Archaic Sophistication

[A quiet place far from the madding crowd.]

Walter Baker’s Poem

I’ve managed to track down a single poem, said to be written by Walter Baker a few years before his death, on a small notepad he kept on his desk. It can’t be verified, but my source is reliable enough, and the paper is no doubt from around that time. It doesn’t seem to have a title.

"Faded fields of flowers falter in the fetters of Fall.
My teachers have all gone, unwilling to show me my call.
The friable phantasms and follies fold under their force,
but not mine, no, and I’m left to suffer of my curse.”

When I am on an island, I have the oddest fear that it could fall into the depths of the Ocean at any moment…

"The house before renovating, 1949"Another of Baker’s images, apparently taken in late December of 1949, before they renovated. A rather large addition was constructed, and finished in 1950. It can hardly be said to be the same house anymore; but being the historian that he was, the style of the architecture is quite fitting with that of the original building. It’s quite a sight, being one of the larger historic houses in Bralston.

"The house before renovating, 1949"
Another of Baker’s images, apparently taken in late December of 1949, before they renovated. A rather large addition was constructed, and finished in 1950. It can hardly be said to be the same house anymore; but being the historian that he was, the style of the architecture is quite fitting with that of the original building. It’s quite a sight, being one of the larger historic houses in Bralston.

Another of Walter Baker’s images. This particular one, labeled “estuary off the aroosek” shows an estuary just off of Labor-in-Vain road. To the right some fifty yards, not pictured, is the first of the three abandoned libraries. I’m searching to see if maybe he has any pictures of said libraries. They were in much better condition back then.

Another of Walter Baker’s images. This particular one, labeled “estuary off the aroosek” shows an estuary just off of Labor-in-Vain road. To the right some fifty yards, not pictured, is the first of the three abandoned libraries. I’m searching to see if maybe he has any pictures of said libraries. They were in much better condition back then.

"The Marshy Banks of The Aroosek". This photo was taken in the late 1940s by an amateur photographer and historian named Walter Baker. Walter’s wonderful photography came to light only after he’d committed suicide during the Fog panic of 1951, but thanks to his daughter, Jennifer Baker, later Jennifer Collins, all his work is now archived in the Bralston Public Library.

"The Marshy Banks of The Aroosek". This photo was taken in the late 1940s by an amateur photographer and historian named Walter Baker. Walter’s wonderful photography came to light only after he’d committed suicide during the Fog panic of 1951, but thanks to his daughter, Jennifer Baker, later Jennifer Collins, all his work is now archived in the Bralston Public Library.

A photo of The King’s Head in Bralston, Massachusetts; taken by Jessiah Randolph in 1904. “The King’s Head” is a peninsula jutting out into the bay that is renowned for its beautiful summer homes. In the Winter months, it is almost entirely abandoned.

A photo of The King’s Head in Bralston, Massachusetts; taken by Jessiah Randolph in 1904. “The King’s Head” is a peninsula jutting out into the bay that is renowned for its beautiful summer homes. In the Winter months, it is almost entirely abandoned.

Away!

Would I could just leave you here,

in the Sun of the Southern plains,

so riddled with abhorrent palms,

and head to the quiet of the North,

Where the elixir of green nature

and the ecstasy of dark green waters

are as omnipresent as the charm and mystery.

And the Marshlands stretch out of view.

And the Mountains are capped with snow.

And the leaves change with the seasons,

and the hefty Autumn breeze forces them

from their perches upon their branches,

and thrusts them down aged country roads.

And where the standing stones of ages

find a spot to stay upon a hill,

not uprooted by a city or a factory.

And the Wild boars sit in the glens

squealing and squeaking in horrid passion

at the thought of the chaos a city brings.

And the sparrow chirps in worry

and imagines rolling in the dust of a city

instead of the soft dirt of a trail,

or the quartz sands of a beach.

I am those boars, and that sparrow,

and I do not deny it. 

Queen Christine

 

Christine, The forgetful Queen

has left her crown atop the mast.

And Christine, no one there has seen

the crown you bought then lost so fast.

 

It’s blown so high with West-Wind’s gust,

from the mast atop your royal boat

And having never betrayed her trust,

the King ascends; and wears his coat.

 

The Birds have long been overtaken,

the crown is floating, heaven-high,

The king, he thinks his goal Forsaken,

But then, anon, it drifts quite nigh.

 

He grips the mast as best he can,

and stands up on his cold tip-toes

And, nearly losing sight of land,

he grabs the crown, and down he goes.

 

Christine, The forgetful Queen

has got her crown down from the mast.

And Christine, no one dares to have seen

That it was all your fault, down to the last.

The Yellow Mask; or The Transformation of Bridget Leventis. Pt. 5

THE NEXT morning I took the train into Galham to attend a lecture on Latin Poetry. I can’t say I retained much of it, but I did notice getting a few odd looks from the other students who lived in Bralston. I did my best to ignore the looks, but when, on the train after the Lecture, one of them happened to sit nearby, I felt inclined to cause some havoc by saying I’d noticed the looks they gave. Rumours were nothing new among the student body; I even helped spread a few, if I thought them to be interesting, or not particularly harmful in nature; I never took them personally when they involved me.

          His name was Joseph, but he went by the name Brandon, for some reason I never could figure out. His middle name was Edward, which ruled out my only reasonable explanation. I stood up, walked over to him, and sat down. He turned a little red, but turned fantastically so after I made known the purpose of my sitting down next to him.

          “Brandon,” I said, “I’ve noticed a distinct lack of rumours lately. Have you heard any good ones?”

          He blushed some more, but smiled. Awkwardly, but genuinely.

          “You know, William,” He said, “I have heard a few. None about you, no; but of the company you keep, many.”

          “The Company I keep?” I asked, “I keep hardly any!”

          He laughed, and so did I.

          “But people have seen you with a girl recently. In town. Bridget, I think? She’s been the focus of more than a few odd rumours since she moved to town. But even more have sprung up since you two have started to be seen together.”

          There was a pause, like he expected a remark on my part. But I had nothing to say.

          “I’m surprised, honestly, that you haven’t heard any of them. A few are quite spectacular. Out of the realm of rumours, and into the realm of mythology, almost!” he laughed abruptly and continued “People know your fascinations in odd things to be harmless; but a stranger like her, interested in apparently similar things, is decidedly a concern. And I don’t know if there is any truth to it, but Elizabeth Hammond claims to have seen a girl in the forest, equipped with mask and white dress, frolicking quite horribly around, and making odd shrieks and grunts. Naturally, everyone assumed it to be Bridget.”

          There was a silence. It was a bit too long for my taste, but at length, he continued.

          “And William, people are saying she’s a witch. Of course, I don’t think anyone truly believes it literally. It isn’t the seventeen-hundreds anymore, after all. But people are doubtlessly weary of her; the poor girl,” he sighed, and, paying mind to politeness, continued, “If you like her so well, she can’t be bad.”

          The rest of the train-ride was spent mostly in telling Brandon of Bridget’s exceptional character, and imploring him to disregard any similar rumours until speaking with me. We got off the train, shook hands, and parted.

          It still being before noon, I headed to a farm-stand near the center of town to buy some fruit. The stand was a rickety old thing, built over fifty years ago mostly of scraps of Oak harvested from a nearby lumber-yard. It was four-sided, with the saleswoman standing in the center. One side consisted entirely of pears, plums, and peaches; one of carrots, burdock, parsnips, and broccoli; one of all sorts of lettuces; and the last was filled to the brim with bundles of lavender, rosemary, sage, and every other spice I could think of. There was also a seperate large bin filled with apples. It always excited me to no end to eat things grown in Bralston; and needless to say I enjoyed browsing for the better part of thirty minutes. At last I picked up a few peaches and put them into a paper bag, along with a sprig of lavender (which I adore the smell of), and an apple; I paid the woman and started walking down the road towards home. In the distance I saw a figure with a familiar gait turning down a side road; I sped my walk toward it.

          As I got to the side road myself and turned down it, I could see, being a little closer than before, that the figure was, as I had suspected, Bridget. She had stopped along the side of the road and was picking the flowers from some wild plants, when I hallooed. She jumped perceptively, but smiled when she saw it was me. I spied a dry grassy opening a few meters off of the road, and told her it could be a nice place to relax for a moment. So we pushed our way through some short brambles and briars, and sat down among the soft tufts of grass, with the bees buzzing dreamily, and the butterflies fluttering drunkenly about.

          She had a black cloth bag with her, and inside were some of the wild plants she’d picked. I asked her what they were, and she listed them off one by one, while showing them to me.
          “Queen Anne’s Lace, Yarrow, Catnip, Goldenrod, Bloodroot, and Blue Vervain. I’ve been walking since six this morning looking for them all. “

          “And what do you plan to do with them? Or is it enough just to have them?”

          “I really don’t know, William— I was thinking that, maybe, I should dry them and make them into tea, or something. I really haven’t decided. It’d be a shame not to use them though! They’re so beautiful, perhaps I should hang them around my room.”

          She had a look on her face I’d already come to know well; when she got excited, she started to better resemble a child than the fully grown woman that she was. She smiles, and giggles, and her eyes become so full of life. It’s an uncanny transformation; one which I’ve not seen equaled by any other. The oddest things could set her into such a mood. These wild plants being quite a good example.

          I leaned back into the grass until I was lying down entirely, and closed my eyes.

          Bridget was musing quietly next to me; pouring out the thoughts as they came to her. She had a talent for it; and I had a complimentary talent for listening.

          “I always wondered, as a child, why some leaves were green, but other plants could have maroon leaves; and some plants are almost entirely white. There’s a small plant around here called the Indian’s Pipe that’s entirely white. It’s a ghostly thing. Apparently it doesn’t photosynthesize, but instead steals energy from surrounding plants and fungi. I found a small group of them growing under a thick canopy of trees over by Maidenhead; I was so entranced by them. Oh William, you have no idea how enchanting they are! I’ll show you soon, no doubt. We’ll go walking, on a quest to find them. And we will find them, certainly. When I first saw them, I thought they may be phosphourescent; you know, glowing in the dark. I fancied they may be a satisfactory explanation for the long history of Will’o’the’wisp sightings in the area; glowing ghostly plants, frightening the ignorant! but no, they do not glow in the dark. But then, I’d love to see a Will’o’the’wisp for myself; I’ve never felt I could trust the experience of another for something so mystical. Always my mind would search for the fault in their thinking; for the clue that points to the possible explanations; ignoring entirely the possibility that this person may not be mistaken or ignorant, and that they may have really seen something unknown. My God, unknown! How beautiful that word is. And the idea of it. Experiencing the unexperienced. The very thought makes my body tingle with the electricity of inspiration.”

          Throughout this soliloquy, I had been staring toward the road, watching with interest every time someone passed by. A woman walking an Alsatian; a balding man, applying sun-block as he walked; a group of four young girls, teasing one another about a boy named Robert, as they braided daisies. I was smiling in the most innocent way I could imagine; it was the smile you don’t even realize is there, or quite why it is there.

          My mind started to drift back to my childhood. Blowing the fur from dandelions; squeezing the center of cone-flowers to feel the prickly pressure against my hand; running around in the cemetery playing tag, just before the Sun disappeared below the horizon; rolling down steep hills. These were so vivid, I’d forgotten where I was, and even that I was. As I came back to reality, I looked to Bridget, who was still continuing on with her thoughtful ramblings.

          “It was really interesting. Putting on the mask made me feel like someone else entirely. I am sorry I ran off like that; something about the mood of the scene made it seem necessary. It’s all a bit of a blur, I’ll admit. I’d gotten it into my head to drink a tall glass of wine before heading into the woods; it made it feel infinitely more mystical, and I swear to you, I’ve never felt so close to nature as I did that day. I didn’t head back to my house until well after dark, in fact, I enjoyed it so much. But once the wine had worn off, and I realized how dark it was, it suddenly became oppressive and terrifying. I jumped at every snap of a twig, and at every yip of a creature. There’s nothing to fear, really, in the New England woods, and yet that thought made no difference to my tired nerves. I was really panicking at one point. I was running out, toward the road, as fast as I could; but I tripped over a fallen tree and scraped my arm on a rock that was sticking out of the ground. My knuckles were raw from banging against bark and branches. I was having quite a fit by the time I got to the road. I frightened quite to death a man who was walking his Husky. The dog saw me before he did, and started to do a sort of howling cry of sympathy; this sound set off coyotes in the distance, yipping and howling. The man was trying to pull the dog in the direction from where they came, but he was refusing to move an inch. I took a step toward him, at which point he jumped; but, seeing that I was nothing threatening, he quickly redeemed himself with a blush and a sigh, and asked me what I was doing out so late at night, let alone in the woods. I lied, and told him I had gotten lost, and had only then managed to retrace my steps back to the road. He told me to be more careful, and walked me to the end of the street.”

          My mind instantly flew to the rumours about her. I made a sound, as if to interject; but I laughed at my own tendency toward flights of fancy, and waved her on to continue, but that was all she had to say. She stood up, and I stood up; we crossed the brambles once more; and she went her way, and I went mine.

 

In Death, A Saint!

In Life, not absent of Sin;

not abstaining, no, not much at all.

Living in Bacchanalian ecstasy, even,

and risking no drought of flesh,

no drought of smoke,

and no drought of wine.

 

You slighted a few, certainly;

And did not hide it;

you feigned no amount of sainthood.

And yet, would you see this?

You are dead and gone,

and no longer freshly so,

and now: a saint! A deity!

Your friends are so sure of that.

And Acquaintances.

And the papers, even!

But I’ll be Damned if I believe it.

You were a Man as any other.

To Claret —

By Isaac Dodge

 

Oh, Angel of the Belfry, my Claret;

The fire in the sky that doth light the Earth

Can sadly not repair what causes your dearth

And weighs upon your neck like a garrote.

 

Your body, now, it is consumed

By unseen mouths of paroxysm,

And once you die, your grave exhumed

Shall expose yourself to midnight air,

And when shone upon by Solstice Moons,

Which wax and wane in endless cycles,

Your soul will go and surely swoon

In heavens, which you’ll know too soon.

 

Oh, Angel of the Belfry, my Claret;

My love for you will never wane,

And god, at once, shall ease your pain,

So nevermore you’re forced to bear it.

 

The Yellow Mask; or The Transformation of Bridget Leventis. Pt. 4

WE SAT for a while without saying a thing. The owner of the café was making our tea and whistling a tune that sounded quite familiar, but was horribly off-key. My mind was drawing a blank, and Bridget had a hilarious look of confusion and curiosity on her face trying to figure out what the song was. She leaned in and whispered:

          “William, what is that song? I swear I know it, but she is butchering it so horribly I can’t figure it out.”

          “It took me far too long to figure out, but I think it might be ‘Loch Lomond,’” I replied, “She really isn’t doing it any justice.”

          At length, the matron finished the song with one last, quite dramatic, rendition of the chorus and, after a short pause, began to whistle something else in an equally dismal sort of way. She made her way over to our table and placed the teacups quite gracefully in front of us. The table was covered in a sheet of hammered copper; that always caught my eye. I do think it’s possibly the only way to cover a table in anything, save for maybe white-lace, that doesn’t end up looking horribly distasteful. In town there is a growing trend of checkered red and white table-cloths, which, while classic, add a certain cheapness to the atmosphere. I’ve personally boycotted all such eateries, but it isn’t becoming a movement, despite my best intentions. This little café, though, really was a nice one. Aged hardwood floors, thin white curtains on the diamond-paned windows, and a nice old bar from around the time the house was built. It was a very cozy place.

          The matron went back behind the bar and returned with some scones on a piece of nice china. On the plate also was a small amount of whipped butter and some fresh blueberries.  I picked up a scone, cut it in half, and placed a spoonful of butter between the halves. Bridget cut a circle out of the top of her scone and dropped two or three blueberries into the hole, and took a bite.

I looked out the window and recalled an odd dream I’d had the night before. I had been in a cave, wading through a shallow underground pond. The only light in this cave came from large groups of phosphourescent fungi beneath the surface of the water, and as I continued forward I started to feel an odd sort of fear. The beauty of the rock formations and the glowing fungi distracted me from this fear, though, and a moment later I felt only awe and a sort of reverence. The water grew shallower, covering only my feet, and the cave narrowed significantly. A dripping sound started to echo at me from all directions, and an odd guttural clicking issued forth from the path in front of me. I can’t say why, but I continued forward. I started to stumble around and gasp for breath. I was sure the cave had bred some horrid gas unfit for the human lung, and I began to panic. I spun around wildly, over and over again, and at once tumbled face-first into the shallow water. My vision faded away. When I regained myself, it was unbelievably hot. My eyes opened, and I could see that I was still under water, and that the water was boiling. I watched the water evaporate around me until the cave was dry. My skin was blistering and bleeding. I started to feel a presence behind me, closing in. It was bringing a horrible fear to me, and I knew I was in immediate danger, and that whoever was there meant to harm me. I turned around and saw a woman, with the head and legs of a goat. An udder hung from her groin, and to each teat was grasped a horrid little baby suckling furiously. They dangled and banged into one another, sometimes losing grip with their hands, but never losing grasp with their mouths. Blood dripped down their chins, chests, and legs. The goats eyes turned toward me, and from its mouth came a series of horrid clicks and snorts. As she began to walk in my direction, I was thrown wildly back into the waking world, where I lit a candle, drank a bit of whiskey, and read, before eventually regaining my nerves and falling back to sleep.

How I had forgotten it until now, I don’t know. Dreams are like that, I suppose; fleeting, until some spark triggers the memory. Bridget was miles away too, just then. Long walks do have a way of solemnizing the mind.

“Bridget,” I said softly, trying not to startle her from her daydreams, “I had the weirdest dream last night.”

I related the dream to her, with a healthy amount of dramatization. She seemed to enjoy it. And I finished before long.

“The goat-woman is particularly fascinating to me,” she said, “It reminds me of some of Goya’s paintings of the Witches’ Sabbath, but immeasurably more grotesque, don’t you think? It seems very scary. And the spinning; what do you make of that?”

“I’m not so sure,” I said, “The spinning felt very uninhibited and wild. Like I was going insane.”

“Well? Are you?”

“Am I what?”

“Are you going insane?”

I looked down at my tea. The leaves were softly floating and swaying at the bottom of the cup. I laughed under my breath, and smiled at her.

“Not at all.”

We finished our tea, ate the last few bites of scone, and walked up to the Matron.

“Excuse me,” I said, “We’ve finished eating. How much does it come to?”

“Two Scones, and two cups of tea? Three dollars and thirty cents,” she replied, “Frankly, it’s always nice when someone from outside of the neighborhood comes in. We don’t get to many people from town.”

“It doesn’t seem like you would. Unfortunately, not so many people even know this part of town exists. I only know it because I walk far too much.”

“Well I’m glad you do. You seem like the sort who would really appreciate a place like Laurel Street. You’re part of a dying breed.”

I paid, and we left. Going back outside, the sun was playing beautifully through the trees, and onto the houses. The wind was blowing, and a few cardinals were hopping around on the ground nearby. Crows were cawing in the distance. We went up to one of the houses, labeled as the “Isaac Dodge House,” which was apparently built in 1650, and we knocked on the door.

“The Bralston Historical Society encourages the home-owners to give tours of the houses,” I said.

“That sounds horribly threatening,” She said, laughing, “Give tours of these houses, or something grim may happen to your dog, or your wife, or yourself.”

“Bridget!” I laughed, “It’s nothing like that! It’s perfectly optional.”

The door opened, and a stout balding man appeared in the opening. His clothes were shabby, and looked to be only used, now, for lounging around the house. He looked us both in the eye and smiled.

“May I help you?” He squeaked, in an unusually mousy voice that didn’t match his body.

“Yes, we’re looking to maybe get a tour of your house, if you offer it.”

“Of course. Follow me.”

We went inside, and, at length, he led us through the sitting room, the kitchen, the guest room, and the dining room; each more beautiful than the last. He pointed out certain marks of the period as we went by them. Each room was mostly filled with things from that time period, and so I thought he must use his own bedroom for personal needs, and leave the rest of the house historical for the sake of the visitors. He didn’t mention the main bedroom even once, which confirmed my thoughts. He also told us stories about certain pieces within the home. A painting of a woman named Claret Montagne hung above the fireplace, for instance. He told us of how the original owner, Isaac Dodge, was really smitten with her, and took up painting just so he could paint that one portrait. They married, but before his painting was complete, she died of consumption. He finished the painting, which shows her striking beauty (real, or exaggerated), and then died a year later. The current owner and all owners previous have kept the painting in its original place to show their respects to Claret and Isaac.

At this point, James, which was our tour-guide’s name, left to get dressed for his sister’s wedding, which was to take place later in the day, but told us we were free to keep looking around. So Bridget and I made our way into the basement. We opened the door, and a sepulchral wind blew into our faces. We made our way down the creaking cob-webbed steps, taking in the smells of this old cellar. The smell of earth, and the smell of dust, were the most prominent; and it had a strange sweetness to it. The last step bent considerably under my weight, having become soggy and flexible in these last few hundred years. The floor and a large portion of the walls were chiseled out of bedrock, and the corner furthest from us was flooded with about a foot of water. The ceiling was constructed of amazingly thick beams; held together using original nails from the era. The room was dotted with support beams, too, going from floor to ceiling every six feet or so. I looked at Bridget, and she looked at me.

“So, Bridget,” I started.

But I didn’t get to finish, because just then she lunged toward me, and planted her lips directly on mine. I blushed horribly, I’m sure. It only lasted a second, but I really didn’t know what to say. I liked her a lot, of course. But it hadn’t crossed my mind that she may have felt similarly. I waited for her to say something, but she didn’t. And after an uncomfortable pause, I continued to walk through the basement, noting the skeletons of more than a few dead frogs lying on the floor near the water.

The Yellow Mask; or The Transformation of Bridget Leventis. Pt. 3

A WEEK passed before I saw her again. I had been walking through the woods, and I’d thought it wise to lay beneath a shady tree and nap. I fell in and out of sleep, dreaming and listening to the purring and cawing of some crows nearby. The breeze blew wonderfully through my hair and kept me quite comfortable on what was otherwise the hottest day so far that year. I dreamed of pagans dancing wildly in horrible stained gowns; sacrifice of piglets; fall foliage. I sat for a while, half asleep. My eyes opened and closed in my daze, and it took me a while to realize what it was I had been seeing. Bridget was perhaps forty feet in front of me, running directly away from me. She slowed and stopped, and half turned her face toward me in a gesture I took as oddly threatening. I sat up properly and looked around. The crows had left, but I could hear some sparrows chirping in the distance. The Sun was low and bright in the sky, casting long brilliant shadows, the likes of which you can only see on a Summer’s day in the late afternoon. She was just standing there, as still as the trees around her. I called to her as I began to stand up. I walked slowly toward her, until I was standing maybe ten feet away; she really did look sort of sinister, and I’ll admit I hesitated before I spoke.

          “Bridget? What’re you doing in the woods alone?” I asked, only then realizing I was doing the same, for probably similar reasons.

          She turned to face me and I saw she was wearing that horrid mask I’d given her. She just stared at me from behind that pallid yellow façade; her life-filled eyes in stark contrast to the lifeless and repulsive mask. Her hair dangled in front of the mask. She was wearing a strikingly beautiful sort of dress, a solid white, and no shoes at all. I laughed under my breath. I walked to her and reached for the mask. She stood still, but as soon as my hands touched it, she jerked herself away and sprinted away. She went out of view after a moment, and I failed to find her after that. She wasn’t responding to my calls, so I decided it best to continue my walk and return home. It was an odd thing, but we were odd people, with strange taste, and so I didn’t think much of it at the time, as bizarre as that may sound. I was far more impressed by the beauty of her eyes from behind that mask, than I was repulsed by the mask.

          The next day I saw her more properly, meeting her at the Polish Café again.

          “Bridget, don’t you know it’s impolite to don a mask and escape to the forested countryside to frolic with the fauns and the faeries?” I joked, “And exceedingly more-so when you ignore my presence!”

          She looked at me strangely, but pleasantly.

          “I wasn’t in the woods yesterday. That wasn’t me. Why, it couldn’t have been. And it couldn’t have been that mask, either. It was in my room with me all day. Sitting on top of the night-stand,” she said, “You know, my Mother begged me to throw it away? She’s the superstitious sort; my Grandmother was a gypsy, you know, So you can imagine the sort of thing she has going through her head. She kept going on about masks holding the souls of the dead. So I just clammed up, and she went away eventually. She can be absolutely dreadful sometimes.”

          She looked a little nervous, and while she was clearly lying about being in her room all day, I didn’t think it would be polite to insist.

          “Your Grandmother was a gypsy? That’s really quite interesting. I’ve known of a few in town; the owner of this cafe comes from a family of gypsies, for instance. But I can’t say I know much about their culture. At any rate, it was a beautiful day yesterday; and it is again, today. We should go somewhere.”

          “I agree!” she shouted, “I was reading of the Bralston witch massacre, and would love to visit where it happened.”

          I frowned in an exaggerated sort of way.

          “It isn’t there anymore. They redirected rivers back in the 1800s to create a reservoir, and that valley was the unlucky one that got chosen to be filled to the brim. The houses and the old court-house are still there more or less, just an hundred feet below the surface.”

          “Well, it’s intriguing that they’re still there under the water, but it isn’t so agreeable when people take it upon themselves to erase history, no matter what their motives. Where shall we go then?” She asked, brushing a strand of hair from her face.

          I was so overtaken for a second by Bridget’s beauty that I’d not heard the question. She repeated herself. I had been thinking about where we may go next for days, actually, and I had decided, with some difficulty, just this morning. I grabbed Bridget’s arm and went out the door. I thought it a good idea to keep our destination hidden, but told her that it was an hour’s walk by foot, expecting her to want to rush home to change her shoes, or something of the sort; she surprised me quite a bit when, in fact, she just slid off her flats, held them in her right hand, and began to walk in the direction she knew we were going. I stood there spacey for a moment looking down toward her feet. I thought of the day before in the forest; her bare feet submerged in old and rotten oak leaves. I started walking.       We walked down Welsh, toward Saltonstall road. Saltonstall was the longest road in town, disregarding those that head toward either Hamilton or Rowley, and it was also one of the oldest streets. It passed through farmland, swamps, even a small bit of marsh, before finally growing steeper and coming to an end up on Birch Hill, where the water tower was, some eight miles from its intersection with Welsh. As we turned down Saltonstall, I remembered just how beautiful this road really was. Antique and ruined farmhouses lie on both sides, surrounded by overgrown and stunningly golden fields. There were always a number of deer in these fields, no matter what the time of day, and they were a bit of an attraction for a while. People would take the train in from Ipswich, Boston, and Arkham to hand-feed and pet these deer. Screaming children, newlyweds, badly-dressed adults. It was quite a thing. But that faded after a while, and now those same deer sat quietly in the field to our right, eating grasses and relaxing in the sunlight, probably quite glad to be rid of those awful tourists.

          After a mile and a half of farmland, swamps began to surround the road. White cranes dotted the view. Rarely one would see a Heron flying overhead, dinosaur-like in its splendor.  Or a fisher cat scurrying into the underbrush surrounding the water. I looked at Bridget; she had the sort of look you’d imagine someone under a blindfold having; but she was bewitched by the nature, and there was a look of awe in her eyes. I was bewitched too; I breathed deeply, and felt amazingly lucid.

          The Swamplands began to look dryer. Some meadow-grass sprung up along the road, and I knew we were near our destination. I looked up ahead, and in the distance on the right I could see a solitary road-sign shimmering blue like a Will-O-The-Wisp, leading us to our fate.

          "Bridget, see the sign there? That’s where we’re headed. Laurel Street. Have you heard of it?" I asked. She shook her head. "You’ll be astonished, I think. It’s like stepping back in time."

          As we walked toward the sign, and the areas beside the street became more thickly wooded, Bridget turned to me and smiled. My heart flew and I’m sure my cheeks were red. She said:
          "William, I really do appreciate you showing me around. You’re proving yourself to be something of a gem compared to the others I’ve met," she broke once more into a smile, and continued, "Quite a gem, really. Thank you."

          I nodded and smiled, but was at a loss for words. We turned on to Laurel Street. The paved road gave way to a dirt one, and Bridget bent over to put her shoes back on. The trees, which met over the street casting a perpetual shadow, were tall and extremely rich with colour. There were maple trees, oak trees, and chestnut trees. There were also a few that had the most beautiful dark red leaves. Laurel bushes, which were, after all, the namesake of the street, lined the sides of the road, giving off their ethereal scent. It was a dreamy sort of place, in the most literal sense. The dirt road was no longer a road at all, and the green grass grew tall and untamed in our path. We stopped walking.

          "This is beautiful," Bridget gasped, "Tell me something about it. I demand it."

          I laughed, and told her to wait.

          "You know," I said, smiling, "I know far too little about you. Why don’t you tell me more about yourself? I demand it."

          She began.

          "Well, you know a bit already. But alright. I was born in Winterport twenty-one years ago, to a single mother. We lived in a lovely brick house, built in the 1800s. I know almost nothing at all about my Father, save that he ran away before my birth to join some cult in Boston. It’s always intrigued me; when I was little, I used to steal a knife from the kitchen and climb high up into trees to carve made-up symbols into the bark, and fancy myself a member of this unknown cult. It made me feel closer to him. I’ve looked for information about him, or about this cult, but no-one seems to know anything more about it," She paused and sighed, "My childhood was fairly uneventful. Not particularly happy or sad; I actually don’t remember much about it at all. But it feels good to grow older. My Mother moved to Bralston to work in the lace mills when King’s Bakery in Winterport closed down, leaving her jobless. And I ended up here by some act of providence."

          "I’m glad you did end up here," I said, "It’s quite queer about your Father. I could help you look into it, if you’re still curious. And if you’re not still curious, feel free to start being so again, because I sure am."

          She laughed, and we started walking once more. Quite quickly we came to the most astounding part of the journey. On both sides of a six foot grass way, there were the most beautiful first-period houses, around twenty of them, slanting in all sorts of odd directions. Some of the taller houses nearly met toward their tops, they leaned so strongly. These houses were almost all inhabited; but Bralston Historical Society kept a tight rule over what could be done to them by their owners. They were virtually unchanged since their creation in the early days of Massachusetts, and it really did feel like stepping back in time. There was a small cafe in one of the houses, and we went inside, ordered, and sat down.

The Yellow Mask; or The Transformation of Bridget Leventis. Pt. 2

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.

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