Cemetery Dance




 


I

The Setup


I have only two vices. Sex and booze . . .

I love sex - with women - nearly every type, size and age. I like them passive and aggressive and tender and rough and tall and short and lithe and plump and vertical and horizontal. I like them domestic and I like them foreign, sleek, poised and exotic and I like them rough around the edges.


And I like booze.

Maybe I like booze too much, because I'll drink anything, except Scotch. I had a bad experience with Scotch. I won't drink it again. I prefer Vodka, straight from the icebox, with a handful of chipped ice in the bottom of the glass. There's nothing better on a hot summer afternoon, when your undershirt sticks to your skin and the fan's fighting a losing battle with the humidity shimmering on the streets. I like watching that viscous clarity swirling in a tumbler, wiping it across my forehead, feeling the sweat turn cold, dowsing the fires, cooling the prospect of a desperate day. And if you don't know why I like sex, no amount of my saying is going to give you the picture. You can lead a horse to water, but it takes too damn long to teach it to fish.

I think I've done pretty well, taking up only two vices of all the ones out there. Sure, I could be greedy like everybody else, but I try not to stack the odds against me if I have the choice. There're a lot of things to worry about in the world without adding to them unnecessarily. So, it stands to reason I don't chase married women or drink with ex cons.

I don't drink with cops, either - they're worse than both of the others. You can't trust a cop to keep his word or keep you out of jail no matter how much you'd like to. They're just not built that way. Even if they want to be straight with you, they have lieutenants and captains to report to and they don't give a rat's ass who gets hurt as long as they get what they want. God help you if you stand in their way.

But I do like reporters. You can strike up a good, long friendship with a reporter - as long as you have the price of a jug of beer or a pony of whisky when they still have three days to go till payday. I started as a reporter about twenty years ago, with the Telegram on the crime beat, before getting into detective work. So, I can relate to the men and women on the street beat. When I can, I give them a little inside information on a case I'm doing and in turn I get a lot of stuff even the cops can't find out about. Reporters' guard their sources like grizzlies guard their cubs, so you can bet the cops never get the whole truth out of them. But I do. It's a mutual trust thing, and it goes a long way.

I started out with the Summerset Detective Agency back in thirty-six and stayed with them into the War. I took a holiday from work to tour Europe from '39 to '43, when I earned a ticket home, sporting a nice new hole in my chest. I finally recovered enough to get back to the agency. They used my little hero medal to drum up business. Tout the caliber of people they had working for them. Maybe that's why we got a lot of government work then, shaking the blankets for spies and such, and the money was good. But the work got boring at the end of the War - a lot of divorce work. Guys coming back from overseas to find their wives had been sitting under the apple tree with just about everybody else but them.

So in forty-five, I broke out on my own and opened an office in downtown Toronto, at Yonge and Dundas, over a hot spot called the Silver Rail. Nice office, two rooms and a bathroom, big windows looking down two floors to the busy street and just two flights of stairs away from a real sweet bar. I even started out with a lot of business, clients of Summerset that wanted to stay with me, so I had a nice package of change to start up with. It was a good time, I couldn't complain.

It's been like that for two years, now, steady. I do investigative work, no muscle, no rough stuff if I can avoid it. I own two guns, a Luger and an old Browning automatic, but I've never needed them. I like to use my head when I work. I collect all the information on a case and then sit for hours, puzzling the pieces together until it makes the only sense it can. A lot of it's logic, a lot is intuition and some is just brushing away the confusion to see what's really what. Confusion and misunderstanding and sometimes just disbelief can take an ugly toll if you let them catch you up. I always stand far enough back to put the picture in perspective. When I see all sides, I can usually see what doesn't belong and drop it from the equation. What's left is what I work with and it's usually the real goods. And detective work is just that easy.

Like I said, I like women, and that's how I got involved in this thing north of the city. Her name was Lucy Stoneham; and one of those head doctors would tell you I like her too much. They'd say that's why I chase everything in and out of a skirt - to compensate for losing her. What do they know?

I met her just after the War when I was still with the agency. We had a thing for a while, got serious, might even have been in love, started talking about a future. Then it all came apart when she asked me to come up to Cobston with her and work for her father. Every man knows the fastest way to terminate a budding romance is to force it. We talked, then we argued, she cried, I got angry, then we said good-bye.

But I never forgot her. I can't forget her. You know, don't you? When that one, really good, thing comes into your life, and you're too young or stupid or blind to know it? And you let it slip away. That's why when she called I made arrangements to meet her as soon as I could clear up my caseload. I cleared it up fast.

Cobston is a small town about sixty miles north, in a township called Innisfil. It's the kind of town that still makes you feel like you can knock on any door and ask for a drink of water and they'll invite you to sit down to supper, instead. It's the kind of place where the only strangers are people you haven't met, yet. Makes Toronto seem like a big, wet, indifferent mongrel dog, deciding whether to bite your hand or ignore you. Makes you feel welcome.

I'd made the drive a few times when Lucy and I were getting to know each other better. The first time, we just shared a quiet weekend at a log house her family built at the turn of the century. It was on a few acres of dense brush and woods that fronted on the lake, about four miles outside of Cobston.

It was on the edge of a village called Alcona Beach. Some thirty or so cabins, cottages and homes dotting the hills and buried in the woods, looking in Summer like a picture postcard and in Winter like a Currier and Ives calendar. Lucy and I got to know each other real well that first weekend. I smiled to myself on the drive back to the big, grey, wet dog. Thinking of my next visit.

I went to see Lucy twice more during the end of the year. First when the trees caught fire with Autumn color, and again when a thick, soft, layer of feathery snow covered the ground, making everything silent and still. It was in the Winter that I finally met Lucy's father, Frank Stoneham, the owner, publisher and editor of the Telegraph-Dispatch, Cobston's only newspaper.

He was cool with me, at first. Of course, what father wouldn't be cool to the guy his daughter was trying to make part of the family? I didn't know that then, but I get the feeling now that he did. He was about my height, maybe thirty years older, but he looked strong. His sandy colored hair was going white in streaks and his full beard had long ago gone white, with only a few streaks of remembered brown and red. But his eyes struck me immediately. Grey, aware, searching eyes that burrowed into your soul and made calculations on what they found there, then reflected their conclusions into your own eyes, whether you liked it or not. He was a hard man to stare down, and I didn't try.

I fought in Europe for three years and I saw things I don't want to remember, but I knew that his eyes had seen things I couldn't begin to know. There was a brief arc of recognition between us when he saw what I understood about him and he dropped his defensive posture and reached out his hand to me. I took it and shook, and we were friends.

So, when Lucy called me long distance and told me he was in trouble, I swept everything from the top of my desk into the bottom file drawer and packed a bag. She said he was scared. She said she needed my help. I put the Luger in its makeshift holster inside the cardboard lining of the driver's door and packed the Browning in my suitcase, took a roll of bills from the safe, put on my hat and overcoat and got in the Ford coupé. The afternoon was clear and the weather still September warm. The gas tank was full and the tires were new. I made the two hour drive in one.

II

The Encounter


It was four o'clock when I arrived. Lucy lived just this side of downtown Cobston, which could be the far side of anybody else's outskirts. The house was one of those heavy stone, near mansions, with three storeys and a full attic and a mortgage that'd cost your whole family two lifetimes of earnings to pay off if you bought it in the city. It was impressive, set back nearly forty feet from the street, couched in a swath of green and greenery, with the trees just crisping orange and red and brown.

The long, stone drive was lined with young Poplars, maybe twenty feet tall and bright white, the black scars and blemishes left by squirrels and woodpeckers, scrabbling and foraging, accenting the contrast of bark against inner pulp. The Poplar leaves, still dark, waxy green in the face of approaching Autumn, waved and spun on their stems, rattling in the closing evening sky.

I made enough noise closing the Ford's door and opening and slamming the trunk to allow Lucy the opportunity of coming out to meet me for whatever preliminary explanation she might need to give, before I met with her father.

When I did hear a noise from the house, I looked up to see Frank Stoneham, standing behind the slightly open front door with his new shotgun pointing into the porch floor. He wore an expression I had seen many times, both during my years overseas and lately, working the streets, in search of somebody's lost child. His eyes were hard focused and tuned to look for specifics. I turned, with my bags filling my hands, to face him; he looked past me, without recognition. I smiled and was about to make a crack when he said, "Get your things into the house, now."

I understood the situation from the edge in his voice. I moved as swiftly as learned reflex insisted. Sweeping past him into the house, I swiveled my head backward to trace my path, hoping to see what he saw. I saw nothing. But I knew his urgency was formed from experience. He was palpable evidence of the effect of his fear. I dropped my cases and stood, silent, waiting for his lead.

He remained at the front door, his back to me, staring long outside into the creeping darkness. The thought came to me that he was looking for death. No, that he was waiting for death, and he was not going to greet it with a handshake. He was going to make it work for its supper - beg for its supper, if he could.

After a few more awkward moments of waiting for him to say or do something to acknowledge my presence, I gave up and bent to open my suitcase and get the Browning out of its oilcloth bag. Stoneham didn't turn from the door, yet he still knew what I was doing.

"That won't do any good, John. Save your handgun for city work. I'm afraid you're really in the country, this time." He turned, then, to look at me for the first time, and there was the crinkle of a smile at the corners of his eyes. The smile you share with another fool who's stumbled into the impossible but who's bound to make it work, in spite of you. You know he hasn't got a clue, but you're glad he's there, anyway. Someone to share the desperation with. Someone to break up the enormity into smaller bites.

I understood him and ignored him. I took the automatic out of its bag anyway, and slapped the magazine in with a hefty, satisfying crack. He closed the thick front door and turned toward me. I was shaken, suddenly, with this first cold look at his appearance. He seemed to have aged far too fast in the little time since Lucy and I called it off. His hair was thinner and nearly pearl gray - no trace of the rich reddish brown I'd seen only a year ago. His stature seemed smaller, too. It was like he was shrinking into himself. This wasn't the man I'd visited the last time Lucy and I were together. The Editorial bearing was a shadow, the power was tenuous, the grip seemed softer. He pointed to my gun.

"Really, John, that won't do either of us any good if it comes down to a confrontation. Keep it in your pocket if you want, but carry that." He nodded toward a beautifully engraved, antique, over and under German shotgun that stood across the foyer against a wall.

"If you have to shoot, you'll need power, not accuracy." He lifted the Remington in his hand, illustrating to a slow student, how things should be done. "You won't be shooting to kill, you'll be shooting to scatter."

A sudden, wrenching premonition took me and tightened my throat and I snapped my gaze up from his gun and into his grey eyes. "Where's Lucy? What's going on?"

He turned from the door and led the way into the parlor. I followed. He sat in an old fashioned wing chair in front of the fireplace and rested the Remington across his knees. He looked up at me and said, "There's whiskey in that sideboard, beside you. Glasses too. Lucy's all right. She's upstairs sleeping, finally. Doctor Mather came over a few hours ago and gave her a sedative. She'll sleep for a while."

I started for the stairs, but his voice nailed me in place.

"Don't! Don't disturb her. She needs a rest. Don't worry, it was a mild tranquilizer. Anyway, I wanted to see you alone first; I have something to tell you that you need to hear from beginning to end. I need all of your attention. What I have to say is difficult enough without my worrying about Lucy being drawn in deeper than necessary."

I brought him a large, peaty-smelling Scotch, wondering again how any human could stomach the stuff, poured a glass of some clear liquid, I hoped was Vodka, and sat in a facing sofa, to sip a thick, sweet tasting concoction I'd never tasted before. I made a face and Frank snorted a single barking laugh.

"It's called Sambucca. Lucy spent last summer in Italy when you two called an end to your relationship. She developed a taste for it while she was there. She often said it reminded her of the stories you used to tell her about your time during the war."

I caught the dig, and for the first time realized I must have hurt him, too, by hurting his daughter. I felt kind of gritty around the collar, like I needed a bath.

"There's Vodka in the icebox. Why don't you go in and help yourself?"

I stood up from the sofa and walked down the long hall to the kitchen, emptied my glass into the sink, ran water into it to get rid of the licorice smell and filled it up again with the cold Vodka from the ice box. I chipped a few slivers of ice to go in, too, then I took half of it down in one swallow, walking back into the parlor as I did.

When I sat back down, I studied the old man's face. He seemed to me like a man who had seen his own end and it had nothing to do with the dreams we have of immortality through our deeds or our children or our bestowal upon the accumulated treasures of the human condition. He saw what a cold, dirty, little thing his death would be and he accepted it. His expression made me shiver, and I swallowed the rest of the icy liquid in my glass to ward off the deeper cold I could sense approaching.

"There is a disease in this community," he said, "and its sole aim is to kill everything here. Then bring it back to life."

III

The Tale


Of course I hadn't heard him right. A booze fog clogged my ears, made me hear stupid. I sure felt stupid, looking at this old man, now, sitting across the carpeted floor from me, hugging a 12 gauge shotgun under his arm while sipping whiskey, speaking rationally and quietly, and always, his eyes filling every corner of the room with a wide apprehension, letting no detail escape his cold calculation.

"Let me give you a history lesson, John," he said after a shallow sip. "Just after I got back from the First War, I was engaged to be married to a beautiful girl I'd known since childhood. My years as a soldier were over for ever and I was happy to take over my father's newspaper, settle into a quiet existence and marry the girl I'd been dreaming of, while trying to stay alive in the trenches of France.

"I know you did your share of fighting, this last time around, John, but you haven't seen Hell and Stupidity like I have. Men ordered - and honor-bound - to rise and run into machine gun fire by officers too young to realize the patent inhumanity of such orders. These poor boys did it, knowing their actions would have the same effect on the enemy as putting the barrels of their sidearm into their mouths and pulling the triggers. Still, they obeyed. I swore never again to be party to such insanity.

"After nearly a year back home, here in Cobston, my nightmares were fading, my dreams were becoming reality and my life was following the path I'd mapped out a thousand times."

He stopped speaking for a long moment and remained silent, staring back at something in his past with the eyes of a man who desperately needed just one more chance. His body shuddered and he sighed a heavy lung full of atonement and swallowed his Scotch. I reached over the distance between us and poured absolution into his glass. He leaned back and continued.

"Just as my world was becoming what it was supposed to be, it was ripped from my grasp. Stolen and destroyed by a pestilence mankind has become all too familiar with over the centuries, but has never recognized for its true nature.

"Do you remember the influenza pandemic of 1919? Well at the same time we, here in Cobston and the surrounding farms and homesteads, suffered a similar catastrophe, but far worse in consequences.

"At the time we thought it was cholera, but we were sadly mistaken. Although those affected at first exhibited the telltale signs of cholera, these appeared to mutate into something more akin to a bronchial infection, then the symptoms assumed flu-like associations. Fever, high fever, and blinding, debilitating headaches were common presentations by all sufferers, along with the horrendous projectile vomiting and bleeding from mouth and nose, that the Spanish Lady brought with her. I was constantly reminded of Poe's "Red Death," whenever I read the doctor's reports.

"But the final symptom, the one none of us here, including our doctor had any knowledge of or treatment for, was the one that caused the most upset. The victims appeared to reach a point where the disease wasted them to bone, and stopped their hearts.

"To all outward appearances they were dead. Of course, we buried them quickly, it was high summer and the risk of contagion was foremost in our minds. This particular pestilence spread rapidly throughout our community and we were frightened for our families and for our own lives. But, as it happens, we buried them too quickly. They weren't dead."

He looked me straight in the eye, giving me the opportunity to laugh at him. I didn't take it. Instead, I took his empty glass and refilled it. I refilled mine, too, and sat and waited for him to continue.

"You probably recognize that I am neither a gullible, nor an ignorant man. I'm not prone to easy credulity, and, being a journalist, I learned long ago to see things in a more critical light, to ignore the instinct to believe, in favor of the need to analyze and prove.

"While I believed my friends and neighbors were dying from the sickness that strangled our lives, I was confronted by a madman with an insane story. The madman was our local minister, a prim, proper, punctilious man who always bored me with his grey visions.

"You've met the type; no matter how you chide yourself to see beyond what your skin tells you, you just can't seem to muster the desire to look through his eyes - can't help wiping your hand on your trousers after he's shaken it. This was the unlikely source of proof that finally convinced me we were dealing with an ancient horror."

I shuffled my feet and shifted position twice before saying, "I don't mean any disrespect, Frank, but you talk like a dictionary. Is there a point anywhere in this story? I don't care about who the source of your proof was; I want to hear the proof. I've been listening for a long time, I think I've earned the brass ring."

I know I'm short on patience, but sometimes people need a little nudge to bring them around to why they're talking to you in the first place. He looked me that look of his again, and I felt like a kid in school sitting in the principal's office. But I just stared hard back at him for a while and the pissing contest was over before it started. He dropped his eyes to his glass for an instant and seemed to pull himself up from where he'd been mired in hurtful memories. When I met his gaze, again, he said, "Of course, you're right, John, let's get to the point of why you're here."

He told me things that, strictly speaking, should have brought me to my knees laughing. Corpses seen walking the night, just hours after they were buried. Underground burrows and tunnels and intersecting warrens beneath the cemetery. Unnatural sounds emanating from beneath the feet of witnesses. Muffled grunting, guttural, gluttonous noises of things eating other things. He related his meeting with Reverend Gresham, where he was shown antique references to similar carnal outbreaks. Following war was pestilence.

Following certain types of pestilence, was a rash of sightings of vampires and ghouls. Graves desecrated and corpses consumed. Occasionally living victims attacked and bitten, then in turn, succumbing to the ravages of the same pestilence. It was rich grist for the horror mill and I kept envisioning the gory, blood spattered covers of pulp magazines, like Weird Tales.

He told me about his fiancée, Carole, dying and being interred in a vault along with others, about his midnight trek to the cemetery with Gresham to discover the truth. About Gresham's rush into the vault and his own terror that held him in place, in the rain, in the mud, unable to make himself move.

He told me, "The noise inside was that of rooting sows; no human could have made such a sound. It was so plain, the rising and falling rhythm, the clash of teeth. I shouted for Reverend Gresham again. Nothing. Even here, outside the door, I was choking on the stench coming in waves from within. My last shout had become a parody of my own voice, and I knew I had to go inside."

That's when he got his proof. He saw Gresham, crumpled against one wall of the vault, by the shelves holding arrays of coffins, many with open lids, and Gresham was dead. One of his arms was pointing, as if in vindication, to the cause of his death. Stoneham's dead fiancée lay where she was, eyes open, jaws working, chewing the muscle and tissue she'd torn from Gresham's accusing arm.

Stoneham left the vault and the cemetery and ran for help. That night, in the rain and in silence, he and a group of others set fire to the vault and later, poured acid into each grave, to dissolve and dismiss the evidence of the curse that had come among them. And in his own words, "Though nine more victims succumbed, no new cases were reported after the day of the burning of the dead. The epidemic had mysteriously ceased, dispersed by the last wisps of smoke from the cemetery.

"But," he said to me, "I am convinced that it's back."


IV

The Chase


I believed him. I saw again in his eyes that I had no reason to doubt him. I placed my glass on the table before me and stood, hefting the reassuring weight of the shotgun in both my hands and asked, "If you're on the level, Frank, why are we just sitting here? Why aren't we . . . "

"We're waiting for a telephone call from Doctor Mather. Then we're going to get into your automobile and take a drive."

And with that, as in so many bad "B" movies, the telephone rang on cue. Stoneham rose from his chair and walked into the hall to answer the telephone, perched on the wall. He spoke in muffled tones for a minute and then returned to the parlor. "It's time," he said. "Let's start."

Together, we dropped ten boxes of shells into a small canvas bag, took up both shotguns and, as he went through the downstairs turning out the electric lights, I slipped a pony bottle of his whiskey into my left jacket pocket, the Browning semi automatic into the right pocket. 'I should really get one of those shoulder holsters,' I remember thinking. Funny, the things that go through your mind when you're facing the unknown.
When Stoneham returned from the back of the house, he carried a two gallon can of kerosene with him. I didn't have to ask why.

At the car, house behind us locked against the night and any unwanted visitors, I said "What about Lucy? Maybe we shouldn't leave her alone."

"She'll be safe, John, I have no doubts of that. I wouldn't leave her in harm's way. You should know that about me by now."

"Okay, hop in and let's get this circus rolling."

I was really beginning to feel the butterflies. The adrenaline pumping, the fight or flight response to danger was gearing up to full pitch. I have to admit I liked the feeling, unnatural as it sounds. It was like being behind the lines, again, with every face a potential enemy. Actions and reactions balanced on a razor's edge. Squeeze the trigger and you could either be congratulating yourself on saving your life or tearing yourself apart for killing an Italian milkman in the dark. The space for rational calculation and decision comes down to a single muscle twitch. I'm sorry, but the power is intoxicating! So few get to experience it.

"Back out and go left for about a half mile. We'll come to the Innisfil 10th Line. That's where we turn left again, for about four miles, until we come to the lake. I'll tell you where to go from there."

He fell silent. I drove until he tapped me on the shoulder and indicated the turn. We took a bumpy gravel trail that rose and fell like the humps of a roller coaster. The night was still warm for September, about 60 degrees, but it was starting to look like rain. I was glad I'd worn my overcoat.

The yellow of my headlights burrowed a short tunnel into the gathering mist that was forming as a prelude to the coming rain and my eyes were forced down into that tunnel, as I drove slowly. I no longer saw the sides of the road, the encroaching trees or the expanses of farmland that bordered the narrow road. When I stole a glance into the rearview mirror, I saw only wispy tendrils, swirling in our wake, tinged red by the taillights. A tiny, niggling pall crept up on me as I drove, with Frank Stoneham a solid, silent, unmoving mass beside me. A tiny ominous tugging at my awareness. Small and insistent, it used little pseudo fingers to pry open my eyes and make me see. For a reason I can't explain, I slowed the car to a stop on the dark road and slammed the lever into neutral. I reached into the glovebox and took out my flashlight and swung my door open. Stoneham moved for the first time in ten minutes and clawed my arm to hold me in place, but I shook him off and bolted from the Ford.

I strode and stood behind the car, so the headlights wouldn't blind me and shone the powerful flashlight across the fields and copses on either side. Shapes shifted and melted and reformed in the thickening fog. Man shapes. And some not manlike at all shambled into the beam of my light, were captured for an instant on my retina, and dissolved again into the background. I stood, transfixed, trying to force the apparitions into shapes I could deal with, categorize and put to rest within my realm of the mundane. Then an angry face filled the beam of my flashlight and I jumped at the nearness of it and plunged my hand into my right jacket pocket gripping the Browning and feeling the trigger's silken touch under my finger. I blinked and the angry face became Stoneham's, yelling something into my confusion.

"Get in the car! John, Get in the car and drive away now, God damn it!"

When we'd put about a mile between us and where I'd stopped the car I asked, "What was I seeing back there, Frank? It was like something was calling to me. I had to stop and look, why? What was it?"

"It's nothing, John. Forget about it," he said.

"Forget, hell! What were those things in the mist? Were they some of your dead come back to life?"

"Not now, John. Let's get to where we're going first and I'll try to explain everything we've discovered when we do."

I drove.

After a while we came to a crossroad and Frank told me to slow down.

"This is the 25th side road. We'll go past this and then turn left again when we come to the lake. Then it's only a short distance to where we're going to meet Doctor Mather."

I followed his directions until we turned left again and continued down a rut that'd been widened enough for automobiles to pass. It was obviously a wagon road only the locals used. It reminded me of a road I'd traveled before. I couldn't place where the thought came from for a moment, and then in a flash I knew where I was. This was the road to the cabin Lucy and I had used on our first weekend together. The big, wet, grey dog was beginning to growl and show its teeth at me.

I didn't need any more directions, I sped up and followed the road to where I knew the cabin stood, fronting onto the lake and surrounded by the forest on three sides, the wagon road only an upstart obtrusion on the sylvan surround. I braked in front of the porch and ignored Stoneham's gaze, eyes asking silent questions that no man answers about lovers and daughters.

"You get everything from the trunk and wait for me to come back for you, John. I want to see how far the doctor's gotten before I let you in. It will not be a pretty sight."

He left me and went into the cabin.

I stood outside the car, in the dark, light rain beginning, shotguns and canvas bag at my feet, mist clumping on the trees and sifting across the ground at the call of the light, steady wind, listening to the woods tease my ear with near sounds. Soughing enticements, imparting illusions, confirming little dreads.

Then the sounds began to take on definition. I listened to the swish of leaves, pushed aside in the wake of something shambling, heavily through the undergrowth, the soft cry of creatures communicating a clever and well worn subterfuge. There was the intimation of little voices speaking in sibilant hisses, one to the other, with me as the subject of their arguments.

I know how unlikely it sounds in retrospect, but I felt then, that the surrounding forest was discussing how best to do away with me and divide my spoils. I reached into my left jacket pocket, retrieved the little bottle, and for the first time in many years, swallowed a long, burning mouthful of Scotch. It was good. The Browning filled my other hand as the trees closed in.

Stoneham opened the cabin's front door and called to me, "John, bring the guns and come this way. Hurry." I was glad to get in out of the night. I thought I heard disappointment in the shifting of the wind as the door closed behind me, shutting out the rain and those things it concealed.

The cabin was nothing like I remembered. The quaint and comfortable furniture was pushed against the walls and under the windows and in its place was a number of hospital stretchers and metal tables. The large great room was given over to what I took to be an emergency ward in a busy hospital - or a morgue. Each table and stretcher held a body and when I'd taken in the scene and processed my astonishment, I counted five, in all. Three were on metal tables in the process of autopsy and two were apparently untouched, lying covered on the stretchers.

Standing over one of the tables was a grizzled, stunted man somewhere in his middle age, but looking much older. His hands were encased in heavy rubber gloves that reached his elbows and were slick with blood. He looked up at me from his work, "You must be the city slicker. I'm Doc Mather, if you haven't detected it yet, heh, heh." He grinned a leer at me and winked. Obviously a man who looks for the sunny side of his job.

"C'mere, Johhnyboy," he said, still grinning. I dropped the bag and set the shotguns against the doorjamb and walked across to the table he was currently presiding over. The smell brought back wrenching memories and I blew out a quick gust of hastily drawn breath. He chuckled and wagged his bushy, whiskered chin down at the body before him. "That's the stiff, Johnny. Well, maybe a little me, too, I've been up for days and I guess I'm a might rank at that."

"Get on with it, Alex," said Stoneham from a safe distance behind the doctor.

"What Francis here wants me to point out to you, John, is that these three bodies, as you can plainly see, are in the midst of autopsy procedures. You'll notice the open chest cavities and the missing organs, I trust? I've been experimenting. Like I said, I've been up for days, cutting, measuring and observing. I called Francis to bring you here because it's nearly time for you to see what Francis and I found out last week. Keep your eyes on the one in front of me, here."

He stepped back, rubbing the stiffness out of his hands, slick rubber snicking over knuckles and palms, nodding me forward until I laid my attention on the corpse. Its chest was cracked, beneath the classic Y incision that's become the favorite for opening a body quickly and completely in every busy, big city. The rib ends were plainly visible, pinkish white and sharp in the chest hole. The muscle and fat were stretched back and laid up over the shoulders in what looked like a rumpled, wet, red blanket, left out for somebody else to wash.

The lungs and heart were in place, but as I examined the abdominal cavity, I noticed it was scooped clean of viscera. Stomach, intestines, gall bladder and liver were all piled beside the corpse in a flaccid, flattened pyramid reminiscent of the crime scene from Jack the Ripper's Mary Kelly murder. And as I assimilated all of this information, which I would gladly have done without, I saw something out of place that jarred the entire scene into another realm. The realm of insanity. The corpse's legs and arms began to vibrate with a rippling motion that slowly grew into a thrumming, thumping, thudding on the metal autopsy table. I snapped my eyes to the face of the body on the dissecting gurney and jumped back a good two feet. Its jaws were opening and closing and its eyes were opened.

"Stay calm, John," Said Stoneham. "It will take a while for the entire transformation. Just stand still and let the doctor perform his tasks. Don't interfere."

Mather closed on the animated corpse and lifted the first layer of viscera from beside it and dangled it over its mouth. It lunged and snapped its teeth in a desperate effort to snag the gall bladder that had once been in its own body. Mather allowed the creature to bite into the organ and while it was occupied with this, he drove an embalming bore into its femoral artery and switched on a portable pump I hadn't noticed, sitting just under the autopsy table. While the thing gnashed and tried to swallow, the fluids from its body were drained into a steel tub placed near the fireplace. The pump produced a huge, ugly grinding noise that almost hid the slurping, sucking sound of the wide bore femoral needle. But it didn't hide it enough.

I watched this filthy scene until the thing's eyes glazed and its jaws stopped working. I was sickened. This was nothing I knew. This was nowhere I'd ever been. A man is shot in battle or in the street and he dies. That's the end of it. That's the truth of it. There's none of this idiocy in the world. Cold slabs of flesh don't . . .

But there it was. I was seeing what couldn't be. And as I watched, the thrumming and thumping of its limbs slowed and then stopped. And it was nothing but a cold, dead body on an autopsy table. Fluids finally drained and carcass sunken. But its mouth was grinning and its teeth were clamped on its own macerated meat. And its eyes held a trace of, what? The awareness of loss?

I stumbled back toward the cabin's front door and my heel kicked the two shotguns leaning against the jamb and knocked them over with a clacking thud. Instantly I bent and grabbed the nearest and raised it at ready arms. Military training returning in a rush of necessity, my left hand felt the slide and I pumped a shell into Frank's Remington, grateful for that welcome click-clack as the small, explosive cylinder went home into the chamber. I strode the three paces forward to the body and lowered the muzzle to the thing's sardonic face. Had I pulled the trigger, I would have splattered each of us with the backspray. Mather stopped me.

"Whoa, Bogart! Put the gun down. Christ you city boys sure can be thick. This one's no problem. Hell, I got enough body fluid on me to fill a Gin tub. I'll thank you not to increase my cleaning bill."

I looked up from the grinning jaws of the corpse on the table and into the doctor's twinkling eyes. I could have shot either one of them, then.

"Please John. Lower the gun and wait until Alex is finished," asked Stoneham. "This is very important."

I could have shot Stoneham, too.

But then the corpse on the second autopsy table began to stir and vibrate like the first and the one on the third table followed suit. I stood with the Remington hovering over the space between both bodies and watched as Mather performed the same ritual with the viscera of each corpse. The third cadaver snapped at its own guts and Doctor Mather shoved the femoral needle into its thigh and drained its juices while it greedily ate its own innards.

But the second corpse turned its face away from its flesh and seemed to tremble, body thrumming and face shaking. It was then that Frank Stoneham stepped to the front with something in his hands that he placed on the table beside the corpse's face. It looked to me like a prime rib steak. He unstrapped the thing's hands and stepped back.

The corpse, a male, vivisected like the others, reached its left arm over its open chest cavity, flopping the skin and muscle into a rough semblance of where it belonged, and grasped the meat in its hand. Then carefully brought the steak to its mouth and took several, measured bites.

"Another keeper, " Said doctor Mather. He wiped his face with the back of his bloody arm and snapped his bushy gaze up to my eyes, as if in a challenge. I lowered the Remington. He chuckled softly and began the process of stitching crude sutures into the body, as it ate, almost delicately.

"The ribs and muscle will take about an hour to knit and heal completely. Then there won't be any sign this body was ever disturbed. In about three days, the new organs will form and this one will be up and around like it never died. Any theories, Sherlock?"

"What's happening to him. Why don't you kill him? I don't get it."

"Don't worry sonny," said Mather. "This thing takes a while to sink in. Francis and I have been living with this for over a week and we still don't know for a scientific certainty what's happening here."

"We have a good idea, though, John," said Stoneham.

The doctor finished his repairs on the body and its eyes closed and it stopped eating. He wiped the blood from the sutures and covered it with one of the ubiquitous white sheets, folded on the sideboard. Now there were three sheet draped tables in the room.

"Yes, we do," said Mather. "It's the disease itself that seems to cause this reaction. It's as though the virus is killing both the body's defense system, then reorganizing the entire body structure from the inside out. As you can see, we've been studying this for a while," He nodded at the covered tables. "For every one of those, there are at least ten that don't, what? Come around?"

"What about those ones? You just pump them dry and embalm them and they stay dead? What about burning? What about the acid you had to pump into the graves last time," I asked, scared, confused and angry at being made to know this was really happening

Stoneham explained, "When we first recognized the symptoms of the disease as those from the epidemic of 1919, Doctor Mather and I decided to take certain steps to assure ourselves the repeat of that horror did not occur. We didn't bury the dead; we brought them here instead. And we strapped them to these tables until they stirred back to life. Then we destroyed them.

"Yes, " said Mather. "We were pretty messy at first. Until I got the hang of it, I tried dismemberment, but the parts remained alive independent of the whole. Gave me and old Francis, here, the shock of our lives watching arms and legs flopping on the floor while the head lay across the room, looking with longing at its torso. My God, that still gives me nightmares!"

"Then I tried bullets," said Stoneham. "But the pistol grew too hot to hold. I shot until my arm and wrist stung from the recoil and the things kept moving and gnashing their teeth with the effort to reach us. I finally thought of the shotgun I lent to you, John. I held the barrel at various distances from the corpses' heads until trial and error showed me the optimum spray pattern for completely destroying the cortical nexus."

"We did change our initial approach to that disposal system, though," said Doctor Mather. "After Francis blew through both his first corpse's head and the wall behind it, we figured it was best to strap them outside on the tables and wait till they came back. Still, though, Annie Oakley, here, shot through one of my gurneys and nearly got hit by ricocheting pellets until I fell on the idea of using the embalming pump.

"This virus appears to kill the body's blood cells and replace them with its own. Once I figured that out, it was a good bet that if I drained the new blood, the things wouldn't survive. And I was right."

"Why did you stop? What's the point of keeping any of them alive," I asked Stoneham?

"One of them slipped our notice and came back without making a sound. It just lay quietly on its table watching what we were up to and not moving a muscle. It didn't gnash its teeth, it didn't try to bite us, it just lay there observing. When we finally did notice its eyes open and staring, I lowered the shotgun to its head, but it looked at me so pitifully, I couldn't shoot," he told me.

"That's when I decided to autopsy the body," said Mather. "We brought it in here and I started the procedure. The corpse just lay there, its head tilted upward, watching interestedly as I cut into its chest, separated the ribcage and poked around in its guts. Right away I noticed the change in the major organs. They were decimated and dissolving, so I removed them for study."

"It was then the corpse did something that amazed us, John, " said Stoneham. "It sighed, as if in relief, lay its head back down and whispered for something to eat. It had no stomach, John, but it asked for food."

"So you gave it some raw meat and then what," I asked?

"It went into a kind of sleep, stasis, more like," said Mather. "And I stitched it up and left it on the table. From then on we opened them all up and removed the organs you see on that table. The ones that acted like animals, we destroyed, the others, we fed and stitched back together."

"How many did you destroy," I asked them?

"Nearly forty souls have died of this epidemic and we have destroyed thirty six bodies," said Stoneham.

"That leaves four," I said. "I only see three sheets covering three corpses. What happened to the other one?"
"I'm here, John," said a voice from the loft over the great room. I looked up and saw Lucy watching us from over the railing. Lucy? She looked as beautiful as I remembered and I trembled just looking at her.

"What the hell?"

"Don't be afraid, John, It really is me. I'm alright. I'm fine. In fact I'm better than I've ever been."

"Frank," I said through clenched jaws. "Explain this, fast."

"There's nothing to worry about, John," he said. "Lucy is alive and well, now. She died on one of these tables over a week ago. Twelve hours later, she came back to me. When I saw the love in her eyes, John, I just couldn't bring myself to fire the shotgun. I just couldn't."

"Why isn't she like the thirty six you had to kill? Why isn't she an animal?"

"Why don't you ask me, John? I'm right here." Lucy came down the stairs and stood with us near the tables. She was perfect in every way. I let her take my hand and she was warm and soft and human. But she'd been dead. She'd been where nobody comes back from.

"This is wrong, Lucy. The whole thing is insane, but this is wrong. Who are you? What are you?"

"I am just who you see, John. Nothing's changed in me, as a person. I'm just a little better than I was. I have the same memories and feelings and likes and dislikes. It's just that I'm stronger than I was, now. I feel like I can never get sick again, never be afraid of death. I was very sick, John, but now I'm cured." She smiled at me, and I believed her.

There was a sudden crashing of glass at the windows and a loud banging at the front door. "What's that!"

"They're here. This is why I called you, John. We need your help," said Lucy calmly.

"Whose here," I asked?

"You noticed them on our way here, John," said Stoneham. "They are survivors from our purge in 1919. They escaped the fires and the acid and they made their way deep into a marshy woods not far from here. As closely as we can reconstruct it, the underground warrens and pathways were more intricate than we thought, and a large number of the dead got away and melted into an inaccessible forest land that has always been shunned by the people of Cobston and all of Innisfil township."

"What are they doing here? They expecting supper or something," I asked?

"They're here for me," said Lucy. "For me and the others who have come through. They don't know the others have been destroyed. They just know that they were here when they came through. And they need to take us with them."

"Where," I asked her. I held the Remington out to Stoneham and he took it. I looked at Doctor Mather and he no longer had the twinkle in his eyes. I grabbed the over and under and passed it to him. He thanked me as he broke the gun and checked that it had shells. The Browning was in my hand the next instant. "Where do they need to take you," I repeated?

"To Aldwych Wood," Stoneham answered for her. "That's the only place that could have hidden them for all these years. That's the only place they could have survived."

"What's Aldwych Wood?"

"A legend, Johnny boy, just a legend," said Mather. "It's where the bogeyman lives." He seemed to have gotten his edge back. I was reassured by that. Always fight beside a mean bastard, if you have to fight. Thinkers can get you killed. Mean bastards don't always realize they're thinking.

"Do we want to cut through them to the car, or let them sit down for dinner," I asked Mather?

"I'd just as soon make a hole, Johnny, if it's all the same to you. I don't like the idea of any of them making a meal of my liver," grinned the doctor.

"Let's go. We can all fit in the coupé, "I said, walking toward the front door, which still resounded with the cracks and thumps of fists and other things that made softer, wetter thudding noises.

"No we can't," announced Lucy in a very strong, very sharp voice. "What about these newforms on the tables?"

"Please. Lucy," Said her father. "Please. We must leave them."

"No, we mustn't, father. We must stay and protect them until they're able to protect themselves."

"Let's take them with us, then. Dammit I ain't staying here! What do you say, city boy, my station wagon's out back?"

"Will it hold all three, Doc?"

"Hell, boy, it's a township meat wagon. Without the gurneys, what do you think?"

"Let's go. Frank, where's the back door?"

Stoneham took one gurney, Mather took one and I got the last, laying the canvas bag of shells on the corpse, and we followed Stoneham and Lucy to the back of the cabin down a long, picture lined corridor. Another rich history going uncelebrated, losing resonance with the passage of time. We entered a dimly lit kitchen and Stoneham brought us to a halt. It was then that I noticed the broken glass on the floor beneath the two kitchen windows and that the back door was badly damaged, its small pane shattered, but the door was still locked. I noticed, too, an ax and a smaller hatchet, leaning near the door. It's nice to have a fireplace in the country. Never know when the tools'll come in handy.

I pocketed the Browning and took up the ax in both hands, then stepped to the back door. As I reached to unbolt the lock, I heard a sharp cry from behind me and spun to see the matter. Frank Stoneham stood like a statue, frozen in fear. He stared past me to the door. I turned and saw a semblance of a human face filling the broken pane.

"Sweet Jesus Christ," whispered Stoneham. "Gresham! That's Reverend Gresham." The face contorted into a travesty of a smile and the back door burst in on us, sending shards and splinters flying into the kitchen.
Everything came off the rails, then. The thing Stoneham thought was his old pal Gresham stood aside to let the things behind it through the doorway while more began to struggle in through the broken windows.

The shotguns cut the air with booming cracks, splattering heads into clumpy spray and needles of bone. I swung the ax over and over again at anything that came my way, burying its blade deeply into a head, when I could. But in the confusion and panic, I missed more than once and only lopped things away to skitter across the floor and flop uselessly. The smell of cordite and something musty and damp was thick in my nostrils. The scene was Bedlam.

Suddenly, our way to the back door was clear. The cessation of gunfire and blood cries, closed on my ears like a muffle.

We were stunned for an instant.

It was over.

The door was hanging on its hinges, beckoning us, and the room was filled with nightmare visions, covering floor and walls with what we'd done. We'd be smart to leave.

Mather's ambulance was under an overhang at the side of the cabin, we got the three bodies inside, laying one atop the other, then slammed the wagon's rear door. The trees surrounding us were quiet. The wind had died down and the clouds and mist were clearing. Behind high scudding plumes, the full moon, a September silver, peeked out and bathed the night in luminescence. The ground beneath our feet seemed to glow in the sharp light.

"I'll go around and bring the coupé back here," I said into the suddenly silent night. "Lucy can ride back to the house with me. Frank, you and Doctor Mather can take the lead and we'll follow."

"Be careful, Sherlock."

"You can bet on it, chum."

I hefted the ax and hugged the side of the cabin. I moved along the entire length until I came to a right turn. I took the turn, fully expecting to see my Ford sitting in front of the cabin waiting for me to get in and push the starter. Instead, I saw a wall of shapes, bodies of all description, some upright and some not so upright. There were a few I saw that I knew couldn't exist. But, unlike the shapes and shadows I'd seen on our journey down to the cabin, there was no rain, no swirling mist to obscure my vision.

The abominations and horrors I saw surrounding my Ford were not from my imagination. They were clearly defined and sharply outlined by the harsh light of the full moon. And I was afraid. I wanted to run away. I have seen the results of war and been sickened by its face, but I had never seen the deformities that confronted me then. I was sorely afraid and I was transfixed in fascination.

The form of Reverend Gresham detached itself from the throng and moved toward me. It didn't actually walk, necessarily, I couldn't discern its legs in the harsh contrast of the moon's glow. I thought I saw only one thick, pillar with a collection of splayed digits supporting it around the bottom. The thing was naked, yet still seemed clothed in a dark viscous film, maybe pine tar, resin or pond scum, I didn't need to know. It slid closer to me and the things behind it parted and I saw the coupé, safe and apparently untouched. I held the ax in a fighting stance. Gresham stopped.

The Gresham thing moved its mouth in a contorted travesty of speech, but nothing came out but a phlegmy rattle. It stood before my upraised ax and continued "speaking" to me.

"We've destroyed them all," said Doctor Mather. "You can't have them."

I turned and saw all three standing fanned out behind me. I hadn't heard them come up on me. I was slipping in a dangerous way.

The creature railed a hideous scream of defeat or pain or rage and suddenly hollow words scraped deeply from its dessicated throat.

"Your Carole misses you, Stoneham. She hungers for you."

The mass approached us in a wall of ugly, filthy violence. I swung the ax and kept swinging. I hit and hewed and chopped until my arms gave out. It was finally then that I realized, the things made no sounds of pain or fear as they were cut down. They just fell. It was our noise in the kitchen that so filled my ears and fed my panic. This was like killing in a dream.

When I was too tired to hold the ax, I pulled the Browning from my pocket and pointed it at the first shape that loomed over me. It was Gresham. I fired the whole magazine into his face. When the cloud of smoke dissipated, he was still standing, its face proclaiming the holes I'd put into it, contorting into the grin I remember still. I fought over fallen forms and reached the Ford. I sat with my back against the door and tried to catch my breath.

The Browning was empty. Gresham continued toward me.

I turned and swung the door open and tore into the cardboard I'd taped to the inside. The Luger fell into my hand and I spun and fired directly into his eyes - right and then left and then right. He staggered backward and toppled, quivering. I stood and walked over to him, breathing hard and kicked at his body.

A long arm snaked out and grabbed me by the throat and hoisted me off my feet. One hundred and eighty pounds of me, dangling in the night air, croaking for breath, no longer breathing at all, the Luger empty in my hand, my life loosening from my body, my eyes clouding over, vision fading. Then I saw Gresham rise from the ground, and at the same time, his grip loosened and I fell to the gravel in the driveway. I lay there for a moment, gasping the sweet air my lungs were screaming for and trying to shake the red flashes from my eyes.

A strong hand lifted me off the ground and held me upright. I finally focused on who it was and saw Lucy standing in front of me, still supporting all of my weight with one of her slender arms. The shadowed forms slithered deep into the moon-silvered trees. And disappeared. Gresham's almost human howls bouncing off the night.

Lucy had saved my life.

V

The Denouement


The next morning we were back at the Stoneham house, having a very light breakfast. This was mainly because Frank, Alex and myself couldn't face the prospect of eating anything with meat. I had pancakes, Frank Stoneham and Doctor Mather both had oatmeal and toasted whole-wheat bread. Lucy had a Porterhouse steak, sausages and bacon with four double-yolked eggs, as well as pancakes and oatmeal and toasted whole-wheat bread. The three newforms were resting upstairs in various rooms. Lucy was looking forward to helping them through their first new day back in their bodies.

Gresham had conned Mather and Stoneham into splitting from us. The bodies in the ambulance were in no danger. Although many of the escapees from Cobston's cemetery, back in 1919, were on the move toward the cabin to meet with Gresham, they were in worse shape than he and his cohorts were. Some, we found on the drive back, were stranded on the sides of the road, still crawling or trying to hop toward the cabin. I won't tell you what they looked like, you wouldn't want to believe me anyway, and I wouldn't want to blame you.

Let's just say this about it. You remember the parable about the four blind men trying to describe an elephant? All they had was touch? One felt the trunk and thought of a snake, one felt the leg and thought of a tree, one felt the tail and thought . . . you get the picture. Nobody had the right picture of what the thing should look like. That's what the creatures on the sides of the road looked like. Somebody's wrong impression. After a while, they weren't even ugly. I went back later and checked. They'd all made it back to wherever the hell they came from. The bodies around the cabin were gone, too.

I asked Stoneham and Mather if they'd take me to this Aldwych Wood place and let me look around. They both did little dances with their eyes and made sure they never tripped over mine. They said throat clearing things about impossible to explain and legendary folklore. I asked if there was anywhere I might find out more, without having to drag it out of either of them, but they demurred. I guess I'll never know where it is or what it's supposed to be. I may be just a city boy, but I know when country folk is pulling the wool over my eyes.

Later that day I'd asked Frank and Alex what they'd done to the newforms they had destroyed. Thirty six bodies must have caused some kind of stir. You can't bury that many at one time without getting outside attention from the newspapers. They did the eye dance again and assured me that it was solved. Nobody was hurt, the families agreed to quiet disposal. It was best no outsiders came snooping into things that were concerns of Innisfil, alone. I let it go.

While I was washing up after supper, that evening, Frank came into my room and sat down. "What do you think Reverend Gresham meant?"

"About what, Frank? He said a lot of things and most of it was just camouflage to separate us and take what he came for."

"When he said, 'Carole misses me.' What do you think he meant?"

"Nothing. Just looking for a nerve. When you make a play on someone, Frank, you always gotta seem to have an edge. If you go in clean, the field's even, no win. That's when the guns come out and people start getting shot. So you go in with something the other guy wants more than his life, the game's already yours and you let him play it out.

"You don't think Carole is alive in Aldwych Wood, then, do you John."

"What's Aldwych Wood, Frank? It's where the bogeymen lives! Not where Carole lives. Your Carole died of Cholera back when you saw her die. You set fire to her while she lay in that vault and you watched the vault burn. That's the end of it." I finished tying my tie and turned around to look at him. He was sitting in the chair beside the bed, head bent down, looking into himself again. A tear ran from each eye, bracketing his pain, framing his eternal loss. I knew he'd go to this Aldwych Wood looking for what had become of his Carole. I knew it and, damn me, I hoped he'd find her.

"I want to take Lucy to the city with me for a little while, if that's okay with you, Frank. I think she needs a change of . . . "

"No, John, I do thank you, and I do love you. I'm sure my father has told you how much I've always loved you. But, you see, he needs me," Lucy said from my open door. She looked so perfectly lovely. How could a woman be so beautiful? She'd aged three years since I first met her, but she looked ten years younger!

I shrugged into my jacket and I felt the familiar weight of that pony bottle of horrible whisky. "You know you scare the hell out of me, now, Lucy? Don't you? I'm still grappling with why you're alive. I'm not complaining, you know. You know that, right? But, being that I'm only a confused third party to this whole amazing situation, I should be forgiven my natural tendency to bolt. What I'm saying Lucy, is that I don't want to bolt. Not without you."

"I love you, John Delaney, Private Detective. Ladies man. I will see you again. But for now I must stay with my father."

I walked to the door and took the woman I knew as Lucy in my arms and kissed her as tenderly as I had ever kissed her. I nodded to Frank Stoneham and walked out of the bedroom door, down the stairs and into the front hall of the Stoneham mansion. It was a real mansion, don't let me kid you. All those rooms, all those trees lining a driveway that long, hell it was a small castle.

I saw Doctor Mather sitting in the front room. He nodded me over. I went and sat down beside him on the huge couch and took the iced vodka he handed me. I wondered how long he'd been waiting, since the ice was still chipped large in the frosty glass. He'd been replenishing my ice. That was really friendly of him. We sat in silence for a few sips. I nearly gasped, because he'd been replenishing the vodka each time he chipped in more ice. Whew, that's a friend!

"John"

"What happened to city boy? Johnny boy? You going soft on me Doc?"

"I was afraid of you, at first, John, thought we couldn't trust you. This was a whole lot to take, slick. I think these things are the Vampires and Werewolves from our collective histories; the monsters we've always dreaded. We just never knew the full story until now. Thanks for being with us."

"Don't mention it Doctor, It was nice to meet you, too," I said.

"I read Detective stories, you know?"

"And?"

"And I know you guys carry business cards with your telephone numbers and addresses on them."

"That's right, Alex, a lot of us do."

"Do you?"

"Yes, Alex, I do."

"Will you give me yours. Just in case?"

"I'm always happy to get another client, Alex," I said, as I smiled into his expectant eyes and drew one of my newly printed business cards from my watch pocket and flicked it into his palm. He took it and placed it on the low table before us.

"This is a whole lot to take, John. I don't know what comes next. I'm scared, son. This is not my area of medicine."

"Alex, I think this falls outside of everyone's area."

"I'm worried about Francis," he said.

"I know , " I replied.

"Can I call you" he asked?

"First sign, Doc First sign.

"You have a vested interest in this berg now, too? Don't you Sherlock?"

"Indeed I have, Sawbones, I certainly have."

We finished our drinks and parted. I left the Stoneham mansion and climbed into my Ford Coupé for the long drive back to Toronto.

VI

The End

I had a lot of questions as I drove back into the belly of the wet gray dog. None of them formed properly in my mind. To have a question one must have a veritable basis of reference, they say. I had nothing but a night of ghost stories and gore.

Why did Cobston hide the burials from outside press, effectively hiding the deaths?

How did Cobston not know the result of 1919's purge and burning, was still wandering its fields?

How did Frank Stoneham detect the resurgence of the terrible disease that took his community so many years ago, unless he was anticipating its return?

Why did Lucy feel so different in my arms as I kissed her good-bye on that night?

Don't get me wrong, she was there, and she was the Lucy I remembered. But, somehow, SHE wasn't there in my arms. I can't say any more than that.

I keep working on my little cases, divorce and surveillance and sometimes I get hired by a rich man to protect his wife. It's a job. It used to be exciting, but now it's only a job.

I did, finally look up this Aldwych Wood place. Stoneham was right, so was the Doc It's only a legend.

Somebody wrote an epic verse about it years ago. Some misanthrope that was supposed to have lived on its outskirts, alone, for years.

Sure.

Lucy doesn't call me, Frank is quiet, too. Even the Doc hasn't used my damn card. Where the hell are they?
Where the hell are they? Here, listen to some of this and you decide.


And the people quietly hide
On their hilly plots
Of rocky land,
Striving to draw no further
Dark attention from
Whatever inconceivable Entity
Watches them live their
Guarded lives
Festering and deforming their dreams
Noisomely crushing their stunted hopes
From within the haunts of
Aldwych Wood
Expansive and wild, the Wood
Teems hideously
With all manner of creatures
Who secrete themselves
Within its dark confines.
Rustling and flapping,
Slithering and swimming,
Skittering and crawling.
They are natural to a degree,
Or once were,
When the forest was young
And the hills were clean.
But now, of a night
In the warmer seasons,
The animals call in mocking voices,
Cry as they struggle through dense undergrowth,
On pseudo legs.
Or flop from branch to branch
On wings
No longer suited to flight.
Catching, instead, and grasping with
Newly formed hands.
And squelch through the ubiquitous slime
That is the soul
Of Aldwych.
Barely keeping hauntingly intelligent eyes
Above the mire.
They murmur constantly,
One to the other,
Of why they wish to leave
Aldwych Wood,
But, lament that they never will.
Because what poisons the soils
And streams
Of this place
Has gouged the beauty and purity
From the creatures within
And replaced it with a noxious,
Fungous travesty
That can exist
In no other place.



See what I mean?

Go figure.

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The Real End