Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Tale of Old Chicago

{Enjoy - Chrispy}

Recently, a journal of the notable Trappist monk and pacifist, Thomas Merton, was uncovered in a portion of the monastery at St. Gethsemani. In this journal, which was previously unknown to scholars, he had made entries between the 10th and 13th of December 1941. The handwriting was certified to be in Merton's hand, and it was obvious that he frequently referred to these notes, as there were other dated entries in the margins of the journal as late as 1968.

One marginal gloss stood out. "I have now traveled the world and had intercourse with notables from every walk of life, yet never have I heard - or feared - a tale so terrible or as strange as one related to me by an elderly woman on a train the week I traveled to take the order of the monastery at St. Gethsemani. For a brief time, after hearing her story, I nearly forsook my calling as impossible. That such evil could exist froze my soul."

He wrote in late 1968, "This journal should be published, but dare I? I continue to struggle to find avenues of peace in this world. Should I fail at my task, and yet the world continue, then let this journal be a warning and a call for others to follow my crusade. I shall give this to Abbott Burns for safe keeping, and I shall confer with the Dalai and ask his advice."

Of course, it is well known that Thomas Merton died in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, in his room. It's said he died of an electric shock. Why Burns chose not to publish the journal, perhaps the story itself is reason enough. The journal of the woman's story covered many pages in Merton's handwriting. It began with an introductory passage which then led to the incredible story of an alien evil that led to the death of the woman's fiancé at the 1893 Columbian Exposition of Chicago.

Merton wrote, "I had ridden the train as far as Indianapolis when one Mary Kuykendall entered and sat across from me. Ebullient, she and I quickly entered conversation and I discovered she was returning to her lifelong hometown of New Harmony, Indiana. She was a spry 71 year old woman, and as the click-clack of the train wheels echoed in the car, I mentioned that I had received and was answering a call to be a monk. Mary responded oddly by stating that there can never be enough dedication to uphold the forces of good over the black destructiveness of evil.
"That seemed a strange comment from a Midwesterner and I wondered if the dark clouds of war in Japan prompted the utterance. I asked the fateful question: I'm uncertain how good I am, but why do you say such a thing? She replied that she and her lost fiancé once faced a being that made the devil of Milton seem a prankish child.

"Do you know, Mr. Merton, she said, the Elegy of John Donne that contains: Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know // By this these angels from an evil sprite: // Those set our hairs on end, but these our flesh upright?

"I replied that it had been many years since I had read the poet. She then related to me the tale that follows - and at the end offered concrete proof that the event occurred exactly as she stated. May God grant mankind the strength to understand the universe and persevere - for I know now that we are but a fleeting microcosm, a colony of mites that could be exterminated at any moment by unyielding and uncaring forces. That fateful tale she told still makes me tremble."


I. Once There was a Love.

Thou Art Slave to Fate, Chance, Kings, and Desperate Men ... John Donne

In those days before the turn of the century, men and women behaved much differently that they do today, or at least they did in New Harmony, Indiana. Decorum was of the utmost necessity, and even in the enlightened environment of our halcyon community, we had to create a masque of platonic friendship toward those we loved.

Was I, though, not a woman of flesh and blood as deeply in love as Anne More when smitten with John Donne? But eyes watched, and my position as a teacher was valuable to me. In that New Harmony school, I met and kindled a spark of passion for John Baker.

However, I had a contract with a morals clause, and his was a promising career that would one day burst past our community. I'm certain it was his keen intellect, his grand oratory for science in our teacher gatherings that first got me excited. Then, quickly, followed my heart into love. Later, we spoke in hushed tones in fleeting and guarded moments, and in the quietest places when we could speak more boldly, he declared that he loved me as well.

I kept my feelings bound tightly after that. I would not bring ruin upon us Anne had upon Donne.

Our plan was simple. John had succeeded in obtaining an interview at a public school in Chicago in mid-May. If the interview went well, John would have a position for the full term beginning late summer 1893. We could marry over that summer, and be free of any fear of both our careers being terminated by any wayward gossip mongers in New Harmony.

He, being science teacher to the upper grades, had every reason to visit the Columbian Exposition and left New Harmony as planting season began - always the start of an extended school vacation.

I had a cousin in South Bend, and this made a convenient subterfuge to meet John in Chicago. I would meet Charlotte, and then continue on to Chicago to see the Exposition, and John. No one would be the wiser.

It had taken all my powers to resist falling into John's arms when he would quote poetry. On the day he left, he recited Whitman, "The furious storm through me careering, I passionately trembling. The oath of the inseparableness of two together, of the woman that loves me and whom I love more than my life ... What is all else to us? Only that we enjoy each other and exhaust each other."

I wanted to respond as did Donne to his lover, "I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I did till we loved."

The days seemed to drag until I boarded the train in South Bend, Indiana, and then traveled several long hours. Finally, at the break of day, the mighty behemoth of Chicago appeared in its cyclopean authority. I peered into strangers' faces hoping to see John on the teeming platform. As each strange face pressed looking into the train in that morning mist, my heart raced in anticipation of finding my love.

I carried my chaise down the aisle, my crinolines swishing and snatching on edges of the train's seats. As the conductor helped me down the steps, my skirt caught on a snag. Held fast, I tugged to release my clothing and in the process bared my ankle to men whose eyes ogled the exposed silk stocking. I feared the worst, and knew from the sly smile on the conductor's face that he would be of no assistance to uphold my honor. Then, John appeared from nowhere and pressed between the conductor and me.

"Mary! Let me help."

His strong voice compelled the other men's desires back into their dark hearts and my shining knight rescued my skirt and dignity.

"It does not appear to even be torn, my Dear.”

I steadied myself on his arm.

“I've already obtained a flat for you, in the same building as I have rented a space. There is a Hansom ready to take us there. No doubt you will need to refresh yourself."

At the moment I didn’t absorb his distant and aloof tone. I should have, and if I had, perhaps things would have changed. Perhaps holds no weight in the midst of grave matters. I will always remember the halcyon days with John, and also the moment that he would lay dead, shot by a revolver by my hand, only a few days later.

II. Through the Streets of Chicago

Once I passed through a populous city ... its shows, architecture ... Walt Whitman, "Once I passed through a populous City"

On the way to the cab, John quoted one of our favorite Whitman lines, "They shall fully enjoy materialism, they shall enjoy the sight of the beef, lumber, bread-stuffs, of Chicago the great city."

We laughed. He said, "Mary, you've never seen a city such as this. It expands from Lake Michigan across ancient swamp land, which the city planners have drained and built upon it to last the ages. Progress! Still, in the few days I've been here, I fear man's cruelty. I've seen beggars in rags, rich men in gold and silk, and common people slaving all hours to advance themselves out of poverty. The brick buildings of downtown soar fifteen stories high, but are covered in coal soot. At the lake edge, tons of garbage flows to make new land to build more buildings. Never have I found a place that needs the reason of science more to save itself."

In that moment, the future clouds unknown, our joy felt as cyclopean as the city. John led the red caps, who carried my luggage, at a brisk pace. His smiled beamed as everything was loaded into the Hansom. He barked, "Wrightwood Avenue," with a confidence I had never beheld in him before. He helped me up to my seat in the Hansom, and his hand held mine much longer than necessary. Then he climbed into the cab next to me and despite the growing June warmth, I leaned into him. He then dared to place his arm about my shoulders. I begged God for such a moment to linger ever onward.

"Mary, I have seen wonders in my few days here. Everything is electric, and if one stays away from the fettered immigrant sectors of the city, the air from Lake Michigan is luxuriant. I've seen steel clad Navy ships that would make Triton tremble. There is a rumor that the world's largest artillery will soon be installed at the fair - it fires a one ton shell! And the famed western showman “Buffalo Bill” Cody has set his exhibit next to the fair. Has there ever been a more wondrous time in the history of the world?"

I replied to him that between the job offer, the great city, and his tales my breath was virtually struck from my bosom. However, in my heart, it was his presence that made all else dull. Had ever a woman loved a man so?

We rode through the city with the hooves of the Hansom cab horse clipping on the cobbles. John regaled me with yet more anecdotes of Chicago, and I began to feel a taint of jealousy. Perhaps a new love had displaced me? Could a schoolmarm of New Harmony, Indiana, compete against the colossus of the Midwest? Yet this was Chicago, not Indiana, and I could dare much with the anonymity of this metropolis. Chicago was great, but I had charms that would be greater.

Just then, a group of men covered in grime spilled out of a pub and into the street. The brawl was so fierce that the cabbie reined the horse back. Bottles crashed over several heads, and fists exploded into drunken faces. I saw one man fall and two other men violently kick him over and over until I knew from those heinous blows that murder befell. In the background of the curses - expletives tinted with Irish and other accents - I heard shrill whistles. The whistles grew louder and a veritable army of uniformed officers ran from several quadrants to quell the uproar.

There was no mercy or quarter, and the “coppers” wielded wooden batons that flailed against men's skulls that cracked like melons under the fierce clubbing. In all, I counted eleven men who lay dead or dying in the streets and red blood as dark as black syrup ran across the cobbles. Our cab was still stalled, the horse whimpering at the destruction.

Then, a dark complexion man in sprightly white linen walked out of the pub. Never had I seen a more stern expression, but the man in white carried himself as a royal personage. The police gave him a wide berth -almost as if Moses had passed through the Red Sea of officers. The image of Moses occurred to me, for the man was obviously Egyptian.

John had been captivated by the scene, and then the horror of the battle must have sunk into his brain.

"My God! Mary! Are you all right? Oh, how I wish you had not seen such foul murder. Of course, I should have expected Ryder to be involved, but now is not the time to confront him. Driver! Onward, for God's love and holiness, Onward! Away from this sin."

For a fleet moment I saw a lust of blood in John's eyes. Something had altered John, and I set my mind at that moment to discover the matter.

"Of what stays with you latest and deepest? Of curious panics, of hard fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?” He mumbled under his breath.

"John?" I queried, why quote Whitman’s The Wound Dresser?

"I fear that your holiday is ruined. There are many things you don’t know. In this city, good and evil battle, and that man you saw is at the heart of it. I came to Chicago because I believe good can win. I could do such good with students. Enlightenment! Though Chicago is an Atlas, by God, what I learned at New Harmony will bring light into this gloom. The new century is nearly within sight and great science is on the verge of creating a Utopia undreamed. As police must throttle hooligans, I intend to throttle ignorance. Math! Physics! Chemistry! The three pillars of Scientific Trinity. I will challenge charlatans everywhere and shed pure light of logic. Even wolves in scholars clothes like that villain, Niles Ryder ...”

John ceased in mid-sentence, but he had given away the first clue in the deep mystery of his altered behavior. I said, "John, who is this Niles?"

"I have been ... to the fair ... already." He dragged the words forth with a grudge. "Last night I scouted out the best of what I might show you. Forgive me that conceit. Amidst the wonders of the Berliner disc I beheld a poster of one of my childhood heroes, Dr. Niles Ryder. The poster had his face illuminated by lightning which cast a shadow over his printed face. In headline it boldly stated: See Electric Wonders! Behold! The Man That Edison and Westinghouse Have Called The Dynamo of America. Imagine, Mary, meeting your boyhood hero and to learn about vortex rings and cathode rays. I thought only about learning more so I could teach the students in the next term.”

I said, "What happened? You sound so bitter."

John continued, "It was all a farce. H e played with the simpletons in the audience. A projected stereopticon highlighted his career practically eclipsing Edison's greatness. Then he followed with a demonstration of simple static electricity. The crowd applauded.

“Then he staged a more audacious event. Ryder stood on a platen and electric fire flew from his body and hands. The audience gasped, and gave a rousing cheer.

“He spoke to them in a clear voice and said, 'Cattle! I will feed on your blood. Pawns! I will devour you.' The surprise intensified when I realized that I was the only one who seemed to hear this venomous exclamation over the roar of the motors that produced the magnetic field. The audience applauded again. Then Ryder walked to the front of the dais and called for questions.

"The first questioner was a young boy, obviously bright, and asked, 'Dr. Ryder, could you discuss why alternating current was chosen at the Exposition?' That was a sound question, and clearly the answer was due to cost efficiency - direct current being easier on application, but far more costly on the equipment to create it. Instead, Ryder began a tirade. 'Electricity! What a paltry brain men have. There are wonders more incredible than the parlor trick of volts. Men have yet to even understand atomism, yet the incredible energies of the nucleus are just a spark compared to splitting the building blocks of hyperdimensional membranes. The questions are over.’ Then a change occurred in Ryder. He became placid, but pale, and spoke in a kindly voice, ‘I have ... pardon me ladies and gentlemen ... I feel quite ill ... I apologize, young man. Perhaps you will forgive an old man's eccentricity by coming back stage and I will give your question the answer it deserves.'

"The audience was quiet, and then understanding. They applauded the assumed genius before them, and the boy beamed at his parents as he ascended the dais steps and was led backstage. I seethed. I approached the father of the boy and said how terrible Ryder had treated the boy. The man looked perplexed and said, 'Actually, I thought his answer was quite astounding. The pros and cons of the two methods is beyond me, I'm afraid, but our son is a positive whiz at these things."

"Mary, I actually questioned my sanity. I heard things that others around me did not hear. I wondered at whether mesmerism was afoot. I walked out of the pavilion into the cool night air, and ambled for nearly an hour. I stopped by a small food booth to try a bag of a new concoction, Cracker Jack caramel popcorn, and was surprised to see the boy’s father and mother. I said, I suppose your young lad is still with Dr. Ryder? They both looked at me astonished. 'Sir, we don't have a son, and how forward of you to presume that we know you.'

"It was more than I could bear. See here, I said, we spoke not an hour ago at the Ryder show. Your son went backstage. I'm positive we spoke.

"The woman began to weep - perhaps out of fear of the tone of my voice - and the man spoke brusquely. 'I suppose I know whether I have a son or not. I've always wanted a son, but we were ... unable to have a son.' You do! I exclaimed back at him. But how does one prove just such a thing? I wondered to myself. Was insanity rampant at the Exposition?

"It was then that I spied a locket about the woman's throat, the kind that all mothers wear. I challenge you, sir, to look inside that locket. If a picture of the boy is not found ... I will give you the cash in my pocket, and there is nearly fifteen-dollars there. I was a desperate man. With pure rage, the man's hand flew to his wife's throat and exposed the inner picture of the locket. A Kodak, a trimmed photograph of the boy, was plainly in view under the bright incandescent street light above us.

"'Dear God in Heaven!' The man stared at the picture. 'Who in Hades is this boy, Joanna? Speak to me. Is there adultery exposed this night?' The woman fainted dead away. The father and mother of the boy were completely and utterly brainwashed to not recall their own flesh and blood. The horror of this incident overwhelmed me, and I knew there was but one source. I committed myself to go back and find Niles Ryder."

Just then, our Hansom pulled up to our new boarding house rooms interrupting the story, and we were compelled to disembark. It was a blessing that the cabbie could not hear our conversation, for he would have thought John mad. I myself had grave doubts and yet I needed to hear the finish of the story.

III. What Happened in the Restaurant.

... there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations; Do you think they are not there because they are not express’d in parlors and lecture-rooms. Walt Whitman, I Sing the Body Electric.

Once inside the boarding house, of necessity we separated so that I could unpack. John had selected and outfitted a wonderful boarding hotel room. He’d bought flowers for my room and they filled the room's air with the most delightful aroma. Love swelled my heart to know how much he cared, and for the moment his wild tale left me alone

As dusk fell, John knocked on my outer door to announce dinner. Outside, the streets crowded elbow to elbow on the white cement sidewalks. Locked arm-in-arm, we walked to an eatery and looked at the posted menu.

“Are you sure?” I asked him when I realized how expensive the meal might cost.

“Of course, what good is hard earned money if one cannot spend it on a dear friend? Let me do this one little thing for you.”

The word – dear - lingered on his tongue so that it made my heart race. We navigated the entrance past several cigar smoking dandies. John had made reservations, and within several minutes a maitre'd escorted us to a linen covered table.

In one corner, bitter sounding, fast speaking, alien voices cascaded My eye found the table which brimmed with Egyptians in pale linen suits. Turkish tobacco cigarettes lingered in a fog about their dark faces.

A glower passed John's face, as if he had met these men – how could he have met such a contingent? - Then it passed. He sat, and the maitre d' bantered with us amiably. I relented to have red wine, and even allowed the suggestion of an exotic appetizer. This was Chicago, and already I felt the quaint, rustic shackles of New Harmony shatter.

“I would not wish to be anywhere else in this world than at this table with you, Mary. I've counted the hours to see you again, to dine with you, to be with you. I offer a toast! To never be apart, again. To us!”

I longed for deeper words, but this was not the place for a proposal. Our glasses clinked and I savored the tinge on my palate of the deep wine. The warmth in my extremities surged almost immediately, and the rush of light intoxication made my desire for John – in his dark, handsome suit – nearly insatiable.

The maitre d' poured another glass and leaned over to me and breathed, “Madam, you will enjoy this wine more if you let it breathe – let it set – for a few minutes. It is one of our best. Then, let it stay on your palate, and you will then taste the bouquet of the earth in which it grew.”

I waited. I sipped. A delight of oak, pine, earthiness, and dry spiciness all competed for my attention. On rare occasions I had sipped table wine in Indiana, yet they never exhibited such a burst of flavors. I immediately understood that John had spared no expense. My foot found his under the table and I toyed with his spats. After the roasted muscles as appetizer, he held my gloved hand boldly across the table in plain sight. No, this was certainly not New Harmony.

John made delicious conversation, sometimes quoting Whitman or Lowell, sometimes John Donne, to make a point upon his new experiences since his arrival to the city, but nary a word about his previous story of horror. He spoke about science as the god-send to break the bondage of drudgery and brutal, back breaking labor in fields. New metals, new agricultural practices, color-fast dyes, and powerful turbines would bring the genie of leisure to more people than ever before. Utopia never felt so near for me.

Interspersed between soliloquies on progress, he came closer and closer to the point of our being together forever. Hang conventions and Victorian old women, in my heart I knew that I would give myself to him this very night if he asked. I loved him, and the wine, and smoky air caused me to feel giddy.

Enrapt with my feelings, I'd forgotten all about John's unfinished story until a distinguished man brushed by our table on the way to intercept with the Egyptian contingent. Suddenly, John stood with violence in his eyes, and threw his linen napkin to the table. He strode after the man with a menace. I had no choice but to follow.

“Niles Ryder!” John growled the name. “We have unfinished business, Sir! What happened to the youth after the close of the lecture last evening?”

The man replied with a trace of an accent, “Do we know one another? I think not. I have no concept to what hallucination you refer.”

“But I know you. A charlatan masquerading as a man of science. A kidnapper of children. Perhaps worse.”

Fear wrenched me. This was not the John I knew. The Egyptians were all on their feet, and I saw the glint of steel in at least one man's hand. John stared into Ryder's eyes unaware of the pending danger. Before I could open my mouth with a warning, Ryder showed a subtle hand gesture to the Egyptians and they immediately became as placid as kittens.

John, however, continued to berate Ryder. “There was a youth. He asked questions. You took him back stage. He vanished.”

Ryder smiled supremely confident, eyes nearly aglow.

“I love young people. They are the life blood of the future. Though what that future holds, who can say? I do recall a young lad. His parents seemed so taken by the Exposition that it was hours before they returned for him. I believe he stayed with one of my assistants, Ryder waved toward the Egyptians at table, “until they came to claim him.”

“Liar! The boy is lost! The parents are mesmerized by you. What have you done?”

The entire table of fellahs poised like jackals to devour. They waited for but a sign. The rest of the dining patrons in the room continued as if none of this was happening before them. I, too, was somewhat affected. I saw two scenes simultaneously. The first, my John in grave and mortal peril. The other, however, a calm scene wherein John and Dr. Ryder were engaged in soft discussion of the merits of electric dynamos; of whether alternating or direct current was the wave of the future. I also saw Ryder's eyes illumine with supernatural authority, they burned deep into John’s soul, and an aura of darkness radiated throughout the restaurant affecting all minds. John, though, was immune. My love for John gave me some protection.

“What would you have me say?” Ryder said.

“Confess before God your crime of whatever depth of evil it may have consisted. The parents have a right to closure.” John rebuked.

“Very well. He is not dead, though perhaps he wishes he were. I sacrificed him to renew my energies. His body is decapitated and the torso laies in Lake Michigan if the fish have not yet devoured it, but his brain lives on – or at least his mind – as slave to the imps of Chaos. They do so enjoy toys. Perhaps you wish to seek vengeance. Hussein, your blade.”

The Egyptian handed a serrated knife to Ryder, who gently placed it into John's hand.

“Stab me. Slay me. Look around, no one cares. No one – sees.”

“I do.” I blurted out. “For all that is decent, John, don't do this thing. It will be murder on your hands. You have no proof, and he is baiting you. Your life – our lives – they are all at stake.”

The spell seemed to break about the room. Ryder, in a motion that moved so fast it amazed my eyes, seized the blade, and handed it back to an Egyptian who made it vanish. I scarce could blink as fast as the event. Afterwards, I wondered if any of it had even occurred.

My John stood deflated. Ryder turned to his contingent as if we had never met. The maitre d' came to our aide and said, “Are you looking ... for ... the facilities? They are.. there.” He pointed to the rear of the establishment.

I lied, “Um, we are just returning. Thank you, Sir.”

“Is your dinner to your liking? Deserts are available, the French creams are as light as whipped butter.”

“No.” I said.

John simply said, “I'll take the check, now. Everything tonight was ... fine.”

IV. The Dream

I dreamed in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth ... Walt Whitman

In my boarding room that night, I lay in a fever. Dark shapes whirled in the room – or at least in my brain. They wished to grasp me, these gaunt night-things – and I knew if they grasped me they would carry me through the window and dash me to bits on the city streets below.

Through some willpower, I managed to make them leave. The scene changed. Through the vertigo, a foggy picture formed of a golden throne room. As the mists cleared, I saw a king, a pharaoh, holding court. The visage of the royal master was hiddeous, and I glanced it only for a brief second, for at that point, the thing pretending to be a man placed on a golden mask. A multitude murmured of the greatness of the being that lorded over them. They dressed in all manner of garb from Neolithic rags, medieval fashions, to some futuristic cloth of a silverish-metallic silk. The air hung with spices of myrrh and hyssop. Next to this phroah was Niles Ryder, either a prime minister or a priest. I could not tell which.

In this audience, I began to walk to the front to get a better view. There, the Egyptian contingent stood by their king, some in the linen outfits I'd seen before, others naked save a traditional dynastic kilt. To the other side, as if Moses might stride in to the courtyard any moment, Ryder, the magician, waved his hands in conjures. Before Ryder was what appeared to be a mass of sleeping asps, but once I got a closer view, I could tell it was not a nest of snakes, but a sleeping poulp or an octopus. How it breathed or survived outside of water, no one could tell me.

The crowd grew gravely silent. The pharaoh clapped and a lion came forth from the shadows. It roared. It walked to and fro snatching men and women at will between its great jaws and crushed them lifeless. Others it mauled for pure pleasure until the floor trickled blood. Great weeping ensued, but that elicited titters from thecourt's fellahin. The octopus slept on through all of this mayhem. I looked about and could no longer see Ryder, and then the though occured to me that the lion was Ryder, that he was some sort of shapeshifter.

The lion, gorged, lay at the feet of the pharaoh. It growled out the words, “Great Pepys, Great Pharaoh of the Cats. Great Nyarlathotep.”

Just then, a small feline no larger than an average house cat bounded out of the audience to challenge the lion. Its fur stood on end, tail straight up, and hissed. The lion stood, but the house cat moved quicker and leapt upon its adversary. The lion's jaws snapped, but the agility of the smaller cat won the day, for in little time, the lion was strangled and dead in the grip of the house cat.

The lion then began to disintegrate to bones and ash.

The pharaoh called forth the house cat, which then sat in his lap and purred.

I dared much to walk up to the resting cat. It opened its now evil eyes and I saw a horror greater than any I could have dreamt. The eyes looking back at me were those of my dear and beloved John.

I woke screaming.

V. The Morning Comes.

If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desir’d, and got, t’was but a dreame of thee. The Good-Morrow, John Donne

John wisely chose our rooms in an upper floor which had a wing with a spectacular view of sunrise – our favorite time of day. However, since most people wish not to be awakened with the birds, it had been shunned by other hotel patrons. My scream disturbed only John, who quickly rushed to my door and pounded. I bounded out of bed, at the sound of his urgent voice, not even stopping to place a dressing gown over my thin sleeping dress.

Upon turning the latch, my dear man snatched me up in his arms.

“My God, Mary, have you been injured? What has happened?”

I refused to speak of my dream, saying only, “The events of last evening have given me a terrible nightmare. Whatever transpired in my sleep has vanished from my brain, but it must have been quite intense. I recall shrieking in my dream, but had no idea I did so out loud."

“You're trembling." he said, "Please, we must get you dressed.”

He placed the dressing gown over my shoulders. He held me close to him, and I whispered, “Let us leave Chicago. This game of danger makes us risk too much.”

“Risk,” John said, “is life. Back in New harmony Jeb Henry died when his plow shattered and lodged into his throat. Liza Meadows perished at the swimming hole when a cottonmouth bit her. Elmer Towns fell from his roof. Are there any easy ways to die? Is one death preferable to another? Ryder may wish to slay us, but his nefarious plans – whatever they may be – can be shown the light of day to the authorities. We will not be cowards and slink out on an evening train.”

“And – what of our plans? Do you – we – have plans?”

“Ah,” he said, “you mean our special plans? I have a small box in my hotel room just for you, but ...” He mused in that pause, and my hopes soared. “Why not? You, Mary, are more to me than the sun which shines in the window, more than my plans, my career, more than anything. I wish you to be Mrs. Baker! Soon! And forever! Speak now, what say you. I will be happy with you in New Harmony, Chicago, on the Moon, or anywhere! Will you...?”

“Yes! A thousand times yes, and more.”

I nearly blurted out for him to close the door; that he ravish me, and hang the wagging tongues back home. He kissed me, deeply, and I prayed he never turn me loose. I did delight that he took me in my form as I stood before him, in my sheer gown, and I saw in his eyes that he found me desirable. I wanted to be wanton, to grasp his manly desire, to encourage the most Bohemian behavior in him, but John held firm to decorum this morning.

“If you feel able, we should get dressed. Tonight! I shall ask again tonight, under the gibbous moon on Lake Michigan. Neptune shall thrice bless us with his Trident.”

“Silly,” I rebuked, “Neptune is a deep sea god, and Lake Michigan is a freshwater lake. I will have hope, though; that we will enter marriage under the fate of some other god.

It would be the most – and last - intimate moment of our lives. My words would be most prophetic at the close of day for a god, of sorts, would change our fate forever under the gibbous moon.

At breakfast, though it was only a few minutes later, a different and sober John appeared. His intense state compelled him to soliloquy.

“Ryder must be brought to justice. How will I teach the children of Chicago about truth, science, logic, and progress if I turn coward. My grandfather founded New Harmony – with others – to prove to the world there can be a place or state of mind wherein art and science reign supreme. The Ten Commandments and other primitive religious sentiment are unnecessary if truth and human compassion hold sway. Ryder is the worst blackguard, and his incarceration and extirpation by hanging for the murder - most foul - of that child will ring an anthem that we will have no more Jack the Rippers or Lizzie Bordens in our enlightened society.”

As he took a breath and ate some of his poached eggs, I said, “Then let the constabulary take what you know and seize him. One man against a dozen or more, and in their viper pit, is more than society would wish from you, Dearest.”

John's gaze frightened me. “You must be aware of Ryder's mesmeric powers. You and I are the only ones immune. Nature has given us the ability to ward off his tricks as if we are the mongoose to his cobra. No one else, no one, can do this thing but me. I am stronger with you than without you, so I beg you, please stay by my side. We will beat him, together.”

VI. Confrontation in The Serpent's Den

The great constellation of the Water-Serpent stretch d its coils over more than half the heavens. "Full Starreed Night", Walt Whitman

We walked the windy streets past Cody's Pavilion and into the Columbian Exposition. Our feet had memorized the way to Ryder's Electric Dynamo Extravaganza. The earliness of the hour allowed us quiet entry. John took the steps up the stage and went behind the curtain. I was fast upon his heels. A door, ajar, we opened. Behind, it turned out to have more steps, and we descended to the basement.

The basement throbbed with machinery of what appeared to be glass and metal. The forms of these were beyond gears, pulleys, test-tubes and beakers. Colossal and indescribable shapes challenged geometric names. Twisted doughnuts, glowing hollow tubes, and other things seemed more alive than constructs.

Egyptians were everywhere, twisting dials, writing on clipboards, and diverting electricity to and fro.


At the very sound of my warning, a servant of Ryder's, an Egyptian fellahin, seized John's throat and wrestled him to the ground.

I moved to aide my fallen fiancé, but Niles Ryder suddenly appeared before me to block my path. His lecherous gaze over my figure made me shudder.

“Your woman will make a delectable sacrifice. Her blood coursing through the apparatus will allow the dimensional pressure to increase, and her sheer agony as the blades slice off her ...”

By some miracle, John was now to his feet and his Egyptian attacker lay sprawled on the floor either unconscious or dead on the basement floor.

John exclaimed, “I will see you in Hell first, Ryder.”

Ryder was visibly shaken for the briefest moment. He recovered, and waved off a dozen fellahin bearing knives.

"The mouse squeaks. Very well, I had given you a chance previously to kill me, are you now willing? Perhpas your cuvaceous woman has given back your manhood."

I said, "John, remember he's baiting you. If you suppress your ethics, he will have yuor soul. He's the devil - or worse."

Ryder looked at me and said, "You are becoming a bother, woman. Your beau and I understand one another. We need no meddlesome help." At that he produced a revolver seemingly from mid-air. He aimed it at my breast.

"Move an inch, and I will kill her," he said to John. "You have only one chance, kill me if you think you can."

"The constabulary will find you out, Ryder," I said.

He laughed out loud. Then he waved his hand and from behind some equipment, a policeman walked woodenly.

"Good day," Ryder said to the man.

In an Irish brogue, the policeman said, "It's a fine day, it 'tis. How may I help you, sir?"

"Hand me your badge."

A bright coppery badge was offered with no hesitation. Ryder held it in hsi outstretched hand and the metal liquified and dripped to the floor hardening into a slag.

"Now your sidearm."

The same thing happened to the steel which formed a larger slag on the floor as the white-hot metal cooled.

"What to do next? I've killed so many millions, it becomes hard to be creative. It's merely to terrify you, my dear woman, so what is best. I could rip his throat out and you can watch as the blood pumps in spurts until this mortal is lifeless. Maybe. you'd like me to rip his still beating heart out? A parlor trick, so no. Would you like to see him age to dust, a millenia passing in a minute before your eyes? What is tiem to one such as I? Have you seen a man butchered like a cow, one chop and cut at a time? I could do the same to the entire Chicago police department. I will. And more besides. The teaming tens of thousands will be a start as the whorl opens and consumes the peopel of this city. Then Illinois shall be devoured. I will debauch your Grover Cleveland on the White House carpets, and will do worse to Victoria, Queen of that miniscule island nation. What are they? I have killed countless kings on a hundred worlds."

Enraptured with his own words, Ryder dipped his revolver down. John attacked at that moment, and the fellahin were on orders to not move. The revolver dropped out of Ryder's hands, and John grasped the Egyptian's throat. Surprise was in Ryder's eyes, then pleasure. The plan of the golden masked pharoah of my dream was unfolding.

Ryder suddenly appeared to be eighty years old, and feeble.

"What is this? I'm back! Thank Jesus, I'm back, and free from the maniac."

It was all the oldman could gasp out, before his windpipe was secured in John's vicious grip. I knew what I had to do.

I picked up the revolver, and fired a shot.

The rebound was severe. I'd never held a gun before, and though I aimed at John's heart, the recoil made the bullet hit his face. Blood and gore exploded over the room, and my beloved's head was no longer recognizable. He gurgled, and then he stopped breathing.

The old man tried to reinflate, and I saw Ryder's eyes back and gentle Niles was gone again. Too late, however. My John had done the deed, and the windpipe was crushed. Ryder was too far away, in some faroff dimension, and had been unable to make the transition into John's youthful body. He was closed out of our space and time.

In moments, the old scientist expired.

My hand was wounded from the gun's violence, but I held it as best I could. The fellahin were no longer under any spell, and they moved toward me. The first I shot and erupted into a cloud of dust, but second recoil was more than my wrist could take. It was wrenched and unworkable, and the gun fell to the floor. The second man placed his hands on me, but it was as if dry sand held me. His hand dissolved, and then the rest of him. So, too, did the rest of the fellahin save one man who was whole.

He had murder in his eyes, and as he moved toward me I heard a shot from another gun. The attacker feel dead.

"Ma'am," the police officer shouted to me, "are ye whole? The dirty bastard be dead, now. They must have drugged me with opium or something, and I've just come to myself. Oh, and your poor man has been shot, too. They may have my badge, but at least you're safe. But where are the rest of the fiends."

Though trembling, I had to make up a story on the spot.

"Escaped. They did have you drugged, and John and I did what we could. They killed him, but the noise of the retort seemed to shake you from your coma. You grabbed the gun, and they fled. It was some plot to place explosives at the Exposition. Oh! There will be a panic if this gets out. We must keep it secret. Poor professor Ryder tried to fight them, too, but see, they have killed him, also. The fiends."

I played the delicate flower, and the policeman took me out into the fresh air. The police swarmed the grounds, and the detectives searched, but there were no records to uncover, and they never considered the dust on the floor to be the perpetrators. Who would suspect 2,000 year old men as criminals?

VII. A Conclusion.

In Merton's journal, only a few more notes are pertinent. While some believe this was an attempt at fiction, others wonder if it was just an adled tale from an old woman. Merton concludes that the old woman removed her traveling gloves, and he saw a ripped place, long healed over, where a revolver hammer had perhaps ripped her tender flesh. He then says she concluded by saying, "That was most of five decades ago, but I carry one tenous link. The love for my John which kept me from being mesmerized, also kept open a dimensional link to those demonic forces. I live on the edge of two worlds, and I see the spider's web of threads of the masked pharoah everywhere. Probing, always testing, the demons from beyond look for an entryway into our world and find many. I've learned many tricks, also." The woman held out her ungloved hand, and it became black as the night sky. Within it, Merton peered, and saw into eternity. He also saw, evil.

The notebook concluded with that passage.

(c) 2009 Chris Perridas

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