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Sunday, March 14

From the Diaries of Peter M. Sexton ● Santiago de Cuba, 1920

Sunday, March 14

It is now late in the night, halfway to morning, but I will try to put down all that happened this day, as difficult as that may be. Sleep is lost anyway, for I fear what dreams would come.

To begin, I tried in vain to attend the mass dedicated to praying for the recuperation of Mister Seagrave, but I must have misheard the name and address of the church that our landlady specified, since there was only a tobacconist’s at that location and no one had heard of La Iglesia de la Cruz Sagrada. Some passersby suggested possibilities, but my searching and inquiries all came to naught. Late, lost, and worn out from walking, I finally took my chances on a small stone church in a side street where I could hear the services just beginning; it was humble to look upon, but it had an air of dignity and welcome that yet gave me hope. At any rate, I had to attend mass somewhere, and while one has the luxury of being sectarian in one’s own familiar territory, I believe that when traveling any Christian house of God is serviceable; even if points of liturgy differ, surely the intention is the same.

I sat in the rear, in the furthermost pew, and looked over the congregation of mantillas and bowed, oiled heads. There was a mixture of whites and negroes attending the mass, the two races even sharing pews with one another. In fact, a black man sat across the center aisle from me, well-dressed in a white linen suit and high collar that made his skin look even darker in the gloom, a hue indescribable, like obsidian. He noticed me looking at him, so I bowed. He gave a short, dignified bow in return, like a host at a dinner party, and resumed his devotions.

The celebrant was a small, serious priest who I judged to be of partial Indian blood, though it was difficult to say in the dim candlelight. The narrow stained-glass windows like arrow-slits were in the shade of the buildings situated cheek-by-jowl on either side of the church, and so there was a close, cave-like atmosphere within the space. The darkness was intensified by the somber paintings of the Passion of Christ that hung on the walls, all apparently created by the same hand. These shared an unusual technique or quality by which the Savior always seemed to be at a certain remove, the cross terribly high, his face indistinct. He was subtly outsized, like a destroyed explorer in a land of pygmies, and beneath the crucifixion the people were as a swarm, followers weeping, rabbis arguing, soldiers gambling for his clothes. The eye was drawn down to the churn of this horde while the pale pinned figure hovered in the air, all but blended in with the steam-like clouds to become a feature of the sky.

There were peculiar aspects to the mass as well; the psalms and ceremonies were unfamiliar to me, and there seemed to be no missals anywhere. Perhaps the congregation was illiterate? I followed along the best I could, and of course the Gospel does not change so very much from church to church, or so I thought; I was surprised to hear a passage being read that I did not recognize, a cryptic episode from the life of Christ involving a visit to a tomb in a place called Danaea; at the conclusion, this reading was attributed to something called the “Gospel of Simon.” Meanwhile, I had noticed a heavy, blood-colored curtain at the rear of the altar; throughout the service I had assumed it to be ornamental or something to a utilitarian alcove, but at the end of the mass this was drawn back with ceremony while the congregation knelt and hid their faces. Behind it was a woman.

At first, I mistook this apparition for an idol; she sat still as a statue on a gilded chair, and she was clad in golden robes that were covered in shining medallions, polished to brilliance. Her face was painted like a mask, the eyes exaggerated, the mouth defined with a draughtsman’s line, but subtly it moved and I saw it was alive—a living Virgin! The woman was still and silent as the congregation prayed before her—even the priest bowed and kneeling now—but then there was a quiet sobbing; an older woman in black stepped forward, her face buried in her hands. She voiced a lament that I could not hear and moved towards the blazing figure; when she reached the edge of the carpeted altar she clumsily tripped and landed face-down. Alarmed, I rose to help her, but then realized that none of the people in the church had moved, or even flinched, least of all the figure in gold. The woman picked herself up and continued upon her knees to the feet of the Virgin, and now the stifled sobs turned into a piercing wail of sorrow. She lay her head on the lap, one arm thrown across, the other gripping the knee, and I could see tears running down her face. Fast, hot words came from her mouth, but I could not hear what they were, and all the while she sobbed on, drenching the woman in the golden dress in sorrow.

From the corner of my eye I saw a glint of white, and I turned to see the negro watching me. His eyes fixed mine and he shook his head solemnly, and then he bowed in reverence with the rest. I was not supposed to be watching. Blushing, I bowed my head too.

* * *

When I returned to the house there was a great busyness taking place; I could hear Doña Calvo y López giving orders to someone in the kitchen, and out in the dining room Ayana was in her cleaning-day clothes and was polishing silver at a furious speed. When I asked her what was the occasion she told me that the doctors were releasing Mordecai Seagrave from the hospital and that Miss Pulver would be bringing him to Sunday dinner. In his honor we were to have a ham, and there would be a bottle of port as well. I told her to expect my attendance, after which I ascended the stairs to my room.

Strange occurrences and customs had so become a part of my daily routine in recent days that I was only mildly surprised when I heard a great thumping noise at the landing and spied a pair of white rubber-soled sneakers running in short steps on the stairs over my head. I leaned across the banister to investigate and was treated to the sight of Miss Karas in short pants and a grey cotton undershirt bouncing up and down on the stairhead above. She faced away from me, climbing forwards and then descending backwards, and as she bobbed up and down I could see her pistoning a medicine ball to and from her chest. Her coarse black hair bounced around unfettered, and there was a great huffing and puffing as though a locomotive were passing by.

I stood staring in amazement, partially because I was struck by the strength and agility of the girl, and partially, I must confess, because her movements were mesmerizing; her calves and triceps were like smooth elastic, and her backside bounced like a pair of bagged geese on a buckboard.

“Good afternoon, Mister Sexton.” I blinked and realized that the young woman had ceased hurtling herself about and was now looking at me over her shoulder.

“Ah, Miss Karas. I had heard a rumpus, that is to say a noise, and I was, ah, investigating the, well…what I mean to say is…am I to understand that this is your exercise regimen?”

“Quite so. Catch!”

I was not aware that medicine balls were quite so heavy, and I suddenly found myself on the floor. When the pinpricks of light had swirled out of my vision I found Miss Karas standing over me with her hand outstretched.

“Mister Sexton, I’m surprised at you. I would call that very poor coördination indeed.” She helped me to a standing position but did not let go of my hand. “Squeeze please.” I did as instructed, and with her other hand she palpated the muscles of my arm, then released me. “Satisfactory,” she pronounced, “but with room for improvement, I should think.”

“I apologize for staring, I was just curious about your exercises.”

“Quite natural,” she said, still puffing somewhat from the exertion. Her face was wet with perspiration, tendrils of hair sticking to her cheeks and neck; that aspect was unattractive, but at the same time the flush on her skin gave her somewhat horsey features an alluring vitality. “People think of health as merely the absence of sickness, but in our modern world with its convenience and conveyance and communication by wire our bodies are rapidly slipping into atrophy. In one hundred years the human race will all be a pile of damp rags. I tell you now, Mister Sexton, and I will prove it later, that strength training and stamina exercises will eradicate all these diseases that we coddle like pet lambs. Feel that,” she said, pointing to her stomach.

I carefully touched the material of the cotton shirt. “Yes, light and breathable. Proper exercise equipment is very important, I’m sure.”

“No, sir, the muscle.” She grabbed my hand and briefly pressed it to her belly. “What do you feel? Not much slack, I dare say. Abdominal strength is generally overlooked in fitness regimens, but in my opinion…oh dear, Mister Sexton, are you quite all right? You face has gone all red. I am sorry I threw that ball at you. That was unfair of me. You weren’t prepared.”

“No, Miss Karas, I’m all right, I merely bumped my head against the wainscoting.”

“Poor circulation, more like. Would you like me to leave the ball with you? I can easily do without it, and I’m inclined to think that you could benefit from it. You’re never too old, you know! I wanted to pack my dumbbells as well but Helen thought it impractical.”

“Miss Karas, I am touched by your concern, but I would sooner remove my head and dribble it about the staircase like a basketball than deprive you of your exercise machinery for even a moment.”

“Mister Sexton, I rather doubt your head would bounce very high, if at all.”

“Speaking of heads, I hear that Seagrave is to be released?”

The girl froze. “Yes. We’ll all be going home soon,” she said stiffly.

“And is it really true that he’s coming to dine with us tonight? Miss Pulver will be bringing him here?”

The athletic force that I had seen on display a moment ago abruptly vanished; the girl seemed oddly small of a moment. “Yes. In fact I must get myself ready.”

“Do you think she can bring him here by herself? Might she need any help?”

Miss Karas picked up the medicine ball, tucked it under her arm and started to return up the stairs. “You’ll have to ask her yourself, Mister Sexton,” she said with her back turned. “Except I expect that when we next see her she will have already either succeeded or failed, so I suppose the point is moot. Let us hope for the best. Good afternoon.”

* * *

I fell asleep that afternoon and dreamed of strange things. I saw the wayward Israelites in the desert and their golden calf, all framed in a red sky with craggy mountains and campfires like blood. Then within the dream I woke to a room high above a stone city held in the jaws of a jungle valley. Towering over the ramparts on a great pedestal was a terrible creature the size of a mountain, a calf reclining, but with a horrifying, awful head, its eyes sweeping in different angles, the mouth open to a red maw. Its fur writhed like a flood of snakes, stretched as it was over unfleshed, shardlike bones, the ribs great looming claws. Beneath the thing, insect-like people carried offerings, moving forward in a terrified wave, and everywhere there was fire. I awoke for real, then, woke to a terrible wind blowing from the east, roaring over the mountain, and through the window dark purple clouds boiled overhead like ink. The shutters of Santiago trembled in fear of a storm to come, and below on the street I could see the city men holding their hats and peering up in wonder. I felt shaken and confused, a dislocation worsened when I discovered that my father’s pocket watch had stopped; near trembling, I put on a clean shirt and went downstairs to find out the time.

It was dark in the parlor; no lamps had been lit, and the stormlight entered the room eerie and perpendicular. Ayana stood by the window, watching the trees struggle in the wind. Beside her the clock on the mantel said twenty-three minutes after five; I did not have much time before dinner. Then, calamity: I had set my watch and had just begun to wind it when suddenly there was an odd twanging noise, the back popped open like a jack-in-the-box, and a shower of tiny brass gears erupted and flew away in forty different directions. In the sudden instant I froze as I tracked the golden comets, but as each spark flew farther from its source and was swallowed up by the darkness I felt within me a terrible sinking. The watch had belonged to my father, now deceased. How could this have happened?

I howled and dropped to the rug, seeking and feeling. One tiny wheel I found, thin as paper, and I had to tease it up out of the nap where it was held down like a fly in a web. Ayana rushed to my aid, and I told her what had happened. She knelt on the floor beside me and searched, but it was of no use. I stared at the dead clock. My poor father…he was a good man…a better man than I could perhaps ever be. When I was a boy he held it to my ear and I heard the ticking…his lap was broad then, or so it seemed, his waistcoat with its pockets and loops like a secretary with its cubbyholes; here there was tobacco, there a scrap of scripture, and then receipts, snapshots, lozenges, an agate, his pennies. And here was I, thirty years old, far from home, no wife, no sweetheart, no son of my own, not even a pocket watch to mark the time. I felt indescribably sad.

It was just then that there was a great crash from the hallway and a burst of light and wind shot through the house, leaves and pinprick dust crashing upon us like a breaker on the shore. We leapt to our feet and rushed to the hall.

Miss Pulver had arrived. She had her back to the door and was trying to push it closed against the wind; the embroidered hem of her dress blew up and whipped at her knees, bluebird stockings on show. Her feathered hat had tipped forward over her face in a comic fashion, but with a terrific shove of her shoulders and backside the door slammed closed.

“Golly!” she said.

Next to her was a long, dark shadow standing motionless like a great stretched spider. Then Ayana struck a match and lit a lamp, and the shadow became Mordecai Seagrave. He wore a somber brown suit, his face now shaved, his hair combed but uncut. He seemed not to know where he was, or rather not to care; despite the fact that we stood before him, he stared off dully, as though any one corner was as good as another. Gone was the vacant, hollow stare of the first day I saw him, and yet still I sensed an unsettling remove; I could not quite describe it to myself, but it was as if he were sleepwalking through some dream of famine and blood and we were only the shades of strangers within.

“Come, Mordecai, come,” said Miss Pulver brightly, taking her fiancé by the wrist and leading him towards the parlor. “Hello, Ayana, hello Mister Sexton, isn’t it marvelous? Mordecai is here with us now. Just this way, dear.” We followed her to the parlor, where she steered Seagrave into an armchair. She took out her hatpins and started rearranging her hair, which had been teased out of its usual tight formation and had been blown to all the compass points. “Mordecai, this is Mister Sexton, a new friend of ours, a fellow American. I think you will like him very much.”

Seagrave’s head did not move, but his eyes swiveled over and upwards to me. There was no look of recognition, but flatly he said, “I have seen this man before.” His voice seemed to come from a very great distance, like a bell rung in a basement.

Miss Pulver seemed briefly perplexed, but then continued on as before. “Oh, I think you may be mistaken, Mordecai, but of course anything is possible, Mister Sexton has been here in Cuba for some time, I understand, and people cross paths every day.” Mister Seagrave made no further comment, and Miss Pulver asked Ayana to let Doña Calvo y López and Miss Karas know that her friend had arrived. No sooner had she said this when our landlady appeared and began making a terrific fuss over the young man, who at first recoiled at the commotion but then settled back into the same eerie stillness. She asked a hundred questions regarding his health and spirits, all of which were answered by Miss Pulver. The subject of the expedition was mentioned only glancingly, and the disappearance of his three colleagues not at all. Seagrave only looked about the room with sullen indifference. A crack of thunder then rolled through the house and the door banged again to admit my neighbor, Don Peppo; he raised his hat to the company and in Spanish was informed by the hostess of the importance of the occasion. With his usual conviviality the widower pumped Seagrave’s hand, and the victim of this bonhomie betrayed a look of startled confusion, as if the new acquaintance had instead taken hold of his nose and waggled it back and forth. I excused myself and ascended to my room to ready myself for dinner.

When I returned downstairs I learned that the ham would be delayed, but that the residents of the house were nevertheless assembled in the dining room to make ready for the event. Port wine had been decanted for the men and sherry for the ladies, and instead of lamps our hostess had produced two silver candlesticks to add intimacy to the gathering. The Doña sat at one end of the table, her back to the tall garden window, with Don Peppo, the eldest male, facing her at the opposite end. At the hostess’s left, at the far wall, was Mordecai Seagrave, and next to him was his fiancé, Miss Pulver. Miss Karas sat on Don Peppo’s left, and a place was reserved for me at her left elbow. As I entered I could tell that the conversation was centered on the upcoming nuptials between the two young people.

“June is nice, of course,” said Doña Calvo y López, “but perhaps a bit rainy. April is best, I think. I’m sure that Don Peppo will agree with me.” In Spanish she asked the gentleman what month he and his late wife were married, and he confessed that he did not recall, the event having taken place some time ago. She shot him a dark look and continued on as before. “He agrees, April is the best.”

“Ah, but Connecticut is very pretty in June. So many flowers, and butterflies. The carriages to the church will pass by a meadow which is a sea of daffodils, a sea of them! Do you remember that meadow, Mordecai, just by the old stile?”

Mordecai Seagrave was staring off into the corner, but he turned and gave the woman a glance with a slow blink of his eyes. “No.” He sat with his hands in his lap, the glass of reddish gold before him untouched.

“Really, Mordecai, the one next to the Sanford farmhouse,” interjected Miss Karas peevishly. “What’s the matter with you?” I risked a look over at the girl; she was staring at Seagrave and trembling slightly, whether from annoyance or fear I could not tell. Seagrave turned to her and stared back, a hint of tension in his jaw now.

The Doña seemed to be about to speak but she was cut off by Miss Pulver. “Don’t be cruel, Irene, he’s had a shock, he’s doing the best he can. He needn’t remember every little field and pasture.” The words came fast and hot, but her tone was almost a pleading one. She curled her arm through Mordecai’s and tried to slip her hand in his where it limply lay. “You’ll have plenty of time to rest when we return home, dear, and in our old familiar surroundings things will come back to you. We can forget about this whole terrible trouble, we don’t ever have to speak of it again. Don’t strain yourself now, things will be better, I know they will.”

The pathetic, hopeful look in her eyes touched my heart, but to my surprise I thought I saw Seagrave recoil when she mentioned a return home. Then the stony look returned to his face and he shrugged her hand away. “Oh, what are you talking about, woman?”

Miss Karas gasped, and the landlady began to glance about nervously, no doubt out of her depth. For a moment Miss Pulver looked stung, but then composure returned to her face. “But you do remember that we are to be married, you and I? You do remember that, Mordecai, don’t you?” Warily she touched his shoulder, her eyes searching him. “You asked me, and I said yes.”

Mordecai Seagrave’s face was twitching now with ill-concealed vexation. All signs of his former torpor seemed to have disappeared, and yet still he was distant, like a man who was being importuned by someone else’s children, or worse, by some kind of speaking barnyard animal. He finally did collect himself, however, and answered. “Yes…I do remember that.”

There was a pause, then, and my curiosity got the better of me. “I heard you undertook a rather unusual expedition under the water, Mr. Seagrave, do you recall that as well?” I could not help myself.

There seemed to be a flash of something like fear or panic on the young man’s visage, but he brought himself under control quickly and his face changed to a mask of dark intensity. “I know this one,” he said, pointing to me. “The Christian.” It was such an odd utterance that no one seemed to know how to respond at first. Only Don Peppo, who was entirely oblivious to what was being discussed, retained any kind of self-possession. He smiled and lifted his glass of port in salute to our hostess, but no one followed his lead.

“Well, we’re all Christian, aren’t we?” asked Miss Karas.

Again the finger pointed at me. “No, this one is different.” He looked away, off towards the door, as though expecting someone. Then he continued in a low, trance-like voice. “That is an old god. A god of the desert. In the jungle, in the black valley, they worshiped another. They knew much; they knew of the lands underground, and of the stars. Do you understand? Their god spoke. Not silent. It spoke. It had a face! A face…in the valley…I have seen it….” Seagrave drifted away for a moment, and I glanced around me to see masks of confusion and dismay staring back at him. Miss Pulver opened her mouth to say something but he hurried on, speaking, it seemed, directly to me. “The world we come from is from the valley too, from Ur, boiling out, and before that from the god-kingdoms of the Sahara…but here in the West, there was a mirror-kingdom with its mirror-god. You cannot have the light without the dark, do you understand? They say the dark is but the absence of light, but that is a lie, the greatest lie, the greatest conspiracy ever dreamed! And their world was no less than ours. They built cities, temples, grandeur—but only the most unholy knew that the true center was the black valley, hidden away…silent…until…and then…and then….” His eyes stared off to some unknown horizon, bulging like boiled eggs, the candles reflecting red in the whites with a single pinprick of fire in the black. His mouth was stretched in a grimace, the teeth sharp and white.

The table sat in silence. At the ends the two Cubans were baffled and embarrassed, whereas the young women looked stricken and aghast. The terrible truth had finally made itself known, an ugly, terrifying flower blooming in a cowering garden: the young man, their friend and loved one, seemed to have gone completely mad.

Slowly, carefully, Helen Pulver reached out and put her hand on his sleeve. At the moment of contact he flinched. “Everything is going to be all right,” she said. “We’re going to go home. We’re going to go home and everything will be better. You’ll see.”

“Home…?” asked Seagrave, again staring at her as if he had never seen her before.

“To America.”

His eyes narrowed and his voice emerged in a growl, like a beast from its hole: “you understand nothing.”

It was at that moment that Ayana suddenly appeared in the room carrying the ham. She placed it triumphantly before our landlady and directly in the path of Mordecai Seagrave’s gaze. He stared at the piece of meat for a moment, mesmerized, and then we heard his stomach growl. I almost wanted to laugh, and I thought I saw a silly, approving grin drawing itself on Don Peppo’s face, but to our surprise the young man suddenly stood up, grabbed his fork, and stabbed the haunch with it. He picked up his table knife in his other hand and began to awkwardly saw at the meat. The company was stunned.

“Oh, really, Mordecai, let’s, let’s….” Miss Pulver reached out feebly for the tableware, but he showed no sign of relinquishing them, and so she was pinned there with her hands outstretched.

Coolly, genteelly, but not unkindly, Doña Calvo y López stood up at her place and smiled at him as at a child. “Ah, Mister Seagrave, please remember we must first say grace before we serve the food.”

He stopped and stared at her. “What?” he snapped. Again, the tone of menace had returned.

She fluttered her eyelashes, made a show of composing herself, and spoke again. “We must thank God for this food that he has given us.”

“Fool!” On his lips was a sneer. “Thanking God for your slaughtered pig! Ha! For all He cares! Your bloody meat! You may as well thank the Devil!” He stabbed the table knife deeper into the ham.

The Doña stood there as if struck by lightning. “What did he say? ¿Qué dijo él? ¿El diablo? ¿El Diablo?” She looked to each of us, her head twitching back and forth. As the color drained from her face, slowly outrage flooded in. “No, sir! No! Not in my house! Blasfemia! That is blasphemy!”

“Go to Hell!” snarled Mordecai Seagrave. The women gasped.

Doña Calvo y López stared at him in open-mouthed disbelief, and then she exploded. “Blasphemy!” Her voice hit the ceiling as though she were calling down the lightning itself. “Blasphemy!”

I said go to Hell!” With a sudden sweep of his arm he grabbed up the heavy candlestick and smashed it down onto her forehead. Ayana screamed as though she had been ripped through with a knife. The old woman dropped like a stone. I swear by God she was dead before she hit the floor.

Those of us who were sitting shot from our chairs, and those of us who were standing reeled backwards as if struck. Seagrave slung the candlestick in the corner, picked up his chair, and flung it at the window beyond. Glass shattered, and the chair was trapped in the mullions; the killer leapt at it like a battering ram and with a great tearing crash the window exploded outwards, and he and the chair with it. Meanwhile the fallen candle had landed on the table and ignited the tablecloth; Miss Karas slapped at the flames with a napkin. Ayana was already at the side of her fallen mistress, shrieking. Helen Pulver stood at the wall with her fist in her open mouth, eyes wide and staring at what lay beneath her.

Don Peppo suddenly appeared at my side, staring into my face and clutching my arm. “Asesinato! Murder!” He pulled me and we ran into the kitchen and then out the rear door into the garden. The pouring rain was deafening, but we could just hear footsteps hammering through the alley and into the street. We followed, the puddles exploding beneath our feet, and then we broke out into the open, where I saw something that halted me. Someone had stopped Seagrave beneath a lamppost, holding his elbow and looking down into his face. Seagrave returned the gaze, his brow furrowed with confusion. It was none other than Captain Adamski. The pair stood like that for a moment more, and then they began to run away, together, side by side. Undaunted, Don Peppo charged after them, his belly bouncing like a piston, and I ran after Don Peppo.

For a stretch of time there was only the sound of rain and running and the heavy breaths of Don Peppo as he barreled downhill towards the two fleeing silhouettes in the dark. The empty streets flashed past, one beyond another. Shadows and reflections multiplied the two forms ahead, creating angular fragments of movement that twitched across the glistening surfaces of the canyon-like streets, while overhead all was of a lowering darkness. Then with a final gasp Don Peppo collapsed panting onto a lamppost; he urged me onwards with a wave and cried weakly into the night: “Asesino!

I called after the two men as I ran—”Seagrave! Adamski! Stop!”—but they only charged forward, onwards to the bay. My lungs burned, and the rain flowed down my eyes, my nostrils, my mouth; I felt close to drowning in it. I was hatless, and my crown and shoulders were as if struck by bullets, the drops pelting me mercilessly. As we crossed a great plaza I began to slow, no more able to take the pace, but at the same time I saw the two fugitives slowing too; though Seagrave was young and wiry and the captain large and athletic, the former had spent a week as an invalid and the latter as a drunkard. Their movement gradually became less fluid and more stiff, liquid speed replaced with a pained, bouncing gait. When the streets once again swallowed them up they had made their way to a mercantile area; just as I entered the lane I thought I saw two figures at the far end dodge into an alleyway.

I slid to a stop before the long, narrow tunnel of darkness. At the far end I could see rain streaking through the golden glow of lamplight, and silhouetted before it were rubbish tins, crates, and other objects—but no men. I doubted that the pair would have been able to make it to the far end of the alley and run out before I had reached the entrance, judging on how labored their flight had become, but there was only the sound of rain. Or was there something else?

I took a step into the dark, but there was a terrible tension growing within me. It was as though there were some electricity in the air, for despite the patter of rain and the gushing of drainpipes I sensed a chilling stillness about the place. It was as when I was a boy walking in the woods and suddenly came upon some unsettling quiet, something eerie and unnatural that stemmed from no visible cause, until my advance rousted some great bird of prey from its perch in the limbs above, wings battering the air as it passed like a specter through the trees and my heart leapt into my throat.

Suddenly a figure disengaged itself from the shadows. It was tense and predatory, moving sideways like a wolf. Long hair hung down in wet, ropy strands, giving the silhouette a horrible, animal look. It stopped just at the edge of the light, and I could see then that it was Seagrave. Held over his head in his right hand was something heavy—a brick. He took a step towards me.

A new jolt of energy shot panic to my arms and legs, and I glanced about me for something with which to defend myself. Before I even knew what I was doing, I had reached for a long metal slat that lay discarded in a barrel; it was thick and angled along its length, giving it weight and rigidity. I yanked it free and swung it out before me like a sword, its length giving me the advantage. Seagrave took a step back but then stood still.

“Christian,” he said in a mocking voice. “Say goodbye to this world. Another god comes to take the place of yours.”

“Call him what you will, there is only one God,” I replied.

“No! There is another.” In the dimness of the light I could suddenly see two bright rows of teeth smiling. “It sleeps, now, but the thrashing of mankind has stirred it. When it awakens, it will hunt down your Lord and tear it to pieces like a lion. Then we shall know war!” His voice dropped low like a purr. “Then shall we see blood.

I had the urge, then, to strike him down, to lunge out and crush his skull. He was a murderer, and insane. How many more might he kill in his frenzy?

And yet, it was this same thought that gave me pause. The man was sick. The Doña was gone, and nothing could bring her back, but could he not be saved? A blow from me might well kill him, and was it my place to hold his life in the balance? No—that is God’s prerogative. We are but men, and our only charge is compassion.

These thoughts were but a flash in my mind, sparking one from the other in two halves of a second’s tick, but from it I gained resolve. I saw that I only needed to defend myself and hold the man here until the help arrived. The rest would be up to God.

I was wrong, however; the rest was up to Seagrave. He recklessly lunged towards me, diving under my panicked, reflexive swing, and knocked me flat to the ground with him on top of me. My head hit the cobbles painfully, and the ground beneath me swayed as sunbursts blinded my eyes. Then Seagrave grabbed my neck with one hand while heaving the brick high in the other.

I forced words through my lips. “You don’t have to do this,” I gasped. “Run, Mordecai. I won’t chase anymore.”

The young man paused, and for the second time I saw the crooked, horrifying flash of a smile. “I’m not going to kill you because I have to. I’m going to kill you because I want to.”

I cannot describe how my blood went cold in that moment; something pierced my soul like a dagger, and I realized that the end of my life was suddenly at hand. There is nothing that prepares a man for the sight of that doorway, and, once seen, it can never be closed again all the way. I did not die, however; suddenly there was a burst of footfalls and whistles from the street beyond, and Seagrave leapt to his feet, the brick dropping heavily just an inch from my head. A second figure, Adamski, bolted from the shadows in the opposite direction, and Seagrave followed, two hunted dogs running for their lives. A moment later men had surrounded me and rough hands pulled me to my feet.

* * *

And suddenly now I am tired. The pen feels heavy in my hand, the very shirt on my back seems to weigh me down. I can only say that I returned to chaos and grief; I spoke not to my housemates, but only to the police. The younger officers winked and slapped my shoulders for my brave attempt to apprehend the murderer, and the older ones scowled and shook their heads to express their sorrow that there was no cure for a fool, but each response stirred within me equal disgust and unease. The moment I was free I stole away to my room, looking neither to the right nor the left, but even so I saw a thin, still object carried out on a pallet, something small and ruined hidden beneath a white sheet stained with blood.


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