Monday, October 29, 2012

"And the Dead Shall Rise?": Part II: A Priest Walks into a Bar

28 October 1899

To the Ecclesiast and the Magus,

You will be glad to know that I have discovered I am not mad.  But the other side of this claim is that the ghastly vision of Mount Hope Hill was no hallucination or fiction.  Shortly after I sent my last correspondence, which in all likelihood has yet to reach your eyes, I found myself inundated by a throng of souls - these ones, very much alive, and quite frightened, from within my flock and without - whose hearts are full of dread and of questions.  For they too, it seems, have seen, not just my solider, but others as well. 

God be praised, none of the people had had as close a brush with the creatures as had I.  Most had glimpsed them, almost by accident, and at quite a distance.  Or, had created said distance as quickly as could be afforded.  However, they almost unanimously agreed upon a most disturbing crimson thread to this strange affair: all had witnessed the presence of the dead outside of the very church, my church, in which we sat during the daylight hours.  And, as if this were not enough to freeze the blood, those who were able to discern visages - on those that had any visage to speak of - recognized them as being, like my solider, past members of the congregation.

What is this, that my person and my parish should be the nexus of this series of unholy resurrections?  I must confess, after the first encounter, the thrill of adventure readily distilled theories and ideas from my imagination.  But on this day, and at this writing, I am simply overwhelmed.  And, in spite of the exhortations of angels, more than just a bit afraid.  

Up the street from our church is Dicky’s Public House, where, after an exhausting day of having my ignorance largely on public display, I went avail myself of a lager brewed along the Genesee River to clear my head and still my heart.  The patrons there are accustomed to my presence, and after a century of Methodism, seem grateful for the implication of the Lord’s love of beer, and by extension, themselves, as evidenced by His providential creation of Lutherans.   

And there, too, the spectre of the past persisted in the rumors and whispers of immigrant Irishmen who seemed as shocked as any rationalist to discover "living" proof of their deepest superstitions.  Not wishing to continue on the subject, but wishing less to shirk my priestly office, I listened intently as frightened papists forgot their Catholicism and offered me their confessions of what they had seen.

Apparently, those of the Celtic regions of Britain have long believed, from the misty past before the Empires of the Romans and the Christians transmogrified their faith into instruments of propaganda, that at the very time we remember the feasts of All Souls and All Saints, the barrier between the realm of the living and of the dead is stretched particularly thin.  That is to say, this season is a kind of vortex, almost a gateway, in which mingle the realm of spirit and the realm of matter.  

You will recognize, perhaps, the origins of the vogueish celebration of Halloween, which has recently taken our towns and villages by storm, at least, here in New England.  It was to the stirrings of the ancient creatures of the Old World, in times when the eyes of mens' hearts beheld more and doubted less, a time before even Faerie and mythology, that these men appealed.  Not unaided, I might add, by the spirits of this age which they imbibed liberally in their terror and nostalgia.  The past is prelude, perhaps - or perhaps, has never really past at all.  

Lost in brew-induced reveries of the shadowy times of druid and warrior and pagans baking soul cakes donning costumes of animal skins with which to maintain commerce with things unfit for modern "enlightened" sensibilities, we were startled suddenly when the door of the tavern swung violently open.  Every man there leaped up in anticipation of the incarnation of their nightmares, but what they beheld was perhaps far more imposing.  

I knew immediately from my travels, and from the goggles that held back her locks, that she was an airship captain.  After a penetrating glance around the room so confident that it deigned not even to challenge so sordid a lot as offended her dignity, she strode to the bar took the stool to my right.  Noticing my clerical garb, she introduced herself as Captain Cherie Priest, relishing the irony with self-satisfied sarcasm.  But she was not haughty.  I know the type gentlemen; she was above us, not only because she sailed the skies, but because she was also above that which held us captive.  She was free from fear.  

Captain Priest informed me she was newly landed on what she called a trading run (though I knew beyond a doubt hers were darker purposes; a smuggler, most likely) from the port of Seattle, in Washington, far beyond even my beloved mountains in the West.  I brought her into our talk of things undead, and at the mention, she became more gravely serious than I thought possible for someone so strong.  Evidently, this was no marvel to her.    

She was evidently a kind of expert on the creatures, having come run across them in her own dealings, and also claiming the distinction of having written several dispatches and reports for assorted newspapers across the country (some, she told me later, had even been made into three-penny novels, though at present, she was short on copies to lend me).  

Apparently, for decades there had been talk of such apparitions - “walkers” she called them - torn from the ranks of both the living and the dead.  Some believed they began with benighted ex-soldiers of the great wars of this past century who, driven by despair, began to imbibe a certain opium-like substance known in the back alleys as “Blight.”  Some speculated that prolonged abuse of the drug led to a kind of suspended animation of life, of the sort Dante describes of certain souls in Hell whose bodies continue to walk in daylight, while their souls already languish in the darkness. 

But, I countered, what of the obviously dead former parishioner in the cemetery?  Surely this drug’s effects could not linger for nigh half a century?  And could it be merely coincidence that the locus of this paranormal activity, this refusal of the past to remain past, should haunt my parish, my people, in particular?    

She told me she was not sure, that she held to the materialist explanation, that she had no time for other peoples' gods, other peoples' superstitions, other peoples' histories.  But, she went on, regardless of their origins, you must heed their present danger.  She said she would not be surprised if some of the walkers  we witnessed were not so long dead.  You see, she informed us, if one were to bite, or even scratch one of the fully alive, they would not remain long among the living.  To be touched too deeply by the walker is to become a walker oneself.  

We remained there long after the Irishmen returned to their homes or left for their evening shifts along the docks of the Erie Canal.  I cannot relate all of the things she shared with me, though I subsequently procured one of her novellas, Bonecrusher by name, and if you are able to purchase one yourself, it does much to deepen her theories on the origins of the creatures - not to mention, would, I imagine, provide a great deal of delight were one not seemingly caught in the midst of the reality of its antagonists.  

I longed to join Captain Priest and her crew, wherever they were flying off to, to ascend above the yellow fog of this haunted city and reclaim lost freedom.  But such is not the vocation which heralds me at present.  I will keep you informed as I am able, and if you chance to receive this soon and have discovered anything that may help, do please wire it to me - I will pay you back when we meet again.

And above all, pray for us brothers.  And for my people.  And, dare I ask, for those who the walkers were once, and may still be, and those who very well might join them, and for God knows what happens to their souls, and to all of ours as well.  

Grace and peace, and may God have mercy upon us,

The Alpinist 

No comments:

Post a Comment