The desert offers solitude, and a simple mode of existence: mere survival. Granted this is a somewhat moot point for me, but it acts as further guarantor of my privacy, for the desert is both swift and merciless in its dealings with fools.
Modern society has effected sufficient intrusion that it attempts to protect those so unwise as to venture in to the desert unprepared. This is not an act of altruism rather it is simple efficiency. Every preempted lost hiker represents concrete savings in search time and potential bad publicity. That it also saves lives is a secondary, albeit welcome benefit. As a result of this well-developed attitude towards tourists I elected to abandon any idea of walking to my chosen spot, opting instead to pay a young man to fly me out and return to collect me a few days later. Profligate waste, but necessary.
I could have locked myself away in my apartment. I have access to other places, properties I either own outright or have an interest in through membership in assorted foundations and organizations. There is a particular monastery where people are welcome to come and find the solace of introspection amid the grounding rhythms of a simpler, less hectic life. There are numerous parks, forests, jungles, and mountains… all are accessible to anyone who might seek a few days or weeks outside the sphere of the modern.
I prefer the desert. It is something about the hardscrabble nature of the flora and fauna, and the stark beauty of the landscape that suits me when I need to be shuck of mankind. It is dangerous for me- I could set out for a week or two and stay for a decade or longer. Even this little expedition- after three days I found myself musing on the notion of heading deeper in to the wild, finding a cave and sitting out the next fifty years. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you choose to view it) I had left far too many loose ends to merely walk away. It was deliberate on my part for I know myself well enough to anticipate that urge. I may yet indulge it, but not this day.
It was a desire to take some time, put things in to perspective, time away from my normal haunts, away from e-mail and computers and the web, away from the lawyers and that bloody fool of an accountant who is determined to prevent me from doing as I will with my own money. Away from all the yammering, and posturing, and postulating… I needed years, but I allowed merely days. I suppose it sufficed.
I am in love with the night sky- one of the things I truly despise about living in the North East is the lack of any truly clear, dark sky. Civilization’s fascination with light renders the canopy of the heavens a pale mockery of itself. Ever since my earliest memories I have been fascinated with the stars. I ran to the desert so that I could lie beneath them in their glory and seek… something. Balance, I suppose, though that is a poor descriptor.
I needed to know I was doing the right thing. As important, or perhaps even more so, was I doing it for the right reasons? Somehow sitting beneath the stars smoking Camels seemed the proper avenue for pursuing that thought. Warm, sunny days; cool, clear nights with a sliver of moon and a dazzling array of stars- there were no answers, but there certainly was peace.
Musings of an immortal being
- Name: Zsallia Marieko
Sunday, November 30
The desert offers solitude, and a simple mode of existence: mere survival. Granted this is a somewhat moot point for me, but it acts as further guarantor of my privacy, for the desert is both swift and merciless in its dealings with fools.
Tuesday, November 25
Some random notions that have come to the fore as a result of comments, events and other factors:
I am frequently surprised. One would think I should be beyond surprise, but one would be wrong. One would think I would be coolly in control of my emotions, having had so very long to come to an intimate understanding of my own inner landscape, but one would be wrong. One would think that thirty-five centuries would smooth the contradictions from the fabric of my soul, and one would be wrong yet again.
It seems some are convinced that one such as I should be either above human foibles, or incapable of them. They are wrong. There are those who insist that one such as I must view all those about her as nothing more than mayflies, lesser things to be used for amusement and hardly missed upon passing. I would ask them how they have come to such an understanding, and I would tell them their assumptions speak volumes regarding their own private demons, but they say nothing regarding mine.
I protect myself. I protect those I consider to be my friends. Those people are few and thus precious to me.
I am immortal, not indestructible.
I am often asked if I am bored and I always reply in the negative. Boredom is not the problem I face, and no one seems to be inclined to ask regarding what that problem may be. I understand this since it is likely unique in the acuteness of its manifestation with me; however, I still see it in others from time to time. It is not loneliness. When I become aware of the weight of ages upon me, what I feel is desperately tired.
Thirty-five centuries have taught me useful things, but not so many as some seem to insist must be the case.
I understand people- my ability to interact on a personal level borders on the telepathic. This is not some mystic ability, but the simple byproduct of millennia of experience. It is an ability that is limited to personal, face-to-face, situations. This also makes me a rather entertaining bedmate.
Conversing via the written word is an extraordinarily poor cousin to personal interaction. At the same time it offers a separate set of tools, and a different level of nuance that cannot be dismissed.
I am merciless in self-analysis- my ability to delude myself is limited, but when I indulge it the results are usually disastrous. I take no pity upon myself, for I posses the ability to outlive my errors. Others do not.
I understand that nothing ever really ends. Everything that has preceded this moment in time forms the foundation upon which the next moment must stand.
I have noted before that I view myself as primarily a destructive force in relation to those with whom I interact. There are those who disagree with me. They lack my perspective on this subject. This extends to this journal: every post I make, every comment left on any site constitutes an act of almost criminal selfishness on my part.
I never share everything with you. Never.
There is more to say. I choose not to say it.
Saturday, November 22
“I know who you are.”
I said nothing, allowing Edna’s quiet words hang in the air behind me as I gazed upon Catherine’s final resting place. Her marker was large, yet very simple- a granite spire, somewhat weathered as were all the stones in this corner of the cemetery, with just her name and the dates: b 1831 d 1896.
“She was only sixty-five. Even being wealthy and protected, the damned winters were like a scythe, weren’t they?”
“I know you heard what I said, so don’t pretend you didn’t.”
I had been feeling something from her for two days now. It was the only reason I had not left yet- I had to know what it was. Her certainty was so strong and it excited her so. I turned to face her.
“Who do you think I am?”
“Great Grandma hired a Pinkerton man to track down Elaine a few years after the War Between the States. He went to Boston, found her lawyers’ offices, but they were well paid, quite reputable and very tight-lipped.” She paused then and said, “I think I need to sit... could we move to that bench?” She gestured with her cane and I nodded. Edna shuffled over, suddenly looking every day of her ninety-eight years, and settled down with a sigh, placing her cane before her with her hands perched atop. She waited until I took a seat beside her. “Where was I? Boston. You always seem to go back to Boston. The Pinkerton man was no slouch, and you’d a way of impressing people, of course. He found a name: Melissa Burns, and there was some talk of Georgia. It took some doing but he tracked you down to a plantation where you were hired as a tutor in literature and mathematics. Then he discovered that you’d murdered a man named Clayton Williams. You were caught, tried, convicted and hanged. End of story, or so he thought.
“I have to wonder what he thought when Catherine sent him back to Georgia and told him to dig up your corpse, if he could. He went back and started asking more questions, spreading around money and liquor, until he bumped in to these two gents who’d had a near religious experience. Neither of them’d had a drink in years before they ran in to him- reformed men, they were. But his questions shook them up, and the whiskey was good, and the tale they told him… well, he’d never heard anything so wild and unlikely in his life, but he had his orders, and like I said, he was no slouch at his job.
“He tracked you to a border town in Texas. A pretty young redheaded prostitute named Molly, sweet and kind and very quiet, and sporting a hanging scar. Only by the time he got that far poor Molly’d had an accident, took a spill in to the river and drowned. Body never recovered. Of course, it couldn’t have been the same woman, because everybody swore she couldn’t be more than eighteen and Elaine’d have been close to sixty by then, except that Melissa Burns hadn’t been more than twenty-five…”
“He would have had a very difficult time following me after that. Molly was a throw-away…” I stopped there because there was no point in continuing. Edna’s gaze was fixed on me, waiting. “How many people know this story?”
“Just me. It’s been passed down through the women in the family. Honestly, I didn’t really believe it myself until you showed up, and even then I wasn’t sure until just now. I haven’t told anyone; Sarah would be the obvious choice, but she’s such a Chatty Cathy I just couldn’t trust her with it.” She sat up straighter then, and took a deep breath, “So, if you wanted to you could shoot me with that ugly old pistol you’ve got your hand on and the story’d die with me. I suspect you’d be able to get out of town before anybody caught on.”
I snatched my hand from my bag- I had not even realized I had my hand on the gun. I was embarrassed that she had noticed, that I had even unconsciously considered…
And then I was shaking, trembling so violently that I could not even speak. It was not fear, or anger, or joy, but simply conflict. I did not know what to do. Then a sharp pain exploded in my shin and I cried out as Edna drew back her cane after striking me with it.
“Get a hold of yourself! Lord, you’d think someone as old as you’d be beyond this kind of thing!”
I laughed out loud at that. “I’ve heard that before… I should introduce you to the Yeti!”
“Yes, never mind, it’s too hard to explain.”
We sat for several minutes before Edna finally asked, “So, what’re you going to do?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s not so easy as Jeremy thought it might be.”
“Sure it is. My son had you checked out- you’re loaded. I name you as my successor in the trust and then you can do what you want.”
“Really? It’s not that simple at all. Everything I know is telling me to leave, now, and never come back! I have rules I live by and I didn’t come up with them on a whim!”
“And you married Jerome- what’d your rules have to say about that? Why’d you do that? Seems pretty stupid to me. Be careful what you answer because Catherine had an idea and I think she was right.”
“I fell in love with him. Is that so hard to believe?”
“Honestly? Yes, it is hard to believe. Catherine believed you were just lonely, and tired. Marrying her uncle was almost like trying to kill yourself. Just look at the trouble it’s caused you. Look at where you are right now, honey. Sure you loved him, but you loved him because it gave you a taste of something you couldn’t ever really have. You were trying to destroy yourself. Or at least destroy your life. You wanted an end, and Jerome was just the right man to help you find it.”
She sat back, her shoulders sagging. I could see the exhaustion radiating from her and suddenly I was ashamed again. How could I not see how much this was costing her? To be out here confronting me… Without another word I helped her to her feet and steadied her as we made our way back down the path to my car. She settled in to the seat and I buckled her in, then came around and started the car. Edna had her head back against the headrest, her eyes were closed.
“See, I think you’re going mad. All that running and hiding can’t be good for a body.”
“Do you understand how… how impudent it is of you to presume to speak to me like this?”
She laughed quietly, opening her eyes to look over at me. “Do you think you are wise?” she asked.
I thought about that as I maneuvered down the narrow drive to the cemetery’s exit. “About some things, yes. Others, no.”
“Good answer. I am wise, and about a lot of things. That cemetery makes me wise- I know that’s where I’m headed, and soon, too. Focuses the mind, assuming the mind still works of course.” She chuckled then at her own little joke.
“And that’s something I lack, is it?”
“It’s not just something you’re missing, it’s something you need.”
That was not a new thought for me, so why did it disturb me so to hear it from this woman?
“A cemetery’s not just a place of endings,” she continued, “it’s a symbol, a place of roots. Kids today just don’t understand this stuff; they go wandering off in all directions and don’t give a thought to their family or their history. My daughters… I haven’t seen either of them in five years, or the grandchildren. All picked up and moved off to California and Hawaii… I kept hoping that one of them would get the notion to come home, but it’s never happened.”
“Yet here I am.”
“Yes,” she smiled, “here you are. I’m fit to be pickled now that you’re here. I honestly never believed it was possible, just some funny folk tale, or better yet a practical joke.”
I considered that for several minutes as we drove on in silence.
“So, if I were to say I was merely humoring you…”
“I wouldn’t buy it for a second. I saw the look on your face when you were touching that pistol- you’re first thought was to kill me and run like the dickens.”
“I would never have…”
“I know, but you thought it. So why are you here?”
“I needed to know how much damage… no. I wanted to come, to see what had happened to the people I cared about. I was here a few weeks ago- I visited Jeremy’s grave. I thought that would be enough…” I stopped then, feeling tears coming from someplace unexpected. I pulled to the side of the road and parked the car, then just gripped the wheel, desperate to compose myself. Why was this happening? Why was this woman, somebody who was still just a child in comparison to myself, having this affect on me? Why was I so damned angry?
“Don’t stop now.”
I looked at her, uncomprehending for a moment, and then I asked her, “What would you do if I took you home and then left, and never returned?”
“Nothing. I’d go to my grave knowing that I’d been privy to a great secret. Of course that’s easy for me to say because we both know you’re not leaving. C’mon dearie, stop trying to nice to the little old lady and spit it out- why are you here?”
“Because I was never ready to leave!” It came out so suddenly and so succinctly that it drew all of the emotion out of me in a single statement: I had never wanted to leave. I left because it was my way, a habit, a rule I lived by. It had never been a problem before, but so much had changed since the early centuries of my life…
“Then why leave?”
“That’s enough,” I snapped, my voice dropping in to a peremptory tone that made Edna sit back a bit. I put the car in gear and pulled out again, unwilling to talk any further, or to listen for that matter. Edna attempted to engage me, but I tuned her out so thoroughly that she soon gave up.
What was wrong with me? I had been willing to reinsert myself in to this family so long as I could do it on my terms, maintaining this thin fiction of secrecy, holding myself aloof from them. Why did Edna’s knowledge change things so? Why that sudden impulse to murder and flight? It was clear to me, unmistakably clear that she posed no threat. Even if she did choose to tell her family what she knew, what would they think? She knew this, I could tell she knew this.
I am terrible at snap decisions. Every one I have ever made has turned out to be ill advised in one way or another. I needed time to think. I arrived at that terribly insightful conclusion as I pulled in to Sarah’s driveway. Edna sat beside me, radiating dismay.
“I am going back to Boston,” I told her, making my voice as gentle as I could.
She emitted a quiet sigh of resignation, and then visibly nerved herself to ask, “And What will you do there?”
I paused, unwilling to be short with her again, and then gave her the most honest reply that I could: “Think. Decide. Act.” She nodded at that, and allowed me to help her out of the car and up to the house. At the door something suddenly occurred to me. “You never visited your husband’s grave…”
“Oh, that’s not important. Perhaps next time…”
“Yes, perhaps.” I turned to go, but I could feel her eyes on me, as if they sought to pull me back.
“Genevieve… now that can’t be your real name, can it?”
I paused and turned back to face her as she stood framed in the open doorway, looking small and frail and forlorn. “No, of course not. I don’t have a given name that I can remember, but I chose one, long ago,” and I told her my name, the name I chose that I have called myself for more than two millennia. Then I turned away and walked to the car. It was time to go.
Thursday, November 20
Morning arrived clear and delightfully cool. I took an early stroll about the center of town before checking out and loading my things in to the car, and then I set off for Sarah’s home to pick up Edna. I was not particularly eager to make the visit to the cemetery, but it seemed a small courtesy to these people who had been so willing to accept me- call it recompense for my necessary deceptions.
I have never made a habit of visiting my dead; it always seems so pointless. Even my visit to Jeremy’s grave, so stylized and staged and Hollywood-dramatic was really nothing more than a lark. I was content that I had done it, but I believe I could have found as much closure reminiscing in my own living room with a bottle of brandy to mellow the mood. That I had been drawn back to this place so soon afterward was nothing more than the natural consequence of finally putting that entire episode of my life to rest.
Jeremy is dead. Catherine is dead. I could fill many, many pages with the names of those who meant something to me in some way who were now dead. To visit their graves would mean nothing to me. I understand that graves have meaning to those who are left behind, but I believe I have spent so long watching as one generation after another are returned to dust that any possible meaning has been diluted beyond detection. Cemeteries are packed with the dead and empty past. I choose not to dwell there.
Edna was already up and waiting for me when I arrived. Sarah had departed early so it was just the two of us sharing coffee and light conversation as we waited for the day to warm a bit before setting out. Edna seemed in very good spirits, commenting that she had felt guilty for neglecting her duty to visit her relatives, in particular her husband, over the past years.
“Henry’s been gone over thirty years now, so I suppose he forgives me, but I’m glad you were willing to come. I think Catherine would have been pleased to see that somebody from Elaine’s family had finally found this place.”
We were in the car and I smiled at Edna’s prattling. It is a common delusion of the living that the dead are witness to the day, but Edna seemed to take particular delight in the idea of me standing over Catherine’s grave. I felt better then- I have nothing against making a kindly old woman just a bit happier. We turned in to the gate of the cemetery and she directed me up towards the back, where the older plots were laid out over and about a low hill.
We parked at the foot of the hill and I helped her out of the car, then we began walking up towards the McAllister family’s section near the crest of the hill. As we passed various other collections of stones Edna pointed out families and individuals. I had known several of them personally.
“Surely your husband is not buried here?” I asked, “These are all quite old.”
“Oh, no- Henry’s down by the western lawn. I thought we’d stop up here first. See that tall spire? That’s where Catherine and Jonathan are buried. Why don’t you go on ahead- I’ll catch up.”
This was all so odd, and I found myself just a little more curious than I would have admitted earlier. Edna had stopped to admire the carvings on a stone near the walkway so I strolled up the remainder of the path, and found that brief segment of my past laid out in neat rows.
Catherine and her husband were together. Off to one side were two small markers: young children, neither more than four years old. There were other pairs, more husbands and wives, and solitary markers of those who never wed, or who met untimely ends only to have their loved ones make new lives when they were gone. I knew some of their stories from Catherine’s letters; others were a mystery to me.
I heard Edna come up behind me. We both stood quietly and I began to remember times when such places had held meaning for me: never the same meaning they held for others, but meaning nonetheless. Then she spoke, and everything became deathly quiet.
“I know who you are.”
Monday, November 17
The town bore only a passing resemblance to what I remembered. The old church was still there- I wondered if people still worshipped in those same pews Mrs. Tremblay had gifted to the church so very long ago. When I had paid my visit to Jeremy’s grave more than a month before I had done no more than drive through- I had known then that the land was wrapped up in a dispute so I had come cross-country from a neighboring community. Still, there were enough familiar things and I found the Historical Society easily enough.
The building was easily a hundred years old and not well suited to its purpose as a museum of sorts. This had been some sort of a meeting hall, but I could not be certain, as it had been built long after I had left. The door was unlocked so I entered and found a table by the inside of the door with a small basket labeled “Donations Welcome” the sole decoration. There did not appear to be anyone about. I dropped a few hundred dollars in the basket and set out to explore, making enough noise to ensure that anyone inside would eventually take note.
It was typical fare. Flags, documents, war memorabilia, some pictures, pieces of furniture, all of it documenting the passage of more than two hundred years: the town was older than that- perhaps the oldest pieces were stored away some place. Still, it was somewhat unsettling to be wading through pieces of lives that I might have touched so long ago. Things were familiar by their type and form, but nothing that I might point to and say “I remember that.” Then I entered the main hall.
I felt it before I saw it. Everything in the room was so very, very familiar. There was furniture from the south parlor, the large dining table, my harpsichord… so many things that had been ours. I turned and froze, for hanging on the south wall there was a portrait of a young woman, decked out in Victorian splendor, her hair piled high in scarlet curls and ringlets… me. Jeremy had commissioned that portrait on our tenth wedding anniversary. The artist had paid particular attention to the eyes…
“Mesmerizing, isn’t she?”
I turned to face the woman who had spoke and saw her start nearly as badly as had I. She was older; perhaps fifty or sixty, with dark hair going gracefully gray worn in a very modern style. Her blue eyes were open and friendly, though somewhat startled and there was something about the shape of her mouth and the angle of her jaw… I had to stop myself from commenting on it as her gaze tracked back and forth twice between the portrait and my face.
“I… I believe she was my great-great-…” the lie refused to fall gracefully from my lips, but she interrupted me as I stumbled on it.
“Oh, Lord, I believe it! Just look at the eyes, my dear!”
“Not to mention the hair, of course.” I smiled then, back at ease now that the moment had passed. “I am Genevieve Baker.”
“Baker? Oh! You’re the one who’s got Josh in such an uproar!” She laughed then and the sound passed in to and through me, calling up memories- young Catherine at her wedding, her laughter as she danced with Jeremy. I was in control of myself now, none of this showed on my face. “I’m Sarah, Sarah Jameson,” she turned towards the back of the hall and called out, “Edna! Edna, come and see who’s here!”
“I’m out front!” came a dry, yet sprightly voice, then an elderly woman appeared in the entrance to the hall. She was small, and clearly closer to one hundred than to eighty, but she was spry and her eyes were clear. In her left hand she wielded a cane that certainly had to be a mere prop for her stride was brisk and her gait even. In her right hand she waved a clutch of bills. “Somebody dropped five hundred dollars in the… Oh! Oh my word!” She stepped closer and looked me up and down, just radiating a mischievous delight as she grinned and said, “Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t bump in to you alone in here- I’d have figured I’d finally had The Big One. And that straight hair does nothing for you, dearie.”
They offered me coffee- we sat at a table in the kitchen at the rear of the hall and they both began asking and answering questions. Edna was Edna Carstairs. Josh was her eldest son, Joshua, and co-executor of the McAllister Trust along with his mother. Sarah was Edna’s niece. Edna and her late sister were the great-granddaughters of young Catherine. I felt somehow lacking in the presence of these women who knew their ancestry and their family histories, where I was forced to lie and in turn keep my stories simple and boring. Despite this Edna seemed fascinated with my story.
“And you had no idea about the trust, or your connection to this place until you found Elaine’s diary?”
“That’s pretty much it, yes. Oh, I knew a little about the family history, but it wasn’t until I found her diary and the legal papers that I had any idea what had happened. Even then, the diary only covers the year 1843. I assume she kept a yearly record, but I’ve not found any others.” Another lie- I had all twelve volumes, but this was the only one I could safely share with anyone.
“Did you bring it with you?” Sarah asked, “I’d love to see what it has to say.”
“I don’t have it here- it’s back at the hotel, but I’d be happy to let you look it over after I’ve met with Joshua. I’m assuming he’ll want to see it as well.”
“Oh, don’t let yourself be too concerned with my son,” Edna commented, “he’s really in no position to argue with you and he knows it. Truth is the trust is nearly bankrupt. He couldn’t afford to put up a fight even if you were a fraud.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t talk about…”
“Oh, piffle! It’s not a secret. Lawyers should never try to be investment brokers. We sank a lot of the trust’s money in to Internet stocks- lost it all. Since then with the town putting the squeeze on us we’ve barely kept up with the taxes. We tried to take a mortgage on the property, but the trust’s got no income to speak of…” Edna trailed off, but I could see the wheels turning in her, thinking about the money in the donation basket. Somebody who dressed so nicely and could drop five hundred dollars in a charity basket on a whim might just be in a position to ease some of the financial stress. She smiled again. “Does my son know you’re in town?”
“I called his office when I checked in to the hotel, but he wasn’t in…”
Both of them laughed at that and Sarah said, “Oh, he’s in, he’s just avoiding you. He’s afraid you’re somebody the real estate developers dug up to try and break the trust…” At the same time Edna was digging through her bag and finally produced a cell phone, which she opened up and put to her ear.
“Joshua? It’s your mother. I’m at the museum with Sarah… yes, I know you’re busy, but I need you to come over right away… Now don’t be like that… I’m not getting any younger and you’re wasting my time and I haven’t got a lot to waste so stop complaining… of course, dear, I know… now don’t dawdle…” She folded up her phone with a sigh, “Don’t misunderstand, Jenny, he’s a good man. It’s just that he seems to think all the problems in town are his personal responsibility.”
Joshua Carstairs arrived within a few minutes. I was seated at the table having a second cup of coffee when he walked in and spied his mother over by the sink. He was tall and handsome, and quite distinguished looking with his thick silver hair and ruggedly lined face. His voice was quite warm and resonant- it must have been quite a boon to him in court.
“Okay mother, I’m here, now tell me what’s so important that I had to hang up on Jim Kelleher up in Boston?”
“Ah, talking with your spy? And what did he have to say? But you might want to turn around before you answer that…”
Joshua turned and stopped for just a second when he saw me, but no longer. Then he smiled and stepped forward, extending his hand. “Miss Baker, I presume?”
I rose and took his hand, smiling as openly as I knew how, “I hope you understand this was not my idea- I had planned a more formal meeting.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I know my mother’s handiwork when I see it. I had intended to call you after I, uh, finished conferring with my colleague in Boston.” He took a seat and Edna brought him a cup of coffee, after which she and Sarah departed without another word.
“Don’t be embarrassed. You’ve done your research, and I’ve done mine. Perhaps we should just lay out our cards and see where we stand?”
“Directly to the point, I like that. Okay, Jim Kelleher seems to feel you’re a legitimate heir, and now that I’ve seen you I certainly agree. You’re obviously not after any money, not with your bank accounts. So tell me: why are you here?”
I sipped at my coffee and read him for a moment. He was unconcerned, actually relieved, which was good. His curiosity was certainly piqued, but he was absolutely unaffected by my looks or demeanor. He had a wedding ring and unconsciously fiddled with it- a thoroughly married and honest man.
“You and your family are well-off, but the trust is broke. You can’t afford to keep it afloat and you can’t get financing. Four years, perhaps five and you’ll have to default on the taxes and be forced to dissolve the trust and sell the property.”
“That sums it up nicely, yes,” he sighed, “I’ve considered selling some of the pieces in storage, both to raise cash and save money- museum quality storage space isn't cheap. But that would be little more than a stopgap measure, and mother would never permit it in any case. Now, you haven’t answered my question.”
“No,” I smiled, “I haven’t. I am not entirely certain what I want to do, but I think I’d like to help save the house. Once the pressure is off we can discuss the future.”
With that we agreed to leave any further discussion until the next day when I would present the trust document I possessed, just to make everything legal. Edna and Sarah rejoined us, having been not-to-secretly listening outside the door and the afternoon ran in to evening as we talked about the past and they filled me in on all the details of the family’s history they had collected. I had so little to offer them I again felt embarrassed, but Edna soaked up every little scrap I offered and was clearly eager to see the volume of the diary.
The next morning I met with Joshua at his office and we signed the various papers that made me an official beneficiary of the trust. I had already made arrangements with my bank so we were able to make a transfer of funds to the trust’s operational account- not a lordly sum, but enough so that Joshua could make the next few quarterly payments without having to liquidate any more of the trust’s dwindling stock holdings.
The remainder of that day I spent with Edna and Sarah, first letting them pour over the diary I had brought with me. Sarah was in heaven- it was filled with all sorts of minutiae regarding the daily activities of the family, both the children of the household as well as the activities of the other adult relatives and their families. Edna was quite please as well, but there was something overriding her happiness at having this piece of her family history in hand. She questioned me repeatedly about what I thought of this passage or that and I had to be very careful to avoid offering anything even remotely detailed, particularly when either of them got some piece of information egregiously wrong. Edna seemed to delight in having an outsider of sorts past whom she could run her historical narrative.
We took lunch together at a local restaurant and they took great pleasure in introducing me to any who happened by. After that Sarah drove me up to the house, Edna choosing to sit out that trip, as she was not up to “traipsing through the wilderness” that day. I had been there just a few weeks before, but it was enjoyable still, as Sarah was able to tell me where work had been done, what had happened to the barn and stables (a fire in 1956), and other details. The house had not been lived in since 1951, but the family had used it as a reunion spot for twenty or thirty years after that time. It had not been sealed up for good until 1985, which explained why it was not in far worse condition.
Sarah and I returned to her home in the early evening and I prepared to take my leave. I would be driving back to Boston the next day.
“So soon?” Edna complained, “I was hoping tomorrow Sarah and I could take you up to see the family plot- Catherine and her husband are buried up there, you know.”
“Oh, why go up there? You haven’t made that trip in over ten years,” Sarah protested, “and I can’t take you- I have to go in to the city tomorrow.”
Edna looked at me and I could feel her anticipation. I smiled. “I could stop by in the morning- I wouldn’t mind visiting the graves if that’s what you would like. I can leave for home after lunch.”
That night I was actually quite pleased with how things were going. I still had no firm idea what I would do beyond helping the family keep hold of the property, but I was already considering making some major investments to restore the house and the surrounding land. Perhaps we could move the Historical Society’s museum in to the house itself- the town had a tourism industry of sorts. A restored Victorian era home might make a nice addition. I took some time to review my cash status and see where I could gain liquidity without drawing too much attention. Then I started packing for the trip home. I hesitated over my pistol- I had been carrying it illegally for the past two days and it seemed silly to do that given the circumstances, but I am always reluctant to have it out of reach in situations like this. I do not like guns, and that makes me very, very serious about them. In the end I left it in the bottom of my purse. When I got home I would lock it up again.
I went to sleep that night with a smile on my face.
Sunday, November 16
What follows was not easy to recount. I have alluded to such things before, but I have never been explicit, and even here I find myself forced to soften the words and the images. I nearly posted this elsewhere to keep it off of this site, but that would be inappropriate. If what follows offends or disturbs I can offer only that life often offends or disturbs. If it makes it any easier to accept, know that I still carry the sickening weight of this monstrosity. It haunts me to this day.
Roughly two thousand years in the past, I was quite insane:
It is a game, nothing more. I slip out in to the twisted labyrinth of the city’s stinking streets and drop my lure- in this case, myself. Naked but for a scrap of linen, or perhaps something finer, a little jewelry, and a pair of sandals I stroll the winding sewers that make up the Eternal City, centre of power and all things glorious. They think me a slave, a prisoner of their power, a thing.
I hate them. I hate their pretensions to civilization; their fascination with blood sport, their arrogant assumption of superiority. The very soul of their culture is warped and diseased and I had allowed it to infect me, to deceive me in to believing that I could become a part of it. Then I watched it destroy the first person I had ever truly loved.
So I play my part, enticing the lust-addled simpletons to my bloated mistress’s wretched establishment where lesser creatures sweat and toil for the pleasures of beasts. I bring a high price the nights I am there, but I serve my mistress better as an advertisement, and this permits me to satisfy my own need. Every day I seek what I crave, some misbegotten fool believing he has a right to my body, to my undivided attentions. I entice him with the easy promise of fulfilling my duty.
It is always the same, yet it is always just different enough. Each is unique in his own way. A dark corner, or a back room, private and unnoticed, a perfect place for his brutish pleasures, except… It is always such a surprise. Private for him, perfect for me- I delve in to my deepest place and produce a work of art. I never use a weapon; I delight in taking my prize with my bare hands.
A soft caress transforms in an instant to a sharp blow to the throat. Perhaps he is confused, not understanding what I have done. Then the panic sets in, the fractured airway sealed forever against the precious release of life-giving breath. Some, the pathetic ones, clutch at their throat, struggling to breathe, thrashing and kicking as I laugh, taunting them. Others are more entertaining, spending their last moments in a rage, trying to lay their hands around my pretty neck and send me to Hades before them- and they learn I am swift and strong and disinclined to die. I take small pity on those, as their strength fails and they fall, easing them to the ground, whispering to them, telling them how they have lightened the day of an ancient creature.
Playful wrestling, a game of chase that incites his lust until that moment when I dance in to that one spot, poised just so, where I have all the advantage and this fool is at my mercy, confident there is naught to concern him in the form of this curvaceous, giggling wench. I slip my arm about his neck and he laughs as I trap him, then stiffens as I pull. There is a spasm of reaction as I apply all my strength in a single, savage wrenching twist. Flesh tears, gristle popping, and bones grinding until the sudden deep, thick crack of separation is felt and he goes limp in my grasp. I let him fall, grinning, gasping as the laughter forces its way up to my lips and I am trembling from excitement and exertion- it is no small effort to break a man’s neck. It lacks the artistry of other methods, but the pure adrenaline, the sudden contest of strength with the certainty that I shall not be denied my trophy, it is the closest this comes to a pure sexual thrill, and it surpasses all in the sense of being suddenly, vividly alive when it is done. Again, I lower my lips to his ear, and whisper the secret I shall allow him to take to his grave. A parting gift he hardly deserves.
“Die quietly like a good fellow, yes? You have fallen prey to a Goddess…”
Let my whispered words mock them and their worthless gods.
The first few become a dozen. The dozen become scores, then hundreds, and then many hundreds. This city is an abattoir- a few extra murders per week can hardly be expected to elicit concern. Still, eventually they come to suspect something is amiss, and even then they have no inkling. My score stands at Eight Hundred and Forty-Six the first time anyone thinks to question the pretty slave seen here and there where the corpses are discovered, and yet all they ask is “Have you seen anything?” I am too small, too feminine, too submissive and far too deft at manipulating men to become a suspect, even when so many things point directly at me. It is a blindness born of arrogance, and fully thirty pay for that with their lives, tortured to death by frustrated agents of the law and other interested parties determined to punish somebody while I add another fifty or so by my own hand.
It had begun slowly and so does it end. Even one such as I cannot ignore the growing scrutiny and my pace slackens, and with it the madness that drives me ebbs, until one day when I draw a man in to my net… and then let him go. He would have been number Nine Hundred and Thirteen…
Eight years of homicidal madness, arguably the price paid for my first taste of love.
Wednesday, November 12
This is proving to be quite vexing. I should put this behind me and think of it no more- let it lie as quietly as it has for a century or more, but it will not allow me to do that. Retrieval of the records was no mean feat itself: a company that specializes in the safe keeping of museum-quality historical documents stored them. One does not simply drive up and haul away cases of old records from a facility such as this. Nonetheless I was able to get at them after some hours of effort.
Thirteen large cases awaited me: the accumulation of over two hundred years of documents, books and letters. What concerned me would be contained in one of two particular cases and I set about the task of sorting them out once I had had them moved to my apartment outside the city. I suppose those who first collected these at my behest had been methodical in dating and storing them, but over the years as they were moved from one place to another they had become somewhat jumbled. Still, my money had been well spent- they were in remarkably good condition.
I started with letters dated after I had ended my contact with Catherine. Even after she was certain I was unlikely to respond she had continued to write in a most conversational manner. I nearly became ill when she mentioned that she had co-opted her son in to the task of ensuring I would be welcomed should I ever choose to return- this was written in 1890. Not once in any of her missives to me had she made any overt statement or even hint that she was aware of my secret: it was clear to me that her son was a lawyer and she had merely employed him in the creation of a trust to hold the family property inviolate for a great span of years, until 2050 to be exact. Unlike her words, her actions made it unmistakable that she had indeed been told, and that she believed.
Her last letter was dated December of 1896. Following that there was a letter from an attorney, informing me of her death and that I or my descendants had been named in a portion of her will. Two further letters followed, requesting a reply, then a final large packet.
Catherine and her son had been quite clever. The family fortunes had apparently grown quite large by that time so they set up a trust to hold title to the house and property. I am no legal scholar, but it appeared to me the trust stipulated any family member could reside in the house at will, but that efforts must be made to maintain the current structure and properties as they were. The trust also endowed a Historical Society for the town with a stipend for a museum. Finally, almost as an afterthought, it was noted that any person in possession of a specific legal instrument could present it to the trust as proof of descent from Elaine in order to take full advantage of the trust and its assigned properties. That instrument was sealed within an envelope in the packet.
It seems Catherine had been quite thorough.
I had already been aware that the property was in a trust- I had quietly engaged two different law firms to look in to the status of the property back when I decided to visit Jeremy’s grave. Now I was faced with having them probe more deeply, investigating the financial status of the trust and the Historical Society, as well as determining the legal status, if any, conferred by the instrument I possessed. These could conceivably be very dangerous acts on my part. They could also quite easily come to nothing. I found it hard to believe that whoever was holding the trust at this time would suddenly agree to surrender use of the property to somebody who arrived with a letter over a century old.
I chose to tackle the simplest task first: the instrument. A few hours huddled with some fine (and expensive) gentlemen determined that the instrument appeared to be valid, assuming the provisions of the trust were properly described and had not been changed; however, to execute it I would have to become personally involved as it could not be done by proxy. What surprised me was how easily I made my choice. I then set them to the task of learning everything they could while I set about making my own preparations.
Common sense tells me I should leave this be. Whatever threat there may have been is obviously minimal- digging in to this can only serve to make it worse. So why am I unwilling to walk away? Why am I so excited?
Tuesday, November 11
Sunday, November 9
Jeremy betrayed me. He told me he had done it in a letter he wrote some few days before his death, but in that letter he made it clear he expected I would not learn of his act for some time:
“I know you, my love. I know this missive shall remain unread for decades, perhaps centuries. It is conceivable you might never read it, and never know what I have done, or why…”
He was correct on both counts. I had only recently begun carrying bits of my past forward, storing them against future need. Oh, I have left hordes in the past, but I have never returned to them- best to leave the past behind, let it remain dead. Only over the past few centuries have I made an effort to change this, with some success, I might add. Thus I still had my diaries from my years with Jeremy.
I retrieved the first volume of that diary some months ago, along with the letter he wrote on his deathbed. At first I had not opened it because my grief was too deep. Later I was afraid to read it and reopen the wound his passing had left in my heart. Finally, I had set it aside as part of the dead past. When recent events lured me in to revisiting that time the letter was still there. Once I had made my peace with my past I decided it was time to read it.
I cannot begin to recount it in its entirety for it is too detailed and I am loath to remake his words for my own petty needs. I am also somewhat at a loss to describe how I feel about this.
Five children survived the fire that took the lives of Reginald, Clarice and their youngest child, Sarah. I have made little specific mention of them for several reasons, none of which I am at liberty to discuss here. The eldest I shall refer to as Joshua, the youngest as Catherine (named after Reginald and Jeremy’s sister). Joshua was fourteen when Jeremy and I arrived in his life and while he respected his uncle he absolutely despised me. His intense dislike persisted until the day Jeremy’s Will was read and he understood that I had been left nothing of the family’s fortunes, and that I had been pleased to have it so. After that day he subsided in to simple irritation with me and with his youngest sister who, along with her husband, inherited the family home and its lands.
Catherine had always adored me, something I am sure contributed to Joshua’s dislike of me. After Jeremy died she insisted I remain with her and her family at the house, and I did so for one year, mostly in response to this odd feeling that she desperately wished me to remain more out of concern for my welfare than for her own purposes. When I did choose to leave, journeying to Boston, Catherine went to great lengths to maintain correspondence. We exchanged frequent letters for several years and when I was ready to set aside my identity as her Aunt Elaine I actually went to the trouble of hiring a law firm to collect any further letters or packages from her and hold them indefinitely until I sent an agent to retrieve them. I then became Melissa Burns and disappeared.
I had always wondered in an offhand manner why Catherine had been so concerned with me. Now I know why.
Jeremy revealed my secret to Catherine just over a year before he died. That I did not detect this I attribute to my foreboding of his coming end. He was still healthy, but he was no longer young. At sixty-one years of age he was now prone to infections in his lungs during the winter and I knew that it was only a matter of time. Preoccupied with what for me was an immanent change I failed to notice or properly account for Catherine’s change in attitude. In the wake of his passing, well, everything had changed for all involved.
His letter explained that he was not content to have me wandering the world, hiding here or there, always lost, always alone. He wanted to provide me with a refuge, a place to come to whenever I wished where I would be known and accepted. He wanted me to have a home. He charged Catherine with seeing to it that our home would always be available to me. He laid that obligation upon her because he knew she was fond of me and because she was such an extraordinary woman herself (a trait he insisted was my doing), having studied literature and law and the sciences at an advanced level despite her youth. He trusted her with my secret because he felt he knew her heart nearly as well as he knew mine. What surprises me most is that she might have believed him at all.
My very first instinct was to disappear: to drop everything and go underground in Eastern Europe or South America. I thought better of that- the secret had been “out” for better than one hundred and fifty years to little or no effect so there could be little harm in taking the time to examine what this meant. Still, I did make certain arrangements against possible need.
Then I returned to Boston to sift through everything I had from Catherine.
On the naming of names, and the placing of places. As I go through my narratives I deliberately obscure certain facts. Jeremy, for instance, was not named Jeremy, Catherine was not Catherine, Rufus was not Rufus… I do believe the pattern is clear. Locations are obscured as well as specifics as to dates, particularly as I speak of relatively recent events. You may take this as an expression of a desire for security, or as simple sloppy storytelling- either conclusion suits me.
Despite this I do pay attention to detail, so the naming of names and the placing of places are consistent within the narrow context I provide. I mention this only because what will follow is rife with names and places to the point of encouraging one to attempt to parse out the truth. I would spare anyone that trouble, if I could.
Wednesday, November 5
Interesting (actually, somewhat disturbing) developments over the past two days. As a result I shall be wading through a sea of lawyers. Posting will be light to non-existent until some time next week. Do take care.
Saturday, November 1
Mr. E asks: can one argue the predisposition to love as being a more likely attestation of evolution or of creation?
You may argue whatever you like, but since you are asking my opinion the short answer is “no”.
I am afraid that I am about to disappoint a lot of people with my thoughts on this subject, as they are by no means original nor terribly unique.
It seems to me that the notion that Creation and Evolution are mutually exclusive is indefensible. Allow me to synthesize the arguments in extremely simple terms. The Creationist argues that Evolution strips Man of his unique spiritual nature, denying him the grace offered by his creator. The Evolutionist argues that Creation strips man of his critical nature, rendering the evidence of science at best a carefully constructed set of fallacies, at worst as a construct of the Father of Lies.
Where can we go from here? How can we reconcile these two viewpoints?
We need to decide if Man as an intelligent creature is unique. Consider the implications if we were to discover that Man is alone in the Universe as a critical and self-aware creature. This is not idle speculation for if we decide that science will answer this question, so far the answer is that we cannot prove that he is not. Before you all tell me- yes, I understand that proving a negative is logically impossible when all possible scenarios are outside the realm of testability; however, lacking evidence of extraterrestrial intelligences we cannot discount the possibility that Man may indeed be unique.
There was a time not very long ago when writers of speculative fiction used a certain hypothetical formula to suggest that the idea of Earth as the only inhabitable or inhabited planet in this galaxy was patently absurd. I believe the calculation was similar to this: There are approximately 400 billion stars in this galaxy. If one one-tenth of one percent of them has any kind of planetary system, and one-tenth of one percent of those has a possibly habitable planet, this results in 400,000 possibilities. Expand this to include the billions of galaxies that comprise the Universe and it seems absurd to think that there is no life anywhere else in the Universe.
It seems reasonable, yes? The problem with this calculation is that it makes broad assumptions that are quite unwarranted regarding the nature of stars in general and the observable requirements for the existence of life. Where just Earth-like planets are concerned it turns out that the possibilities are becoming more and more limited as Man’s understanding of those requirements expands. We can all speculate on the possibilities of forms of life that might exist outside the sphere of the carbon-based water band; however, such speculations themselves face their own limits as the unique nature of carbon becomes more and more apparent. Proponents of alternate-chemistry life forms refer to this “carbon chauvinism”, but a catchy phrase does little to lessen the reality that carbon does seem to be unparalleled both in its ability to form long chains of complex molecules and its ubiquitous nature in the Universe.
What we face here is a lack of sufficient discreet subjects to form a baseline of scientific knowledge. You and I have only a single instance of an inhabited planet from which to draw conclusions. We have only a single race of beings possessed of the gift of rational thought and a demonstrated ability to manipulate their environment. Given these limitations science is unable to provide concrete answers to questions such as mankind’s status in the Universe. Hints and trends and possibilities yes, but no certain answers. Nothing even close.
So, science has nothing to say regarding the uniqueness or lack thereof of Man, but it has plenty to tell us about his development. We have growing mounds of evidence that Man is the product of an evolutionary process set in motion by a confluence of near random and highly unlikely circumstances. While there are those among us who would argue that the picture is by no means complete I think most of us probably can agree that the image is there for any who are willing to see it.
And here we are, right back where we started. Science has plenty to say about evolution, but very little to say about Creation. And here is where I generally get myself excommunicated, assuming of course that the Catholic Church would have a creature such as me in its fold.
The idea that God, if he exists, created the Universe in seven days is nothing more than metaphor. Any creation myth is metaphor, a construct of minds too primitive, too ignorant to have any understanding of the nature of the world and the Universe beyond that which served their very practical needs. They had imagination and they had a thirst to know, but they had no tools sufficient unto the task of answering their questions. So they fell back on myth, on metaphor, because they had to have an answer. Men are quite stubborn that way, you know.
I have no difficulty eschewing the Creation as described in Genesis in favor of a far more complex, far more miraculous act where God sets the Universe in motion several billions of years ago, setting the stage for the eventual ascent of Man from the primordial ooze of a tiny planet in one spiral arm of an unremarkable galaxy amongst billions of galaxies. That seems a much more impressive feat than simply willing it all in to existence over a week. It also puts to rest the need for God or the Devil to have put in place all the evidence of evolution, geology, chemistry, biology, physics, and astrophysics for Man to discover and puzzle over as some test of faith. Any God I might be tempted to believe in would be above that kind of foolishness. In this context since Evolution is merely part of God’s plan it cannot separate Man from God’s grace, and accepting that Evolution is God’s plan in no way robs Man of his critical nature since science becomes the primary tool Man uses to read the Gospel According to Physics. Finally, since we cannot prove that Man is not unique in the Universe our critical nature requires that we at the very least consider that Man indeed may indeed be unique. We do not have to accept it as fact, but we must admit that it is possible. Failure to do so in the face of a lack of any evidence to the contrary risks replacing one myth with another.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that asking whether Man’s predisposition to love is more indicative of a Creation origin or an Evolution origin is an exercise in futility. My opinion is that they are one and the same.
Bearing in mind, of course, that I have no firm opinion on the existence of God to begin with. And of course my own existence within the framework of this argument could be somewhat problematic. My faith rests on my observation of Man and my belief that Man does indeed have a destiny that is beyond mere propagation. Whether or not Man fulfills that destiny is pretty much up to you.