Blackwood Farm, page 13part #9 of The Vampire Chronicles Series
"I WOKE UP very early, dressed in my hunting jeans and vest, and while Big Ramona still slept I sat down at my computer and wrote a letter to this strange invader of Sugar Devil Island, which went, sort of, as follows:
This communication is from Tarquin Blackwood and is to notify you that my family owns this island and this house, and that you must take your books and your furnishings and leave these premises without further delay.
The family has plans for this island and will be proceeding just as soon as you have vacated the Hermitage.
If you have any need to communicate with me, I reside at Blackwood Manor, and will be more than happy to talk with you by letter, by fax, or by phone, or in person -- howsoever you desire,
better known as Quinn
"Then, after supplying the relevant numbers for fax and phone, I hit the print button and, making four copies of the eviction notice, signed all of them and folded them and put them into my inside fishing-vest pocket.
"Then, I crept into Pops' room, and, not finding him thereabouts -- he had probably gotten up at five a. m. and was already at work in the flower beds -- I took his thirty-eight pistol, made sure it was loaded, put that into my pocket and then, stopping quickly in the kitchen pantry, got a card of thumbtacks, which were always in there, you know, for the family bulletin board, and I headed to the pier.
"Let me add that I also had my rifle, my hunting knife and the kitchen knife, and I thought I was completely ready until I found Jasmine in her bare feet down at the landing by the pirogue, smoking a cigarette.
" 'All right, you crazy boy, I know where you're going, and your Pops says to let you alone. So I put that cooler of drinks for you in the boat. And there's a couple of sandwiches in there too, wrapped in foil. ¡¯
" 'Oh, I love you for that,' I said, and I kissed her, feeling an awareness of her as a woman suddenly, a thing which caught my brain rather like a power surge, and most definitely a surprise. I'll never forget it, the way that kiss ignited something. And I think I very boastfully squeezed her arm.
"Whatever, I don't think it ignited anything for her. And as I went to push off, she called out:
" 'Tarquin Blackwood, are you an imbecile?¡¯
" 'No ma'am,' I said sarcastically, 'you expect me to change my mind?¡¯
" 'How you're going to get people to believe what you saw out there if you don't take pictures of it, genius!' She reached into her apron pocket and took out a small flash camera -- the kind you can buy nowadays anywhere, in which the film is already loaded and ready to go.
" 'Oh, thank God you thought of it!' I said.
" 'You can say that prayer again, Little Boss. Don't forget to press the button for the flash. ¡¯
"I wanted to kiss her again, but I was already drifting away.
"As for Goblin, he came after me, vivid and yet transparent, pleading with me not to go, saying, 'Bad, Quinn, bad,' over and over, and once again I told him in polite terms to leave me alone. He vanished then, but I suspect he was with me as I went on.
"In fact, I figured that he had to be; because where else could Goblin go? I was thinking a lot of late as to where Goblin was and where Goblin wasn't, and I was more than impatient with him, as I've said.
"Back to the swamp:
"There was a mist crawling over the water, and at first the swamp looked inviting and beautiful, harmonious and embracing -- the stuff of poetry and photograph captions -- but within a very short time it was the evil bog of mosquitoes and chain-girded cypress trees with arrows carved into their bark. The rustling of creatures in the dark waters and the sight of more than one alligator gave me the creeps.
"The dizziness returned, which alarmed me considerably, and the voices came once more, too low for me to really understand what they said. What was I overhearing? Did these ghosts quarrel with each other forever? Is that what Rebecca had meant when she said things don't move in a straight line?
"You can't do it, you have to let me go. . .
"Why wasn't this ghostly discourse loud enough for me to be sure of every word?
" 'I'm coming, Rebecca,' I said aloud. 'You be straight with me, now, Rebecca. I know your tricks, and yet I'm coming. You be straight. ¡¯
"On and on I went through this dense green hell of tormented gray trees and anguished vines, of rattling leaf and fetid water, feeling ever fainter and probing deeply with the pole and propelling myself forward as fast as I could.
"I'm begging you, God help me. . . .
"I knew it was Rebecca crying, Rebecca pleading, but with whom? Then came the inevitable sinister laughter and a man's voice speaking rapidly and angrily. Was it Manfred?
"A gator shot past me, his big slimy back visible for only a moment, and the pirogue rocked dangerously and then righted itself clumsily and on I went. I trembled, thinking about the gator, and I hated myself for it. I went on.
"Each time the dizziness came over me really heavily I slowed my pace, for fear of falling, and the high green thick of the swamp swallowed me treacherously, as I tried to make out what was being said: . . . Loved you, always loved you, you promised, in Naples, forever, in the ruins . . . And there came the deep voice, and the laughter rippling through it all.
"Were there three of them? Were there more?
"At last the weathered hulk of the Hermitage loomed in front of me, and the pirogue struck the bank amid the wild blackberries, and I was nearly knocked out of the boat. I quickly secured it to the nearest tree -- a thing I had not done last time -- laid the pole in it in intelligent fashion and then proceeded to explore the island once more.
"There had been gators on the island. I heard the plash as they went back into the swamp. What was I going to do if I encountered a mean gator? Well, it had never happened, and maybe it never would. I had no real fear of them, because they aren't generally vicious and they don't want trouble; nevertheless, this was the first time I had been in their august company without Pops or another man to take command.
"I stood listening. I could hear nothing but the mournful, broken cry of the birds. And that humming, that humming of bees and mosquitoes which I connected to the slime of sweat that now covered my skin.
"The house looked as empty as it had before. But that didn't mean a whole lot.
"Nevertheless, the mausoleum -- or whatever it was -- drew me, and I went back to it, studying it more carefully than I had the first time.
"No door of any kind, of that I was certain. So what in the name of God did it contain?
"As for the procession of figures graven in the gold, I was certain now they were Roman and that they were grieving; that the women were weeping and the men hammering on their foreheads with clenched fists.
"On an end panel which contained only a trio of weeping children there appeared some background engraving on a different plane from the figures -- details that I hadn't noticed before at all.
"With my fingers I traced in one corner the image of a mountain, and the mountain had a high cone and was erupting, and above it streamed right and left a great heavy cloud. Far to the right, and somewhat below the position of the mountain, was the image of a small walled city, drawn in tiny detail, and it seemed more than obvious that the evil cloud from the erupting mountain was a threat to the little town.
" 'Volcano. Ancient Rome. A city. People in mourning. ' It had to be Mount Vesuvius, this mountain, and the city had to be the fabled city of Pompeii.
"Even I who had traveled almost nowhere in my life knew the full story of the eruption of Vesuvius in A. D. 79 and how it had buried Herculaneum and Pompeii. Only in the eighteenth century had they been officially rediscovered, and if there was anywhere I wanted to travel -- outside of Ruby River Parish -- it was to the ruins of Pompeii.
"The tragedy of those buried cities had always enthralled me and sometimes in a painful way.
"Of course Pompeii and Herculaneum were on the Bay of Naples, and Manfred had taken Rebecca to Naples. Vesuvius loomed over Naples, and Rebecca had cried, 'Remember Naples' when Manfred had been beating her, when he had carried her or dragged her out of the house.
"Again, the dizziness came and there rose the simmer of voices. I tipped forward until my forehead touched the gold carving. I was aware of the perfume of flowers. Was that wisteria? My senses were scrambled. I was dry-mouthed and sweating. And I heard Rebecca sobbing, What they did to me, Quinn, what they did.
"With a supreme act of will, I threw off the dizziness. I was on my knees. And as I looked up I realized there was an inscription running in a band along the top of the gold plates, just beneath the granite roof of the tomb, an inscription I hadn't seen for the glare of the vagrant sun on the gold.
"I went round the mausoleum twice. The words were in Latin, and I couldn't translate, but I could pick out the name Petronia, and the words for sleep and for death.
"I cursed myself that I didn't have any paper with me, except my letters to the trespasser, so that I could copy this down. Then I realized I had four copies of my letter, for posting in four places, and all I needed to do was sacrifice one copy. So, taking out my pen, I scribbled down the entire inscription, circling the monument twice to make sure I had the words correct.
"By now I was thirsting and I went back to the pirogue, picked up the small plastic cooler that Jasmine had packed for me and went up the stairs into the house.
"All was the same as I had found it yesterday. I crept up the staircase and stared again at the iron chains. I noted with a faint twinge of horror that the fifth chain with the hook was somewhat shorter than the other chains but I didn't know what it meant. There were hooks in the wall also. I hadn't noticed those before either, and in the morass of blackish tarlike substance I thought I saw more of the shape of human bones.
"I took out the camera, and with trembling hands I snapped two pictures, and then I backed up and took a couple more. What would it show? I wasn't certain. All I could do was snap another two close-ups and hope that someone believed in what I saw.
"I knelt down and I touched what looked like the remnants of human hair. A jarring chill ran through me, and I heard the dreamlike laughter again, and then a scream that was so guttural it was almost a groan. It came again, a cry of pure agony, and I drew back, absolutely unable to come close again to the remains.
"I photographed the room and then I went downstairs and photographed the marble desk and the gold Roman-style chair. I photographed the fireplace with its heap of half-burnt wood and ash. I shot a close-up of the tumbled books on the desk.
"Next I went out of the Hermitage and photographed the whole place. I shot pictures of the mausoleum, and with my thumb over the flash so it wouldn't reflect in the gold I got close-ups of the figures, hoping there would be enough available light.
" 'Jasmine, I shall love you forever,' I said. I put the camera into my top vest pocket, zipped the pocket shut and resolved that I would now prove to all the world that, of Sugar Devil Island and Manfred's dark existence, I had spoken the truth.
"But what did it all mean? Was it some mad poet who made his way out here to sit in a golden chair in solitude, perhaps taking his work to and from with him, and only leaving behind those books which no longer mattered? Or was it a mere boy like me?
"And the time, what was it? Why it was just past noon, and I was hungry and getting sick.
"But I had to post my letters to the trespasser. I attended to that right away. I tacked up one such letter on the wooden door, placed another on the marble table, with books to anchor the four corners of it, and then tacked another on the wall near to the stairs.
"My duty was done, I figured, and now, to stop the nausea which was threatening, I brought the cooler over to the desk and sat down in the Roman chair. The leather sling seat was extremely comfortable, as it always is with such chairs, and I was overjoyed to discover that Jasmine had filled the cooler with six beers. Of course she had put some cola in there also, and there were the sandwiches, and even an apple nestled into the ice, but six beers!
"I don't think I will ever forget that moment. But there's no point in lingering on it. I have too much to tell. Let me only say that I whispered to the open air, 'Jasmine, can a woman of thirty-five find romance with a boy of eighteen? I'll meet you behind the big house at six. ¡¯
"By the time I finished that little ditty, I had swallowed half of the first beer. I tore open the sandwiches, which were thick with ham and cheese and butter -- cold, delicious, visible butter -- and devoured both of them in a few bites. Then I devoured the apple, finished the first beer and drank another one after that.
"I told myself that was plenty, that I had to keep my wits about me, but I was overexcited and instead of depressing me the beer had contributed to a kind of crazy elation, and with a third ice-cold can in hand I went back upstairs again and I sat down as close to the chains and their dark legacy as I dared.
"The sun was lowering outside, and only feeble rays managed to get through the labyrinth of green that crowded most of the house. Some light came in through the cupola and as I lay back looking up there, watching the light twinkle and shift, I heard in my head a thin high-pitched scream.
"Was it a bird? Was it a human? My eyelids were closing. I reclined, one elbow on the dusty boards. I drank more of the beer. I finished it. And then I realized I had to sleep. My body was forcing me to it. I had to sleep. I lay back feeling comfortable and warm, and I said as I stared up into the cupola:
" 'Rebecca, come to me, tell me what they did. ' I shut my eyes and I was dreaming, my body shapeless and vibrating in its half sleep. Her sobbing came to me clearly, and then before me, in a nighttime place of candles, I saw a leering face and I heard a low, vicious laugh. I tried to focus on the face but I couldn't see it, and then when I looked down I saw that I was a woman, and that someone was stripping away from me a beautiful burgundy dress. My breasts were bare. My whole body suddenly was naked, and I was screaming.
"I had to get away from those who tormented me, and there before me a hand gripped the rusted hook, the hook at the end of the chain. I screamed a woman's scream. I was a woman. I was Rebecca and yet I was Quinn and we two were one.
"Never had I known such pure terror as the hand with the hook approached, and then I felt an unendurable pain beneath my right breast, an agony as something thick yet sharp stabbed me and pushed against me, and then I heard the laughter again, chilling merciless laughter, and a man's voice murmuring -- no, arguing, pleading disgustedly -- but the laughter covered the argument, it covered the pleading. No one would stop this! I knew I was hanging by the hook, that the hook held me by the rib beneath my breast, and my whole weight now pulled on the chain and its hook!
"I cried out, I screamed. I was a woman and a man screaming, I was Rebecca helpless and in torment and near to fainting yet unable to faint, and I was Quinn, protective and horrified and yet desperately trying to see the evil ones who were doing this, and there were two of them, yes, definitely two of them, and I had to know if it was Manfred. And then I was Rebecca screaming and the pain went on, the unendurable pain that was endured -- it went on and on, and then the scene, blessedly, started to shift.
" 'Oh, God, Rebecca,' I heard myself whispering. 'I know what they did -- hung you by the hook beneath your rib and left you here to die. ¡¯
"Someone shook me awake. I looked up.
"It was Rebecca, and she was smiling, and she said, 'Quinn, you came. You didn't let me down. You came. ¡¯
"I was shocked. She was as real as she had been in the house, only she wore the gorgeous burgundy dress she'd worn in the dream.
" 'Oh, thank Heaven, you're all right!' I cried. 'It couldn't be going on forever. ¡¯
"As I sat up she sat down beside me and I turned to face her, and our lips met. I kissed her clumsily and she put her tongue into my mouth, and I was as aroused as I'd been in the house.
"I was pure male, quite divided from her and quite locked to her, enchanted by the low-cut burgundy dress and the pink nipples that had to be so close, and ah, how precious the cameo on its black ribbon around her naked throat.
"Her breasts were only half covered by the burgundy velvet, and I shoved my hand into her dress awkwardly, and when I felt her nipples I went a little bit mad.
" 'Love you, positively love you,' I said with gritted teeth, and then I pushed the cloth down and I kissed her nipples until she drew me back up.
"I looked into her eyes.
"I wanted her too much to talk, and she allowed it, taking my hand and putting it under her skirts. Real, all real, all savory and frenzied, and finally, her little sex gasping for me, closing on me, and then the moment of fulfillment -- so sudden, so jarring, so total. So gone.
"I found myself staring down at her -- I was actually lying on top of her -- and the flush in her cheeks took my breath away. I muttered some obscenity, some crudity. But I was so purely satisfied, so blissful that I could question nothing in these moments. I kissed her in the same open-mouthed passionate way I had kissed her the very first time.
"I lay back, tired to the point of stupor, and she was the one now looking down at me.
" 'Be my vengeance, Quinn,' she said softly. 'Tell the world my story, yes, but be my vengeance, too. ¡¯
" 'But how, Rebecca? How can I do that when those who hurt you are gone?' I sat up, gently forcing her backwards.
"She looked urgent.
"We sat together. 'Tell me truly, Rebecca, what can I do to make your spirit rest?¡¯
"The horror of the earlier scene came back to me, the grim picture of her hanging on the hook, naked and helpless, and of those two evil ones who had done it to her.
" 'It was Manfred himself, wasn't it?' I asked her. 'What can I do, Rebecca, to send your soul to peace?¡¯
"She said nothing. She only kissed me again.
" 'You know you're gone too, Rebecca,' I said. 'Along with those who did the deed, however awful it was. ' I had to say it. I had to tell her. 'Rebecca, there is no one alive now who can suffer for what is done. ¡¯
" 'No, Quinn, I'm here,' she said sweetly, 'I'm always here, I see you always, I see everything. Be my vengeance, Quinn. Fight for me. ¡¯
"I kissed her again. I covered her breasts with kisses. We lay tangled and I felt the velvet of her burgundy dress. Her hair came loose, tumbled disgracefully in our lovemaking, and then I sighed, and, kissing her cheeks, again I passed into a blackness that was cool and enveloping as if I had drifted bodiless into the sex act itself.
"Sleep. How long? Hours upon hours.
"Then suddenly I was awake. I knew the heat, the sweat.
"And the darkness! Good Lord, the darkness!
"Nighttime on Sugar Devil Island. Nighttime in Sugar Devil Swamp. Oh, of all the idiot mistakes to have made, to have fallen into a drunken sleep here one good hour from home, with all the swamp creatures waking and hungry. What good was a pistol? What good a rifle if a snake drops on you from an overhanging tree? I didn't mind poking at the gators to scare them off, but what about everything else, including the bobcats, that came out to feast after dark?
"I rose up, furious with myself. And I had been so sure that I wouldn't be tricked by her, that I knew her for the evil thing that she was.
"Then it all came crashing back to me, what they'd done to her, and I gasped aloud.
"Vengeance? Oh, it had been enough to make a vengeful spirit of a choirboy, what they'd done. And she had died like that, I knew it. She had died and rotted there, but did she mean her vengeance to be on me?
"I saw the sticky semen on the boards, glittering in the light of the moon, and, looking through the windows, I thanked God for that moon. I needed that moon. Maybe I could get the hell out of here with that moon.
"I made the Sign of the Cross. I felt for the rosary under my shirt. (This one's not blessed but it will have to do. ) And hastily and shamefully I said a Hail Mary, telling the Blessed Virgin in my own words how sorry I was to call on her only when all seemed lost.
"Then I realized to my horror that my pants were still unzipped. I'd said a Hail Mary to the Virgin Mary while officially exposing myself. I put that to rights immediately and said another three prayers before I groped my way to the stairs and down to the first floor.
"I scooped up the gold plate with its little forest of wax candles, and, taking out my lighter, I quickly lighted every wick. Carrying my little tray of light, I went to the door of the Hermitage and looked out. Yes, the moon was up there all right, I could see it from this vantage point, but the swamp looked dead black, and once I pushed off from this clearing, once I tunneled into that blackness, the moon just might not do me any good.
"Of course, I didn't have a flashlight or a lantern. I hadn't planned on this! In fact, if anybody had said, 'Will you spend the night on Sugar Devil Island?' I would have answered, 'That's insane. ¡¯
" 'Wait till I get finished with this place,' I said aloud. 'I'll have electricity everywhere. And these windows will have properly fitted glass. Maybe they'll have screens as well. And these plank floors will be covered with marble tiles that the swamp can't consume with its infernal dampness. No, this shall be a small Roman palace, what with even more elaborate Roman furniture, and the stove, I shall get a new stove. And then if I'm trapped out here, I'll have delicious pillows on a couch on which to sleep, and plenty of books to read by fine lights. ' It seemed I saw the vision of the place, and Rebecca's fate had no part in what I saw. It was as if her grisly death had been erased.
"But for now? For now I was in the damned jungle in a tree house!
"Okay, what if I stayed here and didn't try to find my way home in this abominable situation? What if I just read some of those old books by candlelight, and kept my pistol on hand for any emergency either man or beast might send my way?
"Well, the worst consequence of my doing that would be that everyone at Blackwood Manor would think something terrible had happened to me. Indeed, they might be looking for me right now. That was more than a good possibility. They might be out there in a pirogue with flashlights and lanterns.
"Didn't that argue for me staying where I was?
"I set the plate of light down on the desk, and I went out the front door, down the steps, and crossed the clearing before the Hermitage so that I stood near to the bank.
"It was quite amazing how the few candles illuminated the windows of the Hermitage. Indeed, nobody coming close in a pirogue could have missed it. Maybe it was best to sit tight.
"But if so, why did it seem such a cowardly decision? Why did I feel I should get back to reassure those who loved me that I was all right?
"I checked in the pirogue. No, I did not have a flashlight or lantern. Big surprise.
"Then I peered into the swamp. I tried to see what lay before me. I tried to make out the small channel by which I had come to this point. I could see nothing in the blackness.
"I walked around the island as best I could. Why precisely I wasn't sure. Maybe I wanted to feel that I was doing something, and I listened, listened very carefully in case anyone out there was calling my name.
"Of course I heard the countless night birds and low gurgling noises coming from the water, but there was no human voice.
"I came back to the point where I'd tied up the pirogue and there stood Goblin, my perfect mirror image, watching me intently, his figure apparently illuminated, just as if it was solid, by the candlelight that came from the house.
"What a marvelous spectacle, it seemed to me, that could create such an illusion, and I racked my b
"I had seen him in shadows, in darkness and in light, of course, but never had I seen light falling on him, outlining his shoulder and his face. He made a sudden gesture with his right hand, beckoning me to come closer to where he stood.
" 'What do you want?' I asked. 'You don't mean to tell me you're going to be useful. ' I moved towards him and he reached out with his left arm to guide me in a turn. Then he pointed out into the swamp.
"For a moment I was only aware of a distant pool of moonlight -- that is, an opening in the thick growth many yards from where we stood, where the water sparkled with clear radiance. Then I heard the sound of lapping. And Goblin's left hand tightened on my arm, and he made the symbol to me with his right index finger that I should be very quiet.
"Again he pointed to this distant spot of visibility, and into it glided a pirogue apparently helmed by one man. And quite distinctly I made out the figure of that man.
"He wore a jacket and trousers, perhaps jeans for all I could see, and as I watched with Goblin he lifted up a human body from the pirogue and slipped it into the water slowly with hardly a splash!
"I was confounded. Goblin hurt my shoulder he squeezed it so tight.
"The distant figure now appeared to do the same thing again. With inconceivable dexterity and strength he lifted another body and dropped it down into the muck.
"I stood stock-still. I was horrified. The thought of danger to myself didn't even occur to me. What filled my mind was the bitter sense that two dead bodies had just been fed to the swamp's lethal darkness, and no one, no one, would believe me when I returned home with this tale.
"Only gradually did I realize that the figure was now motionless and in all probability facing me, and that he looked on steadily and that Goblin and I were partially illuminated for the figure by the candles in the house.
"Across the black water there came a sound of laughter. It was low, simmering, as the voices of my visions had been simmering, but it was real, this laughter, it wasn't spectral. It came from the figure.
"And as I watched, as Goblin and I watched together, the figure guided his pirogue into the blackness and was gone.
"For some long agonizing moments Goblin and I stood together, and it was more than a comfort to feel Goblin's left arm around me, and to rest my weight against him in an intimacy I would never have shown with a human being.
"But I knew he couldn't keep up the solid shape for very long. I also knew that he could hear this individual, this character, who had just dumped the two bodies. Goblin would know when it was safe to leave.
"For the proverbial eternity we remained there, motionless and cautious, and then Goblin told me telepathically that we should escape the island as best we could.
" 'And what if I get lost, hopelessly lost?' I asked aloud in a whisper.
" 'I'll lead you,' Goblin answered. And then he disappeared. Within a second the candles in the house were extinguished, and my familiar was pushing at me and tugging me to make me go to the pirogue right now.
"All the way back to Blackwood Farm he guided me, sometimes in total darkness, other times by the light of the moon. In less than an hour I saw the lights of the house shining blessedly through the trees, and I shot straight for the pier.
"People were shouting. I heard someone scream. And then as I hurried up to the kitchen door, Pops came out to embrace me and say:
" 'Thank God, son. We didn't know what the hell had happened to you. ¡¯
"Aunt Queen came down the steps dabbing at her eyes.
"Sheriff Jeanfreau was there with one of his worthless, shiftless deputies, Ugly Henderson. All the Shed Men were hollering, 'He's home, he's okay. ¡¯
"Immediately I fired off at Jasmine, 'How come you put that beer in the cooler!' to which she answered that she wasn't the one who packed the damned cooler, her mother had done it, and then there was Big Ramona saying she wasn't even awake when I left (which was true), and Jasmine remembering that it was actually Clem. And where the hell was Clem?
"I didn't care. I wanted supper. I wanted everyone to gather round the kitchen table and listen so I'd only have to tell this story once.
"I demanded that Sheriff Jeanfreau stay. I even wanted worthless and annoying Ugly Henderson to stay. I told everybody that I wanted them to listen to me.
"Meantime, since it was only nine o'clock by my watch, I wanted one of the Shed Men to run the camera with its film over to the all-night drugstore in Ruby River City and get the pictures done in one hour, as the sign in the window always boasts.
" 'Where's Goblin?' I asked suddenly. I was in the kitchen. Big Ramona had just given me a wet washrag. 'Goblin, where are you?' and then I realized that after all he'd done, he didn't have the power to make me feel him or see him or hear him.
". . . And so mercifully, and gratefully, and with a new respect for him, and a new love, I let him alone. "