Book: Black Wings III - New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror

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The Hag Stone

 

Richard Gavin

 

Richard Gavin has written four acclaimed collections of nightmarish and Lovecraftian fiction: Charnel Wine (Rainfall Books, 2004), Omens (Mythos Books, 2007), The Darkly Splendid Realm (Dark Regions Press, 2009), and At Fear’s Altar (Hippocampus Press, 2012). He has also published nonfiction works on the macabre and the esoteric. Richard lives in Ontario, Canada, with his beloved wife and their brood.
Pamela had been born too late. Had she been the product of a distant era, she might have viewed the conditions of that night—pyres blazing where the cold lake shored pale sands, the endless effusion of wine, the shouting, the music—as ceremonious; an Arcadian revel; a spirit-call spelled out in an alphabet of laugher and stifled lust. But she was a child of her age, and so to her this scene was merely a beach party in late spring—an event she seemed only too happy to stray from.

Although I was also a product of my time, I somehow did know that the night was auspicious. Not because of the bonfires or the drink, but because I knew Fate had delivered me to that ruckus in order to show me my future. And see my future I did, the very moment I spotted Pamela.

She was a stranger to me at the time, but the glimpse of her I’d chanced when the crowd shifted was enough to prove that all those age-old notions of first-sight love were not mere literary tropes.

My sighting of her came swiftly and, to my horror, seemed to be ending equally fast.

Through the haze of the fire’s heat and the ever-milling crowd I watched her rise from the log where she’d been seated and saunter off into the darkness.

What inspired me to toss my drink aside and follow her was not lust, but panic that the Fate that had presented this woman to me might also dissolve her like a mirage. I wormed my way out of the crowd, relieved that I was still able to discern the peacock-like pattern of her skirt billowing like vibrant plumage in the night.

She settled at the base of a birch tree. I stopped pursuing, realizing that I was running the risk of frightening her. I wanted our initial meeting to be perfect, so I stood scrambling for something to say. It didn’t need to be witty, but I couldn’t let it be foolish.

Pamela plucked a bit of driftwood from the rocks and began to poke stippling patterns in the sand.

“Is everything okay?” My first words to her. They spilled out almost unexpectedly, but they would have to do. Pamela seemed more confused than heartened by my concern. She told me she was fine.

“Crowd getting to be a bit much?” I asked.

“I guess you could say that.”

“Well, I can’t blame you for wanting to get away. I’m not much for parties myself.” I advanced a step and extended my hand. “My name’s Mason, by the way.”

She set down the stick and filled my hand with hers. It was warm and delicate, like the petal of a hothouse flower. “Pamela,” she said.

“Mind if I join you, Pamela?”

And so it began.

I settled beside her in a nook where neither the stars nor the bonfires could light. I talked to her and I listened to her. Our conversation was for me so uncharacteristically natural that it almost seemed scripted, as if she and I were actors who’d been preparing for this scene our entire lives. We delivered every line with organic ease.

Being twenty at the time, I was just old enough to have accumulated all sorts of tensions over the opposite sex. But that night they lost their hold on me. Everything about our meeting was…apt.

We erected a tiny Chichen-Itza out of beach stones—an emblem of what we were building between us, one stone at a time.

It was this activity that led to Pamela’s discovery of the stone that would forever change our lives.

The rock had been interred in a shallow grave of sand. Pamela had freed it only after we’d used up all the stones that were lying on the surface. When she noticed that the flat rock had a hole bored through its centre, she gasped a little.

She told me such stones were often known as hag stones, that they were auspicious and believed by some to be magical. The discovery of them was a rare blessing. The finder, she explained, could peer through the hole in the stone and see into the spirit realm.

“Is that so? I said. “Well then, it looks like you’ve been blessed tonight.”

Pamela smiled and told me that she could have told me that already. I loved hearing her say that.

“Should we try it out?” I suggested. Pamela seemed reluctant. “What? Is using a hag stone considered bad luck or something?”

“No,” she returned, “it’s not that. I just get a little nervous playing around with things like this.”

“Who says we’re playing? We’re just seeing if it works.”

The hesitation in her gestures was noticeable, but eventually Pamela did lift the stone to her eye. After a few seconds she switched to the other eye before finally shrugging and slipping the hag stone into the pocket of her skirt.

“Didn’t work?” I asked.

“Maybe I’m not doing it right,” she said, smiling.

After a while we took notice of the fact that many of the revellers had fled the beach. The bonfires had sunk down to heaps of jewel-like embers, and the deepening night was growing cold.

We eventually found our way back to Pamela’s tiny apartment for tea.

We found our way to her bed with the same effortless manner. Our lovemaking was a seamless extension of our meeting just hours earlier.

There was such ease and simple joy in those early days that we both accepted that we’d been destined to be together. Time rolled on, and although Pamela and I were not immune to the customary trials and hardships of any relationship, that sense of cosmic determinism never faded. It may have occasionally gotten silted in beneath overdue bills or term papers, but it was our rock.

Ironically, this belief in hidden forces, however beneficent, was also our undoing.

I used to chide Pamela that the only reason she was pursuing a degree in archaeology was because she wanted to dig up people who had been as superstitious as she was. She always preferred to call it her “spiritual side,” but it was this aspect of her personality that led her to sleeping with the hag stone under her pillow. She’d been inspired to undertake this practice by, of all people, H. P. Lovecraft.

Down the road from our little apartment was an occult shop called New Aeon Books. Every so often we’d stop in, usually just to browse, though occasionally Pamela would come across a charm or paperback book that piqued her “spiritual side” enough to sacrifice whatever pin money we had that week. One night after dinner at a cheap noodle house we made a quick detour into New Aeon, though only to escape the rain.

We stumbled into the store, wet as sewer rats, and giggling loudly. We hadn’t noticed that the shop’s lights had been dimmed, or that a small cluster of people had congregated at the rear of the store.

The rotund man stationed at the plywood podium looked at us with displeasure. Pamela and I stifled our laughter. I pushed my soaked hair off my face and nodded apologetically. I wondered if the pressure of speaking publicly, even to an audience of seven, was too much for him, for his hairless cranium was glistening with perspiration.

Next to the podium, an easel-braced poster advertised the subject of his presentation: H. P. Lovecraft: Sorcerer of Starry Wisdom. Beneath the title, which had been printed in a suitably mysterious-looking font, was a large black-and-white photograph of a man I presumed was Lovecraft. The austerity of his clothing and his expression was contrasted by the distant stare of his black eyes. The poster’s background was a tangle of glowing tentacles and ugly stars.

Pamela took my arm and led me to a pair of vacant folding chairs. I muttered something about not wanting to stay. She whispered that we’d already been rude enough for one night. The presenter cleared his throat loudly, which caused the fold of flesh beneath his chin to flap like a turkey’s wattle.

“Just to recap quickly for our recent arrivals,” he began, “I was just asked about evidence that supports my theory of Lovecraft being as much a magician as an author of weird tales.

“While it’s true that Lovecraft always declared himself a scientific materialist, many of his letters, his accounts of his dreams, and of course his fiction combine to paint a very different picture of the man.”

He held up a manila folder. “This is a dossier I’ve been compiling for the past nine years. It includes all sorts of marginalia that hints at Lovecraft’s practices and philosophical theories which I would classify as magic or sorcery. One perfect example is HPL’s visit to the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery in Brooklyn.

“There Lovecraft actually chipped a piece off of one of the headstones and took it home with him. In a letter dated September 16, 1922, he writes of this ghoulish keepsake, saying, and I quote, ‘I must place it beneath my pillow while I sleep. Who can say what thing might come out of the centuried earth to exact vengeance for its desecrated tomb? And should it come, who can say what it might resemble?’ End quote.

“Fans will recognize this very scenario as the plot of Lovecraft’s tale ‘The Hound.’ It seems quite obvious that he did indeed undertake this form of dream ritual, and what he saw was later ciphered in one of his short stories…”

I leaned in and pleaded quietly to Pamela, “Can we please leave?” She nodded. We preferred to brave the rain.

Drying off in our washroom later that night, Pamela said “I’d like to try that.”

“What?”

“What Lovecraft did: place a special stone under my pillow and see if it affects my dreams.”

“Should I pencil in a little grave-robbing for Friday night?”

“No, dummy,” she replied before marching down the hall. I watched her fishing about in her dresser until she freed the tiny rosewood box in which she kept her most cherished possessions: her grandmother’s hatpin that she’d loved as a young girl, little notes I’d left for her around the apartment, old birthday cards, and…

I didn’t even have to look at what Pamela had resting in her palm when she returned to the bathroom.

“I want to use this.” She kissed the hag stone the way a priest would his holy stole. “I think it will bring fantastic dreams.”

Sometime before dawn I was awoken by Pamela tossing and turning. My eyes still half-closed, I reached for her, hoping to ease her troubled sleep. Her body was warm beneath the covers. I could feel her chest rising and falling.

Muffled sounds, like cat claws raking upholstery, filled the darkness.

The pillow was heaving and shifting like choppy waters beneath Pamela’s head. It was as if a small animal had been pinned beneath her and was frantically trying to free itself. Pamela moaned distantly.

I called Pamela’s name. I shook her. Her face remained a placid mask conveying the deepest slumber.

Sucking in a breath as though it would bolster me for the task ahead, I grasped the pillow and yanked it out from under her.

Her eyes sprung open. She let out a loud, desperate, wheezing gasp. Pressing her hand to her chest, she rolled out of bed and thudded down on the floor where she began to cough and retch.

The hag stone was like a grey island in a sea of white cotton.

I leapt to Pamela, who was still struggling to breathe. Frantically I tried to check if she was choking, but she rose and stumbled out of the room, collapsing in the corridor. I did my best to comfort her until her breathing returned to normal.

I examined her for wounds or bruises, still unsure of what exactly had occurred. I got her a glass of water and asked her if she could tell me anything about what had happened. Pamela shook her head.

I made a quick detour to the bedroom where the hag stone was reposing like a blood-plumped leech on the mattress. Not wanting to touch it, I wrapped my hand in Pamela’s empty pillowcase and flung the rock into the waste basket.

I made Pamela some tea and settled onto the sofa with her. We stayed up for the remainder of the night. She spoke very little, except to confess to having a headache. I got her an aspirin and rubbed her temples until she finally dozed off.

I let Pamela sleep until past noon before I finally nudged her awake.

“Do you remember anything more about last night?” I asked.

“I remember dreaming,” she said through a yawn. “It wasn’t anything remarkable, through. I dreamt that I was sitting on a rocking chair inside an ordinary suburban house. I could see the other houses through the big picture window in the living room. It was postcard suburbia: manicured lawns, station wagons in the driveways, painted mailboxes, the whole thing. While I was standing there watching kids running up and down the sidewalks and playing games, the dream began to change. I began to hear a low whistling sound…”

Her shudder was noticeable. Before I could even move to comfort her she wrapped her arms around herself.

“There was this…shape…near me. I couldn’t see it, but I was suddenly sick with the feeling of being watched. The feeling just kept building. Pretty soon I was so frightened that I couldn’t even bear the thought of turning around to face what was watching me.”

She pressed her hands against her face.

“It’s okay,” I assured her, “it was just a dream.”

“No!” she spat. “No, it wasn’t. I need to tell you this. I only caught a quick glance of the thing. It had no face at all, just a smudge of grey with an oval mouth. I think that mouth was causing the awful whistling. But worse than the faceless thing or the awful noise was the fact that I somehow knew this figure wasn’t part of my dream.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it was outside my dream. It was near my dream but wasn’t a part of it. It was like a stagehand standing in the wings while the play is happening onstage.

“Knowing that the shape was near the dream but not in it was what turned my dream into a nightmare. I suddenly knew that the house I was in and the street I was looking at weren’t permanent, weren’t true. There was a limit to how real they could be. The edges of my world became visible to me. And this thing, this entity, was lurking right on the threshold where my dream lost its imagery and it became…I don’t know what…a great void.”

I swallowed and felt pain. My throat had dried out completely. “That’s a disturbing dream, hon. I completely understand why it upset you. But it was just a dream, right?”

Pamela just stared at me. Though she said not a word about it, my well-intentioned dismissal of her vision had obviously cut her deeply. Try as I did to make amends by cooking a dinner of comfort food and sitting with her to watch sitcoms (without laughing at any of them) for the evening, I had broken my lover’s faith in me. Our relationship never recovered.

 

We went to bed early that night.

It was still dark when she woke me by digging her nails into my bicep. She was whimpering like a wounded pup.

I rolled over, sat up. “What’s wrong, Pam? What is it?”

“It’s here. It’s watching us…”

Her strangled words didn’t really register, but what did affect me was Pamela’s face. It was ashen, and the eyes were so wide they seemed lidless.

Wordlessly Pamela pointed to the corner of our room. It was then that the terror seized me. I’m unsure what awful form I sensed was glaring at us from the edge of our room, but whatever it was, I knew I didn’t want to see it.

There, where the moonbeams seemed to have swept up all the blackness it could not banish, Pamela’s antique desk appeared as a chunk of carved coal. The shade of the standing lamp glowed bone-bright amidst the shadows. It was all I could do to keep my imagination from decorating that white bell of fabric with eyes and a wide whistling mouth.

The wind pressed sharply against our windows, sounding too much like shallow heaving. My imagination latched a breathing rhythm onto this. It also coaxed the darkness in the corner into the shape of an intruder lanky enough to disguise itself in the seam where wall met wall.

Pamela hissed into my ear, “You see it, don’t you?”

I told her I didn’t see anything. It was not a lie. Not totally. What I saw was not complete, only the mere suggestion of the corner wobbling, as though the marriage of walls was as shaky as a pair of curtains being clutched shut by a nervous hand.

“It knows we’ve seen it!”

Pamela’s cry was the final straw for me. I overcame my fear by leaping from the bed and smacking the light switch on the wall.

When the naked bulb burst to life, the details of the room fell dutifully into place.

“We have to get rid of it!” Pamela exclaimed, flinging back the sheets. She began to search the room frantically, first by rummaging through her dresser drawers. “Where is it?”

When I didn’t answer immediately, she shouted, “The hag stone, what did you do with it?”

“I threw it out.”

Pamela moved to the trash can beside her desk, dumped out its contents. The stone thumped onto the carpet.

“Oh, God…” Pamela placed a hand over mouth as though she was about to wretch. She flung the stone at me. I cried out when it struck my shin. “It’s gone!”

“What are you talking about? You just about broke my fucking leg with it!”

“Look at it!” she cried. “Just look at it!”

I did, but only to appease her. If there was an explanation for the change, it was evading me superbly. Ultimately I just picked up the hag stone, carried it out to our balcony, and flung it as far as I could.

Pamela was standing in the hallway when I re-entered the apartment. “What happened to it, Mason?” I moved past her and went back to bed, pretending that I was sleepy, making believe that I wasn’t as frightened as she was. “Mason, where did the seeing-hole go?”

 

The last thing I wanted to do was go to work, but I had no sick-day benefits and we couldn’t afford the loss of a day’s wages. Before I left that morning Pamela muttered that she wasn’t going to class, which I thought that was a good idea. I told her I would phone to check in on her and would be home straight after my shift.

I called the apartment on my lunch break, but the phone rang lonely. It worried me, and by mid-afternoon that unease had twisted into panic.

The homeward drive couldn’t end too quickly, and when I finally reached the last flight of stairs leading to our apartment, an instinctual sense of dread seized me. I didn’t know what I was going to see beyond our door. I only hoped I would be able to cope with it.

Pushing the unlocked door back from its frame revealed the fallout of Pamela’s day of solitude.

Our apartment had been ravaged from ceiling to floor. Every stick of furniture had been upset or smashed or had its upholstery shorn from its frame. The wallpaper had been stripped and the plaster behind it punctured by what looked to be the careless lashes of a hammer. The windows, perplexingly, remained intact, though thick sections of taped newspaper rendered their panes opaque.

The image of Pamela’s body lying lifeless on the floor petrified me. The vision was so vivid that I couldn’t bring myself to take another step into the living room.

Only the sharp scratching sounds, indicative of something living, managed to move me at all—and even then only to turn my head.

Pamela was hunched like a feral child against one wall. Her nightgown was torn and filthy; her matted hair was flecked with pallor-pale wall plaster.

“It shifted,” she said. She was practically giggling, perhaps at the absurdity of it all, or from her own exhaustion. “I’ve been trying to find it, but it just keeps moving…”

I went to her, took her face in my hands. “What’s happened? Who did this to you?”

She clasped her hand over my mouth, pressed her finger against her own lips. “It’s watching us. It’s found a new place.”

“What has?”

“The seeing-hole…I know it’s here, but I can’t find it!”

I did the only thing that felt proper: I removed Pamela from the nest of her torment. Without bothering to pack a bag, I took Pamela to a motel by the beach strip.

Our room looked better suited for a hospital in-patient than for a tourist. The stone floor was barely hidden beneath patches of tacky linoleum, the walls were paneled in bowing wood. The whole place stank of bleach. The sad thing was, even these paltry accommodations were an extravagance we could not afford. I had to use part of our weekly grocery money to pay for it and the sandwich fixings I’d bought us for dinner.

I had hoped that foreign surroundings would not only calm Pamela but also allow me to see the situation more clearly. But our grungy hideaway neither refreshed my perspective nor put an end to Pamela’s panic. She pushed one of the plastic chairs into a corner, giving herself a perch where she could twitch and scrutinize the air, her hands, the clothes on her back. She was like a squirrel with ever-taut nerves and a relentless panic over unseen perils. The ham sandwich and carton of milk I set on the table beside her went untouched.

I waited up with her for as long as I could. I pictured her nerves as being like violin strings being tightened and tightened. I was waiting for them to snap. But Pamela never reached critical mass. As the hours moved glacially past, she seemed to be, if not calmer, then at least at a peculiar peace with her current state of mind.

I don’t remember dozing off, but I must have, for the next thing I can recall is a hand gently nudging my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see Pamela standing in the filmy light of dawn.

“It’s not following me anymore,” she whispered.

I wish I could have been more relieved by Pamela’s freshly stoic demeanour, but on some level I sensed that we were both merely enjoying the eye of the storm, and that the worst of it was just on the horizon, waiting for the prime moment to blast our lives apart.

It waited less than a week before it struck.

The days leading up to that final awfulness were routine enough to plant a seed of hope in me. I still wasn’t convinced that Pamela was one-hundred percent, but her familiar behaviour did lead me to believe that in time she would be.

 

“Will you answer me something?” I’d asked her one temperate evening. The breeze that pushed through the half-open window smelled rarely fresh for the heart of the city. Pamela and I were lying in post-coital bliss. I was too relaxed and had assumed that the drama was a dark speck in our rearview; a harmless memory.

“Sure, why not?”

“That morning when we were at the motel, you said ‘it’s not following me anymore.’ What did you mean?”

She sat up and turned from me. The sheets twisted over her naked back like a bridal train. I touched my fingertips to her side. She flinched as though I’d burned her.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and it was true. “I was just curious, but it doesn’t matter.”

“The seeing-hole…”

“What?”

“The seeing-hole from the stone. That’s what was following me.”

I regretted raising the issue.

“And I never said it was gone,” she added. “I said it was no longer following me.”

“Are you saying you still believe this…magical seeing-hole or whatever you think it is, is still here?”

She reached over and took my hand. As she raised it to her face, I was half expecting her to suck on one of my fingers—an erotic little game we both enjoyed. Pamela selected my index finger, but instead of sliding it into her mouth she pressed it against the lid of her closed eyes. “Right here.”

I snapped my hand back, staring at the fingers that had touched Pamela’s waxy eyelid and had felt the shaped jelly beneath it.

I shifted away, unsure of what to say. Pamela remained in the same supine posture on the sofa. Finally, when I rose to get myself a glass of water, she announced that she was going to take a shower.

“Good idea,” I muttered. “I’ll see about fixing us something for dinner.”

I entered the kitchen and began a pantomime of preparing a meal. After plunking a frying pan upon the oven range, I stood dumbly, listening to the faint rumble of the shower running down the hall.

And then the scream.

I tore down the hall and into the bathroom. Through the shower curtain she appeared a vague heap at one end of the tub. I pulled the wet plastic back. Pamela was trembling, despite the gush of steaming water. Her left hand was pressed against the tiled stall; her right groped the air before her.

“I can’t see!” She shrieked the words again and again. Her tone moved from enraged to bewildered to petrified; but always, “I can’t see!”

I hunched down and took her and held her like a child. We re-mained there, both of us crying until the water sprayed cold over us.

In reality, less than twenty minutes had elapsed between Pamela’s scream and the time I ushered her through the emergency room doors. But by then Pamela was catatonic. I did all the talking, giving what little information I could to the nurse at the registration desk and eventually to the doctor.

The tests they ran turned up nothing. Pamela’s eyes responded regularly to all the introduced stimuli. In the end they suggested that hers was an hysterical blindness. The doctor assured me that her condition was legitimate, but unquestionably psychosomatic.

At his suggestion, I consented to have Pamela admitted for a seventy-two-hour psychiatric observation. Pamela begged me not to do it. Her pleading ended only after the Haldol took hold.

It was well into the morning by the time I left the hospital. I was so exhausted that my blood felt like toxic sludge in my veins. Everything around me seemed to be swaying. The irony was that, despite my body’s cries to the contrary, I knew that sleep was impossible. Pamela’s condition had chewed through my own resourcefulness and logic, and it appeared that the agents of science at the hospital weren’t holding out much hope for solving the riddle, or at least not after a mere three-day observation.

Resources tapped, I resigned to broadening my reach for anything that could pass for an answer. I had only one option in mind. Off I went to the local witch-doctor.

 

It was fortunate for me that New Aeon Books kept hours that were as unconventional as its inventory. Unlike the night of my and Pamela’s fateful first visit, that morning the store was virtually vacated. The few browsers had their features hazed by the bright sun poring through the shop’s dirty windows. A rodent-featured man stood by the cash register, his cigarette hovering before an ashtray that was in dire need of emptying.

He looked surprised when I approached.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I hope so. A few months ago my fiancée and I attended an event here. It was a talk on H. P. Lovecraft.”

“Which one?” The chortle that followed his question irked me.

“What?”

“I said which one. Stanley’s probably given seven or eight talks on that guy.”

“Stanley? That’s the man who was lecturing that night? Bigger fellow, receding hair?”

“I wouldn’t give that flattering description too loudly,” the man replied. “He’ll hear you.”

“Stanley’s here?”

The man jutted his thumb toward a far corner of the shop. “Stanley’s always here.”

I moved toward the man in the stacks. His sizeable frame was made shapeless by the rumpled London Fog coat that draped it. The hairless dome of his cranium was once again a fountain of perspiration.

“Excuse me? Stanley?”

“Who wants to know?” he returned. I didn’t catch the title of the book he was clumsily shoving back onto the shelf, but can only assume it was something he was embarrassed by. “I was doing research,” he added defensively.

“My name is Mason Day. I saw one of your Lovecraft lectures here.”

“Yes?”

“I…need your help.”

My plea seemed to soften Stanley’s demeanour. A look of authentic concern claimed his face. I told him about how Pamela had followed Lovecraft’s suggestion of sleeping with a stone under her head, and although I omitted the details about just how severely Pamela had been impacted, I made sure that Stanley knew the situation was dire.

“I feel for you, Mason. I really do. But unfortunately I don’t really see how I can help.”

“Well, have you ever heard of anything like this happening before? I mean, did Lovecraft ever suffer after sleeping with that bit of gravestone under his pillow?”

“HPL never mentioned anything to that effect. For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that whatever forces he contacted through that practice significantly augmented his imagination.”

“So you believe that this kind of little ritual, or whatever you want to call it, can do as much good as harm?”

He moved his thick hands in a noncommittal gesture. “It’s difficult to say. I’m afraid you’re riding the razor’s edge here. On one hand, your fiancée is clearly in a bad state. But on the other hand, her magic is working. Now, I’m not trivializing your fiancée’s predicament, believe me. But what she’s experiencing—the feeling that everything around her is aware and is watching—is not necessarily an indication that she’s mentally ill. There’s a long, long line of individuals throughout history who spoke of this deeper reality.

“The poet William Blake had an experience very similar to your fiancée’s. He was sitting in his garden one idyllic afternoon when, without warning, he was suddenly overcome by the realization that every flower, every blade of grass, every weed, was sentient. He described it as all Nature becoming plumes of a peacock—a vibrant collection of eyes watching him. The spirits made themselves known to Blake. Perhaps they’re doing the same with your fiancée.”

“No,” I said with more than a little stubbornness. “This is all in her head.”

“Or the spirits are,” Stanley returned.

In my exhausted state, I was unable to scrounge up a retort, so I exited New Aeon without comment.

 

The trio of days that stood between Pamela’s admittance and subsequent release were excruciating for me. For Pamela, I would imagine they were unspeakable. I visited her twice, but both times she didn’t exhibit the faintest awareness of my shadow at her bedside, of my hand closing over hers, of my voice whispering hollow consolations.

The blindness had not lifted, though the specialist I spoke to assured me that such a sudden recovery was incredibly rare. Her optic nerves were in perfect condition, and the doctor assured me that she would see again, in time. Her referral was not to an optometrist, but a psychotherapist.

“Your fiancée’s problem is rooted somewhere in mind, Mr. Day,” the doctor had assured me. “Ascertaining the root issue is the first step toward her recovery. Her affliction is real, even if its cause is not immediately physically apparent. After all, just because we cannot see a problem’s source doesn’t make the problem any less real.”

I wish she hadn’t ended on that tone.

Pamela didn’t say a word during the ride home, nor during the slow ascent to our apartment, guided as she was by my hand.

When we entered the living room, Pamela exhibited her wish to lie down by stumbling her way toward the bedroom. I swept to her side and made the rest of her journey a less bumpy one. She lowered herself onto the mattress, her legs stiff, her arms at her side. I looked into her open eyes. Their sightless gaze was affixed on the ceiling. The blindness had taken none of their rich citrine-brown colouring.

I wondered what time-bomb could have been ticking away inside her. This question led to others, even uglier. I wondered how well I had really known this woman, my fiancée, this stranger on the bed.

Or maybe there was no deep Freudian tumour. Maybe it was all just the spirits that bled in through the hag stone…

With care, I removed Pamela’s shoes before exiting the room.

I prepared a makeshift bed for myself on the sofa. Every few minutes I got up to check on Pamela.

The late show was airing Suddenly, Last Summer, a film I’d never seen. I hoped it would be dull enough to bore me into slumber. Instead it infected me, wreaked havoc with the delicate state between wakefulness and sleep where I spent most of the night. In the dream, if dream it can be called, Pamela had assumed the Elizabeth Taylor role. She was the bedlam-confined victim. The girl with the abominable secret, the one everyone wanted confined or cured by the lobotomizing scalpel. I envisioned myself as Montgomery Clift’s character: the sympathetic doctor whose staunch ethics might have saved the girl.

But my subconscious mangled Williams’s play into pure Grand Guignol. Though I hadn’t wanted to do it, in the dream I stood idly by while gruff nurses tightened straps across Pamela’s forehead and jaw, tethering her to a vivisectionist’s table. I moved upon her, bearing something that resembled a corkscrew.

Pamela did not utter a sound while I blinded her with tools of crooked steel.

I awoke with a strangled cry. I hoped I hadn’t woken Pamela. Light the blue of livid flesh poured from the snowy pattern on the TV. I rose to switch it off, and that’s when I caught sight of the figure in the hallway.

My cry wasn’t strangled this time. “Jesus Christ, Pam!” I was almost laughing with relief over her familiar silhouette in the doorway. “You scared the hell out of me!”

I heard her…heard the four words that trailed through the room like stale cigarette smoke. I knew what Pamela had said, but still, I said, “What?”

“I can see now,” she repeated.

She stepped forward, into the ghost light from the dead channel.

I could see then too; see the pair of dull grey stones that stared out from Pamela’s mask-slack face. They resembled a pair of greyed eggs being birthed from the bloodied sockets. I could see them pulsing and squirming. I could see them seeing me.

“I can see…everything,“ Pamela hissed. “I’m scared, Mason. Nothing’s solid anymore…everything’s…opening up…like flowers.

“We’re not alone here, Mason…please…”

Her hands were groping for me, or perhaps swatting away whatever phantoms the stones in her eye sockets were now witnessing.

“…please…help me…”

She tumbled over the coffee table. I stepped back from her crumpled frame. Pamela was whimpering like an animal.

I ran.

Why elaborate on the horror of seeing Pamela with the eyes of a Catholic statue? Why puff up a smokescreen to make my actions seem excusable? They were not. In the face of true adversity, pure crisis, I fled.

The apartment stairs, the lobby, the streets—they all passed by in a stone-grey smudge. I found my way to Wicker Park and slumped down on a vacant bench.

The sodium lamp above made me feel as though I was in an interrogation room. I sat shivering, watching drunks and lovers milling about the footpaths and the manicured hills.

I’m not sure what finally led me to go back. Perhaps it was the cold tide of foreboding that was rising within me; the hopeless realization that my life had been irrevocably altered.

She was piled in one corner of the bedroom, beside the battered wingback chair where she liked to knit on winter Sundays. The carpet bag where she kept her yarn was lying in the blackish pool by her fist. She’d used one of her needles. It was still jutting from the crudely hollowed socket.

 

The documentation from Pamela’s stint in the hospital went a long way to support the coroner’s conclusion of suicide. Her funeral was sparsely attended. I sublet my way out of our lease and moved to another city.

I try not to think about Pamela anymore. It’s one of the many things I like keeping to the past. Yet I have compulsions that keep me going back to her.

For example, no matter the season, I pay regular evening visits to the beach. I go there to dig for stones. To date I have found three that Pamela would have classified as hag stones, their holes as vacant as bored-out eye sockets.

Each time I’ve found one, the routine is always the same. I always thrill to the discovery, always fancy that Pamela is somehow straining to see me from the far side of the hag stone. I’m invariably tempted to peer through it and finally see what my dead fiancée saw.

I always stop when the stone is only halfway to my eye. Then I toss it into the sea.

My apartment is small but cosy. For months I kept waiting for my guilt and grief to rear up in the form of nightmares, but they never came. My sleep is always dreamless, no vision at all.

But sometimes there is sound: a low, beckoning whistle, like wind through an old tunnel. I wonder if I’m living in that great void that lurked at the threshold of Pamela’s dream. Maybe the blackness I see when I slumber is a vision after all: the image of the desert of nothingness that keeps me on one end and my beloved on some far unreachable shore.

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