BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
The strange path of blood leading from his ear, almost like a trail, might have seemed unimportant, were it not for that final cryptic "suggestion" in my uncle's letter.
If you value your life, plug your ears tightly with cotton when you sleep.
Surely it was mere coincidence -- he had suffered some sort of brain hemorrhage, that was all. And yet...
Then too, how to explanation the grotesque sight of those five nurses gathered around his bed, each with a camera silently taking pictures of his corpse? I knew I had not imagined it, and yet, even thinking back, it seemed like a vision out of some hideous nightmare.
Nonetheless, distraught as I was, a clear course lay before me. My uncle, in his delerious ravings, had made reference to the "Kingston Stone", urging me to read it. I doubted there was any significance to it, but, at least I knew that such a stone did exist under lock and key in the Kingston Public Library.
Accordingly, I reached the library only shortly before closing time, passing through the automatic doors even as the librarian flicked the lights. Catching her attention, I explained my purpose and its urgency, to which she agreed to show me the stone if I could wait until after the other patrons had left.
I took a seat at a reading table, beside a young gentleman dressed in a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows. Even as I sat, the gentleman rose and spoke to the librarian, his words loud enough for me to catch. His name was Howard Noel and he was a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail.
That name, of course, is well known now, since his subsequent disappearance has been well publicized by his paper, but, at the time, it meant nothing to me. Instead, what caught my ear was his request to look through the library's archive copies of the old Kingston Pentagram and Advertiser. I was hardly surprised when the librarian balked.
The Pentagram and Advertiser (originally the Upper Canada Pentagram) was a fairly scandalous sheet put out in the 1800s by the Rev. Darby Scone. Principally, it was a Reformer paper, devoting most of its space to overly-erudite attacks on the Family Compact, the powerful elite who then ran the country. But in between these, and between the advertisements for various tonics and miracle cures, were bizarre and often hideous stories, all purporting to be factual.
The Rev. Scone was clearly touched in the head and, indeed, he ended his days in the Rockwood Asylum, but no harm had come from his rantings. Nonetheless, Kingstonians were still touchy on the subject and (so I had heard) often feigned ignorance when it was mentioned by a curious tourist. Howard Noel, though, was not to be put off, and the librarian finally agreed to show him to the infamous collection.
Barely had they left than I noticed the reporter had left behind his leather notebook atop the desk. It sat open and I could easily read the tight, unruly scribbles on one page. Immediately my interest was piqued.
The top was headed: Interview with K. R., and beneath this ran:
Elderly woman, rambling, frequently unclear, paranoid...senile?
I read on.
Seems frightened, constantly looks around, even at son. Startled by my camera. Finds queer significance in disparate historical incidents. Examples:
De Denonville ordered Fort Frontenac (later Kingston) destroyed, abandoned without reason, 168-?
War of 1812, Americans refuse to attack city, though Kingston key to conquest of Canada. Why?
Kingston made capitol of Canada, 1841, then decision reversed without explanation. Why?
Fire at Market Shambles, 1865. Something was found. Note: What is a market shambles?
Odd as all this seemed, the next notation stopped my breath.
Hanging tower? Investigate, if there's time.
My uncle's letter had warned me not to enter the mysterious "hanging tower"; then, on his death bed he had said something else to the same effect. Now, this. Was it mere coincidence?
Nervously, I continued to read.
Clearly insane. Too bad. Need better source. Her son is overly protective. Keeps asking me to leave. (She looks at him strangely. Don't blame her. Face like a mask.)
Something about Ella Newcomb? Don't understand. Look up Ella Newcomb in Pen and Ad. Becoming incoherent, hysterical. Keeps saying, 'Must go home to bring the rest!' Can't get anything else, except...(next page)
Again, I found myself trembling with astonishment. On his death bed, had not my uncle used that exact same phrase? "Must go home to bring the rest." What could it possibly mean?
After a moment's hesitation, nervously, I turned the page. My blood ran suddenly cold in my veins at the two words which alone graced the next page.
The other patrons had all left and I was somewhat startled to find myself alone in the main part of the library. Most of the lights had been turned off and, after what I had just read, I found the silence and shadows unnecessarily unsettling. I found myself wanting to leave the Kingston Stone until the morning, but, having told the librarian I would wait, I couldn't walk out now.
Feeling strangely exposed, (and uncomfortable with those two words gazing up at me), I rose and made my way into the stacks, my eyes casually scanning the many books.
Then, quite suddenly, I stopped, my eyes wide in amazement. There on the wall was a large painting. It depicted the "Time" sculpture in Breakwater Park, the very same work of art which had caused me such unease earlier in the day. Seeing it again, I recalled the three oddly repulsive men which I had noticed taking pictures near the sculpture, and also the invitation which one of them had unknowingly dropped.
You are cordially invited to the festivities in 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. And that curious addition: Bring food.
Unconsciously I touched the invitation, still in my pocket.
The painting showed the wave-garlanded shore as seen through the semi-arch formed by the two beams of the sculpture. The setting was evening. Again, I felt a strange association engendered by that sculpture's distinctive shape, but, as before, whatever it reminded me of lay beyond my reach. Two aluminum beams reaching but not quite touching at their tips...
There was a lone human figure in the painting, near the shore and, for some reason, once again, I found myself touched with unaccountable horror, or loathing. There was an eerie lack of clarity to that figure. It was done entirely in black, presumably to suggest a silhouette, but with a result distinctly ominous and unsettling. Before I knew it, I found myself leaning closer, then closer still, hardly breathing, trying to make out details in the black, unfathomable form...
So tense was I that, when a hand touched my shoulder, I let out a shrill shriek. The librarian, however, remained remarkably composed as she motioned me to follow her.
She led me down some stairs into the dark basement, then into a small room at the back. Here she opened a cupboard and lifted out a large metal box sealed with a heavy padlock. With a key, she unlocked this, told me she would return in five minutes, then slipped into the darkness like a ghost.
Carefully I lifted the lid. Inside was a large flat limestone plaque with broken edges, the whole thing no larger than a sheet of paper. Its surface was inscribed with curious rune-like markings, all jumbled together.
An accompanying note explained that the "Kingston Stone" had been found in 1789 by the Rev. John Stuart on the lake shore of his property, Lot 24, precisely where Breakwater Park now stood. Over the next two centuries, no one had succeeded in translating the strange runes, and most believed it to be a hoax.
Now, staring at those scratched marks, I felt a sickening chill steal over me.
Perhaps I was assisted by the unusual fall of light and shadow, or perhaps my recent experiences had simply prepared me to see what others had missed. Whatever the explanation, all at once I saw that, amongst the huge jumble of indeciferable markings, there were in fact two barely recognizable words, both in English. No sooner had I read them than I slammed closed the box and fled the library as if the devil were on my heels.
Written more than two hundred years before, this is what I read:
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In the Dark of Kingston is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may
not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts
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