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First Place: The Shadowed Guise

The Shadowed Guise

by Claude Chabot

First Place

March 23, 1852

Dearest Martha,

I cannot refrain from telling you how exceedingly well Friedrich looks now that he has returned from his estate in Bohemia. The ruddiness in his cheeks glows with exceptional vigor, his extraordinary energy is revived and his impeccable concentration has been restored. I was afraid for him prior to his departure for your Hudson River manor house and the obsession he had maintained due to the great tragedy that befell him, but now I do believe he has recaptured his former self—cheerful, hardworking and God fearing. Indeed, this reversion to his former brilliance is God’s blessing!

I do trust you will tolerate this outburst of emotion from one who values restraint in all human intercourse, but Friedrich’s trouble has weighed on me heavily of late.

You and I can only imagine the great burden that an intellect and a great fortune impose, which permit him everything in life except the ambition to cultivate his many talents. I feared at one time that he would become enthralled with the poppy as Addams had, but in Friedrich’s case there is his remarkable energy, his enthusiasm for living and his almost boundless optimism to act as a counterbalance to his tendency for indolence. I no longer fear for him, and that is another blessing. Yet, as much I may love Friedrich, I do not understand him; I do not revile him, but I am in awe of him, and this brings trepidation. Despite his good nature and good sense, I fear that instead of the poppy, he pursues oblivion in vin délimité, which may account for his present good spirits. Good spirits cursed by the vine! I fear his idleness corrupts him except for the most trivial distractions which he presently pursues. Time will tell whether he will embrace life or succumb to it. In the meantime, I concentrate on my legacy as a distraction from my fears for Friedrich.

The years have been kind to me. My estates are well run and I can begin to seek the leisure of which I have been so longed denied. The daily cares and preoccupations are now handled almost exclusively by the dirigiste estate master, and I can once again envision occasion for travel and distraction as I had had in my youth.

Pardon me my dear lady, I have lost myself in the ponderous meanderings of my once disciplined pen! Thus madam, in response to your dear invitation, please tell me if the month of July would be pleasing you to begin my idyll at your fine home in the New World. I have longed to see the manor that all say you have made your own with great style and taste. Naturally, I also long to see Emile. I met him as a boy at school, but I have never really known the man he has become, apart from your letters. I trust Friedrich will still be there as well, enjoying your magnificent hospitality.

Please do write as I am in great haste to receive your reply.

Your devoted friend and servant,

George Mathison

April 30, 1852

Dear Dr. Mathison:

Your letter would have surprised me had I not known of your fine spirit and generosity. As I do it confirmed again my positive impression of you and hastens my desire to see you here at Greycliff. Emile, of course, will be delighted. He is my mainstay and my anchor. His early timidity has vanished into an impassive façade, which I am confident signifies a wall of granite moral purity. A man of few words with still waters of great depth, unerring analytical powers, he is the rock on which I depend to run Greycliff. Naturally, we are all delighted that Friedrich has made his home here this summer on our terrace over the great cliffs surveying the mighty river. He seems content but quiet, as if contemplating his life at all times. He never betrays the unspeakable thing that you describe as the tragedy.

But I confess to be overcome with trepidation about the reference you made in your letter to this tragedy. Pray, do tell me of Friedrich’s tragedy; I had no idea he had experienced one? He is due to return imminently from town and I wish to relate to you his state of mind and behavior that pervades him, that is, prior to your own arrival here. It would help me understand him if I learned of the abyss, which I believe you seem to confirm he confronts daily. I abhor the thought that Friedrich may well be confronting the horror that destroyed Addams! They were cousins bound by a terrible familial secret, I fear.

However distracted I am by Friedrich’s moods; I believe that God is good and will bless Friedrich with peace of mind as much as He has blessed him with wealth and brilliance. It gnawed upon Addams of this vast disinheritance by his own grandfather and the riches that he conveyed upon Friedrich. I almost recoil to speak of such sordid worldly matters, but there it is. That was what drove poor Addams to the poppy and into an early grave in Shropshire.

Boris will also be pleased to see you. He has improved of late.

Your visit is much anticipated. An entire floor is open for you, and I do hope this sojourn will be a long one. Friedrich has been eagerly looking forward to your presence since he has arrived from London. While I agree that he has improved a great deal, there is still that melancholia that pervades him and, furthermore, mysteries: his disappearances every night being the most fearsome. Perhaps I should not alert you to these and perhaps discourage your visit, but I feel it you should be forewarned that often Friedrich cannot be found for days at a time and when he does return, he is in such a deplorable state that he must be cared for by his manservant until he has recovered. I hesitate to even to write about in general terms, let alone what I have seen which disturbs me profoundly. I guess vainly at its cause. Perhaps you have not heard of his latest scandals? Of course not, how could you? Yes, I say scandals, and though I love Friedrich, he threatens his reputation and that of my own in the English Neighborhood. Often, Emile distracted by his concern for Friedrich, will journey fearlessly into the night seeking him out, dreading that he may have confronted disaster. Emile returns from these missions of recue in the early morning looking gray, haggard and speechless at his efforts. It is almost as if he has taken on the ragged personality of Friedrich in his concern for him.

I have come to believe the beguiling luminance of the moon and the dark comfort of night prevails upon Friedrich when dusk is nigh. Friedrich demonstrates a lunar obsession evidenced by his sundry collection of crepuscular objects: paintings, books, and other ephemera which he has filled his apartments with here. I believe it is this obsession with the moon, his endless idleness and his enrapture with the vine that causes these bizarre and disturbing disappearances. These have even begun to trouble the local constable of late. The ignorant and credulous villagers are distraught by rumors of a beast’s shadowed guise that has been seen roaming by night close to a woodland farm where innocent and God-fearing innocents have been found dead, their mutilated corpses in a state too horrible to relate here in this missive. I have lost little time in questioning Friedrich as to whether he has had contact with anyone in the English Neighborhood during his midnight rambles who may have information to these heinous attacks and murders, but Friedrich is dumb to my requests. He simply stares at me, drooling slightly, smoking on the pipe and utters cryptically, “For whom, for whom?” Dear doctor I now shut myself in my rooms convinced that I am harboring a madman! And, truth to tell, Emile is useless in such matters, paralyzed by his character and timidity.

Were this not distressing enough, I am told of almost endless inchoate revelries at the most disreputable taverns in the neighborhood catering to estate laborers and farm workers of the basest variety where lately Friedrich consorts. He claims a strong desire to emancipate them from the onerous burden of their lives. Often, he brings them to Greycliff to idle away hours in his apartments here. I suspect that he introduces them to the intoxication wrought by the vine but I am unsure, yet I am certain that nothing good can come of such flagrant mixing of castes. I find myself trembling with rage at his heedless disregard for the God-given estate which we must observe in social intercourse, and, though it deeply pains me to admit, I think sordid, uncharitable thoughts. I call upon the blood of our Lord to cleanse me. And you Dr. Mathison, I call upon you and your resolute moral impulse to return the world to its spherical balance and until your arrival, please forgive my expression as it is due to the almost hysterical anxiety that has gripped me of late. I speak to God privately about this matter with no solace from my daily prayers to Him.

As I write to you my fears grow sordid and darker, much like the frigid shadows of an early, chill, and fading winter day, and are almost unfathomable as I go about my matron’s duties. If you may pardon my use of your Christian name, I implore you George as a respectable and God-fearing scholar that you depart for Greycliff post haste!

Your most humble ally in Christ,

Martha Braddock

June 7, 1852

Dearest Martha,

Fearsome as they may be and terrifying in their scope, I am greatly relieved that you have taken your concerns into my trust and consideration. My father often spoke of your noble and chivalrous nature, and I am pleased to come upon both as you need your mainstay of indissoluble benevolence and righteousness on which to lean. You, madam, are the county’s champion and the exemplar of what my brother believes is the light of heaven lit on Earth’s decadent shore. You, I believe, and you alone, may be Friedrich’s savior from the evil that encroaches upon his spirit.

The tragedy to which I alluded can barely be spoken or written of by good Christian people as it bears the mark of the beast! I pray that gossip about him has not bedeviled the English Neighborhood, as Friedrich began to dwell on the gossip that surrounded him here previously in Bohemia; idle gossip of the small and uneducated minds of the local populace. Pray, did I not tell you of this? It would appear that a pattern has been established and is repeating, just as the fear of the wild beast that ran rampant over the countryside sundering the lives of the poor villagers has taken a vicious hold on their lives and spirits. How may I put it without violating the convention of spirit and gentility on which your spirit should rest? It must be said: a young girl’s throat was torn asunder and her body found torn to shreds. Some say it is merely a wild boar that has found its situation here. What can I make of it except this? That there was a monster run amok amongst our gentle people!

However, while your strength in our Lord is resolute, your black outlook has prompted me to depart for America on the next clipper, and I hope to arrive within four weeks’ time. I am sure we will triumph over wickedness in all its manifestations, including the daemons that presently befuddle the moral standard of our beloved Friedrich.

Your eternal friend and ally in Christ,

George Mathison

June 10, 1852

Honorable Constable Cumberbauld:

It is with the greatest reluctance that I have embarked on the writing of this missive, but I cannot wait any longer to seek your counsel and impulse in this matter, as the behavior of my close relation now has attracted the unwanted attention of the local populace. Should their revulsion at his moral turpitude be further inflamed by the recent scandals near the village, I fear they will take matters in their own hands, blaming him for crimes they suspect his complicity in, when, I do believe and I do assert that he is blameless.

Because of my great fear, I must take you in close confidence, even intimacy, and please do forgive me if this frankness troubles you. The source of this consternation is my dear friend Friedrich, whom I am afraid is preoccupied by visions occasioned by ingestion of the mushroom.

You may ask what mushroom, but I am not at liberty to say. However, it induces considerable mystical effects upon its imbiber, which may cause a complete loss of connection with social obligation and mores, and an abject rejection of righteousness and Christian morality. It envelops the user in decadent fantasies and perverse sensuality. It is, alas, not the first time Friedrich has conducted himself under the influence of the mushroom, just as you might indulge in a good glass of stout to chase away the debilitating effects of life’s sordid tedium. Stout, however, is the choice of the righteous; the salt of the earth whose feet are both placed firmly aground, rather than the choice of a madman with too much liberty in life and illicit secrets to bear.

Friedrich has, as many brilliant and vastly superior gentlemen of his class sometimes are, occasionally also been enthralled by the poppy, as you know, though I had hoped he would not succumb to it as my great nephew Addams had, and I know he is a slave to the grape as well, and an unrepentant hemp adherent. It gives us displeasure, but there it is; willful indulgence of his senses, which will lead to further debauchery, of that there is no question. That is our problem; however a solution to Friedrich’s moral spiral may be too shocking to consider or too unfortunate to ignore? I cannot say, but I do sympathize with the good village mothers who witness their sons’ beguilement by a gentleman whose moral compass has been shattered.

I long to understand the motivation that prompts Friedrich to consume these devilish florae, but I am bedeviled by ignorance on the matter. I speculate, but I do not know.

I am aware that the village is already in an uproar over the recent murders in the vicinity. Recently, there has been talk reported to me that some have begun to suspect Friedrich of these loathsome killings. Absurd? Certainly, but dangerous to his standing and safety in the community and here at Greycliff, without question. Something must be done to avoid further contagion by these horrors. We must protect Friedrich from himself and we must gird ourselves and our proud mansion-house against calamity. After all, we know what became of Addams and it is with the utmost alacrity that we must intervene. I entreat you to reveal your counsel. I bow to your given wisdom sir.

Your devoted confidant and ally in Christ,

Martha Braddock

June 24, 1852

Dearest Lady Braddock:

My Lady, my charge of public safety is the steel that supports me through every day of vicious rumor and evil doing. It propels me through the years as I encounter both the basest of human intent and its most noble achievement, such as your own refined, chivalrous and soothing letter of this month.

Unfortunately, the recent and appalling death of a poor young maiden (of which I was sorely distressed to hear) suggests to me that no one is safe; whether due to a monster roaming unchecked or because of your beloved relation run amok, and otherwise blamed for such shocking crimes, however unfairly.

We must rise Madam, rise as I do daily, to confront crime and bestial intent is all its many forms.

Yours most humbly,

Charles Cumberbauld, Constable

July 1, 1852

Dear Dr. Mathison:

I am uneasy now since you wrote to me alluding to Friedrich’s tragedy and your intent to visit as I have had not had word about your intended departure and expected arrival date, since your June letter has just arrived with no further word or appearance by you. I now fear that you will not arrive, as you have previously telegraphed from Southampton in your past departures. While we have had considerable epistolary intercourse due to Friedrich’s headlong chase into calamity, I hesitated to address you by your Christian name in the past but did so, although I think it is quite clear that our mutual concerns have united us in a quest that loosens the bonds of convention. Thus, I take the extraordinary request of again addressing you as George. Rather than thinking me heedless, I must explain that there has been a dramatic turn of events that makes Friedrich’s situation, and our own, very perilous indeed.

Friedrich has taken under his tutelage a young man from a family of minimal means and no distinction. He has chosen to dress him by his own haberdasher and provides him with an income. The young man is driven about town déshabillé in Friedrich’s carriage as he carries out the responsibilities formerly engaged by his manservant Denholm. The villagers are aghast and in an uproar over this flagrant social impeachment.

Due to the course of events that have descended as a vile whirlwind on this proud house and my good name, I, shockingly, have taken the liberty of addressing Friedrich directly about these matters, but he is not engaged by the subject. Instead, he stares out the window while he draws on that plebian clay pipe containing the daemon’s mix that has brought us to this precipice of disaster and laughs and smiles in the manner of a perverted lunatic.

Emile has been helpless and adrift in this matter. He is a fine person, generous in spirit, God-fearing and respectable but often timid in the ways of the world. In ordinary matters he is a great resource and staff on which to lean but in matters of great calamity he is adrift as I.

I am beside myself George and I can only hope that you arrive posthaste to help me do what I have committed myself to the Lord to exact as predestined arbiter of moral and sacred duty.

Your lady in sorrow,

Martha Braddock

August 3, 1852

Dearest Martha,

I write with despair as the ship which bears me to America is now engulfed in a raging tempest that, I fear, will take my life and that of my fellow passengers and the devoted crew.

I realize this missive must remain unmailed unless and until we reach that distant Nova Scotia shore. It may never come to light, but I have entered its contents into my diary and I shall mail this letter to you upon arrival in Halifax, God willing. I pray that our sacred faith in Christ upholds me against this wicked vortex that the natural world has exacted on my urgent journey to assist you and yours in a situation that is as dangerous as the storm that flails all about me. I huddle with the other trembling passengers aboard the creaking behemoth cargo hold of the SS Livia.

My hope is tested but my faith in Christ’s victory over the elements is secure, although it may come too late for me to survive. I only regret that I cannot defend you in your hours of horror occasioned by Friedrich’s multitude of sins. I pray daily to Christ to help us all.

Your unwavering suppliant to the Godhead,

George Mathison

August 10, 1852

Honorable Constable Cumberbauld:

It is with great regret that I received your missive. While I wish to assure you that this is mere village gossip it is with the greatest sorrow that I must confirm your thesis.

My guest, Friedrich von Mueller, is a personage of the finest reputation and unimpeachable lineage. That he has endured and recovered from travail that few men could comprehend or survive speaks to his superior character. I entreat you to help us during this disastrous episode.

The only fault that I find that is mistakenly attributed to Friedrich is his wanton generosity of spirit and incautious generosity of self. He is kind, God-loving and a man of severe distinction. That people in town, their motives unknown, impugn his character with the most vicious accusations convinces me that Friedrich himself is blameless. He is envied. He is feared. He is rich and he does not apologize for his fortune nor his unique character. His is a blessed soul, guised in shadow and masquerading in umber, yet a finer being that neither you nor I nor the villagers could ever comprehend. Yet, I fear him, if truth be told, as I cannot fathom what motivates his dubious choices in life.

The shocking and daemon-sotted murder of the village maiden provoked Emile into a black humor of which I have never seen; both he himself and Friedrich locked themselves in their rooms for days afterward. Meals had to be left for both men. This atmosphere of catastrophe tears at the very fabric of my life, I must confess.

My son Boris, a young man of considerable quiet charm but of unbounded fear, is aghast at the situation as he frequently engages in sylvan sojourns to collect the local fungi of which he has made a great study.

Please use your considerable influence to restrain the villagers from their wanton and sinful impregnation against Mr. von Mueller’s character as I know you have the means; please use it for the sake of our moral rectitude.

Your devoted neighbor in Christ,

Martha Braddock

August 17, 1852

Dearest Emile:

It is most unfortunate, indeed disastrous, that you left me suddenly to attend to business matters in London, as I am at the cusp of a hideous incurvation of destiny that threatens me and my beloved Greycliff. I actually feared for my life yesterday as the horror enveloped the dim, black, gale-tossed night.

Alas, the beast is reported again to be amongst us and the villagers barricade themselves in their homes nightly for fear that their throats will be ripped open by a fiend, perhaps the Devil himself! Who can say in the world we live in where gentlemen of means consort with idle youth flushed with sensual pride?

As my clock struck twelve and I readied myself for a good night’s rest, I became aware of a mur-mur of rage. The wind lashed the property with gales of rain and thunder which struck from the skies with such mounting ferocity that the God-fearing amongst the servants were almost certain that the Day of Judgment was upon us! The angry villagers attempted to storm the gates of my beloved home but were driven away by the estate dirigiste and his corps of loyal militia men on which we now so desperately depend.

Constable Cumberbauld has been sympathetic but ineffective. I fear that despite my worship of Friedrich’s excellence, his dubious distinctions of character may dominate my ability to safeguard our lives and my precious home for much longer. It is one thing to stand by a friend who has borne tragedy, but it is another entirely when that friend is oblivious to your own needs and the impact their heinous acts may cause one.

Emile Upson, I am your devoted friend and confidante, but you have betrayed me and our love of God!

I release you of my care as I release Friedrich.

Pray for us sinners Reverend Upson, pray for us, as cascading channels of rain pour down upon the cold stones of Greycliff and my vision of moral collapse and impending Calamity is clearly within view. You will be seen to the gates by me when you return, to relocate your home elsewhere, pos haste!

Your unwavering suppliant in Christ,

Martha Braddock

August 21, 1852

Dearest Martha,

I understand the calamity upon which your being is fixed. Alas, there is nothing more than I may do. We made landfall on a small island off of Nova Scotia, the ship battered and nearly wrecked. We are guaranteed safe return to England or eventual delivery to New York. I have chosen the former as I am injured and distraught by the seething disaster, which I have barely survived.

I respond thus with the utmost sadness. I do have confidence that the Lord has a plan for you that at this point is unclear but which will serve your moral outcome and regeneration of hope.

I know how you love and respect Friedrich and are in awe of his great intellect; that love and awe is God’s presence on Earth.

Your eternal friend and ally in Christ,

George Mathison

September 2rd, 1852

Dear Dr. Mathison:

I have received your missive of the 13th and I fear that this has ruptured my faith in our sacred friendship. You also seem to harbor a tragic misunderstanding of my attitude toward Friedrich.

Love Friedrich? Respect him? How can one love a man deserted by God most high? Rejected by our God in heaven as Friedrich repudiated the moral tenets on which the purity and success of our race rests. Where is your compassion as I hear the bells tolling in the village marking the latest funeral of a poor murdered wretch? It is credible to me that such a man could transform into a wild beast capable of mauling the throats of innocents when the full moon is nigh. I am capable of believing anything that will drive the memory of that wicked and independent man into oblivion. It is God’s will. I know that to be true. It is God’s right. And it was my choice.

I came upon him in his apartments here one morning breakfasting with one of those ruffians with which he chose to associate himself. They were both dressed but in such a casual fashion that any gentleman of any sense of propriety and distinction would have weighed on his conscience and forced him to robe himself in suitable garments. But he is above such conventions, above such social comportment, above God and above all of us. He laughed at us, laughed at me, for seeking to maintain the standards upon which my life and my estate are managed for the Grace of God.

“Tell me my good woman, how are you this morning? You look perturbed,” he wickedly inquired as I stood before him, aghast at his audacity. To my disgust he swayed slightly and his “companion” caught him by the elbow to steady his uncertain balance. He then turned to his “companion’ and laughed a bit. They both laughed. Laughed at me and our Lord.

I said nothing.

“Martha, pray tell what you are thinking? I asked you how you were? Are you feeling poorly? Devin, does she look poorly to you? You have that look about you when the universe has not aligned itself to your pleasure.”

I said nothing of his impertinence and distasteful contempt that he exhibited freely in front of the youth of low caste. I did not relate my thoughts to him then, but asked him to dine with me that evening should he be free. I was quite clear that the youth Devin was not to participate.

“Ah Martha, I have offended you when I only want you to laugh. And of course, we shall dine together. I am so sorry that it has taken me so long during my visit to spend the time with you that I had sought.”

That evening we dined grandly and intimately as I have never been one to display my own feeling toward those of this world who would disregard the suffering of our Lord for momentary sensual pleasure. I choose, instead, to appear to cultivate tolerance as one cultivates an orchid: in an artificial and fragile environment.

He went on without tact or consideration of my station, “Your dedication to our Christian Lord is touching but it seems to conceal a greater truth: your son Boris was born under questionable circumstances and your husband has never been revealed. Are you seduced by the appearance of moral certitude when you are in fact in doubt about your own circumstance and those close to you?

I dare say that I have little regard for the deranged imaginations of men who seek to impose their own moral failings on those around them. I cannot countenance such moral turpitude, but I forego any inclination towards personal vengeance which propels me to the justice that the community cries for.

I expelled him from my presence. I demanded that he leave my good house.

Your unwavering suppliant in Christ,

Martha Braddock

Oct. 7th, 1852

Honorable Constable Cumberbauld:

I am writing to you from my house in the country far from Greycliff and all that sadness that it harbors. I do not know when I will return; it is fruitless to seek me out as no one knows of my oasis of quiet and reflection.

How is that those whom I trusted now fail me in their word and deed?

Friedrich will no longer bring shame and dishonor to my house and my name. It was divine intervention which inspired me to drive him from my home; drive home from the company of good and just citizens. There is no excuse or rationale that may explain this vile behavior. That explains the seedy, unctuous charm and rationalizing for his monstrous actions. Friedrich is the beast who beguiles! He is not deserved of any empathy, pity or help. Satan has sired a human incubus who laughs at his origins just as he delights in them.

Was it an accident or the all-knowing Will of God that found Boris and I roaming the thick forest that surrounds my Greycliff as we sought to witness Friedrich’s departure? The air had the bite of oncoming cold but it felt stimulating and liberating from the heated, oppressive thoughts which I had lately had. It temporarily freed me from my fears and my commitment to righting the wrongs done to my Lord’s work on Earth.

Emile has returned many weeks now from a trip to London and it was at this time that the attacks upon the populace increased, establishing doubt about the Will of the Almighty and wondering if the cause of all of these ravages may be not human, not animal, but a monster and Satan incarnate!

I escorted Friedrich to the wood where his coach had been fitted while he begged for the mercy of my understanding his perverted nature, he who had ignored the mercy of our Lord’s blood, who reviled the glorious routine of life, that of subjugating oneself to the Godhead. As the sun set and the moon rose a roar was heard. We both stared; staggered. Then the roar was heard again. And it was a roar. A God forsaken sound; yes, I truly mean yes, God forsaken, as if God had chosen to look elsewhere when anticipating what would come next. And what came next? Too terrifying in its wickedness to anticipate.

Standing, no, swaying as if he could not stand, was Boris. Another with whom my life was allied but who kept secrets from me. I know not how he has kept these from me due to his kindly, shrinking nature. He has kept that side of him from me and now all I can do is wonder at the atrocities with which he devoted himself.

Boris was there in what I discovered was one of his wild, mad ramblings. I did not know these to be happening and I blamed Friedrich even as I understood that I had no proof that Friedrich was part of the vile doings and sinful crimes haunting the good citizens of the English Neighborhood.

Boris staggered out of the wood, the dark claustrophobic wood with eyes that seemed bright and piercing but at the same time fixed and unseeing, as if he were transfixed by a miracle of invisible magnificence. He shined in the moonlight with blood-sotted garments.

“Boris,” I stuttered, shaking. “Boris, what does this mean? You are covered in blood. What does this mean? What does this mean,” I shouted, then screamed again and again, “What does this mean?”

He stared at me and staggered a bit and then lurched forward as if in a trance, but still with that wild, bright dead look in his eyes and blood dripping down his chin!

“It means I am the beast. Satan is my father!”

Friedrich by this time had come to his feet and stared at us both, shook himself off and then fled into his coach which lurched into hasty flight. I have never seen him again after that night.

“Boris,” I sobbed, “you cannot mean what you say. Boris, my beloved, oh Boris,” was all I could say.

“Yes,” he cried, “yes, yes” was all that he sneered. “I have visited all those unfortunates who are beguiled by the lies of the Christ who hold the common people in his scorn. He holds their souls by his filthy incantation which has captured their honor. I visit upon them liberation. I grant clemency to the poor laborers, maids, merchants and others on whom we exploit for our own pleasures. I give them back their freedom by tearing out their throats. I give them back to themselves never to be left as slaves at the door of the devil, Christ himself.”

Hearing these heinous lies from my very flesh and that of Reverend Upton, of whom I had so carefully educated and cultivated so that he would be the exemplar that my position demands of children, was a tremendous shock. I reeled and had to gather myself together to sustain the wicked moral blows that come from a man not capable of restraining his basest impulses. I had to restrain myself and devise a plan rapidly to find a solution to the terrifying revelations that I bore witness to now.

Finally, I fled the dark wood, almost unable to place myself in the correct direction and then saw the beaming tower of Greycliff, its candlelit windows glowing through the mist and flew to its sanctuary.

I barely slept that night, as I was visited by the most loathsome visions and daemons in my dreams. Those who loved me in life had become monsters in my nightmares and I tossed and grabbed my pillows in desperate need for comfort. My cat Maximillian came to me sensing my distress and without fear and without hesitation, curled up in my bosom and we both slept until the grey dawn lifted the night from the misty extent of my beloved mansion house.

The next day I stared at a young man who passed through the door admitted by my butler, Denholm. He was not a gentleman; however, he need not be, as I could see that his gentle bearing was far superior to gentle breeding. He smiled shyly at me and I recognized him as one of the companions that Friedrich kept most company with. He had an intelligent, eager face. When he spoke, he betrayed that appearance, as his speech was of a rough hew. But though of rough hew it was hewn from pure nature; a golden spring morning or a clean winter night swept by heady winds, or an autumn day, brilliant and bracing. He sought out Friedrich, unaware that he had fled for good.

I came to my senses quickly. Satan has not beguiled me…yet! At that moment, I knew that I am now completely surrounded by daemons who seek to destroy the goodness that I work to maintain and enlarge! Satan had presented this lovely boy with his manner to entrap me into believing that there is no fault of sin here. I was momentarily blinded by his apparently gentle nature and sweet innocence, but I knew after a moment that it was a mask. The loathsome mask of The Beast! He beguiles, ignorant of the noble nature of man and fully engaged by its loathsome, coarse, sensual pleasure and riddled by filth and corruption.

I drove him from my house.

Your servant,

Martha Braddock

Oct. 31st, 1852

Dearest Martha:

I must report to you my need to immediately return to my estates in Bohemia. Since our last meeting I have retreated to a hotel in the English Neighborhood.

Regrettably this visit has revealed a schism in our mutual affection and care for one another. In our youth, you were my beloved friend, a young girl of faith and innocence. Yet the woman you have become, challenged by travail, has suffered profoundly the effects of sordid care. I often do not recognize you either physically or emotionally. Where is my friend of yore? The eyes that regard me suspiciously and with disdain frighten me beyond mere words; they divide my soul into a yearning spirit and a fleeing one.

Yes, I am an inebriate. Yes, I favor the company of the laborers whom I have come to know working my estates. I have come to know their thoughts, their hopes, but mostly their suffering. All these years I had no idea of their plight. They did not complain of the wretched payment for their diligence; the terrible hovels they returned to at night. I came upon these by accident but I did not come by their hovels by accident. As I came to know them, I visited them often. My gestures of humanity might bring change and did. They are by birth, shining examples of manhood and humanity, physically developed by their hard labor and emotionally demonstrative as no one has shown them the slightest care. Yet, I became reviled by you when I exhibited the same attitude toward the laboring classes here as I had in Bohemia wishing to fulfill their ample capacity for enjoyment.

I know for all your fine words, your exalted regard for me, you do not trust me and can no longer understand the man I have become. Perhaps you will bring to your forsaken son the affection whose lack has opened a grave between us. Boris needs you. He is lost in his tragedy.

Why you may ask that I show concern for your son? He is cursed by an evil nature of murder and torture, for which he has no control and so profound are his crimes that you may never be able to really absorb how truly vile his spirit is, a product of you and your withered lover. Oh yes, I know of you and Emile Upton, how scorned you are by him yet you cling to him as a vine to a dead tree, knowing that you are nothing to him, but with no one else on whom to depend or seek succor.

You guard these facts with your very soul as you flee from them. I am sorry and fearful for you Martha.

Faithfully yours,

Friedrich von Mueller

November 26th, 1852

Diary entry

Last night I took a long walk through the dark forest, hooded by foreboding and confined by the chill gloom. The moon was little more than a sliver this cursed evening, but the stars shown through clouds scudding through the cosmos over my beloved refuge deep in the wooded province of the Marlborough Mountains. For the first time I felt free of my fears and hatreds; free of the memory of Friedrich’s bestial habits.

Boris is watched and cosseted by me as he playfully torments the small animals that I find for him. It is not his fault that he cannot contain his perversions. He is a victim of them and not the son of the Beast that he thinks. I try to protect him from himself. I remove the animals if he becomes too vicious with them. They are God’s creatures.

We have come to stay here for now far from Greycliff and the angry village. Boris craved passion as much as he was incapable of it; and this diversion of a natural impulse made him pursue a blood lust, perpetrating his crimes throughout the neighborhood. I could not, I would not allow the constable the knowledge of Boris’s sad nature to be discovered. He would have no choice than to prosecute him; and the publicity might overwhelm the villagers with a lust for vengeance that I know they feel entitled. Oh, Emile! That we sired a son and could not give him a proper name because he was ours as a love child, not born of a God-given union. The fiction that he was Addams’s abandoned child has weighed heavily on me.

He is safe here far from Greycliff. He will stay here and be cared for by the staff of my country home when I return to my Greycliff. He will be forgotten as I have forgotten my past. I have forgotten everything and everyone as they have forgotten and forsaken me. I need only think about how many told me how important I was to them; how dear to them I was with my great house and my fine table. But when it came to helping me when all others had deserted me, I had come to discover it was all a ruse.

It’s necessary to forget. I will forget Boris and I will forget Emile and all of the men on whom I relied. Yes, I am a shadowed guise too, living as I do without human anchor and thrust into a situation for which I have no resolution, no hope. These men on whom I depended and who freely addressed me by my Christian name while I subjugated myself to their imperious self-importance, I despise. God forgive me.

Friedrich has left. I have his last letter from town trembling in my hand. He must not be exonerated of his sin. Yes, Satan is his father as well. I am the only staff on which I may lean and it is a heavy burden. Is this not correct? God’s indifference is something that I find to be palpable and powerful.

I had wanted to kill Friedrich. I wished to return righteousness to the local orbit and to remind all who cared to witness that the social unit on which we must all depend must not be trammeled by Satan’s wickedness present in a man contemptuous of the Almighty and ignorant of the triumph of Jesus over Beelzebub. I tell you that I would have killed him by firing from one revolver a bullet blessed by our local chaplain and tipped with silver. Perhaps readers of my private thoughts will think me superstitious and unfitting for a woman devoted to our Lord.

But it would have been the will of God who would have struck him down using my hand as his means, yea, for all who care to know, by my hand as his means!

Winning pieces are published as received.


Fiction Potluck

July 2023

First Place Winner:

Claude Chabot

“Claude Chabot” has published five short stories and has produced four radio plays based on his own stories. He addresses the conflicts and changes his characters experience while traveling, and also writes ghost stories, mysteries and myriad others. He has written one novel and is at work on two others.

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