BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Unfortunately, I put pen to paper knowing that the reader's doubt can only be compounded by what follows...
Having fled the library, I wandered the dark streets for a time, uncertain where to turn. Then, to my surprise, I found myself outside my uncle's Bagot Street home, an ancient brick affair which had been in our family for generations.
Recovering the spare key above the door, I let myself in, there to be greeted by a noxious smell. For some reason, I was loath to reveal my presence by turning on any lights. Instead, I found a flashlight in the basement, with which I commenced to explore, nor was I comforted by what I soon found.
Scattered about the house were cans of Raid insect spray, thus explaining the smell. Then, too, my uncle had used incredible amounts of duct tape to seal all the windows, closet doors, and even the baseboards.
Seeing this, I nervously recalled the trail of blood leading from my uncle's ear moments after his death in the hospital, and the strange "suggestion" in his letter:
If you value your life, plug your ears tightly with cotton when you sleep.
In his study, I took a moment to leaf through the scattered papers on his desk where, to my surprise, I found a Manila envelope labelled with my own name. Inside, I discovered a collection of very old, yellowing newspaper clippings. Apparently, my uncle had wanted me to see these, but why?
Carefully, one by one, I commenced to read.
The first clipping was from the Kingston Chronicle and Gazette dated July 19th, 1844. The headline read:
Unusual Reception at Nuptials
And the story concerned the wedding of John Newcomb (described as an "alienist", an archaic term for a psychiatrist) to Ella Price ("daughter of Frank Price, horseshoer").
The event had taken place two days before in St. George's Anglican Church, where, according to witnesses, in the midst of the wedding vows, the church was suddenly deluged by a veritable swarm of earwigs, millions upon millions of the pinchered insect horrors. In disgust, the guests fled, many being trampled in the panicked rush.
Strangely though, the groom remained unperturbed, insisting the wedding continue, nor did any of his own relatives take part in the exodus...
My eyes momentarily wandered to the cans of Raid scattered about, provoking an uneasy laugh. I turned to the next clipping.
This was also from the Chronicle and Gazette, dated November 6th, 1836 -- three years after the first -- but concerned a much darker matter, a report on the untimely death of Mrs. Ella Newcomb, the bride of the previous article. Mrs. Newcomb, having been suddenly stricken with "brain fever", had passed away in the night while in her home on Rear Street. She was survived by her husband, John Newcomb, and their one-year-old son, William.
I felt a growing unease. Where had I seen the name Ella Newcomb before? Then I recalled -- the reporter in the library, Howard Noel. In his notepad, describing his interview with an elderly lady identified only as "K.R.", he had written that very same name!
But there was a further explanation for my anxiety. I recalled my uncle telling me that the street upon which he had his house -- Bagot Street -- had once been called "Rear Street". Mrs. Newcomb had passed away in her home on Rear Street. Of course, the odds against the two houses being one were immense, but, just the same, sitting in that darkened home, I found myself oddly shaken...
A third clipping, dated only days later, took the form of a letter-to-the-editor written by the widower, John Newcomb, himself. He wished to put an end to certain rumours concerning his late wife. Apparently, Ella Newcomb had given birth to a still-born child only months before her death. Unhinged by the tragedy, she had told several friends that her child had actually been born alive, then taken from her. Mr. Newcomb threatened to take to court anyone who continued to darken his late wife's memory by repeating these words, so clearly the result of her final, emotionally-troubled days.
Again I was bothered by an alarming congruence between past and present. As I well knew, my uncle's wife, Cora, had taken her own life in the sixties after giving birth to a still-born child, a child which she too had come to believe had been stolen from her.
I turned to the final clipping, this from the Kingston Chronicle and News, dated 1865, fully thirty years later. This too was a letter-to-the-editor. Written by the city's fire chief, it concerned the recent fire at the Market Shambles, which apparently had formed the rear wing of City Hall extending, at that time, all the way to King Street. The Fire Chief, like John Newcomb before him, wished to put an end to certain rumours.
The Market Shambles had been topped by a clock and bell tower. Weakened by the inferno, the bell had fallen, crashing down into the basement where, according to the rumour, the next morning the firemen made a bizarre discovery.
The bell had smashed through the basement floor revealing a stone passage beneath. In this passage, the firemen happened upon a curious corpse, crushed by the bell itself, and completely burned by the fire. The fire chief was remarkably vague as to the nature of this corpse, referring only to its "unlikely dimensions and ill-matched conformation".
The purpose of his letter was to make it clear that no such passage or corpse had been found. Further, he felt it in poor taste to spread such rumours after the unfortunate death of John Newcomb, who had inexplicably rushed into the burning building only moments after the bell collapsed--
At this point, I stopped reading. My mouth went dry and, fumbling, I snapped off the flashlight.
I had been down in the basement only a short while before in order to find the flashlight. At that time, the basement had been empty. Yet, now, from beyond the cellar door, there came the muffled murmur of voices.
Strange, dragging steps ascended the wooden stairs. In the darkness, wide-eyed, I drew back into a corner. The basement door creaked. Pairs of feet shuffled into the black study, but I could see nothing.
Then, weirdly, I heard odd liquid sounds, in different timbres, hideously organic in nature. Papers rasped atop the desk, accompanied by more liquid sounds, like some perverse distortion of speech. Then, for just a moment, a voice spoke in English.
"Is it done?"
More appalling still was the fact that response came, not in English, but again only in the form of that eerie liquid sound. To which, the first voice said, "Good." After that, the liquid sounds resumed, fading away as the visitors returned to the basement.
It was a full hour before I found courage to turn on my flashlight again, nor was I surprised to find the clippings missing from the desk and the basement vacant as before. It was not until morning, though, that that brief exchange -- if exchange it was -- took on an ominous significance.
I have mentioned how Howard Noel, the reporter in the library, had interviewed an elderly woman identified only as K.R. In the morning Whig-Standard, I found a report of the death of one Mrs. Katherine Randall. She had passed away the previous night and was survived only by her son.
The cause of death was attributed to a brain hemorrhage and was not entirely unexpected. For some weeks Mrs. Randall had been experiencing hallucinations of a most disturbing variety. She believed her son was not her son.
She claimed he was wearing a mask...
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In the Dark of Kingston is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may
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