During the month of October I was working on a fiction story inspired by the H.P. Lovecraft story “Dreams in the Witch House.” I had hoped to finish it during that month, but that didn’t happen and I haven’t really found the time to sit down and finish it. The plan for this article is to compile what I have so far for anyone looking for a queer take on a Lovecraft story. It isn’t particularly Halloween themed, but it is a bit spooky. I am also hoping that this will help me figure out how to finish up the story. Instead of linking to the previous articles I am just going to include the whole story so far below for you to check out and then I am going to try and sit down and actually finish it. I hope you enjoy my take on the Witch House.
Essex Community College hadn’t been Ari’s first choice, but when Arkham University hadn’t come through on the financial aid front she thougth she could at least get her pre-rec classes out of the way without having to pay too much out of pocket. After doing some intense online hunting she’d managed to track down a place to stay for the year that wouldn’t force her to eat only instant mac and ramen every day. The Manor looked almost like it should be a bed and breakfast, but with barely any tourist trade in Essex County the owner had decided to rent it out to students. By the time she had enrolled and gotten in touch with Mrs. Smith, possibly the most generic sounding name ever, there had only been one room left and it was in the attic. While having to treck up three flights of stairs wasn’t ideal at least the place came furnished so she wouldn’t have to worry about lugging anything heavier than her books up the stairs. Even just those seemed like a daunting task, but she’d figure it out once she got there.
The only thing Ari really knew about the Essex area was that there were a few colleges, the major one being Arkham University. While she had really planned to start there in the fall, her folks had convinced her that ECC would be a fine start and admittedly she did know some people who would be going there. Her cousin Elsie had started there the year before and raved about their history program. Apparently there was one professor who would did this local history course that was basically independent study. You got to pick a topic and then only had to come to a total of three physical classes where you really just gave some quick updates on how your project was going. It turned out that this particular class was always taught in the fall so Ari thought she’d sign up and give herself the chance at an easy A. With that and a some basic intro courses thrown in she hoped the semester wouldn’t be too awful and maybe she could use the local history project as a basis for some sort of thesis once she transferred. AU was really into undergraduate research and she heard that if you transferred in with a topic in mind that helped to get you into classes you wanted more easily and ensured you wouldn’t have to delay graduation.
With just a week before classes started Ari and Elsie had a road trip planned, which was great for Ari because she still didn’t drive. Her town was easy to bike and with the money she’d saved from her part-time job at the library she’d been able to put together a decent savings that would help her make it through her first semester of college at least without having to try and find a job right away. With her bike, boxed up books, and two giant duffel bags full of stuff Ari felt mostly ready for this new adventure. The whole ride into Essex her cousin kept telling how great the school was and that there was tons of quirky stuff in the town, Ari had sort of been tuning her out until she happened to catch the word ghost. After a couple attempts to interrupt Elise, Ari finally managed to get her to stop talking about the wonders of maple trees in fall and asked, “what was that about a ghost?”
“Oh yeah, I thought you might want to know I heard that Manor place is haunted.”
“What do you mean haunted?!”
Ari spent the rest of the ride to Essex fixated on Elsie’s casual mention of The Manor being haunted. She hadn’t been able to tell her much of anything. Apparently some girl at a party last year had said she swore she saw something creepy when she spent the night at the Manor. Ari wasn’t sure she should believe the passing comment of a girl at a party who’d been in her third round of beer pong and losing pretty badly to Elsie when she decided to share this tidbit. With no reception for a majority of the drive she didn’t have any way to try and find out more about a possible ghost. No matter what else she tried to think about, she even asked Elsie to talk about the parties ECC students threw last year, nothing really worked to get the idea of a ghost in her new place out of her head. Ari decided that once she got moved in she’d sit down and do some research, that should help her stop picturing creepy things attacking her while she slept, she hoped.
When Elsie pulled into The Manor’s driveway Ari felt a sense of ease wash over her. After hours of fixating on ghosts the surprising normalcy of the house made the entire idea seem ridiculous. It sort of reminded her of the house from Charmed, which made her chuckle. The idea of actual ghosts being inside a house that looked like a house owned by witches seemed absolutely impossible. Mrs. Smith had told her that the three other residents would already be moved in by the time Ari got there and that one of them would be able to let her in. Apparently even though she owned the place Mrs. Smith very rarely came by the house, if they ran into any issues she had said that her nephew would be the one to take care of it. With Elsie’s help she managed to get everything out of the back of her truck and just as she was wondering whether someone was actually home to let her in the front door swung open to reveal three people who seemed remarkably excited, especially for this late on a Sunday.
“Hi!!” yelled the tallest person on the porch, “sorry we heard you were coming today and we thought we’d all give you a big welcome since you are a freshman and all. I’m Parker, they/them, and this is Becca, my girlfriend, we share the second floor. She uses she/her by the way.”
Becca leaned past Parker and waved, causing a collection of metal bracelets to chime with the motion.
“Hiya, Parker really likes making sure people feel welcome. One of the things I love about them. We are here to help, thought you might need some since you are all the way up in the attic.”
“Oh wow, year that would be great. I guess you all already know who I am, but Ari, umm she/her, and this is my cousin Elsie, same pronouns. Sorry if that sounded odd I’ve never really said pronouns out loud before.’
“No worries,” said the third person on the porch,” ECC made it part of orientation last year and we wanted to get you comfortable with it. Introducing ourselves with them felt like the best way to prep you. My name’s Claudia, I’m on the first floor, ze/zir are my pronouns. Oh and the nephew that Mrs. Smith mentioned is my partner. He lives in the carriage house around back. You’ll probably see him around, if you need anything fixed or set up in your room you can let me know and I can pass the message along.”
During all of the introductions Ari’s new roommates helped her lug her things up the two flights of stairs and into the attic. Her bike they told her could be tucked inside the garage space attached to the carriage house. Only Damon, the nephew, had a car in Essex so the garage had plenty of space for storage and he left it unlocked so they could pop in and grab whatever they might need, even if he wasn’t home. After a quick tour of the house, Elsie headed out, letting Ari know she’d check in with her later in the week, and her new roommates let her know they’d be around, but that they thought she might want some time to get settled. She thanked everyone for their help and then set to getting as much of her stuff put away as she could. Until she unpacked she never be able to relax.
After a couple hours the attic space felt homier and Ari finally gave herself some time to just relax. Laying on her bed she stared at a picture from the last day of high school. She and her friends had all crowded around this picnic table outside the library and made the goofiest faces they could think of. It was probably the most unflattering thing any of them had ever done, but they had all promised to print a copy out and put it somewhere they could see it. She missed them all already, but she knew she’d see them over breaks and she could always text. Her best friend Liz had insisted that they do at least a weekly video call. She’d text her to set one up sometime tomorrow. As her mind started to wander she felt herself drifting off to sleep, she knew there was something she was going to, but she was just too tired to remember what that was.
Ari found herself standing in the middle of her room, though now that she thought about it this didn’t really seem like her room. There were drying plants hanging from the beams in the ceiling and as she walked forward she felt the brittle leaves lightly graze her cheeks. She felt drawn to the long table against the wall in front of her. It it was covered in multiple books, some opened to certain pages while others were marked with ribbons that trailed over the edge of the table. Scattered around the books were dried herbs and bits of the plants that Ari had noticed earlier, but as she drew closer she noticed something moving. Near the table leg was a small brown shape that seemed to grow larger as she drew closer. As she bent down she gasped as something that looked like a brown rat skittered past her. With that minor shock she felt herself falling backwards, suddenly unsteady on her legs, and in that moment she felt herself wake up.
As her eyes adjusted to the dark she realized she was in her room, though she had apparently fallen asleep on top of the covers. Everything seemed normal, her empty boxes lay folded on the floor and her books were also safely tucked into the bookcases that were tucked against the wall across from her bed. As she continued to scan the room she thought she saw something moving in the shadows, but she brushed it off as her tired mind paying tricks on her. After quickly changing into a sleep shirt she curled up under the covers and tried to stop thinking about the possibility of rats in her new room.
After a mostly restful night’s sleep, Ari only remembered waking up once worried that some sort of rodent might have made it into her bed. It turned out it was just a rogue sock that she’d missed when putting her clothes away, so she’d managed to relax once she’d tucked it into the correct drawer. Throwing on her favorite oversized black hoody and a pair of jeans she made her way downstairs. It was still a little early, but as she made her way downstairs she could thankfully smell that someone had made coffee. On the counter she saw what looked like an ancient Mr. Coffee that looked like it could make enough for an entire apartment complex worth of people. She’d been told not to worry about bringing any kitchen things, the house came with a fully set up kitchen, but she had brought a handful of mugs that she didn’t want to leave at home. After tracking down her well loved almost soup bowl sized mug with the phrase, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m under caffeinated” on it she grabbed a seat on one of the stools at the bar style island in the center of the room and checked through her phone. She responded to some texts, deleted some spam, and finally remembered what she’d planned to do last night. With a quick tab she opened up Google and started looking for anything related to ghosts and Essex County.
Most of the sites were just sort of generic pages that listed all of the possible ghosts that people insisted were around the area. Ari was about to call it quits when she saw a picture that looked almost like The Manor with the words Witch House underneath it. Tapping the picture pulled up a site that mentioned a legend being tied to a property in town that was known for years as the Witch House. Before she could get to far she heard a yawning sound that sort of sounded like Morning coming from nearby. Pulling her head away from her phone she saw Parker trudging into the kitchen. Their short hair was sticking up at odd angles and they were still wear what Ari assumed were pajamas, the oversized white t-shirt and plaid boxers seemed like they’d been slept in.
“Oh thank Claud, coffee!”
“Did you just say Claud?”
As Parker grabbed a mug they turned to Ari and said, “I did, Claudia, sometimes Claud though it depends on zir mood if the nickname applies, gets up super early to go do productive adulty things. Ze does yoga at dawn in the park. It is pretty close to the house and ze says it helps set the tone for the week. Becca sometimes tags along, but I’m not realy into yoga. Coffee though that sets the tone for my week, well day.”
Ari chuckled, “yeah I’m not huge into yoga either. I tried it with my friend Liz and she loved it, but I felt like I was just making a fool of myself. Coffee I can totally agree with you on.”
The two chatted a bit about ECC, what Parker was looking forward to as a junior, and discussed some house businesss like the chore schedule and grocery shopping. Ari then realized this would make the perfect opportunity to ask about the ghost Elsie had mentioned. They seemed so chill that she kept thinking they’d just brush it off, but as soon as she mentioned ghost Parker put down their coffee.
“I wondered when you’d ask.”
“Wait, so this is a real thing?”
“Well it depends on your opinion of ghosts, but there is a sort of local legend that ties into the property the house is built on. I’ve admittedly never seen or experienced anything, but Becca did say that when she first moved in she could have sworn she kept seeing some sort of rat thing that fit with what she’d heard about the house.”
“What does a rat have to do with a ghost? That seems more like something you need to worry about just in any old house.”
“I should probably start at the beginning, grab some more coffee and I’ll tell you the whole story.”
Essex County found itself drawn into the fever of witch persecution that struck the East Coast in the 1692. While not often mentioned alongside those who persecuted in Salem, there was a woman named Keziah Mason. Not much was known about her, but it had been rumored that she was involved with things that were less than normal. She had never married and lived alone in a small house that was on the plot of land that The Manor is on now. For years she had lived alone and unbothered. One night a group of men came to her home demanding that she come with them to be questioned. Keziah, having heard what had been happening in Salem, attempted to hide, but the men stormed into her home and pulled her outside. She was then charged with having committed acts of witchcraft against the people of Essex and in particular she was charged with leading other women into devilry. While Keziah attempted to refute these charges, but the men continued to yell over her and bring up moments when she had been seen with women and seemed to be giving them small items. They also called into question a creature that was often seen with her, a brown rat. This being they insisted had to be her familiar and when she was forcibly examined by the court they stated that a mark on her neck was where this familiar fed. Keziah insisted this was a scar from when she was burned as a child while tending a fire, but the men did not listen. During this the men had raided her home and found books, herbs, and also the brown rat that they insisted was her familiar. They killed this animal in front of her, insisting that it must be destroyed.
Keziah was then thrown in jail and in two days time was brought to the town square to be hung. As her charges were read she stood completely still and stared out at the crowd. When they asked if she wished to speak to the crowd she raised her chin and in a calm voice stated, “I feel pity for you and for the guilt you will carry. You killed an innocent being before today and now you will kill an innocent woman. I have merely lived my life and have only tried to help those that I have met. Today you commit an act that will haunt you for the rest of your days and I will leave this world knowing that I have done only good.” After this speech the hangman tightened the noose around her neck and Keziah Mason was no more.
After her death the home of Keziah Mason was dismantled and other houses were built on the land, but no one seemed to live there very long. At one point another boarding type style house was built on the property and in 1931 a man named Walter Gilman insisted that he was being driven mad by the spirit of Keziah Mason. He stated he saw a monstrous rat-like creature and was constantly visted by a crone-like presence that kept him from sleeping. The stories he told were so frightening that the author H.P. Lovecraft even adapted them into a story known as Dreams in the Witch House. He though altered the story a bit and killed poor Walter Gilman in the retelling, which apparently the man who shared his ghost stories with the writer did not appreciate. Walter at some point bought the boarding house, but instead of turning it into some sort of museum or tourist attraction he instead refused to allow visitors and slowly let the house fall into disrepair. After his death the building was torn down and eventually the Smiths purchased it and began work on building their dream home on the lot. While the house was beautiful the couple was rarely there. They were well known travelers and had planned to retire in the home, but when Mr. Smith died unexpectedly his wife couldn’t bare to live there. She placed her sister, then later her nephew in charge of the home and reduced her time in Essex to once a year to visit near the holidays.
The legend of Keziah had once been something the town tried to promote, but with so little known about the woman and with only one trial they did not have much they could go on. After a few failed attempts in recent years to try and sway Salem tourists the Essex had stopped trying to turn the sad story of a murdered woman into something they could profit off of. The Manor occassionally received sporadic visitors asking whether this was the home mentioned in the Witch House story, but they were never invited inside and always told that the owner did not appreciate tourists. This normally resulted in some grumbling, but recently if anyone came by Becca would give them a baked good or some sort of little thanks for stopping by gift. No one had really seen anything tied to the legend, beyond Becca who at one point thought she say a slightly large brown something, but she was sure it was just part of her having read too much about the legend before bed one night.
After the explanation Ari felt a bit better and admittedly a lot less jumpy about the possiblity of a ghost being in the house. Parker assured her that no one had ever really seen anything and that if someone mentioned it, normally they were drunk and hadn’t even been inside the house before. Becca arrived at the tail end of the story and agreed that really that wasn’t anything to be afraid of and that the worst thing that Ari might run into was a little brown field mouse in the colder months in the garage. They always spotted one or two trying to find food and keep warm after the first frost hit. Ari maid a mental note to try to avoid the garage when it got cold and headed up to her room with what was left of her coffee to try and finish up getting her room organized before she went out to explore the town.
As Ari began going through her room again to make sure everything was where she wanted it to be she could swear she heard something. It was so faint that she initially brushed it off, but as she continued to organize and move around the room the noise’s continued presence finally forced her to stop moving. With her attention focused solely on the sound she finally realized that what she kept hearing sounded vaguely like nibbling. It was a faint sort of chipping, chewing sound and after both her dream and the Keziah story the only thing she could think of was rats. She scoured the room looking for anything furry and possibly chewing away on her possessions, but found nothing.
“Okay, just relax, you are in an attic, maybe there is something on the roof like a squirrel or something. Or hey maybe one of those little field mice managed to get in. Everything is fine, just go back to cleaning.”
Ari periodically talked to herself, mostly when she was sure no one could hear her doing it. Being able to hear her own voice out loud normally helped her to move past something she was fixating on. She forced herself to finish up with the desk organizing she’d been working on. With her laptop positioned right she had set up her lap, headphones, and some random little accessories to make the table look a bit more personal. She wanted to keep some space for books and anything she might need to work on for school, but with the area looking close to how she wanted it she thought getting out of the house would be a good idea. Elsie had mentioned there were some cool shops in town and Ari was hoping that she’d be able to connect with her new town a bit more after spending some time actually interacting with some of the folks who lived here. The outfit she’d thrown on earlier seemd like an alright outfit for riding around town and after pulling on her Chucks and grabbing a beanie to wear under her helmet, the only way she’d ever figured out how to keep herself from getting helmet hair, she headed to the garage for her bike.
The house seemed relatively quiet, since her roommates had all been at ECC for at least a year already she sort of expected them to have their own things to do. She was half tempted to stay home and take over the living room to watch tv, but she wanted to push herself to check out more of Essex and just chillng in the hosue wasn’t going to help her feel like less like an outsider. With her focus on finding new things she headed out and hopped on her bike. The trees on her walk were already started to change colors and Ari found herself moving pretty slowly as she stared at the foliage. Essex had a sort of small town charm about it that almost made her feel like she was in some sort of other time. There weren’t a lot of cars on the road and Elsie had explained that since the town was small most people seemed to walk or bike instead of tying to find a place to park their cars. The narrow roads impeded driving a bit, but it did mean that biking was remarkably easy. As she made her way up and down the streets she saw a lot of fun little shops, the sort of place that has a quirky name and an owner who will chat your ear off about everything that just came in. What Ari was really looking for was a library. She’d worked at one for a couple years in her hometown and while she wasn’t looking for a part time job in Essex she always felt grounded in a library. After about a half hour of biking around, during which she’d made note of a coffee shop with a cute cat lounging in the window, she finally found the Essex County library. It was a quaint little building that sported a historical plaque noting it had been in Essex since the late 1800s, Ari didn’t look too intensely at the sign, finding herself too eager to get inside. With her bike locked up she had to resist the urge to sprint up the steps and burst through the large wooden doors at the entrance.
What surprised her once she was inside was how oddly modern the library looked. Based on the exterior she had been expecting dark and shadowy areas with large wooden shelves of books, but instead the area in front of her was filled with flourescent lighting, a bank of slightly out of date computers, and metal bookshelves that were laid out in multiple rows that stretched from the center of the building to the farthest wall. Though it wsn’t what she was expecting, Ari was just so pleased to be in a place full of books. As she wandered through the shelves she decided she’d not only pick up some pleasure reading, but get started on her local history course. Elsie had already given her a run down of the course and it never changed so she’d be able to get her research material before classes even started. After finding an area labeled local Ari thought she’d just randomly see what struck her fancy. To make it a bit more fun she closed her eyes and randomly grabbed a book from the local shelf in front of her. Then, with her eyes still closed, she flipped through the pages and then randomly stopped. Whatever was on that page she decided would be her project. As her eyes slowly readjusted she was a bit startled to see Walter Gelman’s name in the center of the page. She had told herself whatever was on the page was what her project would be about, but based on what little she’d heard of him when Parker told her about his connections to H.P. Lovecraft and the Witch House story she was entirely enthused.
“Well at least I’ll probably have an original project” she muttered as she tucked the book under her arm and headed to the front counter.
With her books stowed away in the pouch on the front of her bike, Ari decided she would head back toward the coffeeshop she saw earlier. While she loved being in libraries the intense lighting often caused issues for her vision. Even with medication on hand, she typically had to avoid any overally bright lighting or she’d wind up with a migraine. Once she made it to the coffeeshop, she thought this would be the perfect place to read without worrying about taking her meds. As she walked in she was pleasantly overwhelmed with the smell of roasted coffee beans. With the crisp fall air outside, she decided the perfect companion would be an Americano and she made herself comfortable at the bar style seating facing the sidewalk. The book she learned was titled, A Brief History of Essex County, though brief did not seem entirely correct. Ari wished she’d brought a bookmark, but she made her way through a large portion of mostly boring text until she finally made it to a mention of Gelman.
“In 1701, the name Gelman appeared for the first time in Essex County when a prominent family’s eldest son came before the town and stated that they would now be known as Gelman going forward. Prior to this event the family had gone by the name Gestleman. After a period of particular poor luck the hope was that by distancing themselves from their former name would help them to move forward with a more prosperous future. Prior to this name change the family had been well known for their connection to the Mathers and for their participation in the local court system. Isaac Gestleman appeared often in the records of the court and appears frequently in the case of Keziah Mason.”
Ari immediately stopped reading and stared with her mouth slightly agap at the appearance of the prosecuted woman in this section. There had been a small mention of her earlier in the book, but merely to say that there had been a witch trial in 1692 in Essex County where Keziah Mason was killed. She hadn’t expected the connection between the name Gelman and Keziah to occur so early. This would mean that Walter Gelman was not just a random person who happened to insist he was tormented by the ghost of Keziah and her familiar. Ari continued to score the book, but she couldn’t find any more details about Keziah and the only other mention of Walter was a short paragraph explaining that he had inspired a story created by H.P. Lovecraft and that following the publication of the story he ultimately purchased the home and remained a recluse there until his death. Walter may not have died like the fictional version of himself, but the fact that he had remained fixated and ensconsed inside the house made it seem almost like the story had still brought about his death.
After finishing her coffee and starting her ride back home she kept thinking about the fact that there were court records that would give her more insight into both Keziah and the ancestors of Walter. She could probably find a way to get access to records if she used her local history course as a bit of an escuse. She could really use the information for what she’d be presenting and while she probably didn’t need to do that much in depth research she felt almost compelled to do it.
The days before school started flew by with Ari having to attend mandatory orientation days and working to complete some of necessary assignments that she learned were due for her basic English, Math, and Science courses. Beyond that she’d been trying to spend some time with Elsie, who took her to all of the bars she loved and showed Ari her favorite parts of the campus, and also get to know her roommates a bit more. She and Becca and spent time discussing their favorite books, Parker had shared their love of gaming and the whole house had taken part in some board game night, and Claudia had attempted to get Ari to like yoga, which didn’t entirely pan out. The environment of the house was really positive and comfortable, though she had continued to notice odd sounds in her room. One night she’d even woken up by what she swore was something running across her floor, but everyone in the house kept assuring her that it was probably just a rogue mouse that was trying to find somewhere safe before it got too cold. During all of this roommate time, Claudia had invited Dustin, Mrs. Smith’s nephew, for a few dinners with them all and he had offered to put in some traps, but Ari wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of hurting what was probably just a little mouse. The small downside was she felt like she just kept keeping her ear perked for the sound of little feet on her floorboards.
Before she realized it the night before school was here. Ever since she was a little kid Ari had always had a hard time sleeping before a school year started. She had gone through possible outfits multiple times and after eventually landing on her favorite boots, some very worn jeans, a new flannel, and a shirt covered in images of some of her favorite media ships. With sleep feeling like it wouldn’t be happening any time soon she decided to try and do some fun reading and at least relax a little bit. After lounging on her bed for a bit and leisurely making her way through the first few chapters of a mystery she heard a new sound. Instead of scratching she could swear she heard nibbling.
“Crap, pop-tarts,” she muttered under her breath. She’d been trying to keep snacks out of her room because of the possibly mouse sounds, but she had brought some pop-tarts upstairs to bring to campus on days where she wasn’t sure when she’d get time to eat a meal. The packages had been on her desk and as she jumped out of bed and over to her desk area she was a little shocked to see a brown shape huddled by the chair seemingly frantically attacking the silver packaging. This was definitely too large to be a mouse, but as she edged closer, now worried she would startle it and cause it to jump at her, she was sure it was still some sort of rodent. Whatever was there suddenly froze and Ari felt her whole body tense as it turned toward her. She realized what she was looking at was a rat, resisting the urge to scream, she watched as the brown rat dropped the pop-tart and instead of running away, which she expected, it slowly moved toward her. Her heart was pouding and she could feel sweat on her back, the rat stopped about a foot away and then just stared at her. Minutes passed and Ari found herself relaxing. The rat was just staring at her and nothing seemed wrong with it. She actually would have thought this was one of her roommate’s pets, if any of them actually had them, based on how it was behaving. Normally Ari wouldn’t do this, but she slowly reached out her hand toward the rat and quietly said, “hi little one, what are you doing in here?”
The rat moved toward her hand and lightly brushed against her fingertips. It then moved closer to her palm and then just sat in her hand as though this was perfectly normal. Ari stroked his head and felt oddly at ease with the creature. As she looked it over, she realized there was a small patch of black fur on his chest that almost looked like an hourglass.
“You’re a cute guy, did someone lose you?” The rat obviously didn’t respond, but it did seem to be listening to her. She’d had a friend in high school who had pet gerbils and while a rat wasn’t exactly the same this brown furry creature reminded her of them. It had to be a lost pet, probably another college student had brought it with them and they must have gotten separated during move in. With so many colleges in the area it seemed more than likely that at least one person had decided to bring their pet rat with them.
“We should figure out who is missing you little one, they are probably missing you.”
Ari remembered that at orientation there had been a mention of an online posting site where you could communicate with the larger community about events, things you wanted to sell, lost things, and sort of anything else you could think of. After spending over an hour scouring that page and trying to see if there was anywhere else online that mentioned a lost rat with a special marking, there was nothing. She drafted up a found pet post and described the rat and how to get in touch with her in case someone was looking.
“I’ll keep trying, I think it’ll be okay if you stay here, just don’t go running downstairs okay?”
She could have sworn the rat nodded from his position in her lap. The bottom drawer of her desk was still empty, she had planned to put completed papers there, but short term it could be a little rat motel. While still holding her new furry roommate Ari found a couple old shirts she wasn’t planning on wearing any time soon and made a small bed. She also opened the pop-tarts and laid them in the bed. With the rat snuggly in the shirts she grabbed a coffee mug and the roughly half full bottle of water off her nightstand and then tucked the filled mug near the drawer so that the rat could get to it easily.
“I’ll find your person, but until then I’ll try and keep you comfortable. There has to be a pet store or something around here so I can get you some actual rat food.”
After all of this Ari actually felt tired and even with a newly found rat in her room she found herself falling alseep easily once she let her head touch the pillow.
Ari again found herself standing in the room that was like her room, but couldn’t be her room. From where she stood she could see that all the candles were lit on the book covered table she had marveled at before. This time though she noticed a brown shape sitting beside on of the books. It appeared to be nibbling on a small bit of leaf and it was staring at an open book as though it was reading somethiing on the corner of the page. As she made her way closer to the table the rat seemed to sense her and it turned toward her. The first thing she noticed was this rat seemed to have the exact same hourglass like marking on it. The closer she got the more this rat seemed to look like the one in her real room. When she was at the table the rat moved closer to her and lightly nudged her hand, much like a cat trying to get you to pet it. She stroked the rat from head to tail and looked down at the open book. It appeared to be a journal and in the corner was a small sketch of a rat with the same marking and the words, Brown Jenkins, the perfect little gentleman. As she brought her hand toward the book to touch the image she felt herself being distracted by a loud beeping noise that forcefully pulled her awake.
She was back in her real life room and she realized her alarm was going off. With sleepy hands she managed to turn it off and slowly return to the waking world. Her first class was obnoxiously early, but at least it was the local history class. As she rolled out of bed she looked over at the drawer that the rat was still curled up in. After the dream she decided to see what would happen and she quietly said, “Brown Jenkins?” She didn’t expect anything to happen, but the rat stirred and looked directly at her.
“That’s impossible, you can’t be, that just can’t be real, right?”
The rat, who had responded to the name from her dream tilted his head as though he was trying to follow her train of thought.
“I think you might have just given weird dreams little one, though do you want me to call you Brown Jenkins?”
Again, she swore the rat nodded.
“Alright, I may be suffering from sleep deprivation and lack of caffeine, but that’s what I’m going to call you little guy. I’m headed to class so you just stay up here and don’t try going into the rest of the house. I don’t want you to scare any of my roommates.”
Brown Jenkins, as she was now going to be calling him, turned in a small circle and fell back to sleep. Ari then spent a few minutes getting ready and after tucking her unruly hair into a black beanie she rushed out. If she was going to make it through this early class she was going to need coffee. The dream was still tumbling through her mind and she couldn’t shake the fact that the rat in her room looked exactly like the rat in her dream. Even though she was distracted she still made it to the coffee shop that she had gone to earlier and was able to grab a coffee to put in her thermos. The rest of the day would just be classes, though she was really looking forward to her local history class she wasn’t sure how much attention she would actually pay to anything with the dream still very much in the front of her mind.
As expected her local history class was just going over the project and Professor Carlyle handed out their official paperwork for the project. Ari heard whispers around the room that he was currently working on a major research project himself and would be even less involved in the course than normal. That was fine by here, she was really hoping to just do her research and not have to worry about this course too much. Before she left, Ari made sure to ask Carlyle for some sort of paperwork giving her permission to access court records for her project. He scribbled something down quickly and told her the best day to go would be a Thursday. Apparently it was close enough to the weekend that very few students were there and the records department was still open until 5, while on Fridays they often closed at 2. He then sort of rushed out of the room mentioning something about a meeting he was already late for.
Ari tucked the note in her bag, but not before seeing it was barely legible.
“Whatever works I guess.”
The rest of the day was devoted to her English and Math courses, which seemed almost exactly like the classes she’d taken her senior year of high school, but she wasn’t going to complain about things being easy this semester. She’d promised to meet with Elsie after her first day of classes to do a sort of decompression session about her ECC expriences so far. While Ari wasn’t super into bars, Elsie insisted that they go to her absolute favorite one, Innsmouth Shadows. Even if the Lovecraft connection hadn’t brought in a lot of tourist activity, there were still a few spots that tried to use the author to their advantage. Apparently the bar did theme nights ever night and she was insistent that Mondays would be Ari’s favorite. Once Elsie got an idea in her mind there was no way to dissuade her so Ari knew she’d just have to go with it.
She didn’t have to bike too far and when she arrived Elsie was no where in sight. They’d agreed they’d meet there so maybe she was running late, Ari really couldn’t rembere her cousin’s class schedule. Once she made her way into the bar she could see why tonight was the night Elsie thought she would like. The entire bar was decorated with plasticky bats and jack o’lanterns she definitely recognized from Target. Everything had a very spooky vibe to it and when she looked up at the televisions above the bar they were playing one of the Halloween episodes of Bob’s Burgers. According to a sign on the wall Mondays were Halloween Night. The only other night that looked like something she would like was Sci-Fi Night, which was Wednesday, and something she might have to come back for. Ari was sure that she could have gotten an actual drink, no one seemed to be IDing people her, but she ordered the non-alcoholic drink of the night, The Cola’s Coming From Inside the House. It was basically a cherry coke with some grenadine added. She sipped it slowly until Elsie appeared with profuse apologies about being late.
“It’s okay, I sort of just got here.”
Elsie offered to grab her another drink, but Ari turned her down and she waited as her cousin ran up to grab a S’Cream Queens, some sort of Irish Creme based drink that Ari thought sounded like it would just burn going all the way down. They chatted a bit about classes and when Ari started talking about her local history project Elsie practically shouted, “I knew it!”
“I knew you’d wind up researching something related to that house for your project. As soon as I mentioned there might be a ghost in the car on the way here you seemed like you would be obsessed.”
“I am not obsessed, it just worked out that way. Thursday I’m headed down to the court house to check out the records. I’m hoping I can get my project done pretty early. Carlyle seems even less worried about folks checking in than you thought he’d be. I guess he has some big deadline coming up.”
“He always has something coming up, even if that is just a maybe sort of meeting with someone. Carlyle really just decides to make himself super busy and then kind of lets his students fend for themselves. At least you managed to get that note for the court records. Though I thought you said you were researching Walter Gelman?”
“I am, but there was this mention about an ancestor being in the Keziah Mason court records a lot so I thought it would help the project to know more about how his family relates back to her trial.”
“So really you are using this as an excuse to look up Keziah. You are so totally into her.”
“What, no…how could I be into her, I don’t know anything about her. Just how, what?”
“You totally crush on anything spooky, Willow in Buffy, Selene in Underworld, Lestat in Interview with the Vampire, when you were little you totally wanted to date Thorn from that Scooby Doo movie.”
“I do not crush on spooky things and Thorn was hot okay. I know like nothing about Keziah, I haven’t even seen a picture how could I crush on her?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ve found a way, the heart wants what the heart wants.”
Ari balled up a napkin and threw it at her cousin.
“Whatever I’m so not crushing.”
Though as she sat there Ari felt a blush rising on her cheeks and wondering if maybe she should spend a little more time researching Keziah.
The days felt like they were passing exceptionally slowly until Thursday. All Ari could think about was her research project. While she tried to pay attention to other things she just felt her mind wandering and when she was in her room the rat that she’d started calling Jenkins would scurry around the room and had started curling up on or near her whenever she would sit or lay down. She’d even started waking up to find him sleeping on the pillow next to her head. He was beginning to grow on her and with no responses to her post she’d decided to let her roommates know that she officially had a new pet. They had a roommate meeting planned for Wednesday night and before she headed down she tucked Jenkins into the pocket of her sweatshirt and in her sternest voice she said, “You have to be on your best behavior this entire meeting okay little guy? When I tell them that you are living up here you can come out, but until then try and stay in the pouch and be as quiet as you can.”
Parker started the meeting and gave a quick run down of when they’d need to drop their checks off to Damon for Mrs. Smith, unless they were going to set something up for a deposit. Claudia broke down new chore assignments for the week, ze said the chart in the kitchen had been updated and that if anyone wanted to switch today was the day to do it. As always Becca closed out the meeting mentioning some of the dinners she’d be cooking in case anyone wanted to help pitch in for food costs. Then it was Ari’s turn. She normally just led a quick discussion about how everyone’s week was going and if there was anything they all need to be aware of like major study days or if they’d be out on certain nights. She normally didn’t have a lot to mention, but this time she started. “So, I have a sort of unexpected pet. I know I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but I found him and I thought he might be someone’s, but no one has responded to my post so I’ve decided to keep him.” Ari said that in basically one breathless lump and as soon as she finished she just stared at her roommates. Becca was the first to respond, “I mean that’s fine I guess, though what kind of pet is it? I mean since you said you found this thing I’m going with not a fish.”
“Sorry, don’t freak out, but he’s a rat. But I promise he’s docile and totally acts like a pet so I’m really sure he isn’t some sort of like weird wild animal. I brought him down so you could meet him. Come on out Jenkins.”
At the sound of his name Jenkins poked his head out of Ari’s sweatshirt, Claudia immediately made a sharp inhale sound. Everyone looked at zir and Parker asked, “Are you okay?”
“I am, just give me a sec, I didn’t expect the sweatshirt reveal. Totally fine, just have to breath for a sec.”
Ari was really worried that this meant that she wouldn’t be able to keep Jenkins, but once Claudia did some yoga style breathing ze came over and asked if ze could pet him. Ari said of course and for the next half hour they all passed Jenkins around and she was relieved to see that her roommate all seemed to like him. She was given the official seal of approval on her new pet and Parker even asked if they could sometimes hang out with him if Ari wasn’t home. With the meeting handled the roommates headed back to their own spaces and Ari congratulated Jenkins on doing such a great job. She rewarded him with a piece of what she had come to learn was his favorite snack, strawberry frosted pop-tarts.
For the rest of the night her focus was getting ready for her research project trip to see the court records. She had a notebook she’d been jotting things down in as well as a huge binder full of photocopied papers and internet printouts that all either mentioned Keziah or Walter. Though even with Walter being the focus of the paper, she had to admit more of the papers had Keziah’s name on them than his. The strange thing was that she couldn’t seem to find any good images of Keziah. She was holding out hope that maybe there was something in the court records, perhaps there had been someone who drew something up during the trial, but so far she hadn’t found anything. With her bag packed for the next day she tried to get some sleep.
By the time she made it to the court house, Ari had already had three cups of coffee and was starting to feel slightly more awake. She’d been so excited to finally read through the court documents that she’d barely slept. Jenkins had tried to curl up with her, but with all of her tossing and turning he had eventually gone to his drawer to actually get some sleep. There had been a short security line and Ari made it through very quickly with her note, though she wasn’t sure anyone could actually read what her professor had written. The clerk in the records department said that conveniently all of the Keziah documents had been compiled over the years by other researchers and that he’d be able to bring them over to Ari’s research cubicle. She could look them over for as long as she wanted, as long as she wrapped everything up by a little before 5 so that they could get everything put back and lock it all up. Ari promised to be done in plenty of time, it was only 9:30 am and she didn’t anticipate being here for more than a couple hours.
She was a bit shocked when the clerk brought her over three large cardboard boxes all labeled K.M. Paperwork: Compiled with a number out of 3.
“Your eyes look like saucers,” the clerk chuckled, “not all of this is court transcripts or even court paperwork. If you only want to look at court related things that is in box one, but the other two include additional materials researchers found and the third box has some things about Walter Gelman and that whole Lovecraft debacle in it since it is Keziah related. There are lists of contents inside the boxes to help you out. Let me know if you have any questions and don’t forget we close promptly at 5.”
“I definitely won’t forget that and thanks for bringing everything over.”
Just to be safe Ari set an alarm for 4:50 to make sure she was done in plenty of time to get everything back to the clerk, though she very much expected to be done long before that. The first box was exactly what the clerk had told her it would be, massive packets of paper that showed updated transcripts of the court case. One researcher had taken the time to type write the original records so that the historical documents could be stored in a safe location for their preservation. The typed record was title June 22nd 1692 Keziah Mason Trial. The next section listed all members of the town council and court that were present, though the only names Ari recognized were Keziah Mason, who was listed as the accussed, and Isaac Gestleman, who was listed as an officer of the court, which seemed like a vague way to describe someone.
After slogging through the more boring details she finally got to the point where Keziah’s official crimes were described. While witchcraft was the main charge the details of what constituted this behavior included not attended Sunday services, acting in a manner that did not fit her station, and leading other women of the town to commit acts of devilry. This was then expounded upon by the chief magistrate who argued that Keziah was not a godly woman and that merely not attending services was the smallest of her offences. She also had been seen in town actively working against men who made their livelihood through farming by selling her own crops to tradesmen for a lesser price. There were also mentions of her selling meat, which she had butchered herself, in town as well, which had caused issues for the local butcher. While many of the men could also butcher their own meat there were systems to ensure the town maintained a certain system where women could not be allowed to act against these set practices. Ari brushed this off as just sexism of the court, Keziah was working to make money and they didn’t like it, but as she began the next section something began to stand out to her.
The devilry that Keziah Mason had led other women in the town to committ was noted as her gravest offence. She would invite women of the town to her home, where no man lived, and she had been seen perfoming acts upon these women that went against the natural law. Women had testified to being lured to Keziah’s home with offers of help with issues of the female kind and they had found themselves being seduced by her. Keziah had not been allowed to speak and Ari was sure she wished she could in this moment. The magistrate continued on by saying one woman had been found in a state of undress being touched by Keziah in a room that smelled of strange herbs that could only be something she had learned directly from the Devil. He then accussed Keziah of being a witch and insisted that she must be made an example of for the sake of the town’s collective soul.
At this moment Keziah was allowed to speak and she began by saying what her accussers had seen in her home was no devilry, but instead a practice that was meant to help relieve the pain of the curse that beset women every month. She insisted she had merely been massaging the woman’s skin with oils that would help to relieve her pain. There had been other women in the village who had also come to her with similar ailments and she had also provided them the same messaging treatment. The smells had been soothing herbs that she had been boiling into a tea for the woman to drink after the massage. Any of the women who had spoken to the court had come for these same treatments and if they now said this had been done against their will then they had not spoken the truth either by their own choice or through the influence of others. Keziah continued to insist that nothing she had done had been unnatural and all she had done was try to help those who came to her.
After this speech by Keziah the name Isaac Gestleman appeared. He insisted he must be allowed to present to the court information that further proved Keziah’s guilt. He was then allowed to speak and what he shared involved his eldest daughter Ruth. Two weeks prior he argued that he had found his daughter with Keziah near the woods and what he had seen had made him fear for her very soul. Keziah had been holding Ruth’s hand tightly and he had watched as she bent her head and kissed Ruth’s lips. He had immediately confronted them and pulled Ruth away. Then he had taken her directly to the church to pray away the evil that had tempted her. He had told Keziah to stay away from Ruth and that whatever evil was within her he did not want touching his daughter. He did say Keziah had insisted nothing untoward had occured and that she had merely been saying goodbye to his daughter in a friendly way, but that it had merely been that an exchange between friends. He did not believe this and had spoken to Ruth who said that Keziah had forced her to stand still and allow her to touch her lips to hers. He knew this to be the truth as Ruth would never lie to him and that was what pushed him to inform the elders of Keziah and her evil nature.
The court did not allow Keziah to respond to these allegations and following Isaac’s words the judge then stated that based on the information presented before them that Keziah was sentenced to death by hanging for the crime of witchcraft. She was then removed from the room and taken back to her cell to await her death. Keziah was not mentioned again in the records until a note was made that Keziah Mason was hung on June 24th 1692 in the town center. Below that there was a small line that stated a rat had appeared at the gallows when Keziah was hung, but that it had been killed by a member of the court when it had walked toward the body of the deceased. As Ari continued to dig through the first box she found mention of Keziah’s home being destroyed to remove her wickedness from the town and then her body was buried within the confines of the plot.
The second box included a number of geographical maps and a few architectural diagrams that showed the Keziah plot having been divided in half, a portion of which appeared to be under The Manor based on some of the more recent diagrams she found, with the other portion having been paved over when the road was built. This box wasn’t really anything Ari was particularly interested in and she decided to move onto the final box. This one seemed to have the most diverse elements with there being photos of Walter Gelman, H.P. Lovecraft, and even a small novella with the story loosely based on Walter’s experiences inside it. She’d already read the story a few times, especially within the past couple of days to try and see if she found anything of note she wanted to try and research, but nothing had seemed to stand out, beyond the otherworldlyness of what Lovecraft had written. Ari thought she should probably focus on Walter Gelman, since he technically was the focus of her research paper, and she focused on reading through some of the newspaper articles from before and after the release of Lovecraft’s story. In the before pieces Walter sounded excited in his interviews about the fact that he would be the main focus of the story and he seemed to be gloating about the time he spent with Lovecraft. The later articles revealed a more sullen Walter who did not wish to discuss the story and often the pieces tied up with the reporter saying Walter refused to make no more comments and the final one said he had declined an interview and when contacted at home had refused to even open the front door. His obituary was exceptionally sad. It said he was survived by no family members and that there would be no service. It was noted that his lawyer had written this notice for the paper and would be taking any inquiries concerning the sale of the property and the contents left by the deceased. Ari felt bad for the man, but she wondered why he had been so fixated on the property. It didn’t seem like he had benefitted from being in the home and that as the years passed he had just stayed trapped there, letting everything else pass him by.
Ari had taken a few minutes to stretch and rest her eyes a bit. The small print on some of the documents had started to strain her eyes. When she came back to her cubicle she began moving some of the paperwork back into the boxes, but as she moved a stack into the second box she felt something odd beneath her hand. This box had mostly been large maps and other bits of paperwork that hadn’t particularly stood out to her. What she felt though was a different texture, it felt like leather and when she pushed more of the papers away she could see a sort of medium sized book cover. What she lifted out was definitely a book and something about it seemed familiar. Ari couldn’t exactly put her finger on it, but she could almost swear she had seen it before. There were small straps wrapped around the cover that were keeping the book closed and she very delicately worked to undo the knots. With the final pull the straps fell away from the book and Ari was able to open the cover. The pages seemed older than anything else in this box, maybe someone had accidentally put this in here. She reminded herself to let the clerk know, but when she saw the first page she felt her heart sort of skip a beat. This couldn’t be right, this couldn’t be in here. In faint almost brown looking ink Ari could see the initial KM written in script on the lower left corner near the spine. There was a small sketch on the page of a woman’s profile in sillouhette. She could make out the delicate line of the nose and there were sweeping tendrils of hair that had been added to the image. The shape of the lips caught Ari, they somehow seemed soft even though this was just a drawing. She wished the image had eyes, but she was excited by the fact that this was very possibly an image of Keziah and the first one she had ever found at that.
Before she could get any farther in the book the alarm on her phone started chiming. It seemed impossible, but as she looked toward the window it was actually starting to get dark. She speedily packed everything up and got the boxes organized, then she threw her own notebook and papers back. While she didn’t want to leave the book here she was worried that someone would notice if it went missing. She tucked it back into the second box and decided she would wait to tell the clerk during a later visit. It felt like something she should keep secret, at least for now. Ari let the clerk know she was leaving and started to head home. On her walk she did make a brief detour to pick up some actual rat food for Jenkins, poor guy probably shouldn’t just keep eating human food, and she decided a nice tea from her now favorite cafe would be a perfect end of the research day treat for herself. When she walked into the cafe she was again pleasantly engulfed in the scent of roasted coffee beans. She’d become sort of friends with some of the baristas, it was on her way home and she had been indulging in grabbing something every day since she’d started classes.
“Hi Ari!” a happy voice shouted from out of sight, Ari waited to respond until she could see who was working and from the back she could see curly hair before she saw the face.
“Oh hi Marcus, how’s work been? Any wild orders?
Marcus loved to share the slightly bizarre concoctions some people ordered during his shifts and based on the laugh Ari knew she was in for a good one.
“This girl came in and basically ordered like a cup of sugar and pretended it was coffee. She wanted light roast with three pumps of vanilla, three pumps of carmel, four pumps of chocolate, french vanilla creamer, and whipped cream. If the caffeine doesn’t wake her up that sugar should do the trick.”
“I don’t think I could even survive a sip of that, I can barely handle any sugar in my coffee. Though this is going to be a surprise, I would actually like a tea. Anything with a fruity flavor works for me.”
“I’ve got you, just give me a couple minutes to snag some tea out of the back room and I’ll be right back. It’ll just be 3 dollars if you want to get that out for me. Thanks Ari!”
Throwing her bag onto the counter she started digging around for her wallet, it always seemed to sink to the bottom no matter what tricks she tried to keep it near the top. She kept feeling around for it and pulled her hand back suddenly, almost like something had bit her. Ari knew for a fact nothing leather was in this bag, her wallet was made of a plasticky material and anything else in her bag was just paper or plastic. What she had felt couldn’t have been there, but she could swear it was. Pulling the zipper farther down she could see a medium sized leather book with loosely tied straps around it. Ari could have sworn she had put this back in the box and yet in her bag was what she believed to be Keziah’s journal.
Ari had decided to stay at the cafe and drink her tea, being around Marcus had helped her to calm her nerves a bit. In an attempt to keep the book out of her mind she chatted about his creative fiction project and anything that came to mind. Her ride home though she couldn’t stop coming back to the fact that she had been certain she had put the book in the second box before she left. She never would have taken something out of that room, she never would have. There had to be some sort of logical explanation, but she just couldn’t think of one. Parker and Becca were curled up on the couch watching what looked like a horror movie and Ari briefly said hi and that she needed to take a quick nap after all of her researching. Once she was in the attic she pulled the book out of her bag as gently as she could, though her hands were shaking with excitement and possiblyl a little bit of fear. Just holding the book in her room felt somehow risky, like someone would know it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Sitting down on the bed she slowly undid the knots she’d made and put them on her nightstand. She turned back to the page she had looked at with the sillhouette and again stared at the image. It was such a detailed silhoutte and Ari felt compelled to keep looking at it. As she stared her eyes began to feel heavy and her body seemed to sink into her mattress. The book slipped from her hands and she could hear a soft thump as it fell onto the bed beside her.
Ari found herself again in the room with the drying plants, this time though she could see someone at the table across from her. While she could not yet see the person’s face she was not afraid, she felt somehow completely at ease. As she made her way toward the person she began to stretch out her arm to touch the shoulder, but she stopped as they turned to face her. The face seemed new, but somehow familiar. It was in profile to her and what drew her in was the shape of the lips. They were lightly pursed and seemed so soft. The name Keziah seemed to slip out of her own lips before she could stop it and the lips curled softly into a sweet smile.
“Yes, I am Keziah,” she said quietly, “and you must be the Ari my dear Brown Jenkins has told me about.”
As she spoke, Keziah had turned fully toward Ari and had taken her hands in hers. They stood facing each other with their hands interlocked for a few moments as Ari tried to take in every aspect of Keziah’s face. The eyes that she had desperately wanted to know were lit with a sort of intelligent glint that was balanced with the warmth that seemd to eminate from her. The blueish green eyes that seemed to be gazing deeply into Ari’s eyes were flecked with gold. Ari could have continued to stare into those eyes for an eternity, but Keziah lightly broke the connection by moving her hands slightly.
“Come and sit with me, I am sure you have many questions for me.”
Ari followed Keziah to the bench near the table and the two sat with their knees lightly touching. Ari couldn’t seem to have the words to ask all of the questions that were filling her head. Keziah lightly chuckled, “I suppose it would be a bit hard to figure just what to ask first. We only have until you wake so perhaps we should start at the beginning and I will try my best to help you understand.”
“I was born in Essex to a recently widowed mother who while grieving the loss of her husband, still hoped to give me a life of bounty. My mother started a garden and began offering her services as a midwife and helping women in the village with ailments. As I grew she also trained me in these skills and I would assist her until she grew too old. I had spent my life helping the women of Essex and I continued this work even after my mother left this world. As I spent more time helping the women I began to see just how little the men of Essex cared for anyone else in their lives. If something did not benefit them they did not trust it and often spent time suppressing it. I did not wish to be a part of that constant drudgery and chose to never seek out male companionship, which led the men to further dislike me. My mother, having been married, had that as an identity that protected her. The more time I spent on the outskirts of Essex the more I began to realize that there were other women who felt repressed by everythinig around them. I would invite them to visit me and depending on what issues they were having I would try to help them with some of my mother’s remedies as well as some practices I had created over time. I believe I could have continued these meetings and living as I did if it had not been for my connection to Ruth. She felt so isolated in her home and she felt that she only had a brief period of freedom left before her father married her off to one of the eligible young men who was part of the church council. She began sneaking away to spend more time with me and asking me more about the work I did with the women who visited me. I shared some of my knowledge with her and we became friends. This slowly began to change and we found that we cared for each other in a deeper way and while we were careful to hide our growing closeness we did not know her father was following her. The brief kiss he saw provided him the catalyst to accuse me. The trial was rooted in his fear and hate of me. I knew I had to protect Ruth and while she had hoped to save me, I insisted she must keep our secret. When they sentenced me to death I prepared myself and bid the world goodbye, but what I did not expect was what occurred on that day. When I dropped from the gallows I did not die as I expected, but instead stayed in a strange state of inbetween for what felt like an eternity. During that window of time I felt as though I was outside of my body and I saw Brown Jenkins killed. He had been my constant companion, no matter how alone I was he had always been there, and in that state my grief seemed to manifest and I watched him return to life. I urged him as best I could to run and hide from the crowd and as he scurried away something happened in me. Anger, sorrow, pain, grief, and my lost love for Ruth all seemed to come together and I found myself channeling that energy toward Essex and it felt as though I was tying myself to the very land around me. Then I felt myself fade out of existence, but only for a moment.”
Ari reached out her hand and lightly wiped a tear from Keziah’s cheek. The woman in front of her seemed focused on her story, but Ari could see sadness clouding the bright eyes she was looking deeply into. Keziah was silent for a moment and then appeared to recenter herself and after a long breath she began talking again.
“I do not know how long I was part of the nothingness, but one day I seemed to wake up as though I had been in a deep sleep. I found myself standing in a room that I did not recognize, but there was a man sitting before me that I could have sworn was Isaac Gestleman. I felt a flood of emotions, though the first of which was anger. This had never been an emotion I had allowed to lead me, but in that moment I wanted to hurt that man who had brought about my death, had taken Ruth from my life, and had also killed my dear Brown Jenkins. That rage somehow seemd to come to life and I saw a strange violet light seemingly erupt from me. The man seemed startled and as he turned to look at me I realized he was not Isaac, but the resemblance was so close that I knew he must be of his lineage. I did not wish to punish this man for crimes he did not commit and tried to calm myself. This moment is what led the man I learned to be Walter to become fixated on the home and on my life. My return seemed to summon Brown Jenkins to me, which filled me with joy, but did not help Walter to move on from his newly created obsession. While Brown Jenkins tried to be discrete Walter continued to notice him and began setting traps and trying to find ways to kill the rat he insisted was plauging him. One of his traps did catch the poor creature and I was able to use what small power I had to free him. What I did not realize that the energy I expelled to save Brown Jenkins from a second death appeared in a physical way. Again violet light appeared in the room and the brightness of it woke Walter from a deep sleep. From that moment on he insisted that he was being haunted by me. I had no idea why I was in this room and seemingly trapped there, but as time passed Walter became more and more insistent that I was trying to cause him harm. When he met that author he shared many things, mostly imagined events, that painted me as a dark and terrible creature that was focused on ruining his life. When the story was not what he hoped for and he resigned himself to a life isolated from others I found myself still tied to the home. I watched his decline and while his ancestor had done such terrible things, I tried to find a way to lift his spirits in some ways. I would try to exhude positive energy and in my work to try and alleviate some of his pain I began growing my own powers and energy. I eventually found that I could find the imprint of my former home that was attached to this new building. If I concentrated I could return to what I knew and eventually I could slip in between the present and my past. As Walter grew older and frailer I could sense his death was coming. On the night I knew he would be leaving this world I pushed myself to connect with him in his dreaming state. While he was first frightened, he allowed me to comfort him and tell him that I had never wished him harm. In those last moments I told him that he would now find peace and he passed into the light. I felt his soul leave the home, but I still felt attached to this home. With time I found ways to interact with Brown Jenkins and I watched as the home changed again. New people and new energy helped me to feel a closeness to others again, but it wasn’t until you moved into the attic that I realized something was changing. Another soul seemed to be appearing in what I had thought was place only I could inhabit. Brown Jenkins also began seeking you out, I could feel him searching and when you let him stay with you I felt a larger shift as though I was cementing a connection to this world that I had not felt in centuries. I think your soul called to me Ari and while I don’t know why yet I think there is something larger at work here.”
Keziah then stopped speaking and held Ari’s hands tightly, a silence seemed to stretch comfortably between them and what surprised Ari was the strong desire she felt to stay in this place. She tried to speak, but Keziah smiled lightly and moved her hand to cup the younger woman’s cheek.
“You are beginning to wake up in the real world, I will see you again and we will talk more when you return to dreams.”
In that moment the room began to fade and the last thing Ari remembered seeing were Keziah’s eyes as the sound of her alarm clock pulled her back into her own world.
All Ari wanted to do was go back to sleep. She kept finding herself drifiting into daydreams about Keziah and being with her again, but she knew she couldn’t say wrapped up on a dream. While she thought many people would have brushed the experience off as a dream related to all the research she had been doing, but when she had been with Keziah it had felt like more than a dream. It had felt so real and what had been revealed had been so much more than Ari could ever have found while working on her project. With no classes on Friday, Ari had initially planned to spend some time with her roommates. Parker had said they would be free today and the two could do some exploring around town together, but now that she’d had that dream Ari really wanted to spend some time just reading through Keziah’s journal. She still didn’t understand how the book had made it into her backpack, but she felt like it had to have come to her for a reason. She threw on a hoody and some sweats and made her way downstairs to grab coffee and let Parker know she would be spending some time researching today and wouldn’t be able to hang out.
When she made it downstairs she was surprised by how quiet the house was. Normally when Parker was home they turned on music or the television and left it on while they did things in the kitchen. While she was grabbing a mug for coffee, Ari noticed Claudia curled up on the couch with a book. Unlike Parker, Claudia was more likely to put in earbuds or put on some sort of headphone while ze was in the common areas. After making a quick cup of coffee, Ari wrote out a quick note to Parker on the memo board on the fridge letting them know she would be working on school stuff today and then waved quietly at Claudia on her way to her room. She grabbed a blanket and curled up on her bed with Keziah’s book and she was pleased to see Jenkins had made his way onto her pillow and had fallen back to sleep with his nose tucked under his paw. Ari very delicately opened the book and traced the image of Keziah on the front page with her finger tip. While she wasn’t physically there Ari could feel a warmth around her, almost like Keziah was there with her.
The journal was sort of a combination of daily observations and remedies or treatments that Keziah was working on at the time. Sometimes these blended together into discussions of someone who had come to see Keziah and what she was trying to do in order to help the person. One of the entries that particularly fascinated Ari was tied to when Ruth first came to visit Keziah. As with many of the patient related write-ups Keziah began by writing the name and a brief description of why that person had come to her. She never included anything beyond the first name, Ari guessed this was in the event someone came upon her book to protect the women who came to her. Ruth’s first entry mentioned a constant stomach pain. No matter whether she ate or not her stomach felt as though it was churning. Keziah had made an herbal tea for her and she had sat with her while she drank her first cup. Ruth had said the pain had abated and Keziah offered to provide her with more tea to take home, but Ruth had insisted that she would not be able to make it at home. From then on, Ruth came to visit Keziah at least 4 times a week to sit with her and drink tea. During these meetings Keziah learned more about Ruth’s home life and as the weeks and months passed she began teaching her some of her remedies and practices. Ruth even stayed for some of her meetings with other women and it was as though Ruth was becoming her apprentice. The entries stopped before the trial and while Keziah wrote a great deal about Ruth there were also elements that appeared veiled for fear that her book would be found.
During her reading, Jenkins had made his way onto her lap, while he laid in a ball he would occassionally lift his head and nudge her hand so that she would pet him. Ari hadnt realized how late it had gotten until her stomach made a loud growling sound. She would definitely need to eat something before she kept working, though she found herself wondering more about Ruth and what had happened to her after Keziah’s death. A majority of the records for Essex County had been digitized so she hoped that there would be something about her.
-End for now-