The Ocean is cold this time of year.
But here I am, wading.
The Ocean is cold this time of year.
The place was largely unchanged since it was built; shelves had been added, of course, but it was clearly still a church. We walked up the set of stairs, opposite the door, and I showed her to my favourite room. There were odd scrawlings on the ground, and the walls were lined with occult books of all sorts. Some were so ancient they were printed on vellum, and bound in leather, with metal fittings. It was an inspiring place to be, and so we sat down and read by candle-light, me with a copy of William Brighton’s opus, “mors conteram,” and Bridget holding a rotting copy of the dreaded esquimau book of the dead, which had been translated into English in 1741 by an anonymous almanac maker from Boston. The former proved to be a bore, but the latter held my curiosity, as well as Bridget’s, and she began to read passages aloud, at first with a theatrical and hilarious voice, pitching and bowing at random and unexpected intervals, but soon collapsed into her regular and sweet voice as genuine interest outweighed her embarrassment, and comfort started to set in.
“An homage to two spirits,” she said softly, “Sila and Sedna, break the sky in twain. Bring down your thousand spears upon the Land to win us food and dress; bring down your strikes of lightning and your snow.”
She sneezed, but continued.
“Sila, yellow. Sedna, green. Rest us down in the land below land, and put on us the mask of death.”
There was silence for a moment.
“My goodness, William; do you suppose they believed this sort of thing?” she squeaked, “Or, moreover, do you suppose this sort of thing could be true?”
I shrugged and shook my head. I was at a bit of a loss. I hadn’t once considered that these could be true. And why not? I looked her right in the eyes.
“I suppose anything could be true, Bridget. I can’t say I have a clue. I’m quite sure they believed it, though. What do you think?”
There was another silence, longer than the first. Bridget was looking at me, with her hair hanging in her face; her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were full of life.
“I think they could be true, yes. Why ever not? but I can’t ever imagine believing it is true. And this,” she said, pointing to an illustrated page depicting a group of Esquimaux dancing wildly, “is just too much for me to comprehend. It reminds me of that Greek ritual. I can’t remember the name, but I know it was in worship of the god Dionysus. Violence, sex, drugs, drinking; all to be closer to their god. I just can’t imagine giving up so much control, or taking part in such horrid rituals. I suppose I’m squeamish though.”
“I’ve read about those rituals; Fascinating, but certainly not something I’d take part in. I guess we’re both squeamish,” I said, laughing.
We sat there consumed in thought, for what was probably close to an hour. Crickets chirped outside, and a coyote bayed in the distance. It echoed through the large rooms like the ghosts of centuries, and I shuddered.
Presently, some small amount of orange light began to leak in through a shuttered window just outside of the room we were in. The chirping of crickets ceased, and the chirping of birds began. We looked at each other in shock.
“Morning already.” I said.
“It would seem so.”
We shuffled out to the front door and looked out through the dusty broken window. It was incredibly dim out, but in that light the Aroosek looked even more beautiful than usual. A fish broke the surface. We could hear coyotes yipping and snapping nearby in the brush. A robin swooped to the ground and plucked a worm from the dead leaves coating the ground.
We looked at each other, nervous; we knew how well coyotes love the morning light, and we decided it best to continue as we were for a few hours, until they will have retreated to their dens. I picked up another book bound in leather and painted yellow from the shelf nearest me, and I began to read the strange writings of a man named Ahmad Qutaybah. He talked of his boat being docked off Alexandria, and how he was waiting to get something from a cruel ships-captain, but didn’t want to confront him directly unless he had to. He was planning on following behind his ship with a small boat, and during the night, he would go aboard and take what he was seeking, and leave without being detected. In the night, however, the ship was overturned, and whatever it was he was trying to steal, or get back, was lost to the sea. His boat survived the incident, and he, in fact, could not imagine what could have sunk such a stately ship without him noticing.
I put the book in my bag to take with me; it seemed like a fascinating account. Meanwhile Bridget was being enveloped by an ancient copy of Cotton Mather’s “Wonders of the Invisible world,” that I had read many times in the past. I called to her, noting the orange gone from the light, and said we could safely head back to town now. We left, being sure to close the large crumbling wooden door, and started across the Marsh. My right foot caught itself in the mud, and I toppled forward quite spectacularly, much to Bridget’s amusement. I blushed, combed my hand through my hair, and told her to watch her step. We started down Labour-In-Vain Road.
“That was an amazing place, William. We must go back another time, and to the other Library as well,” she said, still reeling from what she had read and heard spoken the night before.
“Indeed we will, probably many times. I find new things each time I go,” I said, “But we have many other things to do too. This is only the start of a long list, you know. In fact, I found something the other day that you might appreciate. I was wading, down in the sea near where the Aroosek meets it, and came upon an odd mask floating in the water. ”
Her eyes lit up, and she had that same curious look she had when she first sat down with me what seemed like ages ago, but was only the day before. We walked through Hamden Square, turned onto High Street, and finally went down Water Street, where my home was. My parents weren’t at home, I knew, so I would have to do no explaining about where I was the night before. Our house was a first-period home, painted a dark brown, with diamond-paned windows that stared intensely at one. The door was painted a rich red colour. We walked in through the living-room, with its low-hanging ceiling beams, through the narrow hallway, and to my room, which I’ve always thought to be the dullest room in the house, but which she seemed pleased with. Bridget sat down on the chair beside the nightstand and I reached beneath my bed and grabbed the antique box I had put the mask in. I opened it. I had cleared off the barnacles, mussels, and miscellaneous sea-things from it once I had gotten it home, and it looked surprisingly untarnished, seeing it with new eyes. My parents weren’t so impressed by it, which is why it never was mounted on the Living-room wall, but Bridget stood up in amazement.
“I’ve seen him before! In a dream. Undoubtedly. He plagued me for years, when I was a bit younger,” she said, clearly shocked, while I looked at it skeptically, “I could never forget that horrid face.”
“Him? It’s a mask, not a Man,” I said, good-heartedly, “Well, what would happen in these dreams, Bridget? Surely you must be mistaken…”
“Yes, Him. And I’m not mistaken,” she said, “There’s this man with a torch who I’m walking behind. It’s late at night, and I’m lost. I run up behind him and tug on his cloak, to ask for the time and directions home. When he turns around, he’s wearing that awful thing, which reflects his torchlight so horribly, and I wake up from fright.”
“Sounds like the stuff of nightmares,” I said, “but you’re sure it isn’t some other mask? Surely masks aren’t as unique as snowflakes. Could this just be an unfortunate look-a-like that is receiving your hatred?”
She looked down, thinking, but didn’t look convinced by my explanation. She sat still for a while, but after a time, stood up.
“Well, may I have it?” She asked, “It may help me overcome my fears, or otherwise, make me die of them.”
We laughed, and I told her she could have it if she wanted.
“I’ve quite hated it since I’d found it,” I confessed.
“Then we’ll both be better off,” She joked, putting it into her bag.
Chapter 3 is soon to come…
Anonymous asked: Your story has me intrigued, and I will be following with great interest. Do I detect Lovecraftian overtones?
Of course; though Lovecraft is only one source of inspiration, of many. Lovecraft, R.W. Chambers, Poe, and of course, since it isn’t just some imitation, myself. Chapter two, as I said, will be up soon. I plan on the story being novella-length; so there could be quite a few chapters in the end.
Thanks for your interest.
SOMETHING came to the surface, bobbing to and fro and glistening in the way a frog or dying fish might. I walked to it, knee-deep in the surf, and bent to grab it. What was raised from the depths was a horrid cracked yellow mask. The eyes were slanted and puffed out; the nose was short, sharp, and turned down; and there was a grotesque blueness to the cheeks, like those of a drowning man, which made me shudder. The back of this mask was entirely caked with the life of the sea, but the front was left unsoiled. It made for a peculiarly hateful thing to look upon, and so I thought to throw it back to from whence it came, but curiously, I couldn’t shake the urge that I should bring it home, clean it, and display it in my living room. And so I did.
The next week, on a particularly hot day when I was meant to go to a lecture on abnormal physiology at the University in Galham, I decided instead that I should throw order to the dogs, miss the train, and walk to that old Polish cafe on the corner of Welsh and Samuel in my hometown, Bralston. I ordered some drink or other and, in an attempt to avoid speaking aloud any of the polish names on the menu, a croissant. I took a window seat, and I sat and relaxed with abandon for nearly two hours, until I was very rudely interrupted. A girl sat down at my table and looked right into my eyes. I’d never seen such intense curiosity, I don’t think. I looked back, but she didn’t say a thing. The light played wonderfully against her brown hair, pale skin, and green eyes. I was quite taken with her looks, despite the odd situation.
“Yes?” I said, trying to sound open, “May I help you?”
She looked side to side, like a child afraid of being caught, and spoke.
“I’ve seen you before.”
“Certainly. I live in town, we’ve probably glimpsed each other on many occasions,” I said.
“No,” she squeaked, “I can’t explain it. I feel like I know you. Like you’re someone I’ve met in a past life, or whom I’ve met in a dream. It’s incredibly strange.”
I shot a look to her hand, where there was a singular-looking tattoo. It was a circular symbol, similar to the alchemical representation of the sun, but with a spiral coming from the center. I looked back up at her, as she continued to speak.
“Your eyes are familiar to me.”
“Are they? I don’t feel like I’ve met you,” I said, “though you do intrigue me, for whatever reason. Your forwardness, perhaps? It’s rare, and charming.”
She smiled and looked down.
“I’m Bridget,” She said, “Bridget Leventis. Originally from Winterport. I moved to Bralston just a few weeks ago. I know hardly anything about it.”
I was excited by that. I took pride in my knowledge of the area and its history, and could show her around.
“And I’m William, and I know far too much about Bralston, and I’d be glad to show you around, if you’d like. There’s some really odd places.”
“That sounds lovely,” Bridget said, “let’s go now. Show me your favourite place.”
Needless to say, I struggled picking a place to bring her. Bralston is rich in history, and I don’t tend to choose favourites. But I decided, at length, to take her to the long-shunned section of the Aroosek river, where a series of old and rotten libraries stood as relics of the puritan age. They were long abandoned, but the curious books were still there, and the floors were strong enough not to buckle under the weight of two people. We had to hurry, since the Sun would soon be going down, but we talked lots. We made it past the church on the top of the hill, the old gallows, the wharf along Labour-in-Vain road, and finally, we cut through a section of salt-marsh, and arrived at the first of the three libraries, hidden in the forest. The other two were across a bridge, on the other side of the Aroosek, but they were all within view.
“It’s sunken since it was built,” I said, “I’ll tell you a bit about this place before we look around at all. This was the first church built in Bralston, all the way back in 1633. Apparently, to those involved, it seemed the only fitting location in town to build it, right along the Aroosek River, half on the muddy banks, and half on a stretch of marsh. As it stood then, the Natives had an important landmark right where this church is. There was a series of standing-stones here that the Natives claimed were built in the time before man. They worshipped these stones, and so, when the Puritans ventured to build their house of worship here, there was some conflict. In fact, Natives attacked workers on at least six occasions, and killed some thirty people. And as soon as the church was built, on a Sunday morning the Natives stormed into it, and massacred everyone there. Afterward, no one in the town was willing to worship there, and so another was completed a year later, across the river. This one lasted a few months, until one day, during his sermon, the Pastor received an arrow through the heart, and another through the head. Citizens grabbed their muskets and ran to the nearest village to kill every Native they could find. A small group retaliated and lit fire to the church. It’s that church on the right, across the river.”
I pointed to the charred husk of a church, and then continued once more.
“And the third was built and abandoned quite voluntarily. The Pastor, who had been brought in after the church was completed, complained of it being an unholy place to have a house of God, and so, they built the current church on top of the hill, near the center of town. The two solid churches were converted into Libraries by the University in Galham during the late 1800s, and the third one, the burned one, was called a Library by association, though it never held a book other than the Bible.”
I realized I was smiling a bit madly while telling the story, but Bridget didn’t seem to mind, and seemed more enthralled than anything. She was looking around, amazed.
My theory is that a child’s personality is formed based upon his parents’. His nature— that is, his inclinations and natural attractions and repulsions — determine which of his parent’s personality features to either embrace or reject. In rejecting one trait, he may indeed allow this to develop as a trait in the opposite direction. If a Mother is strict, the child may be weary of rules. Alternatively, if their nature it toward strictness, they may embrace this parent’s trait and become strict themselves. It’s, therefore, all about the child’s impression of the trait. If he views it subconsciously as a negative trait, he will reject it. If he views it as a positive one, he will embrace it.
Therefore, Nature is seen as dictating his inclinations; where the parents present his options to choose from.
Each person, whether publicly or privately, will rally for their causes and ignore others. This is the fundamental downfall of the human race; we only care about that which we care about.
Past the thousand broken bridges on the Aroosek,
and through the wild forests outside Bralston,
And the wild City of Galham,
There is an odd guttural sound piercing the air.
A clicking of the throat, echoing off any surface it finds,
And diffusing through the Oceans, Rivers, and Seas,
even those of the old world, so many miles away.
The animals shake and shudder when it sounds,
and the smaller forest-things don’t sleep anymore,
in fear of being caught by that horrid thing.
That horrid squat Yellow thing, with those black eyes.
And the upturned nose, sharp and repulsive.
It’s only a mask, they know.
And that is a most horrifying realization.
That, so horrid as this mask is,
it doesn’t compare to the real face
that so surely is beneath it,
that tosses guttural sounds to the air.
And smiles at the setting Sun, and the lowering tides.
Broken in the vents of ageless phosphour,
cast adrift with the gold of ages; always.
There it lies, and there it remains,
And there it has always been,
This horrid yellow mask.
This horrible pallid monstrosity!
It calls to me, you see. Day and Night.
A vibrant horn erupts from the sea,
and sounds to call me away forever,
to the murky depths of the Aegean.
And if I walk to it, to see the source,
the sound stops, as if to mock me.
But the crabs and the cockles,
and the cowries in the sands,
they are the worst of actors.
This silence, save for the piping,
of the wind, and of the gulls,
cannot make me forget the blasphemy
that was the sounding horn.
Sounding in notes unheard before,
and unimaginably awful.
And that yellow mask,
broken in the vents of ageless phosphour,
and cast adrift with the gold of ages;
Friday Morning. It was the month called May, and I’d never enjoyed the Sun as much as I did then, sitting on my veranda. My sister had just been born; Silvia, in all her glory. She’s since grown, but I can remember how she looked that day as if nothing had changed. Mother was shivering, I remember. I was only eight at the time, but I was aware, and I asked her if she was alright. She said she had had the same shivering after I was born, and that, then, it had gone away after a week or two, and it would probably do the same this time. I smiled. A bee flew by me and attached itself to a coneflower maybe six feet away. I watched it take up the pollen and fly away again, newly burdened. Mother called to me to tell me I’d be late if I didn’t get going.
I grabbed my book, pencil, and coat and started walking. I lived about three miles from the Schultz-Herod Memorial School in Dalston. It was named for two war heroes, they told us. Peter Schultz was the first, and Harold Herod was the second, whose name never was surpassed in general awfulness. While the school was in Dalston, my family and I were a good mile outside the town line, in a very small place called Barrelstow. During the war, which began sixty years before I was born, and ended some thirty years later, there was a large warehouse here that the East used to store barrels of black powder, safe away from where the West would’ve bothered looking. It was that which gave Barrelstow its name. It was given its township partially as a way to commemorate the East’s victory, and partially as a way to please the rich families who typically called the region home in the years following the victory. The warehouse was still there, and I walked by it each day on my way to school. Once entering Dalston, the walk was mostly prairie-lands. The roads had long since been removed, leaving only some stretches of path to show where they once were. Otherwise, all there was to guide you was the structure of the school in the distance. It wasn’t a large school, but it was elegant and painted a bright white, so it shined with all the orange of the morning light, and served as a beacon for the children of the town. To the left in the distance there was the ruined structure of an old windmill. George Mather and I used to run there after school to play tag before the sun started to go down. All that was left of the windmill were the bones of it, the front and left walls, and one of its blades. Sometimes we’d climb as high as we could and look out over the fields. Right next to the school was a large Maple tree, which must have been a few hundred years old. It dwarfed the school, and hung over it like a mother would her child.
As I got closer to the school, the laughter of my schoolmates rose above the other sounds of nature. The school was originally a house from the first period, long before the war, and it managed to survive entirely in tact throughout. It was converted to a school some forty years before, when the other building fell into disuse, and eventually disrepair, as a result of its proximity to a major battlefield. The laughter was nearly deafening in the schoolyard. Miss Proctor sat on her chair near the door and watched us run around. She was young, maybe twenty-six, and had very long raven-black hair. The boys all blushed around her, and the girls all adored her. She called us all inside, and we sat down. She told us about the battle of Pehamet, which took place a mile south of where I lived, and which resulted in some thirteen-thousand deaths in just under two months. I remember how silent we all were, trying to comprehend that number. Sadie, who’s surname I can’t remember, but who we always called Velveteen Sadie, mentioned how her Uncle fought and died in that battle. Miss Proctor nodded, and pointing to a plaque on the wall, stated that her Father had also died in the battle. She sat down and, head in hands, said we could eat our lunch in the Schoolyard today.
I had an unusually vivid and inspiring dream this morning.
I was in a large community dwelling. Like a boarding school, or something similar. In the center of the building was a very large room, with many floors entering into it from one of the walls. The room was four or five floors tall. You could view all the floors and their staircases, when you looked at that wall.
I had been walking around the hallways when I looked at my watch. The lights dimmed, and I made haste, worried I would miss it. As I entered into this large room, there was an immense crowd all focused on one girl in a cloak and veil. A man walked by with a carved wooden box, handing out small slips of paper as he went, skipping over me because of my tardiness. I noticed the girl in the center of the room was talking, but it wasn’t quite loud enough to reach me. I yelled for her to repeat it. She did, but I had no better luck the second time. The lights went out completely, as was custom, for her to exit the room. Her identity was thought to be quite a dark secret, and people were equally fascinated and terrified by her.
Which calls to mind another dream I’d had just a few days before. I was in a toy store, as a little kid, maybe two years old, nearly stumbled into me. I squatted down and put my hands on his shoulders and told him to be careful. He started to speak, pointing to the corner of the store behind me, “I know his name. Him in the corner, Leslie.” which struck me quite oddly, as it were. My last name is Leslie, and this kid knew it perfectly well. What struck me even more oddly was the fact that there was no man in the corner, or even near any corner. The Father chuckled and came over and picked him up, apologizing. They left immediately. As did I.
I suppose the reason the first dream reminded me of the second was because in the first, I knew something was going on, even without having to be told it. I knew the lights dimming meant she had started speaking, and I knew the fear I had of her. In the second dream, I knew the child was talking about a spirit in the corner, even though in real life, I’d laugh it off as a two year old being silly. Also, the girl from the first dream talked, though I couldn’t understand her. In the second, he wanted to tell me the Spirit’s name, but was dragged away before he could. And I’m glad he was. Part of me thinks that if the child had told me the Spirit’s name, it would somehow be applicable to life and terrifying, like it’s the actual name of a spirit in my bedroom or something of the sort, who chose to tell me his name through a dream. (Of course, I’m entirely unsure if I even believe in Spirits). And I’m also glad I couldn’t understand the girl, because I feel like she would have been preaching mind-shattering ideas that would leave me, upon awaking, with an altered view of life from then on. Which is an oddly intriguing thought to have as an impression from a dream.
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
She sat up in bed next to me and said my nose looked funny in the morning light. She said it lost its volume, and looked unusually flat. I smiled and she smiled back. But that day wasn’t all so pleasant. She never did much like the cold, of course; but being Winter, well, she had no choice but to weather it. Just a few more months of that cloudy indifference, and we’d be free for another few months, until the cycle started again. We’re odd things, you know. Always either hoping for the future or dreading it. Never content, or really living. Except for in the mornings, when you’re warm under the blanket, and you’re drifting back into the same dream you were having before waking. Or you look to your right and see the person you love smiling and looking back. That time when you’re not fully awake or aware is the most complete part of our lives. So we got up in that weird way, when it’s cold and we hold onto each other the whole way, like two parts of the same whole. Only it was never so graceful as it sounds it should be. We usually fell a few times, but we were warm. It was still dark out. Snow had fallen in the night, and all we could see were the car windows. Neither of us wanted to go out to wipe off the car, so we didn’t. We just got in it and turned on the heat, and waited for the snow to melt off. After a few minutes we gave up and got out with the scrapers, and wiped it off. The sun started to rise behind the clouds, and the snow was a strange sort of pink. I stood there looking at it all. And I had one of those moments when you realize all your actions beforehand were mechanical, and you don’t remember anything about them, or what you ate for breakfast, even. It’s always sort-of hollow feeling. But I guess that’s just part of it. I walked over to her and kissed her. I told her to get in the car, and that it was too cold out here, and that she’d catch pneumonia or something. She agreed, and said it was really damn cold, even in her huge coat. She’s from Arizona. But she was right, it was the coldest day so far that year. And I was shivering as I got in the car.
“Perhaps a sin that humbles you is better than a good deed that makes you arrogant”