Sunday, September 18, 2016
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario â€œRise of the Sleeperâ€ by Scott David Aniolowski from Lurking Fears from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. today with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend and Katelyn Hogan)
On Monday, October 3, 1927, the autumn sun had long since set as Nigel Bricker prepared for a relaxing evening with a favorite radio drama.
It had not been a good three months for Bricker. The automotive garage in downtown Providence where he worked as a mechanic had been broken into in September and vandalized. The thief had broken into the office and gone through all of the personal files of the employees and the customers. Specifically, Brickerâ€™s file had been left open on his bossâ€™s desk, his information scattered everywhere. Additionally, the part of the shop where he kept his personal tools had been vandalized. Some of the tools were scattered around, others were broken, and some were simply missing. It was very strange. His boss had questioned him, asking if someone had it in for him. He said it appeared so and was somewhat mystified heâ€™d heard nothing as he lived in a small room in the back of the shop. Either the vandals had been very quiet or he had been sleeping very deeply that night.
Business had also been slow since the break-in and so Brickerâ€™s hours had been cut back significantly. So much so that he had a Monday evening to himself with the shop closed for the night. He was indulging in an evening radio drama when a knock came at the door of his little room, announcing an unexpected visitor.
Bricker turned off the radio.
â€œOi!â€ he called. â€œWho is it?â€
â€œI-I-Iâ€™m looking for a Mr. Bricker?â€ an older manâ€™s voice replied.
â€œWho might you be?â€ Bricker said, standing from his chair and going to the door.
â€œI-Iâ€™m Ezekiel Rosenwald, sir,â€ the voice replied.
â€œNever heard of you. Whereâ€™re youâ”€â€
â€œIâ€™m a lawyer from Boston.â€
â€œLawyer from Boston?â€
â€œYes sir. Are you Mr. Bricker?â€
â€œYou said you were from Boston.â€
â€œIâ€™m from Boston, yes sir. I have word â€¦ are you Mr. Bricker?â€
â€œWell, could I â€¦ could you open the door?â€
He unlocked and opened the door to find himself facing an elderly gentleman nattily attired in gray suit and black fedora. The solemn, silver-haired personage had a pencil-thin mustache and a gray five-oâ€™clock shadow. He wore pince-nez glasses and blinked in the light. He looked weary. He once again introduced himself as Ezekiel Rosenwald and stated in a quite business-like manner that he was looking for Nigel Bricker.
â€œAre you Mr. Bricker?â€ he asked.
â€œYes, I am,â€ Bricker said.
â€œOh, well â€¦ may I come in? Iâ€™ve got some â€¦ well, itâ€™s bad news but itâ€™s also good news.â€
â€œUh â€¦ yeah, sure.â€
â€œThank you! Thank you so much!â€
Bricker admitted the older gentleman, closing and locking the door behind him.
â€œWell, I â€¦ uh â€¦ Iâ€™ve been searching for you for the past three years,â€ Rosenwald said. â€œThe last that weâ€™d heard was that you were in London and I had the unfortunate â€¦ was the unfortunate â€¦ I had to go there. I didnâ€™t like it very much. Itâ€™s very, very dirty. You see, youâ€™ve inherited a parcel of property â€¦ in Florida.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know anybody in Florida,â€ Bricker said.
â€œNo? Well, I oversaw the estate of your cousin, Brandon Young, since the time of his death three years ago. Heâ€™s the last of the Young family and he, uh, apparently decided, he would pass on his earthly wealth to a distant cousin, whom he knew to be living, at the time, â€˜somewhere in England.â€™ I had to look quite a bit in England for you.â€
Rosenwald took a small, brown manila envelope out of his jacket and handed it to Bricker.
â€œThis is the will in question,â€ he said. â€œThe original. We have a copy in the office in Boston. Brandon was from Boston, you see.â€
Bricker vaguely remembered Brandon Young. The youth had been a few years younger than Bricker. From Boston, the two had tried to be pen pals in the younger years of their lives but one or the other, or perhaps both, it was so long ago, had tired of the exercise and stopped writing. He was a distant cousin whom Bricker had never even met, though he did have some fond memories of the stories the two had shared through the post.
â€œSo, do you know why he left â€¦ all of his possessions to someone heâ€™d barely met?â€ Bricker asked.
â€œHe was the last of his line,â€ Rosenwald said. â€œHe didnâ€™t have any heirs. He didnâ€™t have anyone to leave anything to. And he was your cousin, wasnâ€™t he, Mr. Bricker?â€
â€œYes, he was.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what he wrote in his will. Itâ€™s all there. Itâ€™s a piece of property in a town called New Dunwich. It rests several miles from Floridaâ€™s west coast in the heart of the Everglades. Itâ€™s a house and quite a few acres. And between you and me, you never know what kind of treasures you could find in that kind of place.â€
He asked if Bricker had an atlas but the man did not.
â€œThe nearest town that the trains go to is Everglades,â€ Rosenwald said. â€œEverglades, Florida. And thereâ€™s a small town thatâ€™s close to it called Ochopee. That would probably be a place where you could get some transportation on to New Dunwich.â€
â€œIâ€™ll bet I could,â€ Bricker said.
â€œIn any case, you own the property. You will â€¦ I would advise you â€¦ I can act as your lawyer for a few minutes.â€
Rosenwald laughed as though heâ€™d just made a joke.
â€œWithout even charging you,â€ he went on. â€œAnd tell you, if youâ€™re not interested in owning the property, it would probably be good to examine it before you try to sell it. It could be worth quite a pretty penny. It is several acres and, apparently, the house is quite vast.â€
He reached into his jacket once again.
â€œOh,â€ he said. â€œMy card.â€
He handed Bricker a small card that read â€œEzekiel Rosenwald, Attorney at Law, 363 Trinity Circle, Boston, Mass.â€
â€œIn case you need to contact me about anything,â€ he said. â€œPlease, do not hesitate to call. We do have a telephone. Apparently, Brandon inherited the property in 1908, but it was not until 1924 that he went down there to look at it. About three years ago. And then he died a few weeks after moving into the house.â€
â€œWait, died after he moved into the house?â€ Bricker said.
â€œYes. Ah yes. Unfortunately. He went down to the property. Died a few weeks later. And that was in 1924. Been looking for you ever since, in whatever time I had.â€
â€œDo you know what he died of?â€
â€œI do not. I believe it might have been a suicide. If you need anything else, contact me there. Iâ€™ll be in Providence for another day or two before heading back to Boston. Is there anything else that you need to know or that I could help you with?â€
â€œNo. Iâ€™ll give this a look over and contact you if need be.â€
â€œVery good. It was very nice to meet you, Mr. Bricker. Good luck. And, as I said, Iâ€™d advise you to look over the property. You will have to pay taxes on it, donâ€™t forget.â€
With that, he went.
Bricker looked over the will but could only make out the gist of it: he had inherited Brandon Youngâ€™s worldly possessions and that seemed to mainly consist of the property. A deed to the property was also in the manila envelope. He studied it for a while and then called it a night.
* * *
On Tuesday, October 4, 1927, Bricker asked for time off work. His boss was more than happy to get him out of the place. He tried to figure out who to contact and so decided to telephone William Avery Rockefeller first. Unfortunately, there was no answer at Rockefellerâ€™s house. The telephone just rang and rang and rang.
He tried to think of whom else had been part of the terrible trip to Brown Mountain, North Carolina.
Well, I did just inherit a house down in Florida, he thought. Maybe I can find somebody to write a story and take some pictures with it.
* * *
Miss Evelyn Fairfield had been having a harder time getting assignments ever since her return from North Carolina in June. Her editor seemed reticent to give her work. She had trouble making ends meet a little. One night, she came home to find the door to her room at Wickeâ€™s Boarding House ajar. At first she guessed she had just forgotten to close the door or perhaps the latch had simply not caught when she left. Everything looked fine in the room and nothing was missing, but she noticed her address book had been rifled through when she saw an address sheâ€™d jotted on a piece of paper with the later intention of putting it into the book on the floor. After that she noticed several things slightly out of place in the room.
She was at the office on Tuesday, October 4, 1927, when someone shouted her name.
â€œYo Fairfield!â€ one of the other reporters said.
â€œYes sir?â€ she said.
â€œYou got a phone call.â€
He pointed to the desk that the part-time reporters and others who were not deemed important enough to the paper to have their own office or desk worked from. The receiver was off the hook. She picked it up.
â€œHello,â€ she said. â€œThis is Fairfield.â€
â€œOh, Miss Fairfield,â€ Bricker said on the other end of the line. â€œThis is Bricker from, you know, the last â€¦â€
â€œOh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.â€
â€œUm â€¦ Iâ€™ve just inherited a piece of property down in Florida and I need someone to come document it. Or maybe you could hook me up with somebody at the newspaper to come.â€
â€œWell, it wouldnâ€™t be the first time I took pictures of houses. So â€¦ sounds like another vacation.â€
â€œIs Rockefeller coming?â€
â€œUh â€¦ funny enough, I couldnâ€™t reach him. The phone just kept ringing.â€
â€œYou happen to see him in the past â€¦ three months?â€
â€œNo, I havenâ€™t.â€
â€œOh. Know of anybody else that might come down and help me out with this? Iâ€™ve never been to â€¦ what was it? Everglades. Donâ€™t even know where that is.â€
â€œUm â€¦ who was that little southern belle who lived in the south? Doesnâ€™t she live in Florida or South Carolina or something?â€
â€œYeah, sounds right. We can look her up. Do you know how to reach her?â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s in my notebook somewhere.â€
â€œYeah, if you could try to reach her and we could â€¦â€
â€œYeah, I got it right here.â€
â€œâ€¦ meet up and head down there and, I guess, meet her on the way down.â€
They discussed when to make the trip and Bricker decided they would leave on Thursday, October 6, going by train, which would be the quickest way. He said he would make the arrangements. Miss Fairfield said she would contact Miss Edington.
* * *
Odd things had been happening to Miss Suzanna Abigail Edington too. After the incidents at Brown Mountain, she had returned to her fatherâ€™s plantation south of Atlanta, Georgia. Edington Plantation was fairly isolated and, aside from the servants and the hired help, she lived there alone with her parents. They didnâ€™t often see strangers around the place and the extensive tobacco fields meant there was a good, clear field of view from the plantation house.
Some of the servants had told her father, Henry Beauregard Lee Edington, of people on the property, usually in the woods adjoining the fields, at a distance. Most often the men were seen at night. Edington had sent some of his own men out on horseback, armed with rifles or shotguns, to investigate, but they had come back empty-handed. He had even gone out with a couple of men himself one night. They didnâ€™t find anything.
It was something that had never happened before.
Miss Edington had even heard that some of the black workers who lived on the property in the old slave quarters had seen some kind of glowing lights in the tops of the trees one night. They were very disturbed by that.
Her father, a somewhat portly southern gentlemen with a thick white beard and long white goatee, responded to the situation by buying several large dogs for around the house, making sure to lay in plenty of ammunition for the guns they owned, and having a few of his men walk the property in the early evening. He thought it was Yankees or revenuers or government men and he hated the government.
The telephone only rarely rang at Edington Plantation, but it did so on Tuesday, October 4, 1927. The receiver was picked up by the house patriarch.
â€œEdington residence,â€ he said in his robust southern accent. â€œThis is Henry Edington. How may I help you?â€
â€œI was wondering if I might speak to Miss Edington,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œWho is this?â€
â€œThis is Miss Fairfield.â€
â€œMiss Fairfield. Now-now â€¦ now how do you know Miss Edington, there, Miss Fairfield?â€
There was no answer from the other side of the line.
â€œHello?â€ Edington said, tapping the telephone cradle. â€œOperator, have we lost the call? Operator? Hello?â€
â€œNo no no, Iâ€™m still here,â€ Miss Fairfield said. â€œI met her down in North Carolina. We became best friends.â€
â€œOh, best of friends. Well, just hold on just a moment.â€
There was a clatter as the receiver was put down.
â€œSuzanna!â€ Edington called up the stairs.
â€œWhat?â€ she yelled back.
â€œYou have a telephone call!â€ Edington called. â€œFrom your best of friend!â€
Miss Edington came down to the front hall where the homes telephone sat.
â€œThis is Suzanna,â€ she said sweetly.
â€œHey Suzanna, this is Evelyn Fairfield,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œOh, I remember you. You were from â€¦ North Carolina and Brown Mountain. Is there something you need?â€
â€œYeah â€¦ so â€¦ you remember Nigel, right?â€
â€œYes, I do.â€
â€œApparently he got some property he inherited from some cousin and itâ€™s down in Florida, the Everglades.â€
â€œWell, that sounds mighty nice.â€
â€œWeâ€™re just looking for people to come â€¦ check it out. Take some pictures. Maybe we can make a vacation out of it. I donâ€™t know. Floridaâ€™s sunny, right?â€
â€œThat sounds nice, actually. Weird stuffâ€™s been happening around here. Iâ€™d be happy to get out of here for a little while.â€
â€œWeird stuff, eh?â€
â€œYeah. Daddyâ€™s been seeing people outside the property just standing around. I donâ€™t know who they are but theyâ€™re probably just some loiterers. I donâ€™t know.â€
â€œHm. Well, youâ€™re down on the way to Florida. We can probably pick you up.â€
â€œYeah, and if you need to stay here for a little while, thatâ€™s fine too. Iâ€™m sure daddy wouldnâ€™t mind.â€
With the weird stuff, Miss Fairfield thought.
â€œYeah, that sounds fine,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ll talk to Nigel about it.â€
â€œWell, I guess Iâ€™ll see yâ€™all when you get down here,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œWell, we were thinking about the sixth so â€¦ probably about then.â€
â€œDo you have room in your car for two?â€
â€œWell â€¦ yeah, we donâ€™t have a car and I think train would be a lot faster anyhow. So â€¦â€
â€œOh, I see. Well, all right then.â€
Miss Edington didnâ€™t care for traveling on the railroad. She didnâ€™t like all of the people. Her trip to North Carolina, also by train, had not been the most pleasant of journeys.
â€œAll right then,â€ she said. â€œGuess Iâ€™ll see you whenever you get down here.â€
â€œSounds good,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
She gave her the contact information and they agreed to be in touch.
* * *
Over the next two days, they made arrangements to take various trains, first to Atlanta, Georgia, to pick up Miss Edington, and from there to Everglades, Florida. Bricker and Miss Fairfield left on October 6 and it took them a day to get to Atlanta, sleeping overnight on the still-traveling train. They had sent a telegram to Miss Edington, telling them when their train would arrive in Atlanta.
Miss Edington and Virgil Thomas met them at the train station where they changed trains in Atlanta. They had ridden into town in the Model T her father owned, one of the hands at the plantation who could drive coming with them to take the automobile back after dropping them off. They had talked the night before about what Virgil Thomas should bring and Miss Edington told the man his pistol should suffice. Miss Edington took her shotgun and shells as well. Just in case.
They boarded the train south from Atlanta. It took another day to travel through Georgia and Florida. En route, they talked about Brown Mountain, some of the strange events that had been happening to them, and Nigelâ€™s inheritance. He noted the house was large and came with several acres of property, mostly behind the building, according to the deed.
It was afternoon on October 8th when they arrived at the small town of Everglades after having passed through Lakeland, Bartow, Palmvalia, and Immokalee, where they had changed trains, and Deep Lake. For a county seat, Everglades was tiny, but there was a hotel and other conveniences. It was terribly hot and humid in the southernmost part of the state.
Virgil Thomas arranged to rent an automobile, an old Model T soft top, which they drove to Ochopee on October 9th. It took them an hour to drive the 10 miles over sodden dirt roads to the other village, which proved to be a tiny community surrounded by a tomato farm. It was obviously a logging town as well though some of the residents still lived in army tents. There was a tiny general store and a burnt out building next to it. Behind the ruins was an old storage shed that the residents of the tiny town were using to house the mail. There was no restaurant or hotel in the village. There was very little at all, actually.
They could see the swamps of the Everglades from the town.
Bricker talked to the clerk at the general store, asking him where New Dunwich was.
â€œOkay,â€ the man said. â€œWhy do you want to go to New Dunwich?â€
â€œUh â€¦ had a cousin leave me an inheritance of a piece of property,â€ Bricker said.
â€œOh! So sorry. So sorry. Well, itâ€™s in the Everglades, northeast of here. You could probably talk to Arvid Delp. He could probably get you out there. Heâ€™s got a boat. He takes people sometimes.â€
â€œNow how would this man make a house on the swamp?â€ Miss Edington asked.
â€œItâ€™s a town,â€ the local said. â€œAlthough we donâ€™t see many people. One of them comes in about once a month and buys supplies. Thereâ€™s no road out there. Nothing like that. Itâ€™s just a little lumber town out there, but like I said, I ainâ€™t heard nothing from it for years. Arvid Delp. Heâ€™s down at the docks there. Youâ€™ll see his boat. Youâ€™ll recognize it. Itâ€™s call the Lady Lovely. It ainâ€™t. Youâ€™ll see him. Heâ€™s down there right now. Donâ€™t get on his bad side.â€
They did some shopping at the general store. Virgil Thomas, Bricker, and Miss Fairfield bought tall, waterproof boots. Miss Edington was disappointed there were not any fancy ladyâ€™s boots, but bought a pair just in case. Miss Fairfield also looked for some kind of waterproof bag but the general store only carried food, a few camping supplies, some clothing, and little else.
They also learned the burnt down building was the remains of the post office, which had been moved to a shed. The clerk told them they just hadnâ€™t had a chance to rebuild yet. He also advised them to fill their boots with water for about a week, which would cause the leather to mold itself to their feet. None of them took him up on his advice.
They didnâ€™t have any waterproof cases or trunks and when Miss Fairfield asked about waterproof canvas, the man apologized.
â€œI just sold my last one to Brennon,â€ the man said. â€œJosh Brennon. He said he was going to make a chicken coop? I dunno.â€
They headed down to the docks on the northeast side of town. They found the Lady Lovely, which proved to be a dumpy little boat with a tiny outboard motor. The man sitting in it wore leather, wide-brimmed black hat. He had a salt and pepper beard and mustache and his weather-worn face made him appear to be in his 40s. An unlit cigar was clamped in his lips but he still found the time to spit a dark-colored liquid from the chewing tobacco in his cheek. Some of the spit even went over the side of the boat into the water. A clay jug sat on the seat next to him. The bottom of the boat had a puddle of water in it with little blobs of tobacco spit floating in it.
He greeted them by belching loudly and then stared at them without a word.
â€œHeâ€™s very uncouth,â€ Miss Edington muttered under her breath.
â€œWhat?â€ the man said to them.
â€œIâ€™d heard from the man at the store, there, that you could possibly take me to New Dunwich,â€ Bricker said.
Delp just laughed.
â€œWhat?â€ he said. â€œAll right. Yeah.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Bricker said.
â€œWe taking these two?â€
Delp gestured at the women.
â€œAnd that as well?â€ he said, gesturing at Virgil Thomas.
â€œThat was the plan,â€ Bricker said.
â€œNow is this ten dollars one way or is this also getting us back?â€
â€œWhy you going out there to New Dunwich?â€
â€œCousin left some land out there for me and Iâ€™m going to go appraise it and decide if I want to keep it or not.â€
â€œAll right. Thatâ€™ll take a while, wonâ€™t it? Appraising?â€
â€œYeah, a few days probably.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m a busy man. But Iâ€™ll make you a deal though you sound â€¦ weird. Iâ€™ll â€¦ uh â€¦ ten dollars. Iâ€™ll take you out, any gear you want taken out. Weâ€™ll pull another boat behind us so we can leave it for you. And then Iâ€™ll go back and pick you up in a week.â€
â€œAll right, fine.â€
Miss Edington took out a ten-dollar bill and held it towards the man but Virgil Thomas carefully took it from her hands.
â€œHeâ€™ll get paid once weâ€™re on the way,â€ he said.
â€œI suppose,â€ Miss Edington said.
He very gently handed it back to the woman. Delp glared at the negro and then looked back towards Bricker.
â€œIs that gonna work for you?â€ he asked.
â€œYes,â€ Bricker said.
He could smell the corn liquor on Delpâ€™s breath.
â€œThatâ€™ll be fine but weâ€™ll pay you once you get us out there,â€ he said.
â€œFair enough,â€ Delp replied sullenly. â€œWhen you wanna go? Takes about three hours.â€
Bricker looked at his watch. It was 9 a.m.
â€œProbably leave in an hour,â€ he said.
â€œAll right,â€ Delp said. â€œIâ€™ll be here.â€
He spit another wad of tobacco juice, some of it even getting into the water.
They left the docks and returned to the general store to purchase tinned food and preserves, as well as several five-gallon jugs of water. Miss Edington purchased several packs of cigarettes, though they didnâ€™t have her brand. Miss Fairfield bought more kerosene for her lantern and Miss Edington purchased a kerosene camp stove and a sturdy can opener. Bricker bought a machete as well, thinking the underbrush might have taken over the house.
Miss Edington and Virgil Thomas carted most of the supplies down to Arvid Delpâ€™s boat while the other two continued to make purchases. Miss Edington tried to make conversation with the nasty little man despite his stench and the stink of hard liquor that seemed to hang about him. She smoked cigarette after cigarette to try to cover up the smell.
â€œSo, you married?â€ he asked at one point.
â€œWhy do you ask?â€ she asked.
â€œWell, I ainâ€™t married.â€
He punctuated his statement by spitting tobacco juice towards the side of the boat.
â€œThatâ€™s unfortunate,â€ she said.
â€œWell, you could always come back here while your friends go,â€ he muttered.
Delp tried to steer the conversation into the direction of Miss Edington coming back to Ochopee with him while her friends went to New Dunwich. She mostly replied with short, negative responses. He was not very subtle in what he wanted from the woman. While he talked, Virgil Thomas opened his suitcase and took out a large bayonet and sheath, strapping it onto his belt.
The others finally arrived. Delp got out of the boat, taking his own sweet time. He tied another, smaller boat to his own Lady Lovely. It also had water pooling in the bottom. Miss Edington and Virgil Thomas both sat in the Lady Lovely, Delp in the back to run the tiny outboard motor. Bricker and Miss Fairfield got into the trailing boat, noticing a pair of oars in the bottom of it. They made sure to keep the suitcases and other gear off the bottom of the wet boats as best they could as well.
Delp started the puttering little motor and cast off, taking them into the Everglades. He belched and farted, leering at the women, winking at them even as he spit out another mouthful of tobacco juice, sometimes even getting it into the water. He occasionally gulped down moonshine from the clay jug. He also talked, keeping up an endless monologue about his life in the Everglades and how he had been sorely wronged by those he felt were â€œout ta git me, know whut ah mean?â€ The tirade continued throughout the three-hour boat journey. Miss Edington looked out into the swamp, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and ignored the man.
The trip was an uncomfortable one, not just due to Arvid Delpâ€™s presence. A wide variety of biting insects swarmed constantly around the boats while several species of serpents could be seen slithering through the overhanging branches and swimming sinuously through the dark brown water. From time to time, hungry-looking alligators slipped from the mossy shores, their shadows moving through the murky waters beneath the boats. The air itself was heavy, thick with moisture and the pungent odor of rot and stagnancy. Tall and slender, streamlined cypress formed a canopy of foliage overhead while Spanish moss, ferns, orchids, and even bird nests hung from the high branches. The roots of the ancient cypress trees writhed ominously out of the still, tea-colored water. The temperature was well into the 90s.
Delp took a slow, winding path through the swamp, avoiding hummocks, dry spots, and trees. The little engine seemed to often struggle but never gave in. It was after noon, a good three hours later, before they spotted a structure on the edge of a tree-covered bit of land. A boathouse stood there next to a rotted wooden dock. Beyond the two were a few structures that appeared to be in disrepair.
Delp pulled the Lady Lovely up to the dock and tied it off and then looked at his passengers.
They unloaded everything from the boats onto the dock. Delp untied the second boat and unceremoniously tossed the line to Bricker, who realized all four of them could fit in the boat being left behind but it would be a very tight fit, indeed. Delp pointed at the boathouse.
â€œAll right,â€ he said, his voice slurring. â€œIâ€™ll be back in a week.â€
With that he started to little outboard motor and puttered away, chugging off into the mist-laden waterways of the Everglades, leaving them standing on a rickety, teetering dock whose planks were so softened by rot they hardly seemed capable of supporting their weight.
As Delp vanished around a curve of the channel, they turned at last to take their first good look at New Dunwich. The town was a sad collection of rundown shambles, rotting remains which seemed more in keeping with their surroundings now than they ever could have when newly erected. Age and neglect could be read in every sagging roof, every unpainted plant, every broken window.
The village was laid out in a circular pattern, the crumbling domiciles of a dozen or so families arranged around what must have been the town hall, which loomed like a wounded giant at the hub of the town. The streets, probably no more than cleared paths in the dirt, were overgrown and eradicated by the lush growth of the marshes. Here and there, trees had taken root and thrived, adding to the out-of-place impression the entire colony exuded like some thick vapor not meant to be breathed.
A nearly capsized boathouse stretched out over the waterway near the dock: but it would suffice to contain their one remaining boat. This was as much as they could see from the dock, and it was surely enough to make them question the wisdom of the entire expedition.
Miss Fairfield took a photograph.
â€œMr. Bricker, Iâ€™d sell this house if I were you,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œTook the words right out of me mouth,â€ Bricker said.
â€œI donâ€™t know why your cousin thought itâ€™d be a good idea to make a house out here,â€ she said.
This is Hell because thereâ€™s no newspapers, Miss Fairfield thought.
Bricker led them to the town hall, Virgil Thomas staying behind with the luggage. Miss Fairfield became aware of the eerie, unnatural silence which shrouded the town. Not even the faintest of insect buzzing could be heard.
Other than the rampant growth of vegetation, New Dunwich appeared devoid of life. A stagnant, rotting stench hung in the air, pungent and powerful, similar to the rest of the marsh but much more intense. There were several houses, possibly a dozen, surrounding the town hall.
â€œDo you know which house it is?â€ Miss Ingerton asked.
â€œNope,â€ Bricker said.
The huge wooden town hall stood shakily at the center of New Dunwich. The exterior was badly weathered, moss and fungi thriving on the warped, cracked planks which comprised the structure. All the windows were broken or at the very least cracked, and the place had the look of haunting desolation. A large, tarnished bell could be seen hanging neglected in the buildingâ€™s steeple.
There were no signs of any people anywhere in the village. Miss Edington took out and lit another cigarette, taking a long drag.
This place is creepy, she thought.
â€œI donâ€™t even hear mosquitoes,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
Bricker knocked on the door of the town hall. When there was no answer, Miss Edington walked up and knocked loudly. Bricker pushed the door open. It scraped along the floor. The interior of the building seemed to have been divided into several small rooms, including what must have been a meeting room, general store, schoolroom, town storage, and jail.
Bricker and Miss Edington looked into the meeting room. It was empty save for 30 wooden chairs, many broken, and a crumbling podium. Empty oil lamps hang from the walls. From there, he went to the storage room which was dirty and dusty. There were broken boxes, empty crates, junk, and a pile of what might have once been bags of grain but which was now little more than a rotting pile of dirt. There was a rotten smell in the place.
Miss Fairfield wandered into the general store in search of a newspaper. The room was lined with shelves, most of which were filled with dust-encrusted cans, bottles, and assorted supplies. Everything looked like it had been there for many, many years. There was no sign of a newspaper or any papers at all. She crossed to the schoolroom, meeting Miss Edington, who was also going there. It was much the same state as the meeting room: empty except for the desks and chairs of long-forgotten students. As with the rest of the place, all was layered with dust and grime, and dry oil lamps hung from every wall.
They met back in the foyer of the building.
â€œWell, I see why everybody was confused by why weâ€™re heading this way,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œDoesnâ€™t look like anybodyâ€™s here.â€
They moved to the jail cell in the back of the building. It consisted of one very sturdy, barred cell. However, that chamber, unlike the others, showed signs of upkeep. Little dust was present and the cell door had been kept in near-perfect condition. A filled oil lamp hung on either side of the door, just out of reach of the bars.
â€œThat is strange,â€ Bricker said.
There was no rope hanging down from the bell on the top of the building and the place had no second floor. The roof loomed over all of the rooms, the bell visible in the tower above from the foyer. There didnâ€™t appear to be any way up.
Miss Fairfield was surprised there were no records of any kind. She went into the storage room but found nothing that might have been used for a record. The place was a town hall only in the loosest sense of the term.
Town of heathens, she thought.
â€œHello?â€ a voice called from outside.
It sounded like it came from the front of the building. They moved to the door and peeked out. A man stood out there, facing towards the dock which was hidden from their current position by trees. He was a tall, gaunt fellow wearing gardening gloves, overalls and rough clothing, and a straw hat. He appeared to be in his 50s.
â€œMaybe he saw our boat,â€ Miss Fairfield whispered.
â€œHe must see Virgil,â€ Miss Edington said.
The man turned around as they peered out.
â€œHello!â€ he called to them. â€œHello.â€
He had a distinctly rural New England accent.
â€œHello?â€ he said again. â€œGood afternoon. Who-who are you folks?â€
He walked towards the town hall. Bricker walked down the steps and offered his hand, which the man shook gratefully.
â€œCrawford Slater,â€ he said.
â€œIâ€™m Nigel Bricker,â€ Bricker said.
â€œWhatâ€™re you folks doinâ€™ in New Dunwich?â€
â€œUh â€¦ well â€¦ sir â€¦ I found out me cousin had a piece of property down here that heâ€™d left me in his will and I was coming to appraise it.â€
â€œOh. A piece of property here?â€
â€œDo you know Brandon Young?â€
â€œWhy yes. Yes, I did meet Brandon Young. He had inherited the Harlow house.â€
â€œOh, and where is the Harlow house at?â€
â€œWhy, I can show you. I can show you, if youâ€™d like.â€
â€œCome with me. Come along.â€
The older man led them to the northern part of the town where a very large house was set back a little from the rest of the homes circling the town hall. He talked a little to them as they went.
â€œSeptimus Harlow, I believe, built it,â€ he said. â€œIt was quite some time ago when they came to New Dunwich in the 1800s.â€
He stopped in front of the place.
â€œThatâ€™s the building, right there,â€ he said.
Harlow House was a large, rambling two-story building with a great cupola atop it. It was as run-down as the rest of New Dunwich. Glass in the windows was broken or cracked, much like the rest of the town. In its day, it must have been a monument to New England architecture: beautiful and elegant. It had long since fallen to degenerate decay. Large bay windows and great double doors were on the front of the house with more windows above.
â€œThatâ€™s the house,â€ Slater said. â€œBrandon Young, he was here about three years ago and stayed in there for a few weeks before, unfortunately, poor boy â€¦ hung himself. It was a shame.â€
He seemed genuinely sad at that fact.
â€œMr. Bricker, you say?â€ he went on. â€œYou inherited this house?â€
â€œYes sir,â€ Bricker said.
â€œWell, very well. You can examine it. If you need me â€¦ most of the residents stay inside during the day. Because of this.â€
He gestured upward at the blazing sum above.
â€œItâ€™s much cooler at night,â€ he went on. â€œI wouldnâ€™t recommend you wander much past the town though. The Everglades are very dangerous. Theyâ€™ve got - thereâ€™s alligators and snakes and all kinds of terrible animals out here thatâ€™ll â€¦ eat you up in a moment. Panthers even. It can be quite â€¦ yes. Donâ€™t wander.â€
Panthers? Miss Edington thought.
â€œIf you have need of me, then my house is â€¦ um â€¦ well, you canâ€™t quite make it out from here,â€ Slater went on. â€œItâ€™s just the other side of - of - of that copse of trees right there.â€
He pointed behind the town hall.
â€œYouâ€™ll see it,â€ he said.
They could just make out a building back there.
â€œIâ€™ve got to get back to my gardening,â€ he said. â€œAnd â€¦ I have other things â€¦ that I do. So, if you have any questions or need anything, you can come talk to me.â€
â€œWe appreciate it, sir,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ Slater replied. â€œYouâ€™re welcome.â€
He scratched his nose.
â€œJust be careful, as I said,â€ he reiterated. â€œDonâ€™t go outside of the town. Itâ€™s very treacherous. Especially the lady with the heels.â€
Miss Edington looked down at her shoes. Her heels had been sinking down with each step she took, the ground was so soft. Slater waved and left them, heading off in the direction of his house. There was no porch on the house but the barest stoop instead. Miss Fairfield took a photograph of the house.
â€œMr. Bricker, did your cousin happen to leave you any money to renovate this house?â€ Miss Edington asked. â€œâ€˜Cause ainâ€™t nobody going to buy it like this.â€
â€œThatâ€™s â€¦ part of what weâ€™re here to find, actually,â€ Bricker said.
They walked back to the dock and got their luggage and Virgil Thomas, returning directly to the house with everything. It was about 1 p.m. by then. It was horribly hot and Virgil Thomas had a sheen of sweat across his bald head. He pulled out a calico handkerchief and mopped his head and face.
Sunday, September 18, 2016