decaying courtyard I witnessed a charnel scene that did not seem to bode well at a lonely old house perched high on a rocky sea-cliff.  A hearse was parked beside my Wrangler, its big gas-guzzling V8 engine idling.  A chauffeur stood next to the open passenger door.  My confusion turned to dark suspicion when a hooded cloaked figure moved like a shadow from the house and stepped into the macabre vehicle.  The chauffeur closed the door, went round to the driver’s side and got in.  My eyes were fixed in stunned amazement as I watched the funereal death car drive out of the courtyard, the rumble of its powerful engine fading into unseen distances of the rainy night.  A pale flash of lighting was followed by a distant rumble of ominous thunder.

My mind was frantic with wild speculation.  What could be the meaning of such a morbid affair?  What unnamed horror had come to possess the old house since my last visit?  No wonder the poor little housekeeper was fretting with such nerve-wracking despair.  The radiator was emitting a muscle-relaxing heat.  As the room began to warm, I lay motionless under the silky sheet and heavy patchwork quilt wondering impotently at the disquieting circumstances in which I now found myself at a home that had heretofore been a place of refuge for me whenever the stress of the outside world became too much to bear.  As I drifted off to sleep, my mental faculty dwindling into the twilight of unconsciousness, I thought I heard a bewitching piping sound, as though a fantastical flute were being played by ghoulish fairies amid otherworldly forests of hornbeam and toadstool.  I couldn’t tell if the spellbinding melody was resonating from somewhere down the hall or from the room above me - the room of secrets kept always locked by Deacon Hood, the room in which he conducted his strange researches into who-knew-what unhallowed terrors.  I was helpless.  My brain was too tired to recover after having traveled so far down the abyssal vortex of stupor.  Before my instinct for self-preservation could raise an alarm, the lightless void of slumber overtook me.

I don’t know if it was due to my excessive fatigue or the mesmerizing piping, but I slept very late the next morning.  Aunt Madeline does not permit cellphones or any sort of mobile device to be brought into her gloomy old house, but the antique timepiece on the nightstand beside the bed indicated it was a quarter after ten.  Sleep had been fitful.  At one point, I felt a presence in the room - voices whispering about an intoxicating ingredient, being knocked out all day, and not being mentally balanced upon waking - but struggle as I might with the vague memory, I could not say for sure if it was real or merely the fleeting stardust of haunting dreams.  After another shower to help steam the cobwebs from my half-numb brain, I dressed and hurried downstairs.  I was surprised to discover that Aunt Madeline was nowhere to be seen.  Mrs. Putnam informed me that the mistress of the Raven’s Nest had only just awakened and would be down presently.

While I was waiting for Aunt Madeline to come down for breakfast, I paid a visit to her fabulous library.  Many of the treasured volumes were covered with a fine coating of dust.  This didn’t seem right.  Had my scholarly aunt not been reading?  I noticed a book with red binding that was entirely clean as though it had been read recently.  Reaching up for the hardcover edition of Borgnine’s Treatise on Medieval Alchemy, I was surprised when it didn’t slide free from the other books.  Instead, it only tilted a bit toward me.  I heard a ‘click’ as of a lock releasing, then the ceiling-high shelf of books before me rotated out away from the wall.  I was awe-struck to find myself facing the opening to a narrow passage that led away into darkness.

I didn’t give the least thought to what if Mrs. Putnam or Aunt Madeline entered the library to catch me in the act, for I was overcome with an irresistible curiosity.  I stepped forward into the shadows of the passage, moving as quietly as possible between rusticating 2x4 studs and crumbling plaster on either side, and exposed floor joists overhead.  I felt as though I was walking the incline of an ascending passage.  The eerie tunnel between the wormy partitions grew dimmer and darker until I could not see my hand in front of my face.  I was about to retreat from the Stygian lair when suddenly, a blue light came on to my left.  I tensed with paranoid guilt of being caught in the act.

There was a wall of glass beside me.  It was like looking through a two-way mirror, similar to sitting in the backseat of a limousine with heavy tint on the windows.  You can well imagine my confusion when I saw Aunt Madeline enter the small chamber which was vaguely illuminated by the ghostly blue light.  She was wearing only panties and a bra.  She entered the little room, closing the door behind her.  She removed a sort of hood from a hook that dangled from the ceiling.  I shuddered when I saw her pull the scarlet hood over her head.  The hideous thing covered the top of her skull to the bridge of her nose.  She reminded me of an executioner at an auto-da-fé during the horror of the Spanish Inquisition.  She raised her arms above her head in the fashion of worshipers before an idol.  A blinding white light then flashed on for the space of maybe 3 or 4 seconds.  Even though the wall of glass before me was of a dusky tint, the bright light forced me to squint my eyes against its powerful glare.  When the brilliant flash was over, my stomach retched at the ghoulish sight that met my disbelieving eyes.  The lower half of Aunt Madeline’s face and her entire naked flesh all the way to the tips of her fingers and toes was covered in a powdery white ash.  She removed the silky hood, hung it back on the hook, then turned and walked out of the little chamber.  The hazy blue light went out and I was plunged into the surreal darkness of the hidden passage.

Fearing my interloping might be discovered, I felt my way back along the narrow musty corridor toward the library.  Exiting the dark tunnel, I pushed the section of bookshelf back to the wall, but when I removed my hand from its edge, the whole thing swung back out again.  I heard the sound of approaching footsteps.  In mad panic, I pushed the bookshelf to the wall again, this time harder.  I heard that ‘click’ sound again.  Much to my relief, the latch had reset.  When I released my hand, the bookshelf remained snugly in place against the wall.  No evidence of my discovery or exploration of the secret passage was visible.  I quickly moved across the room to sit down on the leather sofa.  I picked up a small book from the lamp table beside me and pretended to be reading.  Aunt Madeline entered the library.

At the same moment, Mrs. Putnam entered through an opposite door, “Begging your pardon, Miss Madeline, the omelettes are on the table.  I’m afraid the pineapple had turned mushy, an ugly brown inside, but the fruit tray does have orange slices, banana, grapes, and cherries.  I remembered, Mr. Selden, that caffeine plays havoc with your nerves, so the decaf is in the gold pot, the stout brew in the silver.”  Mrs. Putnam then disappeared whence she had materialized and I was left alone with my aunt.

“Come on, Brock, let’s eat.  I’m sure your famished.”

I followed her, my step light, my eyes wary, into the main dining hall.

My aunt was oddly reticent.  Other than asking me if I had rested well last night after my long drive up from the city, she hardly spoke a word.  We munched our food and sipped our coffee in what I perceived to be a very uncomfortable silence.

When we finished eating, my aunt made a startling announcement, “Brock, dear, I apologize, but I have someplace I have to go for awhile.  I’m sure it will be easy for you to forgive me since you no doubt want to rest and recuperate.  It will probably be late when I get back, so don’t trouble yourself to wait up for me.  I know the library is your favorite room in the house and, as always, it is entirely at your disposal.  This dreary rain is forecast to continue nonstop for several days, but you always say the rainy weather helps you relax.”

Aunt Madeline gazed silently at me for a moment with a plotting expression in her watery gray eyes.  I had never seen her look like that before.  It gave me the creeps.  At length, she spoke again, “Brock, I advise you to remain indoors.  There’s been a series of brutal murders in the city.  The violent crimes are being committed under cover of darkness.  All the victims have apparently been working girls who walk the streets at night.  The suspected killer, hunted by police, is believed to have fled the city.  Authorities think he might be making his way north along the Coast Highway.”

“Something evil this way comes,” my whispering voice echoed amorphously a distant suggestion from my subliminal mind.

“Yes.  Citizens are being warned to remain inside and not unlock the door to anyone they don’t know.”

“I can’t believe this,” in soft soliloquy, I echoed again, my voice still a whisper, “It’s like Jack the Ripper!”

Aunt Madeline glared at me sternly, then, “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear you say that, Brock”

“What?”

“Don’t ever speak that name in this house again.”

I was dumbfounded, utterly baffled.  One of Aunt Madeline’s favorite topics was sensational crimes, and now, all of a sudden, a notorious name we had often discussed was not to be spoken at all?  None of this made any sense.  Aunt Madeline’s sharp voice of command intruded on my erratically confused thoughts, “Oleg was here for about an hour very early this morning.  When you go into the library, you’ll see he kindled a generous log blaze and stacked a week’s worth of wood in the bin.  Welcome to paradise, my darling Brock.  If I don’t see you this evening, we’ll breakfast together again tomorrow and I promise you my undivided attention for the remainder of your visit.  Ciao.”

If there was such threatening lethal danger afoot, then why was Aunt Madeline going out?  Her brusque disposition had cowed me into obedient compliance.  I dared not voice my worry for fear she might interpret my concern as offensive insolence.

The aloof lady of the house whisked out of the room, leaving me sitting befuddled and alone at the long heavy highly-polished mahogany dining table.  Faint sounds of Mrs. Putnam wielding pots and pans clattered from the kitchen.  She was probably already cooking lunch.  The incessant rain drizzled down morosely outside.  Aunt Madeline’s behavior was troubling.  She never left the house for any reason.  Where could she possibly be going, and why?  She didn’t even own an automobile.  Could she have been the mysterious hooded cloaked figure I saw getting into the hearse last night?  Was she the prowling homicidal maniac that had been offing undesirables in the seedy underbelly of the city under cover of darkness?  Nonsense!  Impossible!  My rationale was decaying into wild speculation.  My overly suspicious imagination was running away with me.  I needed time to process the contradictory data, sort out my convulsing thoughts, so I retired to the library to sit at the fireside.  I would read for awhile to distract my mind from worry.

I moped into the expansive library wondering if, provided Aunt Madeline’s hirsutism really was under control, perhaps she was cultivating a social life?  It was too confusing.  Rest was what I needed - time to sort out my thoughts.  Oleg had indeed built up a splendid log blaze.  The gray fieldstone of the enormous fireplace had warmed deliciously.  A bone-soothing heat was spreading throughout the entire library.

I thought of exploring the secret passage again, or better yet, I could pick Mrs. Putnam's brain about the unusual goings-on at the Raven's Nest, but I was so tired.  What I desired most at that moment was to let my mind drift aimlessly for awhile.  Normally, I would have chosen a selection from among the occult titles, yet I was in a desultory mood.  I saw the little book lying on the sofa, the one I had been pretending to read when Aunt Madeline walked in.  I decided I'd idly thumb through its yellowing pages.  Reposing on the large leather couch in front of the fireplace, I laid the book on my lap and gazed hollowly into the leaping crackling flames.  I didn't sit very long, however, because, being so hungry, I had devoured a hearty breakfast.  Mrs. Putnam was an excellent cook.  All the food I had eaten was making me very drowsy.  I considered stretching out on the couch for a nap.  The sofa was cushy and big, the fireplace delightfully cozy, but I felt I could rest easier if I just went back upstairs to bed.  After a nap, I would have a talk with Mrs. Putnam to see what information she possessed that might suggest some answers for my aunt's odd behavior and the eerie occurrence of the mysterious hearse during the night.  With the idea of reading myself to sleep, I took the little book upstairs with me.

Once I had adjusted the radiator for some heat in the damp chill room and had snugly ensconced myself in the big soft bed with my legs and feet under the silky sheet and heavy patchwork quilt, I reclined on the fluffy down pillows and examined the little tome I had brought up with me.  It wasn’t a published book, but rather someone’s personal notebook, a sort of diary or journal.  The image on the cover was somewhat foreboding.  I recognized it as a major arcana of Tarot - the Hermit.  The six-point star in the lantern, the hood and long draping cloak, the patriarchal staff - why would someone emblazon the cover of a notebook with such a grim motif?  I was seized by an overpowering curiosity to explore what waited inside the mysterious diary.

Opening to the first page, I was even more perplexed to see a facsimile of Leonardo’s sketch, executed in 1490, of the famous drawing by Vitruvius known as the Vitruvian Man.  The ingenious minds of these two great thinkers were seeking deep understanding of the proportions of the human body, but according to the unnamed author of the cryptic notebook, there is something else they were searching for, some hidden reason why these towering intellects wanted to know so precisely the exact proportions of the human anatomy.  Beneath this iconic emblem loomed a witch’s pentacle.

The next page was covered with a macabre list of roots and herbs - buttonbush, Dutchman’s britches, liverwort, witch hazel, nightshade, dead man’s bells, wolf’s bane.

Turning the next page, I saw another rendering of the Da Vinci drawing, but this one was in profile.  The figure was no longer two-dimensional on a flat plane, but drawn in three dimensions showing the subject stretching out into numerous repetitions of itself.  There was an open door.  Beyond the door an hour glass, the sand draining through in the shape of a horizontal 8 - the symbol mathematicians use to represent the concept of infinity.  The occult hourglass was arranged in the midst of a multitude of worlds along perspective lines extending to an ominous vanishing point.

The unknown author of the arcane notebook seemed to be revealing hermetic secrets about certain curves, lines, and angles that could be drawn pointing out directions leading through the limits of the space-time continuum to something abnormal, beyond time and space - a linkage of dimensions known and unknown.

Notes at the edges of the pages offered instructions for recreating the vexing schematics upon a wall or similar vertical surface.  The handwriting wasn't the most legible I had ever seen, but it wasn't the erratic scrawl that made interpretation of the journal entries so difficult.  It was the interspersing of alien characters among letters of the English alphabet that posed such a challenge to understanding the Druidic messages.  The strange characters reminded me of Sanskrit or Syriac, but could not have been either of those languages, because I was familiar with both.

Curves, angles, lines when sketched in combination with certain archaic formulae opened a dangerously unfamiliar doorway to space beyond the three dimensions to which we are accustomed.  The suggestion was so alluring, yet there I was straining my brain again when what I needed was rest, so I flipped through the yellowing pages of the sibylline age-worn notebook to where the handwriting was easy to read in hope of finally nodding off to sleep.

There was a haunting account of a strangely-attired bearded man who had been picked up by state troopers while wandering aimlessly along the lonely roadside of a remote stretch of the Coastal Highway.  An elegant toga draped over an equally exquisite tunic composed the extraordinary costume of the unidentified vagrant.  Calceus, a hobnailed boot of the finest handcrafted quality popular during the golden era of the Roman Empire, adorned his immaculately manicured feet.  Raving madly in an incomprehensible tongue, the unidentified man was taken to the Thorn Hill insane asylum.  After being forcefully sedated, the patient was examined by a psychiatrist who subsequently sent for a linguist in an effort to understand the odd man’s strange speech.  

The language expert, Professor Colette Sauveterre, in spite of holding a PhD in modern linguistics, could make nothing of the bizarre syllables, although she intimated they were similar in phonetic arrangement to Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic.

Professor Sauveterre placed a blank sheet of paper on a clipboard and, using a ballpoint pen, wrote her name in large legible letters.  She then handed the clipboard and writing utensil to the unidentified man, motioning for him to put something on the paper.

Still being somewhat sedated from the injection of Thorazine, the strange man’s writing appeared sluggish and sloppy, but after a few minutes he handed the paper back to the professor and in the process seemed to deliberately cut his index finger on the metal portion of the clipboard.  A nurse bandaged the patient’s wound.

Professor Sauveterre was utterly baffled by the bizarre symbols that the unusual psychiatric patient had written on the paper.  The curious writing sample reminded the professor of hieroglyphs.  Later that afternoon, on a whim of instinct spawned by a vague memory of something she had read when she was a student, Professor Sauveterre faxed a copy of the mysterious hieroglyphs to a colleague at the university who was an authority on ancient writing systems.  To the anxiously waiting professor’s surprise, her distinguished associate replied that he was delighted to see that the sternly pedantic linguist was beginning to develop a sense of humor.  She assured the ancient language specialist that her inquiry was as serious as serious could get.  He retorted that there was no way her inquiry could be serious because the writing sample she had sent to him for analysis was an inscription of Punic characters and that the author of the script claimed to be a famous general of ancient Carthage who led an army with an infantry of elephants against Rome.  The expert of ancient writing systems explained to Professor Sauveterre that if her inquiry was indeed serious, she was enjoying a coveted conversation with the legendary Hannibal.  

The bewildered professor, overcome with inexplicable creeping dread, immediately returned to the Thorn Hill asylum to conduct another interview with the mysterious unidentified man.

When the patient’s cell was unlocked, it was found to be empty of its former occupant - the spooky man in the opulent exotic attire had vanished as if into thin air.  There was no way he could have escaped from a padded cell under 24hr guard.  At the back of the cell Professor Sauveterre stared in fearful angst at a curious arrangement of curves, lines, and angles that had apparently been traced on the wall with human blood.  The awe-struck professor demanded an explanation from hospital staff for the mysterious disappearance of the patient.  No explanation could be given.

The next entry dated a week later told of a woman who was critically injured in the building where she worked when the elevator cable broke.  The safety had not been properly maintained.  The ill-fated elevator plummeted four floors to crash horrendously down in the underground parking garage.  The mangled bleeding woman was rushed to the hospital where she remained for two days in surgical intensive care.  She had two young daughters who her husband’s sister was looking after.  At 4 a.m. the sister-in-law thought she heard sounds of whispering voices drifting from the girls’ room.  Creeping down the hall, the seriously concerned aunt opened the door and saw the two little girls chattering away quietly to what was presumed to be an imaginary friend.  Later that day, with a pale hunted expression on her face, the aunt learned that the little girls’ mother had died at 4 a.m.

The following entry, dated only one day later, spoke of awareness of the presence of invisible people and the sound of whispering voices emanating from unoccupied rooms.  It was here that I finally drifted off into the murky fog of unconsciousness.

The dismal gray day had advanced far over into the afternoon by the time I woke.  The puzzling notebook was lying beside me on the bed.  It happened to be open to one of the pages covered with the esoteric drawings.  I was idly tracing my finger over the mesmerizing curves, lines, and angles when I distinctly heard the sound of female voices talking somewhere in the big gloomy house.  Thinking Aunt Madeline must have returned from her secretive outing, I rolled off the bed.  In spite of the meager heat from the radiator, the old hardwood floor was cold as ice.  I donned my bedroom slippers and departed the depressing bedroom.

When I got downstairs, Aunt Madeline was nowhere to be seen.  I called out for Mrs. Putnam, but received no answer, my voice dying away in faintly reverberating echoes through the darkened corridors of the immense dwelling.  The inviting aroma of food lured me to the kitchen.  Though there were steaming pots on the stove and a butcher knife lying on a cutting board beside an assortment of vegetables that glistened with drops of water as if they had just been rinsed, I saw no actual manifestation of any living being.  It was a disturbing sensation, a ghostly feeling of being all alone in that evilly-shadowed antiquated house.

Entering the library, I saw the fire had died down.  From the red smoldering coals that remained, it didn’t take me long to rekindle a warming blaze with new logs from those Oleg had stacked close by.  With nothing else to do, I decided to read while I awaited the appearance of either Mrs. Putnam or Aunt Madeline.  I had brought the abstruse notebook down with me.  I sat on the huge sofa gazing mindlessly at the creepy curves, lines, and angles of the witchy geometric figures that completely covered the first several pages of the beguiling notebook.

I must have nodded off to sleep again, because I opened my eyes to find a wheeled cart sitting in front of me.  The shiny metal cart was laden with covered dishes.  Peeking under the lids I discovered a wide assortment of savory inviting food.  Being afflicted with a vigorous appetite, I helped myself to the various entrées.  Immediately after devouring a large quantity of the scrumptious eats, I began to feel very drowsy again.  I was still alone, so with heavy lethargic steps, I made my way back upstairs to my room.

I was awakened some time later by the sound of an automobile engine idling.  Dragging myself from the soft bed, I tottered to the window.  Parting the dense burgundy drapes, I peeped out through the bleary glass.  Night had fallen.  Incessant rain drizzled from a pitch dark sky.

In the crumbling courtyard below, I saw the same ominous hearse from the night before, however, this time the hooded cloaked figure was exiting the macabre vehicle as though returning from a sordid nocturnal sojourn, but the grave figure that somehow reminded me of a vampire was not alone.

Another occupant followed out of the steely hearse.  An unnerving sensation of ill-omen made my heart feel weak as I watched a voluptuous female wearing a miniskirt, spike heels, and numerous articles of cheap costume jewelry step out of the woeful hearse and follow the cloaked hooded figure toward the house.  The pair didn’t move to the huge oak door that leads into the foyer.  Instead, the scantily-clad damsel was led by the grim hooded figure to a short narrow door that opens onto a dreary staircase that leads down into the gloom of the dank musty cellar.  Why would anyone go down into the cellar of a dreary old house in the late hours of a dark rainy night?

My impulse was to hurry from my room to find Aunt Madeline and inform her of what I had been witnessing.  She must know about the macabre spectacle, but what if she didn’t?  As desirous as I was to get to the bottom of the distressing mystery, my limbs, being weighed down with unusual lethargy, yearned for the relieving snugness of the big soft bed.  Crawling back onto the sumptuous mattress, I stretched myself out and pulled the heavy quilt over me all the way up to my ears.  The next memory I have is waking in the cold gray light of another bleak rainy day.  A rolling cart covered with silvery serving dishes of steaming tasty food was beside the bed.  I was inexplicably famished with craving appetite.  Without the slightest hesitation, I wolfed down a copious volume of the readily available food.  In spite of the fact that I had slept much of the day before and virtually all night, after downing the grub and guzzling the coppery-flavored red beverage, I was again besotted with extreme drowsiness.

As unbelievable as it sounds, I apparently slept the entire day away, because the deep umbra of night had returned.  I woke to the sharp pain of a very full bladder.  I stumbled to the bathroom as quickly as I could.  Emerging from the dimly lit lavatory, I was shocked to see another wheeled cart beside my bed.  As before the shiny metal cart was laden with covered dishes of steaming hot food, the fantastic aroma of which was desperately appetizing.  A gut instinct of primal fear warned me that it would not be wise to partake of that suspicious food.

In a sudden moment of somber foreboding, a sickening sound found its way into my ears - the gargoyle timbre of that demoniacal piping, the wicked flute music of some unseen goat-horned cloven-footed beast of the nether pit luring me from the imagined safety of my bedroom and out into the darkened hall.  Where was that bewitching harmony coming from?  In waves like those crashing against the rocky cliff outside, the eerie melodic strain floated in on invisible vespers, coaxing my spirit to follow.  I crept down the hall peeping into the skulking shadows of each unoccupied room, making my way toward Aunt Madeline’s bedchamber hidden in the inky well of darkness at the end of the long hall.  I was beginning to think that, in order to locate the origin of the ghastly enchanting flute, I’d have to brave the abandoned floor above when, on impulse, I glanced over the stout smoothly polished wooden banister.  In the stairwell below I saw the strange little girl.  She appeared to be talking to some invisible companion.  As stealthily as my limbs would permit, I stalked down the stairs, step by creaking step, but the child bolted before I could get close enough to hear what she was saying.

I trailed her to the kitchen, watching her flit like a moth in the dim aura of the stove light.  My whole body tensed when I saw the creepy little girl disappear through the door that leads down into the cellar.  A thousand psychological caterpillars crawled over the surface of my tightening skin.  I had never been down into the basement of the Raven’s Nest.  I did not like cellars, especially cellars underneath big old gloomy houses with accursed reputations.  I thought of waking Mrs. Putnam, because I had no idea if my aunt had returned from her obscure outing, but the very lateness of the hour induced me to decide against disturbing the tired elderly housekeeper, especially as her aging nervous system had been worn ragged with worry for her mistress.  Or had it?  Who, after all, had been cooking and delivering the lurid feasts of highly suspect nourishment while I was lost deep in the obscura of unconsciousness?

I don’t know if it was bravado or stupidity that caused me to grab a flashlight from the pantry and follow that haunting little girl’s egress down into the dreary shadows of the basement.  I dared not flip the light switch at the top of the musty wooden steps, because whatever that little girl was doing down there in the dark, she would certainly stop if the lights suddenly came on.  I wanted to ferret out her secrets.  

Descending the creaky moldering steps down into the unknown dangers of that morbid cellar, I determined not to turn on the flashlight unless absolutely necessary.  My eyes were beginning to adjust to the dimness when, to my surprise, my peripheral vision began to detect a faint yellow glow emanating from somewhere below.  When I reached the bottom of the steps, I discerned that the ominous light was coming from the other side of the numerous rows of dust-laden cobweb-smothered wine racks.  I heard a sound I didn’t recognize, a faint noise similar to fingernails scratching on a leathery surface.  With a soft wary tread, I advanced toward the source of the ghoulish sound.  Rounding a decaying wine-rack, I saw the little girl lift an empty burlap sack from a heap of rotting ruble.  You can imagine how amazed I was when a section of the cellar wall edged open, a rush of foul air wafting the delicate auburn locks about the little girl’s face.  Without seeming to notice my presence, she dashed forward and disappeared into the dusky hole in the basement wall.  I thought of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, about how the children had followed the Piper into a hole in the side of a mountain.  When the last of the children had trailed in, the hole in the mountainside closed leaving no trace as if it had never been there at all.  A baleful sensation of clammy paranoia pierced my heart with icy alien chill.

I should have turned and ran out of that dreadful cellar, headed straight for my Wrangler and sped away from that dreary old house as fast as possible, making sure to not look back, but an overpowering curiosity tempted me to peek at what lay beyond the unholy cellar wall.

Stepping through the small opening, I had to duck my head down a bit.  A winding trail of stone steps led downward into the bowels of the earth hidden below the centuried foundation of the massive house that Deacon Hood had built.  What could possibly be down there that would be of interest to a little girl?  How was it that she didn’t fear the creeping shadows of the diabolical grotto?

The bewildering little girl was nowhere to be seen, but what I did witness triggered a fundamental alteration in my psychological balance of mind.  It was a brutal violation of the inner sanctity of my innate humanity.

I crouched without a sound in the shadows of a perch atop a sheer drop, gazing in wide-eyed wonder at the dizzying voluminous space of an immense cavern.  The hellish underground scene was eerily illuminated by torchlight flickering from ancient sconces along the rough surface of the cave wall.  Whether the grotto had been hewn by human effort through solid rock or was a natural geological formation, I could not tell.  

A bearded disheveled fellow, very dirty, very shabbily attired - grubby, vulgar, and unkempt, like a wino or a beggar - was standing on the smooth slippery rock at the edge of a pool of water that might have been a declivity hollowed out by eons of erosion in the stone floor of the huge subterranean chamber.  The water must have been very deep, because I could not see to the bottom.  On the far side of the lugubrious pool upon a spire of rock that reminded me of a pedestal, I saw a bizarre object about the size of a beach ball that was encrusted all over with frightful barnacles and a slogging growth of algae.  From inside the weird object an eerie green light pulsed slowly.  

The wretched vagrant was badly emaciated from the ravages of malnutrition.  With a thrill of horror, I saw, within a few paces of the rawboned wino, the same ominous hooded cloaked figure I had seen exit the grim hearse with the gaudy hussy the night before.  The shabby bearded fellow turned to the cloaked figure and spoke hesitatingly, as if fear trickled down his raspy throat, “Huh, this is weird.  You people really go all out for one of your parties.”

The hooded cloaked figure replied with a voice that was salaciously feminine, “You must toss the coin I gave you into the wishing well and think of what it is you want most in life.”

The vagabond shrugged his crud-caked shoulders, “Whatever you say, lady, just as long as we get to the party.  I’m a little thirsty, if ya know what I mean.”  The vulgar derelict chuckled hoarsely, then coughed up something from his congested throat and spit.  The grubby fellow turned back to the eerie pool of shimmering clear water and tossed in a shiny object that hit the surface of the pool with a distinct ‘plop’.  

I was suddenly seized by a vexing suspicion that it was no wishing well that lay so silently in the roughly rounded hole in the stone floor of the cave.  A surge of bone-chilling fear welled up in my chest.  I saw movement.  There was something moving in the insidious stillness of the glossy water.

No words can describe the utter sickness of heart that crushed my spirit with paralyzing terror at what my mortified eyes witnessed next.  Without a word, the hooded cloaked figure crept up behind the unsanitary vagabond while he was facing the dastardly pool, then pushed him face-first into the ilk-infested water.  

That squalid hobo was the type to shout hatefully many angry obscenities at such an assault, but he didn’t have time.  The dreadful shadows moving silently in the fateful water fell upon him with savage speed and deadly violence.  The poor fellow didn’t stand a chance.  One brief gurgling yelp as he was dragged down into the unseen depths of the menacing pool is all the sound I heard from his panic-stricken struggles.  The sheer expression of terrorized agony on his grubby time-worn face is a horror that I shall never be able to purge from my tortured memory.  The eerie green light inside the inexplicable barnacle-encrusted foreign object now glowed brighter and flashed rapidly off and on as if in orgiastic reaction to the violent butchery that was taking place in the gore-stained pool.

My reason was nearly unseated by the nauseating spectacle of sadistic depravity.  The hooded cloaked figure just stood there, watching the gut-wrenching carnage as that poor helpless vagrant’s flesh was torn from his bones by the hideous monstrosities that lurked in the ill-omened pool.

Struck dumb with debilitating paranoia, I turned and ran back up the stone steps that led out of the cave.  I dashed madly through the cellar and up those half-rotten steps into the kitchen.  I stood for a moment looking this way and that, not certain what to do next.  On a wild impulse, I charged for the family room.  I knew I’d find a phone there.  As late in the night as it was, a huge blaze roared in the fireplace.  I didn’t have time to ponder the irregularity of who would have been kindling such a big log fire at that ungodly hour, because my mind was spinning with tangled words that I hoped to sort out in time to explain without sounding like a babbling escapee from a mental hospital when I dialed the operator or 911 - at that moment I didn’t care which, and as it transpired, it didn’t matter, because when I picked up the receiver, I heard no dial tone.  The line was dead.  The blood froze in my veins when my frantically alert ears detected a stealthy step behind me.

I spun round to see Aunt Madeline standing there.  By no earthly effort could I hide the ghastly horror that twisted my ashen face into a pitiful mask of cold shuddering fear.

“Aunt Madeline!  I’m so glad to see you!  A debauched corruption has been perpetrated!  It’s unadulterated savagery!  We’ve got to call the police!”

To my utter dismay, Aunt Madeline calmly motioned me to a chair, “Have a seat, Brock.  You and I need to have a little talk.”

The whole scene was barbarous and incomprehensible.  In spite of the gyrating force of rocketing adrenaline that was racing through my throbbing veins, the irresistible command in my aunt’s smoky sultry voice bent my will to her unquestionable authority.  Like a helpless dumbfounded ignoramus, I obeyed her stern injunction.  The masterful gleam in her resolute eyes admitted no opposition, “Tell me, Brock, calmly, just exactly what it is you think you saw.”

“Aunt Madeline, I have just witnessed the most unspeakable act of depravity.  Never before in my life have I endured the sight of such a malevolent obscenity!  I think,” and here I chose my words carefully, “I think I have just witnessed a murder!”

My dearly beloved aunt was silent for a moment during which I didn’t know if she was contemplating a response or plotting my execution.  When she spoke again, my heart sank into my stomach at the lurid deliberation of her placid infernal tyranny.

“So, dearest Brock, you have seen the Wishing Well.  How inauspicious for you.  The blood-soaked heart that beats in the submerged vessel will now perceive you as a threat.  Something must be done.”

“Aunt Madeline, what are you talking about?  I saw some vicious things moving in the pool, but,”

“The vessel has been submerged in the Wishing Well since my thirteenth birthday - the day Deacon Hood was interred in the family vault at the Wings of Mercy cemetery.  The vessel protecting the heart serves a very important purpose.  It is filled with a nutrient-rich organic medium similar in chemical composition to amniotic fluid.  Aluminum electrodes extending from the sides of the vessel deliver the electrical current necessary to keep the heart beating.  It’s alive, Brock.  It lives.  He lives.  The current, as it must be organic, is generated by Electrophorus electricus.”

Aunt Madeline waited my response which was one of mute imbecility - my bloodless lips parted in shock of disbelief, my tongue paralyzed and useless.

“Electric eels,” she continued, her sultry voice sending waves of ice down my petrified spine, “Homeless men, bag ladies, bums, alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, runaways - they are offered a fix, a cheap bottle of wine, a twenty dollar bill.  They’re invited to a Goth-themed masquerade ball.  When they accept a ride in Deacon’s hearse, their fate is sealed.  They may as well already be in a coffin.

“The illiterate undesirables are told the eel pool is a wishing well.  They’re instructed that before attending the party, all guests must make a wish.  When the victim steps to the edge of the pool, closing his or her eyes to imagine what it is they want most in this world, a simple push from behind is all it takes.  On the slime-slicked surface of the smooth hard rock, the gullible sacrifice is irreversibly doomed.  Once they splash down into the deep water, the eels begin feeding.  Imagine a 9-foot 50-pound snaky eel coiling its serpentine body around you delivering a series of shocks upwards of 1200 volts at one-millisecond intervals, each powerful electric shock forcing involuntary muscle contractions to fatigue resistance so the eel can easily manipulate you as it feeds itself on your helplessly neutralized raw bloody flesh.”

I was mortified, yet Aunt Madeline prattled on as if elucidating a scientific theorem to an eager class of graduate students, “As to the organic maritime sphere, I’m afraid it must remain a mystery to you.  None save the indoctrinated are permitted to enter the Inner Circle of the Orb.  Only the Children of Vorgu may know its secrets.”

“The children of what?”

Aunt Madeline rolled her eyes in disgust, “You inquired about the little girl you saw pass through the family room on the evening of your arrival.  I don’t expect you to understand, but that little girl has been brought here from another place and time by the invocation of forces of nature that you and the majority of the inhabitants of this planet do not understand, a primeval elemental power beyond your conception.  Her name is Rosaline, like the unseen first love of Romeo in the Shakespearean tragedy.  She is to be an oracle, a vessel of truth.  She will be indoctrinated, educated by me in the most powerful secrets of Arcana, the ancient Forbidden Occult.  When she grows to womanhood, Vorgu, god of the deep, what ancient mariners feared as a hideous tentacled monstrosity from the darkest coldest most crushing depths of the abyssal oceanic trench, will come for her.  Vorgu will enter through the eel pool to mate with Rosaline.  The offspring of that sacred mating will be the reincarnation of our family patriarch.  The prophecy shall be fulfilled.  Deacon Ellsworth Hood will be born again.”

At that point I was going to puke.  I knew for certain that Aunt Madeline had completely lost her mind.  No wonder Mrs. Putnam wanted her psychiatric medical doctor son to examine my aunt.  Then again, where was Mrs. Putnam?  Had she played a role in the treacherous poison food plot against me?  Whatever the true hidden agenda of the dark conspiracy, the fact was my once doting Aunt Madeline had degenerated into a madwoman.  She was utterly psychotic.  I had to get out of that house of horror to contact legal authorities immediately.

“Uh, Aunt Madeline, something’s come up.  The publisher has one last question for me about the new novel.  It’s something I have to be there in person for, uh, um, it’s a conference, a meeting with my agent, editor, well, you know how it is.  So, I have to go now.  I’ll let you know when I think I’ll be able to come back for another visit.  I’ll just run upstairs, grab my suitcase, and be on my way.”

“That won’t be possible, Brock.”

“What?”

“You know too much about our plans.  The timeline must not falter due to any interruption whatsoever.  It saddens me to say that we won’t be able to permit you to leave the Raven’s Nest.”

“We?”

Once, when I was very young, with wet hands I grabbed the end of an extension cord that was plugged into an electrical outlet.  Some of the plastic coating had been worn away from the wires inside.  I felt a jolting numbness instantly paralyze my entire body.  I almost couldn’t let go of the extension cord.  I felt that same jolting numbness again when a heavy object went ‘thud’ against the back of my neck right at the base of my skull.  The lights went out, plunging me into an oblivion of silent darkness.

I had no idea how much time had elapsed when I woke to find myself face down in the middle of a witch’s pentacle that was inscribed on the hardwood floor of a perfectly round room.  My limbs felt like warm jelly.  With monumental effort, I dragged myself to my feet.  The heavy oak-timber door was locked.  Peering from the window, I discovered why the room was round.  I was imprisoned high in one of the Gothic turret towers.  There were no bars on the window.  Gazing down, I perceived no foothold, no handhold, no visible means of descending from the tower which I judged to be five stories high.  Any attempt to escape by climbing out the window would prove fatal.  At the base of the tower the precipitous face of a rock cliff added another sheer drop of at least twice the height of the turret - right straight down into the crashing surf of the frigid heaving ocean.

Normally, I have what is known as photographic memory, but at that moment my mind was still foggy from the drug I had ingested by foolishly eating the contaminated food, not to mention the brutal thump to the back of my head.  I broke the window pane.  Picking out a sharp chunk of glass, I used its razor edge to slice open the end of my finger and in my own flowing red blood, to the best memory would serve, I reconstructed the enigmatic curves, lines, and angles in conjunction with the cryptic formulae I had seen in the mysterious occult notebook.

I followed the haphazard instructions as closely as I could manage from recall.  When I made the completing angle, an image burst onto the wall in front of me as though I were looking through a misty opening into another room or outside space.  I wasn’t sure I drew the witchy geometry correctly.  Perhaps, accidentally, I slightly altered the formulae, because every few minutes the scenery shifted amid ghostly blue flashes of light.

I didn’t understand what I was witnessing.  I saw a caravan of people dressed in animal skins following a herd of reindeer through the snow.  I decided to conduct an experiment to test if a hole had actually opened in the curvature of the round wall and if there really was space on the other side of that haunting hole.  The only thing in the drab room besides myself and the pentagram on the floor was a small lamp stand beside the window.  I grabbed the lamp, but it seemed to be glued to the little table.  The thing wouldn’t budge.  I heard something rattling around in the single drawer.  Opening it, I saw a dusty jade-green empty wine bottle and an old alarm clock, the type with the pair of silver bells on top and the little hammer in between.  The second hand wasn’t moving.  It was obvious that clock had not been used in many years.  I’ve never been able, not even during times of extreme duress, to resist winding up a clock when the hands get slow or stop moving.  Call it compulsive behavior disorder, if you like.  I wound the clock up and sure enough it started ticking.  I watched the long thin red second hand moving around the numbers for a moment, then I tossed the clock through the foggy aperture in the concave wall.  It landed face up in the snow.  The hands on the old clock immediately began spinning swiftly counterclockwise as if time were speeding backward into the past.  Before I could attempt to make any sense of what bizarre phenomenon was unfolding, another ghostly-blue flash of light flickered in the roiling misty space.  The scenery changed.

I saw a vast desert.  Inside a sweat lodge, someone was lying on a colorful intricately woven blanket.  The person was sick - very ill.  Smoke from an altar was being wafted over the afflicted with a sacred eagle feather.  The medicine man was chanting, but I did not understand his language.

In an eerie blue flash, the scene shifted again.  This time I saw the oblate cranium and large dark almond-shaped eyes of what I could only describe as an alien entity.  A lenticular craft was hovering over a nuclear missile silo somewhere on the vast windswept plains of North Dakota.

A flashing blue shift of the blurry scenery again.  Now there was a young woman attired in bib overalls standing outside the huge door of a barn.  She was casting furtive glances all around as if to make sure no one was watching.  In her pale hands she held a wicker basket.  The contents of the basket consisted of a folded floral pattern cloth lain upon a bed of hay.  Something inside the cloth was moving.  The young woman darted into the barn, apparently unobserved by others.

The next vision I beheld through the foggy aperture was a scene of truly ominous portent.  I saw smoldering volcanic peaks puffing oily smoke into a stormy sky.  Devastating lightning bolts and deafening peals of thunder shook a realm totally submerged by a warm shallow sea.  Water - everywhere I looked I saw water.  The water was teeming with myriad widely-varying marine creatures that I did not recognize, although they were eerily reminiscent of fossilized remains of prehistoric carbon-based organisms.

When the scene changes again, I’m going to step through, because whatever fate awaits me on the other side of the misty portal cannot possibly be as ghastly as sitting in this gloomy turret waiting to be fed to those deadly meat-eating bloodthirsty electric eels in the watery pool in the nightmare grotto down below.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, always carry a pen and writing paper with you, because in your darkest hour, you may need it.

I’m going to roll this narrative into a small enough tube to fit into the empty wine bottle.  I’ll jam the cork into the neck, then hurl the apocalyptic message as far out onto the surging stormy sea as my lagging strength will permit in hope that someone will find my words to make public knowledge the wicked horror lurking in Deacon Hood’s Raven’s Nest.

At any rate, I’ll be long gone.  When I pass through the portal, I hope it closes behind me so my captors cannot pursue me into whatever lies beyond the mysterious opening in the wall.  If you are reading this harrowing account, it means someone found the message in the bottle.


© Copyright 2018 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.

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