Wednesday, 7th. Though I sense, in this last chapter, a better control of the actual writing than I had in the second chapter, the wheel is still spinning in my hands; the narrative won't answer the rudder. All I can do is go on. If I'm not a writer, I'm nothing, for I've always written, as Norine has now reminded me. If I fail with the novel, everything fails.
Rafe Hawkins was here again for coffee this morning on his way to the college. I'm getting to know him better and to like him more. Cara evidently saw through his facade almost immediately, but my prejudices against handsome blond young activist ministers are strong, as they are against people who seem to know everything sails on an even keel.
This morning I asked him what, mainly, he did at school. He stirred his cup and frowned. Cara passed him some toast. I lit a pipe and waited.
"What I try to do," he said, "is show the kids someone cares and is willing to help, no matter what the problem is." He glanced up at me and smiled, pushed the tow forelock back out of his eyes. "I get everything from acid heads to people who want to keep out of the draft."
"Then how much good is your religious training?" I asked.
"Sometimes, none. More important, often, is my training in psychology."
Cara looked over the table at me. "Rafe has an A. B. D. in psychology."
I raised my eyebrows.
Rafe laughed. "I got nearly all the way there," he said, "and realized that psychology is merely modern religion. Actually, I've even written the dissertation." His eyes clouded over, and he began speaking as much to himself as to us. Catch, or Wesley as Cara now calls him, rolled over in a beam of sunlight that splashed onto the dining room carpet and faded into the corners.
"I even underwent analysis. The only thing I don't have is my dissertation defense. The day I was supposed to go in for it, I saw that I needed to defend my thoughts to no one but the One. I packed, left town, and entered divinity school. It's very difficult to know for certain, but I believe I've established a dialogue with something at the center of things. That, more than my training, I think, helps me with the kids."
"That's more than I was ever able to manage," I said. There was silence at the table. It wasn't an embarrassing silence, but there was a feeling in me that struggled to scream. I'd give a deal to have as much certainty, even, as that.
When Rafe had left, Cara and I went to the post office. There was a package waiting there for me, and a letter from Norine enclosed:
"October 4, 1970
"Melany and I have been cleaning out some of your things, and we ran across the enclosed scrapbook. Evidently you made it as a child, for its date is 1949 — that would be your last year of junior high school, would it not? However, some of the pieces in it certainly date from considerably earlier.
"At any rate, I knew you wouldn't wish to lose eve a word of your deathless prose. Perhaps, if you revise this collection, you can publish it at your own expense and nominate yourself for a Pulitzer Prize.
"I do hope your new novel is progressing nicely. It would be a shame if you failed at that, too.
"Melany has forgotten to ask to be remembered to you this time, but I am sure it is merely childish egocentrism. She is busy with her new little dolls — while cleaning up, we found the very elaborate Bride and Groom left over from our wedding cake, and I have made her a little gift of them. She is so cute. She has taken the clothes off the groom and is trying to put them back on.
"How is Cara? Do write.
The scrapbook she sent is titled True and Fictional Stories of the Supernatural. On the first page it says, in a very florid script, "Negotium Perambulans in Tenebris — July 1949 — Beauty and the Awful are Herein Contained."
The next page is decorated with two Walt Disney witches — I remember a rubber stamp set, bought with part of my paper route money — and an abstract, geometric drawing I did called "Realm of the Gods." There are a few rhymes and charms as well, and this is the preface:
This book contains true stories of the Supernatural and also my collected Supernatural fiction. Ghosts, Satyrs, Vampires, Familiars, Monsters, Witches, evil Gods & forbidden Deities run rampant in these pages, Therefore I suggest that no squeamish person turn this page. Go no further because — the awful lies waiting.
I turned the page, and the awful did lie waiting.
Cara read the letter and looked at the scrapbook. I watched her reaction. Her eyes narrowed, her lips thinned out, and two bright red spots appeared over her cheekbones as the skin tightened with her jaw.
"I haven't said much till now, Charles, but your wife" — she hissed the sentence — "is a witch, a real one. She's cut off your balls and stuffed them in your mouth." Cara was livid, her fists clenched and beating, beating against her thighs. "I hate her with all my soul. I'd kill her if I could. I hate her as much as I love you — oh, Charles."
She wept, her hands crushed to her eyes. I went to her and held her.
"You will be healed, Charles," she said. "I swear it. I'll make you whole again." The side of my neck was wet with her tears.
"I'm used to it," I said. "Besides, I'm glad to have the scrapbook. I'd forgotten how long I've been writing. Maybe Norine miscalculated this time. It just reminds me that I've always been a writer — long before I met her. It reminds me my life is a single piece after all, and that there's a thread holding the fragments together."
I felt Cara finally cease trembling in my arms. I took out my handkerchief and wiped her face — I love to sink into the gray depths of her eyes. "Come on," I said, and drew her to the couch. "Let's read some of it."
She let herself be pulled down, and we sat there turning pages until we came to a piece titled, "'Is There Luck?' by Charles Ally." I read it aloud while we sat there, the warm sun touching our shoulders:
On June sixth, 1949, I became a "Jinx for a day" so to speak. I had been riding my bicycle for close to four years and never had more than one accident in one day (breaking a fork, flat tires, etc.) But on this day I had no less than five major falls and crackups, two minor accidents, several comings apart of parts of my bike and was nearly hit by a car! All in the short space of six hours.
It all started as I was riding around with my friend A[lle] L[amphier] on his paper route. We were coming down Steuben Street and I was debating as to whether I would coast right out on to the main street when I saw a car coming along on the main road. I was in no hurry so I casually put on my brakes and wound up on the ground. I had skidded on some loose tar. I thought nothing of it at the moment as those things do happen.
"You know," I said to Cara, "that's really not bad writing for a fifteen-year-old." Cara nodded, her eyes fastened to the page.
After supper R[ichard] H[ass], A[lle] L[amphier] and myself went on a ride up to Hubbard Park. We were riding around Mirror Lake when I tried to avoid hitting A—-'s bike who was moving ahead of me. There was no danger but I lost control and fell. I got up with a feigned look of revenge on my face and went after A—- on my bike quite slowly. I touched the back of his wheel and again lost control. Again I hit the ground. Next R——— began to get wise on his bike. He tried to cut me off but misjudge and hit me lightly and over I went again!
We decided to go home by way of Reservoir Ave. aptly caled the street of the "Seven Hills." We were coasting down the hill when I noticed something rattling. It was one side of my fender. The bolt holding its praces had come off. By the time I had reached the bottom of the hill both sides were rattling. I stopped to tighten the bolts and we decided to ride down to Coe's Pond.
I paused. "Coe's Pond no longer exists," I said.
"What happened to it?"
I shrugged. "When I was home for my father's funeral two years ago, I noticed there were buildings on the spot. They must have filled it in. We used to build rafts and go sailing on it. It was only a shallow mud hole.
"For that matter, whole portions of my life no longer exist — there's no Meriden High School any more, but two high schools in its stead. And the college where I first taught was taken over by the State of Ohio. It's now a large downtown school with another name. If I look back, I can see time digging holes in my footsteps."
Cara shivered a little.
We were part of the way down So. Vine when my fender began to rattle again. I stopped and took off the fender and slung it across my handlebars. We had almost reached the end of Centennial when my fender slid off the handlebars and tangled in the front wheels. I did a loop-the-loop in the air over my handlebars and hit the road. I was so disgusted that I threw away the fender into an empty lot. A lady appeared on the veranda of the adjoining house and told me to take the fender off her lawn. This I did and threw it away in the woods nearby. I then got back on my bicycle and found out that I had a sprung ford and had dented my light. I got home all right and put my bike away.
Quite a bit later I was next door to the Westerly Luncheonette at the gas station.[on West Main Street at Bradley Boulevard]. I decided upon a little experiment. I said to A—- who was next to me: "let's see what happens if I throw this pice of paper at that gasoline sign above us." I threw the pice of paper at the sign. Nothing happened. I was about to congratulate myself when suddenly a car came roaring up the driveway at me. I dodged and the car kept going and went out of the other driveway. This completely unnerved me and I went quickly home and went to bed not trying to tempt fate further.
Co-incidence? I would have said so too if it had not been for the latter incident. I would rather say that I had a run of bad luck. And who is to stop me? Can you positively state that there is no such thing as luck?
"Good grief," Cara said, "you've Always been Charles Ally, haven't you?"
Thursday, 8th. Last night was the worst I have ever spent. It was filoed with vivid dreams. I was more awake in my sleep than I am today, when everything seems unreal. Sitting here at Uncle John's desk, I watch my hand crawl across the page as though it were an automatic machine operating in mist.
It began when Cara came to sleep in my bed, and we tried to make love for the first time since the salve. It was no use. Whenever I began to grow excited, I would see something that froze me limP Cara's face beneath me, turning into Norine's; Melany's face in an old picture of children above the mantel; clothes hung over a chair that, reflected in the hallseat mirror, became a watching shape that shifted in shadow. If I closed my eyes, it was worse.
I fell back exhausted with effort. Cara moved close to me and held me, whispered, "Don't worry, Charles. It's all right. We'll make it, we'll make it." Her hand on my perspiring forehead was cool. I turned off the bedlamp and lay listening to the dark house. Things grew quiet, and Cara fell asleep. I must have, too, but I don't remember it. It seemed I was awake the whole time. At first there were nothing but the usual night noises — the sound of water in the brook, a nighthawk shrieking over the riveryard, a late cricket or two.
Then the scurrying began in the attic overhead. The sound of claws scuttling over the ceiling; small bumps and thuds, some of which might have been made by Catch, for he has taken to staying up there of a night. There were rolling noises, too, like marbles, which I realized must be the mothballs I had scattered.
Soon, I herard wings beating in the chimney as well. I squeezed my eyes tight and tried to close my ears, stop them by pressing the pillow up about them with my hands. It was then I realized I could not move. I must have been asleep by this time, for I was experiencing that fear that clutches one during dreams of pursuit.
All I coult control was my eyes, and it seemed I could not close them — or, rather, if I did close them, I still could see through the lids.
What I saw was a green light in the fireplace, shimmering like seawater in an aquarium, and in the water, floating pale shapes like jelly fish, expanding and contracting their hemispheres of plasm, their dangling tentacles wavering in translucent fringes as they rose out of sight in the chimney, or descended into view. I tried to wake Cara, but no sound came from my mouth, though I strained. I could feel the muscles and vocal cords in my throat drawn tight as lines in a winch.
Then, the light seemed to jump across the corner of the room and ignite the mirror with cold fire. In the beginning there was only the light rippling across the glass, but, slowly, shapes began to form. A woman and a child, draped in formless garments, standing side by side and looking out at the bed. Between them and behind, as though standing on a hill across a plain, a dark figure, that of a man, came into view. Outdoors, a wind rose, and I could hear rain together with the sound of hail or sleet against the panes.
The tableau in the mirror grew clearer, and the man on the peak, wothout moving, came over the plain, slowly, till he stood just behind the girl and the woman. He was a little dark man in a tall hat and a clerical collar. A noose hung about his neck, its end falling out of sight.
Then, they did move. The woman took the child's hand and stepped out of the mirror to stand on the floor at the foot of the bed. I saw that she was a black woman; I could nt tell her age. The child was white, and in its free hand she carried a naked male doll.
The black woman slowly raised her hand and pointed — her finger was aimed at Cara, not at me. Without any choice or attempt on my part, my head moved sidewise till I was gazing at Cara.
But it was not Cara. It was Norine lying there, her narrow face and long, straight hair were purely clear. She was awake and smiling — a pinched smile, staring at me with her brown eyes flecked with yellow highlights, as though in the glow of a candle. I tried again to move, to get away, but I still dould do nothing.
I felt her arm begin to shift beneath the bedclothes, her hand to slide across my belly like ice. She took my scrotum in her hand and began to squeeze. I know I screamed, but there was no sound.
Still in her grip, I felt my head forced back to look at Tituba of Salem Village, the original accused witch — that is who it was. I knew without knowing. She shifted her pointing finger to little Ann Putnam, the child accuser of the witch trials, who smiled too, with such insouciant malice as I cannot describe. The girl lifed the doll to her lips, kissed it once.
They stepped backwards til they were again standing in green glass. And they faded to vague shapes, till the mirror was nothing but a frame for the little dark man, the Rev. Reorge Burroughs, who was hanged at Salem. His features began to waver. His hair became lighter and, for a moment, he was Rafe Hawkins, but only for a moment. Then the mirror began to darken again, with his hair, until the image of my father stood there between Tituba and Little Ann — now only husks of cloth filled with wind.
And my father receded across the plain once more, till he stood on a hill that was no longer merely a hill, but a gibbet hill, and he was no longer standing, but hanging against a cold moon as the wind blew and my testicles felt like fire and jelly.
I fainted. When I woke, it was dawn. Cara was still asleep, and there was blood on the pillow, a lot of it; my nostrils were caked with dried blood.
Cara was shocked when she saw it, for she woke when I got out of bed to go downstairs and shower. I felt very weak, and still do.
I've spent the day in the library reading an old book by Manoah Bodman titled An Oration on Death, printed at Williamsburgh, Massachusetts, in 1817 by Ephraim Whitman. I have wandered often among the skeptics, but I've deliberately slighted those who truly believe, for they are obviously mad.
But madness is real, too, and after last night I've come to realize one thing for certain: we cannot ignore the darkness of our natures, for when that is done, and great faith is placed in the intellect alone, darkness grows like maggots in old meat, gains strenght, becomes powerful. It desires to be ignored or scoffed at, for then it can bide till it is time to emerge, and it willbe victorious for a short and deadly time.
This is what our leaders are doing now — mocking the darkness in us all, and their mockery itself is rooted in sickness; I can feel it growing monstrous and deadly beneath the surface of things. The time is coming when it will emerge again, as it did in Salem, as it did in Nazi Germany. We must look at it and know it, or it will devour us once again.
That's why I've been reading Bodman. I know the things he saw were real — for him, as they were for me last night. This is how it began for him:
Early in life, how early I do not exactly know, but it appears that about as long ago as I can remember any thing, I began to have something like religious impressions, and a desire of being saved. This was about as early, it appears to me, as my first acquaintance with the gospel; for here, once for all, I must acknowledge that I have been shamefully negligent, through the whole course of my life, in that I have not kept a diary, nor any minutes of my passing time. But to proceed with my childhood, I believe I was strictly moral. What my impressions were, with respect to religion, generally, I know not. I was playful and sprightly, like other children. When between thirteen and fourteen years of age, or about that time, my father with his family, removed from Sunderland, in the then county of Hampshire, to Williamsburgh, in the same county, Massachusetts. Soon after his settling in the town of Williamsburgh, there began to be somewhat of a religious operation on the minds of the people: not so much I believe in Williamsburgh, however, as in some of the neighboring towns. But suffice it to day, that during these exercises among the people, I then supposed that I participated in divine grace: and I believe it was so in the judgment and charity of others. I believe it was thought that I gave great evidence of a christian experience. And in my own view was progressing in divine things. I had great joy and rejoicings in God, as I think; and great views of the divine character, — the nature of sin, and holiness, — spiritual views of heaven and hell, — many sacred touches of the holy spirit, and divine illuminations as it appeared to me. In this tate I went on for about ten years, if my memory serves me; I then fell under great outward trouble, which became very sever — grieving under this, in my retirement, I, all at once perceived an invisible being, that seemed to be coming to comfort and console me, with a language that was sweet and endearing. I do not mean that the language was truly vocal, but the communications made to my mind were perfect and entire, as any language could be. I was sweetly, and exceedingly surprized; as it was the first of the kind I ever had. I received this as the special favor of heaven to me, to console me under my sorrows: for I soon recognised, as I thought, the Infinite Jehovah — and in this capacity He fell into familiar conversation with me. And I found that I could freely converse with him. This invisible being I really thought was our Heavenly Father. No language of any earthly parent, could be more endearing.
This conversation, or, these dialogues were renewed from time to time. I recollect one night in particular, I lay awake a very considerable part of the night, when this conversation, which I called a heavenly conversation, occupied a great part of the time: and there was a greatness, and a sweetness in it, that I cannot describe.
By what methods these communications were made to my mind I cannot determine: but I believe it to be the perfect language of the invisible world; and I see no reason, if God should permit it so to be, why they cannot perfectly communicate with us. And now, O my friends, do you believe this was all the Devil? I do, if you do not.
I am too exhausted to continue reading this seer of angels and marvels, yet I am afraid to go to sleep. I have put Bodman aside, begun leafing through my childhood scrapbook again, and I've come upon this in my True and Fictional Stories of the Supernatural:
THE VOICE ON THE STAIRS
As told to me by my Mother.
My father was out and I was at school. At home my Mother was working in the study and my brother was sick in bed. My Mother was startled to hear a voice at the top of the stairs sing a few notes, as she thought my brother was sleeping. She called up the stairs, "Are you feeling better, honey?" Receiving no reply she investigated. No-one was there and my brother was sleeping soundly in his room.