In the Dark of Kingston

A 7-Part serial of Horror

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


EPISODE 2: THE INVITATION


My train arrived in Kingston at ten in the morning, where immediately I took a cab to Sterling Hall on the Queen's University campus. Here, in the physics building, Uncle Tobias had his office but, to my surprise, I found his door locked.

Enquiring in a neighbouring office, I was disturbed to learn that my uncle had taken suddenly ill in the night. So serious was his condition that he had been rushed to Kingston General Hospital. Calling the hospital, I learned he had been given a room on the ninth floor of the Connell Wing. There was no point in visiting, however, until after lunch as he was presently undergoing a series of tests. The nurse was unable to tell me more except to say that his condition was "critical".

Even as I hung up, I found myself stangely uneased. I told myself my uncle's sudden illness and his mysterious letter could in no way be related and, yet, just the same, there remained a nebulous apprehension. In tone, that letter had clearly been composed by a frightened man; but frightened of what? Again, I thought of those three bewildering "suggestions" appended to his note.

"1) Confide in no one within the city limits." Clearly there was a person or persons within Kingston who he felt were a threat of some kind.

Then: "2) Do not enter the hanging tower." What was this hanging tower and why should I not enter it?

And most curious of all: "3) If you value your life, plug your ears tightly with cotton when you sleep."

Slight as the connection might seem, I could not help but reflect on the fact that it had been in the night that my uncle had taken ill...

With nothing to do until after lunch, I set out on foot with no destination in mind. The autumn air was cool and laden with the scent of crisp, scattered leaves and, in spite of the lateness of the season, the narrow streets were ajostle with tourists. I soon found myself in MacDonald Park along the water front where white foam burst along the rocky shore and seagulls spiraled lazily against the clouds.

I paused for a moment to admire the squattly fortified "Murney Tower", one of four Martello Towers constucted in the 1840s to defend Kingston from her southern neighbour during the tense days of the Oregon Crisis. For all the city's architectural and floral beauty, that somber structure initiated a more melancholy train of thought. There was, I reflected, a darker side to the limestone city, one which I knew of only through hints and scattered allusions in my uncle's letters.

For example, once public hangings had been carried out here, during which days much of the city would turn out to watch the spectacle and local steamboats offered special excursions for ghoulish tourists.

Then too there was the curious story told concerning Fort Henry across the bay; how the original architect inexplicably designed the fort with the batteries facing the city itself, instead of the enemy across the lake. According to the story, no explanation was ever given for this strange oversight, for the architect took his own life on the ship back to England.

Then there was the persistent rumour of hidden passages connecting the City Hall with Shoal Tower in Confederation Basin, and the various weird tales concerning Deadman Bay...

So immersed was I in my reflections, that it was with some surprise I found I had continued along King Street and now entered Breakwater Park. At the far end, near the Water Purification Plant, a group of bagpipers played a mournful dirge nearly lost beneath the surging of waves against the granite boulders along the shore. A ponchoed man played Frisbee with his Irish Setter and here and there people (tourists?) reclined in intimate groupings in the grass.

My attention though was drawn and held by a magnificently immense sculpture erected on a small grassy jut into the lake.

Looming twenty feet against the sky, it comprised two parts, each composed of a grass-covered concrete slope from which thrust a Cyclopean aluminum beam. Together, the two titanic beams reached towards each other, close but not quite touching at their tips, the whole forming a sort of incomplete arch.

A plaque informed me that this sculpture, erected in 1973, was called "Time". The name, I had once been told, arose from the belief that, in the distant future, the two beams, settling in their concrete bases, would gradually come together and touch at last. What would happen after that, I had not been told.

Now, as I regarded this work of art, I was struck with an oddly unsettling sensation. The structure seemed to tug at my memory, its shape evoking connections with...what? I wasn't sure. Certainly, its colossal size and megalithic, almost pagan arrangement seemed strangely akin to the stone menhirs of the British Isles, a Stonehenge in miniature.

Then too, its rigidly uncompromising geometry seemed akin to certain more natural formations, for example, the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. Nor could I ignore the eerie resemblance to the much-reproduced woodcut from Alhazred's Necronomicon. And yet, somehow I knew, none of these were the connection I sought. It was something else...but what?

Glancing through the arch formed by the two beams, I chanced to notice two men standing on the pink granite boulders at the water's edge. The one was dressed in baggy khaki shorts and sunglasses, while his companion wore a Habs cap and a loud, floral-print shirt. Both carried cameras with which they were taking pictures of something just off shore. But, try as I might, I could discern nothing of interest out in the breaking waves.

Then, quite suddenly, looking at them, I felt an inexplicable rush of revulsion, a sensation for which I had no ready explanation. As ridiculous as if might seem, there was something oddly...distorted about those two men, even as there was no specific abnormality which I could put my finger on. To all appearances, they were just two middle-aged men taking pictures on the shore; and yet, somehow I felt they were not. There was a repellent disjointedness to their motions, a disturbing sense of dislocation in the way they stood.

I tried to laugh off the notion, but could not.

Just then, a third man joined the first two, this one also carrying a camera. He too awoke strange feelings of repulsion, his stride seeming too loose, like a puppet manipulated by strings. They exchanged greetings, then, together, they turned to face me and began taking pictures of the Time sculpture.

After a moment of this, the man with the Habs cap made a laughing comment, then passed a piece of paper to the third man who unfolded it, read its contents, then tried to tuck it into his breast pocket. Clumsily he missed and the paper was snatched by the wind and whirled in my direction. None of the men notice this and, even as I moved to retrieve the paper, they wandered off, each in a different direction.

For a moment, I considered rushing after the third man, but, recalling the unsettling feelings he had evoked, hesitated until it was too late. Instead, I looked at the paper.

It was a brittle card such as a wedding invitation might be sent out on and, opening it, I saw I was not far wrong. In elegant gold script it read: "You are cordially invited to the festivities at Breakwater Park on the night of October 31, 1999, to commence at 12:00. Dress is casual and drinks will be served. R.S.V.P."

At the bottom of the card, an addition had been made in pen in a sure, bold hand.

"Bring food." ...


Next episode...A Trail of Blood

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In the Dark of Kingston is copyright 1998 Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)