The Strange Tale Of–

London, 3 May, 188_

Good Lord.  I am shaking, even as I write this.  A state of confusion has descended upon me, undermining my manhood, and I can scarce distinguish dream from waking.

First, dear Diary, I must record the events of this past evening, before the ephemeral visions dissipate.  Were it not for information brought to my attention this morning, I would have put my experiences down to a dream; to a night-terror like those of my youth; the effects of an extra glass of celebratory sherry.  No, I dreamt only, for no other explanation survives morning’s logic.  And yet–the facts cast doubt on any interpretation other than the least sensible:  that I–I!–have been chosen as witness to a true and foul event.

But, dear Diary: chosen by God or by the Devil?  And to what purpose?

I was not wakened in the night, so much as I gradually became aware that I was no longer lying within my modest rooms, but traveled in a most effortless manner, through the fogbound lanes of nearby lower ______, a part of this city which is foreign to me.  Unlike the more savory districts of London, the streets in my dream did not have the benefit of modern gas lighting, and so only the fog-filtered moonlight provided a dim vision of the location to which I was transported.

Doors opened magically before me; or rather, walls apparently dissolved, and I found myself in a suite of rooms of utmost filth and disarray, crowded by a few pitiful sticks of furniture and littered with scraps of food, empty gin bottles and rags of clothing.  The smell, not often a strong feature of my dreams, was of an unwashed chamber pot.

In this vision, or transport (if it were), I saw on the rumpled bed, a figure.  I say “saw”, although “heard” or “felt”  might be the more accurate term, as I deduced the presence of another, more perhaps from a faint sigh of breath in the still air, or from the animal electricity that appears to touch one’s soul in the presence of another living being.  In the dim light of the room–illuminated only by reflection through two narrow windows–it was impossible to determine any details other than these.

As I waited, a ghost myself within this vision, there came into the room a change in temperature.  It began as a frost visible upon the windows; then a chill crept beneath my nightshirt and grew to a coldness upon my cheek and a cloud upon my breath.  Yet this change was no mere turn of the wind, for at this same moment I felt an icy dread touch my heart, and the sense of another, third, presence in the room.

As I watched, a clot of denser shade–a vapour from which all luminosity fled–gathered like a mist seeping up from between the floor boards.  I was taken quite in fear, and yet I found that my limbs had acquired a rigidity that defied all my panicked attempts to move them.  I was powerless; helpless, indeed, to move; as the Being grew in size and writhed toward the bed.

Here, the figure upon the bed shuddered and drew the covers closer.

The mist flowed up the bedpost and gathered itself upon the figure.  It crouched, cat-like, upon the person’s face.  The sleeper choked, wriggled and gasped out a cry.

I myself let out an involuntary exclamation, and yet it fell upon the air without sound.  I strained at my invisible bonds, forced my limbs to leap forward onto the hideous thing, to claw it away, rid my presence of its malevolence; but to no avail.

A fair young arm emerged from the blankets.  It struggled to push away the monster.  The creature of black mist convulsed.  It pulled the young woman–my God, barely older than my sweet child, Elizabeth–by the neck, so that she was lifted from the bed, her arms and legs flailing as her life was choked from her body.  The bedclothes were pulled back and the woman’s nightdress was lifted immodestly above her hips by some mechanism that I could not distinguish.

What followed I cannot describe.  Let my pen record only that the woman was violated, supernaturally, violently, and despite her most piteous and strenuous rejection.

Simultaneously, a roiling occurred within the Hell-thing and long, claw-like scratches were produced upon the woman’s limbs, ripping her clothes and rending long strips of flesh from her bones.  Blood streamed from the wounds, soaking the bed.  The woman’s struggles increased.  Her arms and legs thumped pathetically against the mattress, strangled cries gasping from her parted lips; but her efforts were in vain.  The creature gathered itself into a knot of utter blackness on her throat; the young woman shuddered once, and then all was quiet within the room.

Sweat dripped from my brow, the chill of terror replaced by a great heat within my body and a fierce pounding within my heart.  Dread clutched at my stomach as I watched, imprisoned within my form, to see what the Thing would next do.  Yet, curiously, I found that my own reaction was not merely one of fear and outrage; but that a corner of my mind felt a hypnotized curiosity, like that of a reader of amazing tales of the supernatural.  As I reflect upon this now, I put this response down to my own scientific bent of mind, through long years of training in my profession.

I woke from this vision to find myself in my own bed, drenched in sweat.  It was with shaking fingers I had to light the gas before I could content myself that the evil mist was not present within my own chamber, intent upon murdering myself as it had the hapless woman.

Seeing that I was indeed once more myself and safely ensconced within my trustworthy rooms, my first thought was to fetch a candle and hurry to the chambers of my own precious little Elizabeth.  I hastened into the corridor; hearing nothing at Elizabeth’s door, I turned the latch as quietly as I might.

To my immense relief, the light of my candle revealed that all was as it should be.  My daughter, verging on the bloom of womanhood, slept the sleep of the innocent, her elfin cheeks touched with faintest colour and her lashes locking in utter peace.  She breathed softly through parted lips and shifted a little upon my approach, but did not wake.  I reassured myself that the window was locked against the intrusion of any untimely mists, and the drapes of her bed were closed against the chill of early morning; and withdrew.

Had this been the only event to relate, I would have put the adventure down to a nightmare.  Indeed, I did so; soothing my nerves with a glass of brandy and calling for the maid to bring me breakfast and the morning newspaper.

But peace was not to be mine.

I broke my fast on a light repast of pastries and a slice of ham, and afterward tutored Elizabeth on her morning lessons and set her studies.  Before I turned to my own, most exciting, work, I took the time, as is my wont, to look at the morning newspaper.  I was vexed, perhaps because of my lack of sleep and the disturbing events of my dreams, to discover that the newspaper, which should have been delivered to my suites by ten o’clock at the latest, was not delivered until half past, because (as I later learned) of pressing news that could not be got into print any earlier.

What met my gaze when I opened the newspaper caused dread to once again clutch at my heart.

The violation and murder, to which I had been witness, had indeed been perpetrated in the night.  The events were no dream.

The report was preliminary and authorities did not–indeed, from my knowledge of the case, could not–release the details.  The newspaper article stated only that the woman, a trollop by all reports, living in _____, had been cut a score of times, lengthwise upon her limbs, and choked by the neck until dead.

How was it possible that I had been witness to such abomination?

If my presence, unable in any way to intervene, was the will of God, was this so that I might communicate the incommunicable to the authorities?  And if so, what would I report?  Or, was it God’s will that I witness the fate of women of wanton ways so that I might somehow prevent others from falling into paths of Evil?  And, if my presence was the will of The Devil, how could my witness of this cruel event further his base desires?  The only conclusion that I could draw was that The Devil, himself, wished to frighten me; to frighten me away from the purpose to which I have, but yesterday, committed myself on behalf of God.

Can it be that the two–my contract with Lord Danbury and my witness to these terrors–are related?  In order to clarify my thoughts, I must write the facts so that I might review all, and perhaps see any underlying connections.

Despite my wretched situation, struggling to maintain my few rooms and but a single servant, I am an educated man.  Surely the globes, maps, atlases and books of every description that litter my small abode attest to this fact.  I was born of good family and instructed from the time I was small, both by tutors and in good schools, finally coming to study at the famous university at Cambridge, where I excelled in mathematics and geography.  My talent was for map-making, and I read voraciously both religious and secular texts.

My studies at the university were advantageous, and I wrote numerous papers which brought me acclaim; but the world of my scholarly pursuits was brought to a sudden end by the untimely death of my parents in a tragic fire at the home of my birth.  As I sorted through my parents’ affairs in the aftermath, I discovered that my father had invested in ill-fated ventures in the Far East.  In short, once the proprieties of my parents’ funerals were accomplished, I was penniless.  My chance to bring to the world the geography of God’s work was dashed.

I made my way for some time as a tutor, a station which galled my pride and in any event, did not last; and as a map-maker, which, though a position more lowly than those to which I was accustomed, afforded me the opportunity to partake in astounding adventures, seeing and mapping exotic geographies, and meeting even more exotic peoples.  In the course of my life, I met and married a woman of modest family who bore me a pure and Heavenly daughter, Elizabeth.  It was both the joy and the tragedy of my life, that mere months after my dear Elizabeth was brought into the world, my wife passed away suddenly and tragically.

My sorrow at this turn of events is not to be recounted in these pages.  Suffice to say, that I put these agonies behind me and resolved to be both father and mother to Elizabeth; and to protect her to my dying breath.  At the same time, however, the death of my good wife forced me to look more deeply at my devotion to God and how the passion of my life, the illumination of the world through scientific mapping, can benefit all of mankind as well as assure a safe and wholesome world for my Elizabeth.

My question is this: Where do Good and Evil reside?  In Man, in Earth, or in Heaven and Hell?

My conversations with God blessed me with an insight that was at once inspired and logical.  It is my complete conviction that there exist on this Earth, loci–geographical locations of focused force–through which Good and Evil are funneled.  From each locus emanate waves which influence Men.  Here follows my proof:

It has come to light that there are specific, unequivocally Evil locations in the world.  Certainly, the diaries of Jonathon Harker, which I have had both the good fortune and the horror to have read in the original, describe a locale in the eastern European mountains of Transylvania, of such unspeakable Evil, it is only possible to credit The Devil, himself, with spreading the stain of Hell from the fiery depths of the Earth, up through the very rocks upon which we stand, to create a well of Malevolence, poisoning the Castle Dracula, surrounding lands, and all who have contact with this place.

Similarly, reports from the new world bring incredulous stories of ships lost and confused in the circular tides of Bermuda, and of witches of Voodoo who are able to conjure Evil from the Earth to animate effigies and thereby commit acts of blasphemy against God.  Reports of witches, monsters and ghosts abound, and often these are linked to specific loci where emanations of Evil can be physically sensed by those who approach.

At the same time, Dear Diary, there are reports of places on the Earth of great Goodness.  Rumors of an enigmatic country of everlasting life, the Changari-Li of the mountains north of India, or the wellsprings of youth, reported from the Americas, are shrouded in mystery.  Attempts to locate them have, in a word, failed.  It is my theory that God grants entry to each such point of access to His Goodness, to only one First Discoverer.  Should he fail to use this knowledge for the benefit of Man, the access is lost forever.

Having reviewed the existence of these places of inherent Good and Evil, it has been my passion since the death of my wife, to seek out the loci for Goodness, to map the access, and to educate all mankind regarding these locations so that all believers may be saved.

This, then, is my plan, dear Diary.  With meticulous mathematics and the most accurate reports of those who have discovered these wellsprings of Good or Evil (would that these worthies had been geographers; alas that they were not!) I have painstakingly marked on my maps and globes the most approximate locales of each, searching for the key to unlock God’s Plan for disseminating his Goodness on Earth, as well as the pattern of places of Evil propagated by The Devil.  And, indeed, I have found just such a pattern.  It rests now, only to find the means of testing my hypothesis to become the first man to scientifically map, and thereby remove the mystery from, the wellsprings of God’s Goodness on Earth: the Land of Eden.

What remained, then, was to find a patron; a man of means and of a devotion to God approaching my own, who could understand the power of science to uncover the mysteries of the Earth.  Two days ago, Dear Diary, after many months of petition and persuasion, I obtained a patron to not only fund, but to accompany me, on this, my greatest mission of all.  Danbury, Lord of ____, a pious man whose chief occupation has been the study of the Bible, strives daily to communicate with God, and to do His will.  Some of my colleagues at the Geographical Society have expressed doubt about the man, forwarding rumors to me of suspiciously acquired wealth, duels and dalliances with ladies of the night, but the man himself has reassured me that such indiscretions were a product of his youth, and now he is most interested in my services to help him to come closer to those intersections of forces for Good that transect the Earth.  Lord Danbury will not only fund the expedition, but will accompany me to the depths of virginal Africa, where my calculations lead.

At the hour of seven o’clock, yesterday evening, we shook hands upon the contract, and Lord Danbury presented me with a purse of money to begin the arrangements.  He seemed as excited as a small boy, and urged me to make preparations as quickly as might be, so that we might leave London immediately.

Lord Danbury, like some I have met of his station, is a most peculiar man.  He is an older gentleman of slight build, and very pale.  He is not well-favored, having an over-large nose and deep-set eyes, with a markedly receding chin.  He dresses well, and yet, there is something about his gait, his turn of phrase, his breath (which stinks) as he leans into me (rather too near), which produces in me an uneasiness that I cannot define, but which I must mask at all costs.  I am certain, as he reads the Bible daily, that there can be nothing more to his eccentricities than the peculiarity of high station, and I have resolved to put it from my mind.

I have told Lord Danbury that I dare not leave my daughter, Elizabeth, in the company of strangers in my rooms so close to the unwholesome district of _____, and I have no relative with whom she might stay.  She has grown tall in this last year and there are those who do not see how very young she is.  Lord Danbury has agreed that Elizabeth might also accompany us on our expedition.  I have wrestled with my misgivings about taking my child to the distant and undoubtedly dangerous lands through which we must travel, but I have concluded that, all things considered, I will be better able to keep her safe under my own watchful eye than by leaving her in the murderous city of London.

And so, dear Diary, I rest my pen for today, and look to the preparations for my expedition; for the sooner I am able to take Elizabeth away from the evils of this city and approach the epicenter of God’s Goodness, the sooner the mission of my life will be accomplished.

 

3 May, Postscript:

Perhaps it is the excitement and the distress to which I have been exposed, but I became frightfully irritated with the maid, today.  Until now, she has proved to be a reliable and honest servant, but I suspect her of theft.  I have five white shirts in reasonable repair, but one is now missing.  I am not such a man as has the means to visit a tailor on a whim.  The drab must be held accountable.

 

29 May, 188_:

After three weeks of preparations and journeying by rail and steamer, we have arrived in the wretched country of Morocco, where the heat has exhausted all of us.  I have told Elizabeth she must retreat to her rooms each day with the servants and only emerge once the sun has set, for the evenings are blessedly cool.  She wishes to take in the sights with local guides, as Lord Danbury does, while I arrange for our passage South, but I have forbidden it.

Lands to the south are reputed to be quite hostile, as there is no water to be found except at widely spaced sites called oases.  We must rely on the local natives, the Tuaregs, to transport us on the next stage of our excursion.  For protection against bandits, I have purchased a brace of pistols each for myself and Danbury, and a long, curved knife of the local style.

I have made no secret of our journey, nor of our purposes for making such.  It is my belief that local folk tales and histories, many of which have never been written into books, often contain the seed of truth, if one can but winnow it out.  Nightly, I meet with the locals in their own peculiar gathering places to hear as many histories as I can, in hopes that I may learn some thing of use.

Tonight I had such luck.  I had been directed to what, to an Englishman, might have appeared to be a type of public house.  The customs of this country dictate that a man may not drink wine or spirits, however the drawing in of the smoke of certain smoldering herbs through a long tube appears to provide the same effect.

This public house was located in the medina, a marketplace of narrow, winding streets which, like the rest of this barbarous country, do not have the benefit of gas lighting.  The den was small, and to my eye, less than clean.  Exotic music, which whined unmelodically in my ear, jumped to the restless rhythm of tiny cymbals.  The place was crowded with unwashed, long-robed men armed with knives, many of whom danced with amazing fluidity to the music.

A ruffian of unsavory favor, as indeed all of the men of the medina appear, spoke with me at length in his broken English about my expedition, over small cups of mint tea.  He had some understanding, in his Heathen way, of my goals, and by a stroke of good fortune, was able to tell me of a vendor who might be able to provide me with an Elixir that could be of some aid to my cause.  This Elixir, the man explained, was a powerful substance which increased one’s sensitivity to the presence of Virtue.

I told the man that such an Elixir would indeed benefit our expedition, but that I would need proof of its effectiveness.  To this, the man readily agreed, and was able in the instant to lead me from the public house, through dark and torturous streets, to the home of the vendor.  The hovel, like most dwellings and shops in the medina, was not what an Englishman such as myself would consider to be of good repute; and yet, I had to content myself that I was in a foreign country where customs were alien.

My guide knocked at the door, and waited some minutes for it to be opened.  A very wrinkled man appeared, and although he seemed to recognize my guide instantly, he cast a doubtful look upon myself.  The men conversed in their own language, then the host disappeared to make whatever arrangements were necessary.

After a brief wait, my guide and myself were invited into a vestibule off the entry corridor of the house, and seated on hide-covered stools by a small table.  The room smelled of recent human occupation, and the odors were not of the pleasant sort.  A smoking oil lamp on the table provided the only illumination, and so it was difficult to distinguish many details about the room, other than that the walls appeared to be hung with many overlapping weavings and skins.

Our host absented himself briefly to procure the aforementioned Elixir.  Upon his return, he displayed in the light, a vial which held, at most, an ounce of viscous white liquid.  Through my guide, who acted as interpreter, he told me that the Potion was milked from flowers and herbs and distilled into this concentrated form, a mere drop of which would bring about a verifiable increase in one’s perception of Good; but he would not part with it for less than seven pounds.

I was drawn in, excited by the possibilities offered, but as an Englishman and, I believe, a shrewd negotiator, I refused to purchase the substance without proof.  My guide and the vendor discussed this in their own language, and my guide finally persuaded our host that I was of good character, and should the

Elixir produce the promised results, I would return the next evening to purchase the substance in quantity.  To this, the host was persuaded, and he poured me a small amount into a second, empty vial, and instructed me in its usage.

I did as the vendor bid. When I returned to my hotel, I proceeded directly to my daughter’s room.  Elizabeth slept with the peace of an angel.  I kissed her unconscious brow, then settled myself into my own room.  I removed the vial from my pocket and applied the bitter Elixir to my tongue, focusing my thoughts completely upon the Virtue of my daughter in the next room.

And, indeed, dear Diary, the Vendor’s prediction did come true.  Within a quarter of an hour, I felt my perceptions heighten, and a sense of Goodness and Peacefulness infused my entire being.  All cares fell from my mind, and I felt transported to float above my body where it lay upon the bed.  I became acutely aware that I was in the Presence of God, as He manifested Himself through the Virtue of my fair child.

 

30 May, 188_

Does heightened sensitivity to Good also bring with it heightened sensitivity to Evil?  This question I will ponder at another time, for I am ill to my stomach with the report that has been brought to me this morning.

I slept a sound and dreamless sleep after my transport to Heaven last night, but well past midnight by my reckoning, I was visited by the same night-horror which I have reported earlier in this journal.  The detail is exceedingly graphic for me to record again, for my nerves are too raw to re-live the ordeal in the writing of it.  Suffice to say, a good deal of the terror of the experience was my inability to move or cry out, or in any way to escape or prevent what my conscious mind told me would be a brutal murder.

And, again, the morning brought me the news which, upon waking in my own bed, I immediately dreaded.  In this very hotel, in the very rooms of our company, the monster had attacked again.  One of our party, a maid servant to Lord Danbury, was violated and murdered in a fashion almost identical to the London murder; the difference this time being that the woman’s hands were severed from her wrists and her feet from her ankles.

It shakes me to the very core to learn that such Evil could co-exist in the same location and at the same time as the Presence of God, which I experienced in my own chambers.  My only explanation is that, whereas there are loci of pure Evil and loci of pure Good, a great deal of the mundane world is a mixture of the two.  I am resolved to push forward with even greater urgency toward the unknowns of the Dark Continent, where my calculations have assured me I will find the lost Eden.

I did not report my dreams to the authorities, as similarly I did not in London.  Being a man of science, it is clear to me that such reports would be deemed insanity.  I dare not cast doubt upon my reputation in the eyes of Lord Danbury, lest he withdraw his patronage for my quest.

And, here I must note: Lord Danbury’s reaction to the news over our morning meal struck me as odd.  He barely glanced from his newspaper with a frown and a sharp comment that it had come to his attention that the woman had loose morals and was reported to have a liaison of a most improper sort with one of the porters, and that the expedition could continue very well without her.  For a pious man, I find this impatience odd.  Yet, as I reflect upon my observations of my patron, I cannot say I have actually seen him at prayer or reading from his Bible.  He keeps a large crucifix in his luggage, but I have never seen him wear it on his person.  Is it possible he lets on to be devoted to God only as an affectation?

I dare not write more now, Dear Diary, but must instruct the servants to pack our belongings for an early start on the morrow, with the Tuareg.  And, I go tonight to locate the interpreter who introduced me to the Vendor of Heaven’s Elixir, so that I may purchase a quantity of the Potion to bring on our journey.

 

18 June, 188_

Dear Diary:  I omit a great deal of our party’s travels, not because they were without excitement with desert storms, poisonous insects and exotic peoples, nor because of the tedium and deprivation endured through long days perched on the saddle of the most unusual camels; but because such tales do not form a part of this account of my search for Eden.

South of the desert, we came to dry but hospitable lands inhabited by a strange, albeit, happy people of indescribably black skin, who were most curious with our appearance, particularly our clothing (which was much more modest than that worn by the locals), and our hair (which for most of our party is fair or even blonde, and covers our forearms in a light down, the way the Negro men’s does not).

Here we bid our Tuareg guides adieu, purchased local currency and more supplies, and with great difficulty and the help of one Moroccan interpreter, hired new guides to take us further into the darkest parts of Africa, those seen only by the famous Dr. Livingstone and his good friend, Mr. Stanley.  Our guides at first did not understand the maps I had brought with me, nor the instruments of mathematics and astronomy which I have used throughout our travels to record the latitude and longitude of our route, as well as that of landmarks which we have passed.  Nevertheless, with persistence, we were able to come by directions and drawings of the nearby geography, and thus chart the next leg of our course.

This portion of the journey fascinated me, if it were possible, even more than the desert journey.  Travel in this part of the world is conducted primarily by boat, along rivers of massive power, through jungles of magnificent trees and dense verdure.  Animals of awesome design, birds of brilliant plumage, and landscapes of breathtaking beauty–as well as the confirmation of Heaven’s nearness through the increased sensitivity I possess from my, now daily, use of the Elixir–convince me that we draw ever closer to the Land of Eden.

Simultaneously, however, unsettled weather and the beastly cries of the Leopard and other fearsome creatures at night, remind me that we are not yet at our place of sanctuary.  I keep my pistols and knife close at hand.

And, I must report here, our journey has not been without incident that must be noted, as it relates directly to the tale of which I tell.  Twice, since we left Morocco, women of our party hired on as cooks have been attacked and brutally murdered; and as before, on both occasions I was subjected to the shock of witnessing the events through dreams.  That the women were black and that they dressed without modesty does not lessen my trauma.

I do not know why I am granted this special Power; my only speculation is that God must have in mind for me a role to fight the Hell-Creature in some way that I cannot now foresee, as again, on both occasions, I was imprisoned in my unresponsive body.  However, I resolved to keep my wits about me and observe any details which might prove to be a clue or pattern, which might be the monster’s ultimate undoing.

One thing is clear: this Evil makes a target of women; and specifically of women of low station and lewd morals.  I am vigilant, even suspicious, of everything and everyone around me.  It seems to me that a number of our guides and porters possess the facial features, common among madmen and brutes, of animal desires and low intelligence.  Of these men I am particularly wary, although it must be noted that none of these was present for the first two attacks: the one in London, or the one in Morocco.  Still, they look at me with secretive eyes and whisper when they think I cannot hear.  They may suspect that I distrust them.

The continued juxtaposition of Good, through the beauty of the land and the presence of God which I can feel within my heart; and Evil, through the abominations I am forced to witness in my dreams and the constant fear upon us of wild beasts and awesome storms, has caused me to re-think my theory of geography.  Rather than widely spaced loci of Good and Evil, I am concluding that Good and Evil loci exist side by side; and that the closer one comes to ultimate Good, the more closely that locus is guarded by the Hounds of Hell.

I fear that the closer I come to mapping the path to God’s Garden, the more vicious and persistent will become The Devil’s efforts to stop me.  I fear that, in order to pass through into Eden, we will be forced to endure the traverse of Hell upon Earth.  Accordingly, I do not let Elizabeth leave my side; even at night, I have insisted that she and the maid share a tent with me, divided by only a blanket hung from the centre ridge pole, for modesty’s sake.

 

20 June, 188_

We have left the river, and relatively easy travel.  Now, a long line of guides and porters wends its way through ever steepening hills toward the cooler highlands where my calculations tell me we will find the Good Garden.  Jungle presses about us on all sides, dark and menacing.  Leeches fall upon our backs as we walk and poisonous insects and snakes abound.  At night, our native servants surround our camp with a thorn fence and keep fires brightly lit all evening to discourage the hungry beasts that stalk us.  They sit close to the fire light and tell stories in low voices in their own language, and roll their eyes at the trees that ring us.  I fear our danger will only increase as we approach the Gates of Ivory and Horn.

I must confess that I have lost interest in my maps.  The peril that presses upon us from all sides distracts me so that I can keep only one thought in my mind as I ride in my sedan chair:  quitting this abominable country and reaching our haven.  To such end, I partake of the Elixir twice daily, so that I may focus entirely upon our route.

The monster has not attacked since we left the river, but rather than being a comfort to me, this thought weighs constantly upon my mind.  When will the beast strike again?  Although Elizabeth is not the sort of prey the monster has hunted in the past, for she is neither a grown woman, nor impure, I keep her sedan chair in my view at all times.

Lord Danbury masks his pale face from the heat of the African sun at all times, wearing a wide-brimmed hat with thick netting against the infernal mosquitoes.  Yet, he often chooses to walk, and for a man of his age and sensibilities I am amazed at his strength.  My suspicions of all in our camp must not exclude him.  Lord Danbury was in London on the night of the first attack, and in Morocco on the second.  Can it be that his interest in the Word of God is a perversion, a blasphemous dabbling in Dark Arts?  I trust no one but myself, and of course, my dear daughter, Elizabeth.

Tonight, as I sit in my tent to write this account by the light of my candle, I find the agitation of the elements to match my own irritability.  As we have left the heat of the lowlands, so the volatility of the atmosphere seems to have increased.  Our guides tell us that the winter rains will not return for many months, but the very air seems to crackle with undischarged electricity.  Moisture has infiltrated my pistols so that they jam and fail to fire, or fire in unpredictable ways.  I have tossed them aside as useless, although Danbury retains his pistols, and he oils them incessantly.  I must rely solely upon my knife for protection.

Dark cloud has been building all day and the winds toss about the heads of the forest giants around us.  I, too, am restless and impatient to reach our goal; but more than this, I feel almost as though sand has been slipped between my skin and my clothing so that it is not possible for me to find comfort in any position.

And, it pains me to write, that for the second time, my own pure and obedient Elizabeth, has defied me.  I have caught her, twice, consorting with the natives and walking in the forest.  The stupid woman who is her servant, and guardian when I must work, could not keep the child chastely in her own tents.  I am aggravated at the woman beyond endurance, but in this Heathen country I cannot sack her and find a replacement.  I must suffer her services for the time being.

I will partake of a third dose of my soothing Elixir, and sleep will no doubt follow soon.

 

 

21 June, 188_

My dear Diary, an appalling thing has happened.  How, I cannot say, for I am meticulous in all things; perhaps my unceasing fear and vigilance of the last days and weeks has distracted me from my usual constancy.  I have discovered that the Elixir, which has become my primary guide toward Eden, has been villainously stolen.

I have guarded the wooden case in which the vials were stored; I have kept it perpetually by my side, even in sleep; yet when I finished my journal and sought out a final draught before bed last night, I found to my anguish, every vial empty.  I must admit that panic overtook me and with shaking fingers I emptied each one onto my tongue, but there was naught to be had.  Then rage and frustration at the nearness of my long held goal, snatched seemingly, at this final point, reared its passion within me, and I confess that I roared out my pain into the howl of the storm, to which action the maid who attends my Elizabeth called for aid.  Lord Danbury set two or three of the devilish porters to lay their filthy hands upon me and restrain me from tearing the tent apart in my search.

It is clear to me that The Devil has seduced members of our party to his will, using one or more of them to steal the precious Elixir and hinder the achievement of my goal.  It is also clear to me that Lord Danbury, for all his pretense at piety, is in league with them.

I am calmer now, though irritability and inner rage drives me to distraction so that I cannot sleep; indeed, so I barely have the patience to record this abomination.  Once the sun has risen and the men who guard this tent are dismissed, I will search out those who try to foil my plans.

 

 

30 August, 188_

British soil.  It is with mixed emotions that I return once again to London.  I am exhausted by all that has befallen; so much so that I could not even write, dear Diary, until today.

How can I explain what happened?  Suffice to say that it was clear to me on that fateful night in June, that all the pieces of the puzzle had finally fallen together.  First, in re-thinking my original thesis–that there are loci of Good and Evil on the Earth; and which I subsequently revised (based on my continuing observations) that these loci in fact exist side by side, with the loci of Good besieged on all sides by the forces of Evil–I was forced to admit that I was wrong.

All evidence pointed to the fact that Good and Evil do not exist in geographical loci on Earth, but within the hearts of men.  The Devil seduces men to his will, and men may travel from place to place, taking the Evil with them.  On that stormy summer solstice in the heart of Africa, I was forced to admit that my life’s work was naught.

And then, the realization came upon me that, this being the case, there was no Eden on Earth to be found.

I pulled my maps from their cases and found they had been bewitched:  precise, mathematical, calculated maps of London, of England, of Europe, gave way to vague, disorderly and ultimately unfinished maps for each subsequent leg of our journey.  We were indeed in the Heart of Africa, but no nearer and no further from Eden; our travels had taken us in random, useless directions.  I was incensed.

And, finally, God whispered to me the knowledge of who The Devil’s tool on Earth was, of how he had operated; and to what end:

Lord Danbury.

This pretender to piety had, from the beginning, cultivated The Devil’s power by perverting his study of God to an apprenticeship of the Dark Arts.  He financed the trip in order to distract me–the only selfless defender of Good who stood in his way–from my true work in London.  He convinced me to bring my precious Elizabeth, so that I, and my work for God, could be finally undone.  He it was who, with the aid of The Devil, converted his form to the monstrous black mist; he, who gloatingly brought my senses through dreams to watch, as he violated and brutally murdered each of his victims.  And, it was he, who was, finally, my undoing.

It befell thusly:

Despite the crack of thunder and the brilliant and sudden illuminations of the jungle by lightning, I was (after many hours of pacing) able to fall into a fitful and troubled sleep.  Many dreams of an evil nature assailed me as I slept, and I woke more than once.  And then, the dream which I feared more than all others revisited me, and with it, the helpless rage of my inability to alter events.

The blanket which hung between my portion of the tent and Elizabeth’s dissolved.

Elizabeth lay on her back in her night dress of white lace beneath the mosquito net, her light blankets cast immodestly aside in sleep, revealing how much she had come to resemble her dear, dead mother.  An arm was flung over her forehead, her head turned to one side, so, as though she shaded her eyes from some brilliant light; and her other hand hung with the relaxation of sleep over the side of her cot.  The maid snored like the woman of low station she was in a second cot by the wall of the tent.

I stood over Elizabeth, powerless to move, enraged and dreading what I would see next.

With the inevitability of a nightmare, the black mist of what I now knew to be Lord Danbury’s Dark Arts seeped out of the Earth.  In the prison of my body I screamed–what?  A warning to my pure Elizabeth?  A cry of desperation at my own impotence?  A howl of mad fury at the Thing I wanted to break and strangle with my bare hands?  But, just as before, no sound left my lips.

However, a thing happened next which cracked the spell that had been cast upon me:  I moved!

Aided perhaps by gravity or by the Will of God, I fell to my knees at Elizabeth’s side.  I actually moved my arms over her, to protect her from what I knew would be the monster, Danbury’s, attack.

The mist of Stygian darkness sifted across the ground, unabated.  It crawled as it had each time before, up the side of the bed, to clot over my dear Elizabeth’s chest.  This time, however, because I leaned directly over her, the creature gathered itself within my very embrace.  It mocked me; laughing, no doubt, in its inhuman mind, at my impotence.  I groaned inwardly, struggling ever to burst forth from the spell.

Before my very eyes, it wrapped itself over Elizabeth’s face, strangling and obscuring her.  The chill of its Evil subsumed me and I shook with cold.

Now, from this vantage, closer than my dreams had ever brought me, I made out in the Thing . . . eyes.  Evil, smoking eyes, full of hate from the pits of Hell, held me in thrall as though I were a snake at the beck of a charmer.  They formed, dispersed . . . and formed again.  I shook my head to fling away the rivers of icy sweat that stung beneath my lids, that I could verify what I saw–but no–demonic orbs, red as glowing coals, had coalesced in the Thing beneath me.  The mist writhed, scoffed at my puny strength.

Superhuman power, like the electricity harnessed by Dr. Frankenstein, surged through my muscles.  I squeezed.  And, lo, the creature’s flesh formed between my fingers!  Vile, putrid flesh of the Hell Creature became reality in my hands, and I tightened my grip.

The Thing twisted and turned.  It laughed, a low and throaty growl, and forced my fingers apart, its maw wide and gasping.  I redoubled my efforts.  My flesh felt raw as though it had been stripped from my bones.  I clung to the thrashing beast, squeezed with all my might, and nausea rose like a bubble in my throat.

A scream split the night, choked off in mid cry.

The Beast’s face melted, and formed again in Danbury’s true aspect.  My skin itched, crawled as if with insects burrowing into every muscle.  Then with trickery it thought to deceive me: it changed by fleeting turns to my own dear Elizabeth–crying out pitiably, “Father!  Father!  No!”–to the unfortunate maid, choking and gasping, to the London trollop’s dissipated shape and finally, into tarry mist.  Through each incarnation, I held on; held on in fear for my very soul.

The creature, unharmed, laughed in my face.

I wrenched with all my might.  I heard a snap, as of bone breaking, and felt a sudden rush of release throughout my entire being as though all the Elixir on Earth had flooded me, as though the light of God, Himself, filled my soul.  My fingers became numb and senseless as my will floated, uncaring and disconnected from my body.

A cry, followed by scratches to my face and arms, jolted me momentarily from my taste of Heaven, and I saw that the maid had awakened.  Joy leapt into my heart.  Now, there would be one who could witness, who could corroborate what happened; an ally, even, to fight this creature, for it was clear to me that the woman was not spellbound, as I had been.  Still, I could not cry out to her, or in any way communicate how we should work together to defeat the Hell Hound.

The woman beat on me.  Fool!  Could she not see the evil clot, which even now, sucked the life from my dear Elizabeth?  Lifting my precious child up by the neck, scoring her pure white limbs with bloody scratches, severing her hands and ankles, severing her arms and legs, suffocating the breath from her lips?  The fool of a woman screamed uselessly, and beat upon me, rather than upon the beast!

Tears of rage and frustration sprang from my eyes as the mist dispersed, no doubt to return the essence of Danbury’s thoughts to his body.  Command of my limbs was finally returned to my will.  I howled in grief, and clutched the poor limp corpse of Elizabeth to my chest, heedless of the sticky gush of blood that still streamed from her uncounted wounds.

Elizabeth–

And then, there was a crack, as though of thunder, and Danbury appeared in the tent, pistol smoking in his hand, and my arm burst into shearing pain so that I had to release Elizabeth.  Once again, this time in his own physical form, he rushed to my child’s side, and my puny attempts to beat him away were thwarted by the beastly porters.

The brutal murder of my poor, innocent Elizabeth, of course, was the only way that Danbury could ultimately defeat me.  I was broken, utterly and completely.

The maid lied.

All the forces of Hell were arrayed against me, and only my inner knowledge of my true conviction to God was left to me.  All bore witness against me.  All brought forth false and contorted evidence to lay the blame for Danbury’s evil plan upon my head.

I go now, Dear Diary, to face the gallows.

I have given my tale to the priest, and against my protests of innocence he has absolved me, but with a look I do not credit.  I know he doubts my tale.  He implied that God, with whom I have had many conversations, and who first revealed that loci of Good and Evil existed in geographical locations, was the origin of my troubles.  He asked, would not The Devil, should he wish to deceive me, appear fair, in speech and in aspect?

The priest, too, is not to be trusted.

Yes, I go to the gallows; but I do not go alone.  No, and this is the secret that shall be revealed, only to you, dear Diary.

God has returned to me.  Yes.  He can attend me even behind the locks of my dungeon, for He can change His shape and sift through cracks as a dark mist.  And with His help, I will return from beyond the gallows.

Danbury will have need of his crucifix now.

I will be avenged.

The End

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