To the honorable John Morrow, Esq.,
I have enclosed the correspondence that you requested between my late uncle, Dr. Charles Morrison, and my father, Paul Morrison II. As our family’s solicitor these many years, I trust you will glean from it all necessary to ascertain the party responsible for my Aunt Caroline’s untimely death. I, on my part, can make neither heads nor tails of it.
Paul Morrison III
Postmarked 7 February, 1897
Rochester, New York
When you asked me to come to this God-forsaken pile of ruin our ancestors once called home, I refused to believe that our sister had fallen into the madness that has withered our already brittle family tree. Even still, as I write from the dining table where we played jacks together as children, even as I try to shut my ears to Caroline’s inexhaustible screams, I cannot believe it. As a medical doctor and a man of science I am as much grieved as I am ashamed of you. To refuse her medical treatment and instead demand prayer and penitence… no! You cannot exorcise illness, Brother. It must be ferreted out, not left to ravish her under the unwatchful eye of that mockery of a priest you’ve invited here. What has gotten into you? Why the devil did you come to me so late?
Caroline will not permit me to examine her. I cannot so much as touch her or feel her forehead for fever. And how pale she is! She moves through the house like a phantom, searching for something, though I know not what, and tracing her long fingers over the cobwebs that shroud the moth-eaten curtains. The cries that tear forth from her lungs are more animal than woman; a fox before a pack of Father’s hounds.
You asked me for my medical opinion, and I shall give it. Our sister is dying, and you have no one to blame but yourself. The same neglect that pervades the very spirit of this miserable place has touched her. She is a rose mottled with black mold. I wish I could sit you down into Father’s old, rat-chewed smoking chair and force you to look upon the consequences of your actions. You have squandered away our family’s fortune, and for what? The kennels where our favorite hounds played, the gardens where we spent so many summer evenings, now all in ruin. I can never forgive you for this.
Caroline cries for your return, but you have abandoned her as you have abandoned me in this place of spirits. My heart is sick, but out of respect for our father and love for our sister, I shall remain here until the worst should happen.
I doubt you will receive this letter, as I have received nothing yet from you. The blizzard has halted the post and holds me prisoner in this house of horrors. I know now why you left, never to return. How I yearn to set my feet on the earth and feel the sun on my face. Caroline has been on the verge of death for so long that I can feel her lunacy inside me, staining my mind like so much ink. She walks the line between this world and the next with such familiarity that I doubt I would even know if she at last crossed over. If I were not a man of science, I would wonder if she… but, no, it’s impossible.
Might you consider coming home once the weather clears? I can no longer bear this burden alone. You must accept my apologies for the harshness of my last letter. I did not understand. There was nothing to be done.
P.S. Where the deuce did you find this priest? He’s the strangest fellow I’ve ever laid eyes on. He walks every evening out to the old crypt, and doesn’t return until well after midnight. I don’t think he can hear me calling out to him above this blasted wind. I fear for his health.
Postmarked 2 March, 1897
La Rose Villa, Unit 7
Held at New York City Post due to weather conditions
What cruel trick is this? You do not respond to my letters, ignoring both my apologies and my implorations, and now… now this? Did you not receive word from Mother? Our Caroline has been dead these three months, taken from us too soon by a malady you refused to treat. How bold you are to suggest my blame in this, when you, in your arrogance and your pride, are as responsible as I.
I can offer no explanation for the priest you have seen. I am not so foolish as to deny our sister medicine. What kind of man do you take me for? The country doctors claimed that her epilepsy was incurable, though I had hoped for your professional opinion on the matter. It is true, I brought on a bishop by the name of Lawson to read Caroline her last rites, but he stayed only a fortnight before tragedy befell him. He stumbled into the pond behind the family crypt and froze to death.
You mean to tell me that you ventured to Cragwood after all and have now seen them both walking the grounds? Bah! I know I have wronged this family by abandoning the estate for the sunny climes of Europe, but what reason had I to remain? There is only darkness there. This is too cruel, Charles. Consider this our last correspondence. I want no more to do with you.
Paul! Dear God, what am I to do? I fear you have not received my letters. How am I to ever be free of this place? My science has failed me. I’ve sequestered myself in the quarters at the top of the stairs, the place where we used to lock little Caroline away in jest. I’ve nearly spent the candles, and the meager food supply has run out. You’ll forgive me for being over dramatic, but I fear I may die here, as Caroline did.
I know the truth now, and I must tell you how I came to it, if only to exorcise it from my soul. You know how earnestly I clung to my belief in the natural world, to everything that could be seen and touched. What then am I supposed to think when my eyes reveal the impossible? Am I to disbelieve my own senses? I tell you, I cannot!
Caroline—no, I cannot call her so. That sweet name belongs to the girl we knew as children, not to this creature. I know not where our dear sister has gone. Something has assumed her form to torment me! Either this, or I have succumbed to our familial curse of madness.
Today, I ventured out into the dusk in search of firewood, as the stash in the kitchen had diminished to kindling. The snow reached my knees, and I had exhausted myself before I reached the outbuilding. The wind blew so violently that I feared I might be knocked down, and so I sought refuge in the crypt. You think I’m mad for doing so, but I’d gone too far to turn back and I’m not a superstitious man. Thus, secured against the wind, I rested my bones alongside those of our ancestors. They brought me a strange comfort, as if to say, fear not, child. This is not so cold an end. Can you imagine my surprise, my horror, when I saw the once empty tomb now engraved with our sister’s name? It read thus:
Beloved daughter and sister
April 7, 1861 – January 4, 1897
Surely my eyes were only exhausted, stung by the wind. I blinked, but the tomb read the same. Fever seized me and before I could consider the consequence, I tore open the door of the tomb and peered inside. Paul, my brother, why did you not warn me? Grief grabbed hold of my throat and threatened to strangle me. I beheld our sister, dressed in faded lace and darkness, laid to rest and withered to nothing but dried flesh and bones. I sank to the floor, and beneath my grief a terrible question crept up upon me. If Caroline now rested here, who then had been my silent, ill companion of late?
I heard footsteps crunching into the snow outside. The priest! I determined at last to make him speak to me, to clear this matter up once and for all. Some misunderstanding, nothing more. I opened the door of the crypt and stepped out, but saw no one. The wind seemed to have exhausted itself, and now only sighed through the dense forest. All else was silence. I held my breath, waiting.
There, again! I turned. I saw the old priest walking toward the frozen pond, but my shock must have been so great at discovering the body of Caroline that my eyes deceived me, for the priest appeared to simply glide through the drifts of snow. I called out to him, but he did not acknowledge me. Would you believe me, would you trust my mind ever again if I told you that when the man reached the pond, he disappeared? How can I account for this? I thought myself a lunatic. Perhaps I am!
I struggled through the snow, stumbling at last to the door of our looming old house, its windows staring down at me grimly, like dark orbs against the slate grey sky. I saw her figure in the parlor window, and her dress – Paul, she wore the very same dress that I saw in the tomb, and then in the flicker of a guttering candle, she was gone.
Once I regained my bearings, I did as any cornered animal might: I fled—through the door, past the parlor, and to the highest point of the house. Here I am still, trembling as much with cold as with horror. Oh, Paul, what demon has brought me here? What have I done in life to deserve so horrible an end? I couldn’t reach her in time to save her. Could her spirit be so bitter as to seek vengeance against me, her own brother? I fear she no longer recognizes me. Indeed, I no longer know myself.
Good God, I hear her at the door now, rattling the handle. How cold it is! My breath leaves my mouth in a great cloud. Brother, what do I do? Tell me what to do!
My candle has gone out. She’s here.
H.B. Diaz manages author events and independent accounts for Penguin Random House, Inc. during the day, but at night she writes of all things weird and mysterious. Her short fiction has been published in university literary magazines and her latest work, The Parasite, is scheduled for publication in Horror Tree’s Trembling with Fear by the end of November. She lives with her husband in an historic (and probably haunted) Maryland town. Bienvenue au Danse, H.B..