Welcome to The Sounds Between, the writing blog of Dominic E. Lacasse. I write short stories, scenes, and stream-of-thought narratives of several genres. Please take a look; if you like it, I am happy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Part I: Zard Kuh story

The title is of course temporary. This is the first portion of a story I have been working on for the past month or so. I hope to add to it soon.


April the 10th, 1915
This being the preface to this journal.

     My father, Declan Pierce, was a translator, and an explorer. He ranged wide over this world in his time, saw great sights, and discovered many a wonderful and terrible thing.

     He began his work in his youth, his own father insisting from an early age that he learn not only Latin but also ancient Greek, and later, Hebrew. As he progressed through school he showed a remarkable talent for language and geography. He was enroled at Oxford University in 1868, at the age of 17; by the time he was 22, he had completed his first doctorate.

     He was totally immersed in his studies. By now he was taking part in the thrilling new work available deciphering the clay tablets of such far-away sounding cultures as Assyria and Sumeria. His work obsessed him, so much so that it would be another four years before his marriage to my mother Christina, and yet another six before she bore him his first and only child, I who bear his name, Declan Pierce II.

     I knew him for but a short time, only long enough to form an impression of both the wonders and the dangers of the frantic life he led. While I knew him as a loving father, he was nonetheless very distant. I would sometimes go days without seeing him, despite the fact that he was just behind a door, in his study – where I was never to enter while he was at work. I have learned from my mother that it was not always so; before I was born, he was not so private, was more accessible to those who loved him. It was not my birth which changed this, but rather a deeply enchanting idea which had taken hold in him, an idea whose manifestations appeared as spindly roots which reached clear through the literature and religions of all the epochs of human life, from the present all the way to his own area of expertise, the very earliest human writings. He kept his work on this subject under lock and key, his notes and all his books, and it would be many years before my mother would tell me what was hidden behind the locked doors in my father's mind. Perhaps she did not herself know, when I was young.

     Yet while I could not pierce that particular mystery, my father's library was always open to me, as was his study when he was not at work. I found these places infinitely fascinating, and I fondly remember peering through his books and his curiosities. I could not read many of the books, and some were written in whole alphabets whose symbols I had never encountered, though by this point I could recognize the Roman, Greek, and Hebrew letters (though I could not read them, as yet). These mysterious books were written in a strange hand, bizarre collections of straight lines terminating in odd triangular shapes, arranged in perplexing grid-like formations – the writing I would one day know as cuneiform.

     Among the books were other relics of times long past. Greek pottery: black-figure soldiers, women at looms, contrasted beautifully and timelessly against the burnished red of Attic clay. There were Roman busts, ancient Christian mosaics, and, what fascinated me most, the sculptures of those same enigmatic peoples who had written in that bizarre style. These, my father told me, were temple statues – but they had not been idols to be worshiped, they were themselves the worshipers. They were set up around idols when human attendants were not present, that there would never be a second when the gods of this ancient race were not under adoration. These statues clasped their tiny hands across their chests and turned their wide, flat faces upwards, their noses and mouths shrunk to tiny holes, their eyes, alight with the wonder of the divine, enlarged to wholly unreal and slightly unsettling magnitude.

     My father left when I was eight years old, and I did not see him again. I asked my mother constantly; she told me simply that he was working on something very important, that he would be back eventually. Over the years I learned to stop asking the question. But it remained, ever in my mind, asking itself, over and over: “Where did he go?” It would be many years before I was given an answer.

     But the seed had taken root in me as well, and I followed happily in his footsteps. I myself enroled at Oxford in the year 1901, my eighteenth autumn, keen to delve into the mysteries of the ancient peoples. I was not the prodigy my father was, and I myself earned my doctorate after six years, still a respectable achievement. What I lacked of my father's speed in learning I made up for in other areas of my life; I met Edith, who would become my wife, in my last year at Oxford, and three years later we were married. My own son, obediently given the name Declan III, was born two years later, in 1909. He is now six years old, and to my great pride, he has mastered the basic grammar of the Latin language.

     It was not until just a fortnight past that my mother finally disclosed to me the truth of my father's obsession and the reason behind his sudden and continued disappearance. I had visited, alone, for dinner, while my wife was out of town with little Declan. We had eaten, and were sitting in the parlour, speaking little. There was a great storm outside, and it was dark in the house; I thought that my mother had actually fallen asleep over her knitting, and I was preparing to depart, when suddenly and without introduction she began to explain to me the things which I had never known about my father's journey.

     His hidden and secret work, the work which so consumed him when I knew him, had, she said, led him to leave on a great journey, halfway around the world. She had spoken to him only a little about his obsession, but she knew that the journey was a part of it. He had told her only the name of the place to which he was going; a mountain, in the Zagros range bisecting Persia, a mountain with the magical name of Zard Kuh.

     She stood and handed me something then: a small, iron key. She told me that it opened the strongbox in my father's study, where he had kept all of his notes regarding the idea that had so enchanted him. She told me that though she had opened this chest, and had looked at the books and treasures hidden there, that she still knew nothing of substance of the idea that drew my father across the map to wind-blown Persia. Yet, she had gathered the basis of it, from hints, from suggestions, from telling and significant utterances my father made in his sleep. The idea that locked my father away from his family, that had consumed my father's mind as it had consumed countless minds before him, was simple, but massive; it was an idea that has never, through all time, lost its efficacious ability to stop men in their tracks and put an unholy lust in their hearts: the idea of neverending life.

     Taking the key, I raced to the cabinet and opened the door. It swung open easily and I was greeted with the smell of old leather and paper. There were several battered notebooks and old hide-bound manuscripts, little figurines and statues. My mother looked on from the doorway, her hands folded on her chest, a sad, weary smile on her aged features. Hungrily, I grabbed at the notebook on the top of the pile, pulled it open, and realized at once why my mother had not deciphered more of the story. On this matter, my father had written all of his notes in ancient Attic Greek.

     She allowed me to take them, everything, and I loaded them into my automobile that very night. I covered them with my coat as I brought them out of the house, allowing myself to be soaked to the bone, and when she saw that, she turned away, and I believe she may have been weeping.

     I have now had two weeks to review the material my father left behind, and I have spent nearly every waking moment doing so. Some of it is more helpful than the rest. My linguistic focus is in Greek; this has enabled me to read my father's notes with ease, however I have no experience with any Sumerian, Akkadian, or Assyrian language, so most of the primary materials from the strongbox have been of little use. There are gaps in the notes, pages cut out of the books as if with a razor, pages which I assume my father brought with him on his journey. Likewise, the entire collection speaks plainly to a missing volume; the notebooks cover specific issues in some detail, but there is no single, general volume – a text my father almost certainly brought with him when he left.

     Nonetheless, the material that remains and can be read speaks quite plainly about my father's plan. One of the notebooks, covering geography of the area in question, even includes a map, with a goal and even a tentative route which he planned to take. Others, which describe the thing itself for which he was searching, are more confusing. He refers often to texts which have no reliable English translation, and where he refers to specific legendary or mythical objects and personae from the Assyrian originals, he has painstakingly transcribed these Assyrian words directly into Greek instead of using a Greek substitution. This has meant that the most useful words are basically unintelligible to me.

     I have considered contacting my father's friends in his field to acquire translations of these texts, but I know that this project would take weeks, if not months. I feel a pressing urge to follow after my father now, to trace his footsteps to the mountain of Zard Kuh, and I believe it cannot wait. I have no hopes of finding my father alive; if he has not returned after twenty-four years of absence, he can only be dead. This fact only pushes me more toward my own departure. If he has died, I must learn why. I must find him, or find where his trail ended, and learn what it was that meant so much to him. I must follow this story through to its conclusion.

     England is now at war with the Ottomans, who rule Persia. This means that traveling in the area will be very dangerous. It also means that the borders will be lax, the country will be in turmoil, and the yards and miles of red tape which would otherwise prevent my entry into the country will be loosened by the chaos of war. Should the Ottomans win the war, an Englishman will not set foot in that country for a hundred years. To delay now is a risk I cannot take. I must go, and I must go now, or I may lose the only chance I have in this lifetime to know what it was that was worth my father's life.

     And so I will make my provisions, set my plans, and I will follow my father to Persia.

April the 21st, 1915

     The past few days have been a weary endeavor both to finalize my plans and to attempt to explain to my family why it is I must do this thing, which I will do. The one has been much easier than the other.

     Through my father's contacts, I have arranged a number of important documents, the most crucial being a falsified passport and letters of reference signifying my identity as a Swedish antiquities scholar. I speak no Swedish. However, the English are hated enemies of the Ottomans, and I would be lucky to return with my head were I to travel on my authentic passport. The Americans, as well, while not in outright war with the Ottomans, are nonetheless looked upon as a treacherous Western power, and I would be unlikely to gain entry with American papers either. Sweden is a small country which plays no part and has no alliances in the war between England and the Ottoman Empire.

     I have also secured a traveling companion, a Moslem man by the name of Ibrahim al-Fawaz. He is Egyptian, not Persian, however he speaks the Arabic and Persian tongues and knows the land; he will be an invaluable assistance. He was, I am told, a student of my father's. He has warned me in the strictest terms to never speak when in the presence of authorities or soldiers. I cannot speak the language of the country to which I pretend, and the English language will only cause problems in that part of the world. He has also counseled me, in sober and serious tones, that I must acquire a rifle. I have done so.

     Transportation is another problem. England of course trades not with the Ottomans, and a Swedish scholar disembarking from an English patrol ship would look quite odd indeed. To this problem an ingenious solution has been devised. We will sail to Italy, and there charter passage on a Greek trade ship to take us as far East as possible upon the Mediterranean. We will disembark, show our papers, and, God willing, begin our voyage inland toward the Zagros mountains. We must hope that neither the Greeks nor the Turks (or Egyptians, provided we reach the Levant) will be overly suspicious. It is, however, our most viable option, the others being to travel overland through Russia and arrive from the North (a voyage of many months), or to sail direct to the more British-friendly Egypt and attempt to cross into Persia from the South, a border much more secure and patrolled than the Mediterranean coast.

     I have also learned, again through my father's contacts, of a scholar of cuneiform who works in Damascus. His name is Faisal Abdul Hadi. He knew my father and will be a most welcome assistance, provided he can be found. Contacting him via post is not an option; there is no time, nor any assurance that the letter will reach him. Leave it be; we will find him if we can.

     Discussing this journey with my family has been more difficult. My son, who is too young to know for certain where it is I am going, or to fathom its incredible distance even when shown on a map, knows only that his father is leaving for an indeterminate amount of time in order to further his studies – a feeling I know all too well. My wife Edith, on the other hand, is keenly aware of the danger of this voyage, and the possibility, more likely than I would care to admit, that my son also shall grow to his adulthood knowing only a few fleeting years of his father's presence.

     I have myself worried about this fact. However, the excitement I now feel to follow my father in his footsteps is more exhilarating than my academic work has ever been. That is why I have begun work on a smaller project, one to be completed before my departure, one which my wife has begged me not to complete, and which I myself feel no small reluctance toward given the portentous implications of the act. Yet I feel it needs to be done.

     I will not bring my father's notes to Persia. I am now working at copying all the relevant notes and diagrams into new notebooks – I have four large notebooks which should easily contain everything necessary – and my fathers notebooks shall be left in the strongbox at my mother's house, along with the scrolls of cuneiform copied from tablets (they are too bulky, and will be entirely useless unless I happen to catch upon Faisal Abdul Hadi in Damascus). This time, the key goes not to my mother, but to my own wife. She accepted it with bitterness, with tears in her eyes. I explained to her, calmly but firmly, that it was my wish that should I not return, the key should be given to my son, when he was ready. She was reluctant to agree, but I persisted. It is the only time in our married life when I have insisted upon the privilege of my status as head of household. She eventually acquiesced, in doing so her eyes flashing with a moment of hatred which stunned and bewildered me. We have not spoken of it since.

     Aside from these things, our last task remains the tedious supply of the expedition; matches, clothing, dried food (certain to run out before we even reach Egypt), currency and other tradeable goods, tents, blankets, books, pens, maps, and all number of other small items. As we are a party of two, we have held ourselves strictly to the principle that we shall leave England with only what we two can carry; when we reach the mideast we will surely attempt to barter for a pack animal, and if this is successful, we will purchase more equipment. Much of the specifics of this voyage are being left up to circumstance, a situation unavoidable in transcontinental travel. Be it as it may; the Lord will watch over us.

     We leave on a trade ship on the ninth of May. It is the day, so history recalls, that the Canaanites fought Pharaoh Thutmose III in 1457 BC, on the plains of Megiddo, where battle shall again be joined on the Last Day.

May the 10th, 1915

     The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity. Ibrahim and I have shipped on a steamer bound for Italy; there is a flat, empty expanse of water ahead of us, which will take us some month and a half to cross before landing in Syracuse. From there we shall journey overland to Taranto, the main shipping port of Southern Italy, from where we hope to gain transport on a Greek ship. Sailing the Mediterranean to our destination will take almost another month. I will not record much in this my travelogue during this period; I am not comfortable on ships and do not expect to be in a writing mood. We are already but one day out and already Ibrahim laughs at me and tells me my skin is green.

     Yesterday we departed. My son bravely held back his tears and shook my hand steadily, like a man. I told him that it was of utmost importance that he continue his studies and be a support to his mother. I was unable to tell him how long I'd be gone, as I do not know myself. The most conservative estimate is something on the order of six months; it may be closer to a year. I held my wife and told her to be strong, but before I left I made her confirm her promise regarding the key, and my father's notebooks. She nodded icily. I hope for my safety, primarily that she not have to hand over that key, as my own mother did.

     As the ship left the port, I saw my son pull at his mother's hand. She raised him onto her shoulders and he shouted to me, in superb Latin, “Celeres ventes, pater!”, 'Fast winds, father!'

     I have a long voyage before me, and I will feel much better about it when my feet are on solid ground.

May the 28th, 1915

     A few general notes regarding my progress.

     My project of copying my father's relevant notes was completed several days prior to my departure, but the translation of the peripheral material as well as the compilation of all of this information into a workable plan was to be completed during my voyage. I feel compelled to admit that I am finding this latter portion of the work to be somewhat more difficult than I was expecting. I mentioned earlier my father's bothersome insistence upon providing transliterations instead of simple substitutions for important words; without a cuneiform scholar, my translations of such words are highly speculative, derived mainly from context references in the surrounding Greek. There is no linguistic relationship between Assyrian and Greek, so even when I see something that hints at a cognate, I must consider this a simple coincidence and move on; there are no words, so far as I know, which 'migrated' from Assyrian to Greek.

     I still do not know what it was for which my father was searching, though it appears to have been some sort of physical object, and not a person, or something less tangible, such as a state of mind or a mystical revelation. The Greek adjectives which seem connected to it in the notes are simple designations of physical qualities: in one instance it is referred to as 'thorny' or 'prickly', and in another, tellingly, it is said to be 'growing'. I can only surmise thus that it was some sort of plant. There are only a handful of these adjectives, these two being by far the most helpful.

     Ibrahim has been a fine traveling companion; he is very optimistic and jolly, and he takes to the sea with a natural affinity, despite the fact that his people traditionally wander an ocean of sand, not of water. He tells me that he knew my father up until his disappearance, and indeed I have fleeting recollections of his visiting on occasion. His assurances have convinced me, however, that if anyone but my father worked on this enigmatic project, Ibrahim was not one of them. Nor do I have any reason to doubt him on this point; he is an academic, but an Egyptian archaeologist, and he does not know cuneiform any more than I. Besides which, though he is older than myself, he is much younger than my father, and was not so much a colleague to him as a favoured student. We are, the two of us, risking a great deal for a very nebulous cause, sharing in common only that we trust my father, the great figurehead and benefactor of this expedition, urging us on now from decades in the past.

     We have been at sea now for two weeks, or so I am told. This brings me to a very curious occurrence, for which I am unable to fully account. On two separate occasions during this sea-voyage, I have found myself stymied by an incorrect calculation of the date. It sounds a small thing, but only consider for a moment that I have a calendar upon which I have carefully recorded the days as they pass; that the navigator of the ship has his own calendar, and that twice in two weeks, my own calendar has not matched his. I am almost certain that it cannot be attributed to error on either of our parts. Marking the day is my first order of business upon turning out each morning, and the navigators of ships of course must take very accurate notice of time and date in order to avoid going off their course. Neither can it be a matter of simple neglect when, as has happened, the first error was in recording the subsequent day as the present day (would I not have had to mark the calendar twice in one day?) and the second error was in, somehow, inexplicably, coming up one day short.

     I have, in both cases, relied upon the judgment of the navigator, and assumed that I have been in error – after all, it is hardly possible that both of us, keeping accurate records, should record different dates – but I know, I am sure, that my record-keeping has been accurate. But then perhaps it is possible that the sea has induced in me some delirium. I have come to find it hateful and hideous, near-painful, the constant and vast expanse of empty gray-blue, terminating nowhere, extending infinitely on all sides, and ourselves occupying the single tiny feature of this endless waste. I am thrilled to see the occasional whale or dolphin, not because of some naturalist's love of wildlife, but because it enables me to say to myself, there, there is another object, Jove has not drowned the world in a second deluge and left only us in our wooden prison. The sea carries not for me, as it does for so many others, the promise of freedom and adventure. For me, it's the featureless white walls of Bedlam.

     But on we go. Our journey over sea, they say, nears its halfway point. Soon enough, we will be back on land, if only briefly, and then after another, shorter voyage, my journey begins in earnest. Winds be swift, indeed; I would happily face ten-score of the Sultan's bayonets, would that I could only dispatch with this damnable waiting.

June the 18th, 1915

     Brief personal notes regarding a few odd events.

     We are now reaching the end of our major sea-voyage; we have rounded the coast of Spain, passed the straits of Gibraltar, and are now cruising at a good pace through the Mediterranean Sea. It is lovelier than I had allowed myself to hope. I am told we will reach Southern Italy in five or six days.

     While the scenery has vastly improved, I feel I should comment on a few strange occurrences which have taken place over the past two weeks. I mentioned in my last entry that I had first gained and then lost a day on my calendar; this has not happened again, but there are nonetheless some nagging thoughts and bizarre fears that have been preoccupying my mind. I have been having strange dreams, dreams of my father and the mountain that lies at the end of this journey. Often these dreams have no narrative or form, but consist solely of single visions, often of dead, white expanses of snow. In one of these, I saw Christ crucified amidst a terrifying, blinding blizzard. The blood that fell from His cross froze in midair, and was buried before it could stain the snow. I was awoken from that ream by Ibrahim, who was shaking me – he tells me I was screaming.

     In other dreams, I am confronted by masses and walls of text of various languages and alphabets; languages I know, alphabets such as cuneiform which I can recognize but not read, and always lines and pages and endless, eternal lengths of a bizarre script which I have never seen, its characters intricate and precise, like hieroglyphics, but entirely alien. Always in these dreams there is the sense that if the words would simply slow down, I could begin to pull them apart, to draw out their meaning, but they batter against my mind, ceaselessly, if anything seeming only to gain speed, until I find myself amidst a numbing cataclysm of text, each line and every letter diverting my attention but none working with others, until my concentration is shattered into a hundred points at once. Sometimes, at the height of my confusion, the letters turn to snowflakes, and I am left alone, helplessly, desperately alone, in the deadening white of words and winter which has no end.

     Once, having dozed off over a notebook, pen in hand, my dreams led me to this place. My mind reeling, I fell to my knees in the snow and waited to die. There was a dull pain in my arm which I took to be frostbite, but it gradually became more severe, more acute, and soon I woke with a start. I had drawn one of the foreign figures on my own arm, pressed so hard with the pen that the nib had actually cut my flesh. A mixture of blood and ink had pooled into a small puddle on the ship's deck between my feet. The mark may well be permanent. It is highly stylized, but it is clearly a pictogram, like the hieroglyphs of Egypt, though Ibrahim assures me it is not a hieroglyph. It depicts a kneeling sycophant, his arms raised in worship beside a small, thorned flower.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

An Oneirological Style of Tarot "Divination"

This is something a little different than usual; it's not a story, but rather an explanation of a new process of non-divinatory Tarot interpretation modeled after dreams (hence 'oneirological'). This may be of interest to those with an interest in the history and process of divination through cards, though (as I explain) it is not really itself a form of divination. I offer it, then, as an illustration of the versatility of the Tarot and its completeness as a symbolic system. As a sidenote, I have adopted E.A. Waite's stylistic choice to generally refer to the diviner in masculine terms and the querent in feminine, as he does in the Key To The Tarot.


Dominic E. Lacasse

The process of divination via Tarot cards dates to the sixteenth century, and possibly even earlier. Since this time there have been elucidated a great number of guides to the interpretation of the cards, and with each guide we see a different set of assumptions regarding precisely what is happening on the diviner’s board. These assumptions involve questions of the actual meaning of the cards (do we interpret them according to our own perceptions of their meaning, or according to the esoteric standards developed by our predecessors in the art?) the issue of which cards fall and in what sequence (is this totally random, or is it affected? If it is affected, is it affected by the diviner, or the querent, or some third party, perhaps spiritual?) the issue of interpretive priority (does the diviner tell the querent what the cards mean, or does the querent herself assign meaning?) and the place of the diviner (is he a spiritual medium, a psychologist, a scholar?) For each guide to Tarot interpretation we receive a different set of answers to these questions, and thus the act of Tarot interpretation is not a singular tradition but rather a pluralistic one; the Tarot is not a unified process maintained inviolate since time immemorial, but a common theme among a vast array of widely differing traditions.

It is in this spirit that I introduce what I understand to be a new approach to the nature and function of Tarot interpretation. This approach, as I will explain, will seem radically alien to many scholars of the ‘classical’ Tarot divinatory style as expressed most popularly by E.A. Waite. My approach offers different answers to the questions above, and indeed reevaluates the assumption that Tarot is necessarily a form of ‘divination’ (though of course, I am not the first to offer a non-divinatory approach to the Tarot.)

In short, I hope to illustrate an approach to Tarot interpretation which I am calling, for lack of a better term, “oneirological”, that is, essentially, ‘dream-oriented’. It is my understanding that the Tarot can in fact be interpreted in much the same way as a dream is analyzed by the dreamer. The process is similar; we are given a set of data (be it understood to be random or somehow affected) which we then interpret according to inner logic and apply to our lives. I will begin by discussing the nature of the dream in this sense, followed by my interpretation of the Tarot in this scheme, and will finally relate the major differences in assumption between this style of Tarot interpretation and the classical divinatory Tarot.

In this understanding, a dream is understood to have two major components; the ‘content’ of the dream, wherein are included the images, emotions, thoughts, and experiences which comprise the actual ‘events’ of the dream, and also the ‘analysis’ of the dream, which may occur during the dream or after waking, but is distinguished as being a ‘detached’, external examination of the dream content; in short, the attempt to apply some sort of cohesive personal logic to the (often illogical) dream content. All dreams which are remembered by the dreamer have these two aspects. Let us examine them in detail.

The ‘content’ of the dream, as everyone knows, is capable of an incredible, almost limitless range of images. The imagery and events of any particular dream may be either completely alien to us or completely mundane, or any combination thereof. Similarly the emotions we experience in dream appear to encompass the complete range of all our waking emotions, from pleasant relaxation to sublime joy, from vague apprehension to speechless terror. These emotions often spontaneously arise as a result of seemingly confusing or counterintuitive dream imagery; the face of a beloved friend can produce feelings of abject hatred, or any number of common objects or experiences may produce entirely unexpected emotional responses. The content of dreams is thus chaotic (in the sense that it is changeable and unpredictable, not in the sense that every dream is a dream of chaos or a chaotic experience.)

The chaotic nature of dream content is what necessitates analysis. Dream analysis is the question therefore of ‘what dreams mean’. Even seemingly mundane dreams necessitate analysis, and perhaps simply because of the fact that they are dreams, mundane dream experiences tend to be analyzed in a deeper sense than the same experience having occurred in waking life. Even more so do we analyze the bizarre or confusing dreams, dreams in which cryptic images and events take on massive emotional significance. Detailed analysis is a natural human response to unfamiliar content- thus dream content and dream analysis cannot truly be separated in the question of what dreams are. Indeed, we often analyze even while still dreaming.

Often is the argument made that the meanings drawn from dream content through analysis are secondary and irrelevant to the dream data, which is itself random. The argument goes on to suggest that the process of analysis is essentially a secondary layer of interpretation, with no real connection to the dream itself. This argument, as I see it, is correct in one respect (that is, that dream content truly is random, or close to random) but flawed in another sense, which is that it seeks to drive apart content and analysis of dreams, to such an extent as to suggest that the one is really only tangentially related to the other, that the content is the ‘dream itself’ while the analysis, which comes later, is a kind of story ‘about’ the dream.

This would be the case in the event of one person analyzing another’s dream, however the crucial distinction where a single person is concerned is that the same thing which creates the dream (that is, the mind) also analyzes the dream. The logic applied to dream content is not scientific logic but the internal symbolic thought processes of the individual; thus when a person analyzes his own dreams, the conclusions he reaches are not those that would necessarily be reached by any other person having heard about the dream, or having even experienced the dream.

The analysis, like the content itself, is a personal matter, and is thus not really a secondary explanation of the dream in logical terms, but rather a profoundly personal psychological explication of dream content. This is why decisions about what dreams ‘mean’ often only make sense to the person who has had the dream; dreams are explained to the self, not to others. Thus dream content and dream analysis are two parts of what is really a single process, this process being the mind’s evaluation of its own contents.

What we have then is a model wherein the following occurs in the process of having a dream: First, in the state of REM sleep, the subconscious is bombarded with a series of images and emotions. These are the regular contents of the waking mind (whether conscious or subconscious), arranged in what appear to be essentially random configurations. Most of this information has absolutely no relevance (or more correctly, is of absolutely no interest) and this perhaps explains why, as science has demonstrated, the vast majority of our dreams are never remembered. If we cared enough to remember our dreams we would have five or six per night; most people have only two or three per week.

However, certain configurations of the contents of our minds are new to us or perhaps inform us (purely by chance) about some previously unknown way of looking at some thing or another. It is these dreams which we remember; they are memorable because, as we say, they ‘tell us something’ (although really the content comes first and the analysis second, even if this happens during the dream itself). The degree of ‘normality’ that a dream has seems to correspond to the degree to which we think we understand the issue in question; thus we may have a completely mundane dream about, say, driving our car, and many aspects will be almost exactly like normal waking life, but it is the incongruous aspects (gearshift is a clown’s head) which indicate an attempt to gain understanding of something previously unknown or unconsidered. When we analyze our dreams, we draw in and correlate ideas in our minds which we believe to be related to these symbols, to explain to ourselves what it is the dream ‘means’. Thus the process of dream analysis is essentially reductive; we first subconsciously filter out and forget dream content which we consider irrelevant, and then we synthesize what remains with ideas we assign through our internal symbolic logic, and then we condense the result into what we call the ‘meaning’ of a dream.

Turning now to the Tarot, it is my understanding that Tarot interpretation can proceed in exactly the same fashion. In this case the Tarot deck (the full deck) stands in for the thoughts in our conscious and subconscious minds, the cards which are laid out during the reading represent specific dream content, and the pondering of the meaning and interrelationships of the cards represents dream analysis. In this way, a Tarot reading can be seen as essentially an ‘artificial dream.’

In this way, there need not be any aspect of ‘divination’ involved at all; the cards represent certain things (different things to different people, as will be discussed below) and they can be held to fall in a completely random manner, in any orientation, in any sequence, and at any place on the board in relation to the other cards drawn. Which cards come off the deck is also random (depending on the results of shuffling the cards) and which cards remain ‘unsaid’, i.e. never make it to the board, is therefore of course also determined purely by chance. In this way we have an event reminiscent of what happens when we dream; images and thoughts arrayed in completely random and totally unpredictable (unexpected) fashion, which are then interpreted as well as possible by the symbolic internal logic of the dreamer, or in the case of the Tarot, the querent. Thus we have a style of Tarot interpretation which is profoundly personal, which has absolutely no external guiding principles (esoteric, hermetic, or otherwise) and which allows for an incredible range in interpretation. Really, it is nothing more (and nothing less) than pulling a handful of thoughts out of a mind, shaking them like dice, throwing them on a table and observing the results. This approach is, to my mind, very exciting in that it shifts the focus of the Tarot from attaining information from spiritual entities / domains (divination) to a spontaneous, creative, and imaginative reappraisal of one’s cognitive state- essentially, self-psychology.

Needless to say, this approach changes the assumptions of classical Tarot interpretation in a number of ways. These changes involve the understanding of what is actually happening during a reading, the meanings of the individual cards, the roles of the diviner and the querent, and the expected result of the reading. These changes all involve the primary distinction of this style of Tarot reading, which is that at all times and in all cases the reading is immensely and completely personal (that is, subjective).

As discussed above, this type of interpretation need not (and to my mind probably should not) be considered divination. However, it does not necessarily have to be considered wholly psychological either; this is left up to the querent. Many people believe that spiritual beings or unknown realms are sometimes responsible for the content of dreams. This assumption need not be completely done away with in light of this new way of looking at the Tarot. Just as one might say that a dream comes from ‘beyond’, so one might say that the ‘artificial dream’ represented by the arrangement of the cards is also so affected. In this case, the cards that fall, their orientations, etc. may be read with an eye to the unseen in much the same way as a classical Tarot reading. However in order to properly maintain the personal emphasis of this ‘oneirological’ Tarot, one must of course remember that even if one holds that the message (the content, i.e. the cards) are swayed by this force, the content is inseparable from analysis, which must always be personal and human. Thus even if the cards are understood to be swayed by some spiritual force, the layout of cards is not a reflection of reality, but rather a message which only comes to its completion in the individual’s analysis. Personally, I prefer to keep divination wholly aside from this style of Tarot reading, as it largely misses the point, and also because classical Waite-style Tarot reading is a much better system for divinatory purposes.

A major distinction between what I am calling ‘classical’ and ‘oneirological’ Tarot is the assumptions implicit in the meanings of the cards. The cards of the Tarot are often considered to represent Jungian archetypes, and while I agree with this in principle, we must be careful here to maintain the crucial element of this approach to the process, which is the importance of subjective analysis. While the cards are certainly archetypal, it would be entirely against the nature of this kind of interpretation to suggest that they have concrete meanings which remain unchanged from person to person. In this case the numerous Tarot ‘guides’, such as the popular one by Waite, should really only be consulted when the meaning of a card is uncertain, and should be consulted not with an aim to ‘learning what the card means’, but rather as an attempt to open the mind to various interpretations, to start a person thinking about what a card could mean. For this reason it is also important that a person select a deck with imagery which appeals to him personally, and a guide which comments more on the imagery than on the received tradition of esoteric interpretation.

It should be clear by now, but let us state it boldly and without ambiguity: This style of Tarot is precisely not hermetic or kabbalistic or ‘traditional’ in any sense; it is improvisational and, beyond all else, personal, with no reference whatsoever to the authority of tradition (excepting of course that the individual accepts traditional meanings, having honestly decided that he agrees with this identification.) Similarly, the choice of card layout for this style is largely without consequence, although given the higher emphasis placed on the relationship of cards to one another, it may be wise to choose a layout which readily displays these connections, such as the Celtic Cross.

This is not to say that the values of the cards are arbitrary, but rather that each person must come to their own conclusions about what a card means. These conclusions can change over time, and certainly should, based on absolutely no criteria other than the opinions of the querent, but they should not be assigned arbitrary values from one reading to another, or else we will lose the important random aspect of the reading, and wind up simply fabricating the results we hope to attain. With this ‘oneirological’ approach, we have greater freedom, which can be easily abused to the detriment of the spontaneity of the reading. Let the querent set her own values for the cards, but let her keep them honestly, excepting that she honestly decides to alter them.

This brings us to perhaps the greatest distinction of all between oneirological and classical Tarot, that being the roles of the diviner and querent. It should be clear by now that with this form of the Tarot, the role of the diviner is greatly subordinated to that of the querent. The diviner no longer really does anything, merely lays out the cards according to blind chance (for the sake of emphasizing the personal approach of this style, the querent should still shuffle and cut the deck) and then helps to explain the possible meanings of the cards; however the querent herself is the ultimate authority on what the cards mean to her. The diviner really just becomes a more convenient flesh-and-blood version of the guidebooks to Tarot meaning that can be found in any bookstore. Even in divinatory interpretations of this Tarot style, it is the querent and not the diviner who performs the activity of divination, in that the divined message comes in two parts, the cards laid out and the querent’s (not the diviner’s) interpretation.

What this really comes down to is that in this style, the roles of querent and diviner really collapse into one person. In classical Tarot it is discouraged that a person should perform a reading on himself; in this style, this is precisely what should happen. Because the cards are no longer seen as a message from beyond, but rather a model of the reader’s own mind, it becomes a matter of great importance that the reader have an intimate familiarity with the cards; not just the cards of the Tarot in general, but the cards of his specific deck, and should always be refining an intricate system of personal meaning for each.

That is why this kind of Tarot is really not well suited to the traditional diviner / querent duality; a querent, unfamiliar with the Tarot or dealing with unfamiliar cards, will not possess the requisite depth of meaning required to analyze them on the incredibly personal level that this style demands, while the diviner, unfamiliar with the querent, can give only general hints, which may completely miss the mark. Much like a dream cannot be adequately explained to another person, the Tarot in this sense is a closed, personal message system, relying as it does on personal associations to its imagery, and thus for one person to explain another’s Tarot reading in this way is like the futile attempt of one person to explain another’s dream. This system is thus best suited to a scenario wherein the person of the diviner has been replaced by the querent’s own intricate, extensive, and subjective knowledge of the cards.

We must also learn to limit what we expect from the Tarot reading. In divinatory Tarot, where we take as a given that there is a message, which is trying to be understood, there is no such thing as a meaningless Tarot spread. Any spread which appears meaningless is understood to simply be unreadable because of intellectual limitations on the part of the diviner. Here, with no external guiding principle infusing our readings with insight and meaning, we do not have the luxury of assuming that a Tarot spread must be a message waiting to be read. We are taking dreams as our model for what happens when a person sits down with a deck of cards, and dreams are often (in fact, as discussed above, usually) completely nonsensical.

With the Tarot we have a kind of advantage over dreaming in this aspect, because we are not subjected to the apparently harsh edicts of our subconscious judge, who seems to censor about ninety percent of the information that passes through our minds during REM sleep, leaving only a small percentage as a remembered dream. We are allowed to make our own (conscious) decisions as to whether the ‘dream’ has value, and indeed any dream (or Tarot spread) which is open to analysis becomes a valuable insight in this scheme. As such, we can anticipate a much greater success rate in reading the ‘artificial dreams’ of the Tarot, as opposed to remembering our dreams. Even so, we must be open to the possibility that a certain Tarot spread may simply mean nothing to us (though it almost certainly would mean something to someone else.) Accordingly, we must learn to distinguish our own motivations, and be able to tell the difference between a configuration of cards that really means something to us and one we are simply trying to inject meaning into, by distorting our understanding of the meanings of the cards. We must be ready, and willing, sometimes even at a simple glance, to recognize when the cards are telling us nothing, and to pick them up and start again.

I see this style as something of a liberation from the somewhat constraining assumptions of classical Tarot, which generally requires extensive hermetic knowledge and limits the possible range of meaning of these incredibly intricate cards. I expect that I will gain little support among staunch proponents of the divinatory aspects of the Tarot, but I do not propose this system as an attack on divination. Rather, as I mentioned above, the cards themselves are only the common core of a huge range of traditions, some divinatory, some not; this one in particular is not (or, at least I think should not) be considered divinatory. This is not to say that there are no valid divinatory uses of the Tarot; rather, it is to affirm the incredible subtlety and versatility of these cards as symbols, and to demonstrate the astounding range of uses to which they can be put.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Persitence - Part IV: Ellen

Dominic E. Lacasse

Part I: Halifax (Link)
Part II: Triumph (Link)
Part III: Stories (Link)

I had used up all of my time in Triumph. There was nothing for it; I was scheduled to work that afternoon, and there was nobody who I could contact readily enough to cover for me. So, though my mind was racing with the unanswered questions I would be foolishly leaving behind, I was forced to pack up my meager belongings early that morning and set out. Jebediah, who was by that time already up and about, offered to give me a ride to Lunenburg, and so it was from there I set out with leveled thumb and stormy thoughts.

I secured a ride readily enough from the driver of a pickup truck, every square inch of the truck bed packed with what looked like mackerel bound for the Halifax market. Fish goes bad quickly, so a fish truck is a good ride– the shelf-life of the product necessitates a fast trip. I tried not to eye the speedometer and simply gazed out the window, speaking only when absolutely necessary.

I gave myself a headache, trying to pierce the furthest reaches of the forest with my gaze as it flew by. Cyrus’ story haunted me. I wondered what other nameless, unspoken horrors lurked in the forests of the world. All my life I had treasured these grim tales, but never before had I been so scared of them. I was not scared of the content of the story; true, it was probably the most gruesome I’d yet heard, but it had happened long ago, and, as Cyrus said, it was over. Finished. What scared me was the prospect that this was not, could not be the only story of its kind; a story untold, a story forgotten, and forgotten intentionally. How many others had there been? How many other unspeakable things had happened not only in this forest, but in all the forests and cities and deserts of this unholy world? How many, indeed, had been entirely forgotten, finalized in their disappearance?

A sickening chill washed over me as I considered that maybe the stories we have are only the very tip of something much more terrible. That these stories we remember, no matter how gruesome, are remembered simply because there’s something in them, or rather something missing from them, that makes it possible for us to deal with them. The human mind is a fragile thing, and perhaps unable to deal with much of the products of human will. Maybe beyond the veil of our limits of sanity there exist fleeting shades of true madness, stories which by their very nature must be forgotten or else remain like tumors, wounding generation after generation, never dying because the human mind is infinite in its capacity for self-destruction. Ghosts of people may be considered and dismissed. When one decides that ghosts are not real, ghosts lose all strength. But stories are always real. Every story is true in the mind, because a story is not a scientific test of reality but a mirror, a window into ourselves, and in this life the one thing we can never escape is ourselves.

So it was that when I returned to Halifax, I allowed the story to pass away into memory. At first I made half-hearted plans to return to Triumph, but I invented reasons to postpone the trip whenever the possibility came around. Never in my life had I left a story like this alone, never had I come so far and then simply given up, left the questions unanswered. The truth was that I wanted to forget this story. It was my hope, a hope I kept hidden even from myself, that some day I would simply wake up and the story would be gone from my mind, and I would live the rest of my life and never think about it again. I put Ellen’s book of secrets behind the books in my shelf, where I would not even be able to see it, as I knew the very sight of it would bring the story crashing back into my consciousness. I put my travel bag, with all my notes and the still undeveloped film canisters, on the very top shelf of my closet, behind a large box to likewise hide that from my eyes. With the passion and fear of a man on the run I dove into my studies, and over the next few months the story began to fade away from my mind.

I spoke to my friend David, but never brought up Triumph or anything I had learned there. Curiously, he never asked me about it. It was as though we had, without speaking, simply agreed not to mention it. We spoke often about the work we’d both been doing over the summer, what we’d managed to find out about the places we’d been, but never was Triumph discussed.

David and I both attended an upper-year fieldwork-based seminar. One day, the professor quite unexpectedly asked me about a project I’d been delaying. I sheepishly explained that I had not yet begun. When he asked if I’d decided on a particular subject, if I had any leads I’d been following up, I remembered Triumph momentarily and hesitated in my speech. I told the professor I had not yet found a subject. Seeking to avoid his disappointed gaze, I turned to glance at David, sitting across from me at the table. Our eyes locked for the briefest of moments, and it was suddenly clear that both of us knew, we were both trying to ignore the same story, pounding at the door.

Still, we did not speak about it. I continued to try to force the story from my mind, but I eventually decided it was of no use. Despite my efforts to forget, my mind continually went over my time in Triumph, the unanswered questions. Eventually simply looking at the bookshelf which held Ellen’s journal caused great waves of awful memory to come crashing down on whatever I was trying to focus on. I was driven to distraction. My mind continually searched for Ellen’s place in all of this. Eventually I decided that I would be satisfied if I could only know the truth, whatever that might entail.

I had to start with Ellen. With shaking hands I reached into the back of my bookshelf and drew forth the battered black journal. I laid it on my desk and simply gazed at it for a moment. Though I had looked through it several times in Triumph, I had never managed to find anything legible in it besides the two passages I had transcribed earlier. These transcriptions were waiting for me when I finally opened the cover; they were folded neatly, and I had not touched them since my return from Triumph.

I looked them over again, with a slight chill. Ellen’s frantic scribblings about man’s tormented soul. We have walked beyond the path of animal but here there is no road for us to travel, there is no guide for us because we are first. What primal shock had so stunned and fascinated this woman?

I folded the transcriptions again and put them aside. I began again, for the first time in almost four months, poring through Ellen’s diary. I pulled apart the dry pages as I had done so many times before. Coming upon the two legible inscriptions was like phantoms of the past as seen in dreams. I moved on and tried not to read.

Again, like before, I reached the end of the diary and had found nothing but watery blue-black masses diffused through ancient paper. I was about to close the book and accept defeat, when I noticed that the very last piece of paper, which I had taken to be part of the back cover, was in fact a separate sheet, almost hopelessly fused to the leather. I knew there would likely be nothing legible on the other side of that sheet, assuming I could even get it separated, but if only for the sake of thoroughness I patiently and gently pried the page back with the help of a pen-knife.

As I expected, the back sheet was the most distorted of all, and appeared to have no original writing on it to begin with. I sighed in disappointment; I had finally got the nerve to begin to track this story down further, and I had found nothing new.

I then noticed, however, a few lines printed in an extremely small script in a lower corner. They appeared to be machine-printed, which may have accounted for their legibility after such a long period of time. Leaning close, I discerned the words Dalhousie Bookstore. Ellen, whoever she was, must have attended Dalhousie. I shuddered to think of resuming my investigation, but this story had laid quiet long enough. It was time to pick up the trail again and finally finish what I had left in Triumph.

Merely gaining access to the school’s records was a struggle in itself. I found myself pleading with an irritable librarian who peered at me over the top of her glasses and seemed almost to improvise reasons why I should not be given access to the records. In turn I improvised elaborate lies to circumvent these rules. Eventually, after I had patiently explained that I was a friend of the family trying to track Ellen down to give her the news about her poor mother’s death, the librarian sighed in resignation and grudgingly handed over a huge set of keys. “Basement, room D.” she croaked. “Don’t make a mess.”

The student records at Dalhousie seemed to share the same general organizational scheme as the church bulletins in Triumph; huge file-boxes stacked haphazardly in massive piles, like a miniature city skyline. The boxes did, however, appear to have a more or less alphabetical arrangement, and were kept in fairly decent order. I had to wind carefully through this forest of boxes, nearly to the far wall, before I found the D section. I began unpiling one of the towers, my eye on a huge box labeled ‘DA’ on the very bottom. I took the utmost care to watch my step– knock over one of these towers and it would start a chain reaction of terrible proportions. That old heron of a librarian would hear the racket and race down here, and God knows, I’d probably never get out alive.

I finally unearthed the correct box. Sitting down crosslegged on the cement floor and cautiously resting my back against what seemed a reliable tower, I began poring through the files. I flipped rapidly through them, the collegiate lives of unknown students zipping past my gaze. And then, quite unexpectedly, I found Ellen’s file, exactly where it should have been.

I removed it from the box and simply gazed at it for a moment, without reading. There was her name, carefully typed at the top; down below, her academic achievements. This was a real person. I realized that until this point I had no expectation of actually finding her file down here. I realized that a part of me had refused even to believe this story. I had dreamed this girl’s name, never even told by that terrified apparition. I had found her diary in a scorched lighthouse. And now I held in my hand real outside evidence. There was now no chance that this was all in my head.

I peered down to read the transcript. Ellen Daress was an undergraduate student in the department of Psychology. She had left the university during her third year, and had apparently never graduated. The transcript read that she had entered Dalhousie as a freshman in 1922, and somewhere in the second half of the third year had suddenly dropped everything and left.

I looked at her class transcript. She was a very bright girl, and had only three B grades against an otherwise straight-A transcript. By the second half of her second year, she was taking nothing but high-level seminars and independent studies in Psychology, mostly under the tutelage of a professor named Dr. Brisson. The names of the classes themselves I could make no sense of– “Advanced topics in Perception”, “Behavioral Statistics”, “Psycholinguistics Research”– but I at least had the name of what appeared to be the professor who knew her best.

I pulled out a notebook and began scribbling down classes and the names of professors. My pen caught on a crease in the paper and in my haste I caused the pen’s nib to scatter ink across the sheet. Frustrated, I tore the piece of paper out of my notebook. There was a small wire trash can in the corner of the room. With Ellen’s transcript under my arm I stalked over to toss the paper out.

There were several pieces of what seemed like a single ripped-up sheet in the trash can. I tossed my page away and I was halfway around when I suddenly realized the text I’d seen on one of the fragments. It was a headline, of a font and style I knew all too well from the bulletins I’d found in the church in Triumph. It was ripped vertically and fragments of a two-line headline read ‘Jameso’ and, beneath, ‘Fire’. My heart thudded in my chest and seemed to stop. For one brief moment I felt like breaking down in tears. I was not chasing this story down; it was chasing me down, the way an animal runs down prey. I had not wanted to go on. I had wanted to forget this ever happened. The real reason for my even being here was to prove to myself that this was all some kind of elaborate hallucination. But here I was, holding in my hand Ellen’s college transcript, and in the trash can of this concrete oubliette the story lay waiting for me, driving me further onward though I wanted no more.

I took a deep breath. I tried to be calm. I thought of my previous agreement with myself; if I dropped this now, if I never found out the truth, would that not be worse? I must continue, if only to give this thing a sense of completion, so that I could sleep at night knowing that I had understood it all. With a firm resolve I turned back. The paper was ripped into seven or eight pieces. With a little bit of patience I was able to rearrange them on top of a nearby box.

The headline read “Jameson House Destroyed in Fire, Killing Two”. Below and to the left there was a picture of a modest log cabin. Beneath this, a smoldering foundation. With a sickening lurch I realized that I had seen the foundation before. Visions of my dream crackled like flame before my consciousness. I shut them out, drove them away, as I’d become accustomed to doing.

The text of the article, to my outward dismay and inward delight, was almost entirely obliterated by black ink. Someone had intentionally scribbled out the text, before ripping the paper to pieces and throwing it in this trash can. There was no doubt in my mind that this was David’s work. Now I was sure– David had found what I had found in Triumph, perhaps even more, and he was running from it the same way I was. He had even been down here, in this very part of the records room, obviously just as hell-bent as I on discovering the significance of Triumph’s most mysterious daughter.

There were, however, a few line fragments which my friend’s hasty pen had left whole and intact. A part of the first line was legible, reading “Police report that a faulty lamp was to blame for Saturday’s fire, which–“ the text disappeared under black ink and emerged shortly later “–son and his elderly mother.” A faulty lamp, I thought. An adequate metaphor. A little further on down the page: “–fire did not pose a threat to the rest of the town–“ ”–solated by its distance at a full five miles up the shore from our lighthouse.” Beyond this, the paper was almost entirely obliterated, aside from a few line fragments of little importance toward the end of the article.

I felt defenseless and vulnerable in this concrete cell. I quickly scribbled down the notes I needed from Ellen’s transcript and replaced it in its box. I stuffed the bulletin fragments in my pocket and hastened to get out.

The next day I was waiting in the Psychology department at Dalhousie for an appointment I’d made with Dr. Brisson. I’d learned that he was in fact the chair of the department, a renowned psychologist who had studied with Freud himself for a long while. I had with me my old travel bag, still containing all the old collected material I’d found in Triumph. Bringing the bag down out of my closet felt taboo, like unearthing a corpse, and now it slumped on the chair next to me and made me uneasy.

The secretary let me know that Dr. Brisson was ready to speak with me and led me into his office. Far from the palatial space I’d expected on the other side of the door, the doctor sat crowded at a tiny aluminum desk, surrounded on all sides by more books than a man could read in ten lifetimes. Books lay stacked in huge piles on the floor, all over his desk, the man was drowning in a sea of books. The professor himself wore a battered jacket and a beard that was unkempt and obviously unintentional. He looked up and smiled, beckoning me inside. “Come in, come in!” he cried. He moved a stack of books off a small wooden kitchen chair and gestured madly at it. “What can I help you with, my boy?”

Sheepishly, I sat down. “Sir, I’m looking for information on a former student of yours.”

He sat down in his chair and leaned back. “A student of mine? My son, I’ve had an awful lot of students in my time.”

“You might remember this one, she took a number of classes with you,” I explained. “Her name was Ellen Daress.”

The professor looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling for a moment, as if trying to remember the name. At last he snapped his fingers. “I believe I do remember her,” he said, “she did not graduate, am I correct?”

I nodded. “That’s right, she left in her third year.”

“Ah yes, so she is the one.” the professor said, “I do remember her. She was a very smart girl. We were all devastated when she had to leave. I had such high hopes for her.”

“Why did she leave, Dr. Brisson?”

“She wouldn’t say,” he explained. He furrowed his brow. “There was a rumor that there was a baby, if I remember correctly. But of course that’s a fairly standard claim to make whenever anyone leaves something so suddenly.”

“She never told you why she was leaving?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I believe she wanted to spare us all the worry. She came and told me that she needed to go home, and that she wouldn’t be coming back. And that was that.”

So the professor didn’t have an answer for Ellen’s abandonment of her studies. If Ellen had gotten pregnant, she would have certainly returned to Triumph; a girl her age could not have possibly supported a child and an education on her own. It was somewhat of a tragic story, if true; Ellen never became what she felt she was meant to become.

“Professor, maybe you could tell me something about what Ellen was studying. I found her file in the records, but I don’t understand any of the names of these classes.”

Dr. Brisson laughed. “Ellen was interested in human relationships.” he said, “Especially as those relationships exist between members of a family as opposed to members of society at large.

“To be slightly more technical, Ellen was interested in the psychology of the family structure as an instinctive primitive tendency. Apes and chimps, our close relatives, organize themselves in familial tribal structures. Likewise, at the dawn of civilization, man delineated himself from others by family bonds. Only comparatively late in human societal development did the concept of multiple tribes working toward a single end originate.

“Ellen was working to show that this instinctive bond between families is exceptionally more influential than we currently understand. The argument would have gone on to suggest that all of the urges explained by Freud regarding one’s family in early development, are in fact a direct result of the simple fact that they are one’s family. She was arguing that the basic tribal instinct, in essence, mythologizes the family.”

I leaned back in my chair. “And this mythologizing then causes psychological problems later in life?”

“That’s right,” said the professor, smiling. “It’s quite an impressive theory, is it not? Political issues can be considered a result of one’s mythological image of the father. Racism and the like are xenophobic reactions caused by an innate desire to resist the mingling of tribes. And, more importantly from a treatment perspective, one’s innate understanding of the working of this ideal, ‘Olympian’ family can be examined as an indicator of mental disorders.”

“And what kind of research did this involve?”

“If I remember correctly, she did a lot of work that involved what’s called folie a deux; it’s a very rare psychological condition in which a particular delusion or mental issue is shared by two or more people. These cases usually involve members of the same family or isolated group. Ellen’s hypothesis about folie a deux was that it was directly caused by these primitive familial bonds. If a person’s perception of reality is always mediated by their understanding of their tribal status, then there is a tendency to see the head of the tribe as the paradigm for rational understanding of the world. When the head of the tribe loses grasp of things, the subordinate is in danger of falling into the same delusions as a result, essentially, of his loyalty. A person may be taken over by delusions that objective reality proves to him are not true. Eventually the person forgets objective reality and simply tries to share the mind of the leader.”

I thought about Jameson and his mother. No wonder Ellen had been so frantically obsessed with them. She had given up her education, her life’s purpose, but had found in her very own hometown the perfect historical specimens for her theories.

“Professor, could this kind of problem be exacerbated by some kind of trauma in the household?” Visions flashed through my mind of the Jameson house walled with snow, the family closed off from everything, and then finally, the first unspeakable deed which was the seed of all that followed.

“Yes,” said the professor gravely. “Perhaps with this affliction more than with others. In a sudden catastrophe or prolonged hopeless situation, a person’s grasp on reality becomes less firm. The mind is searching for a place to hold on. Ellen would have said that we latch on to the mythologized forms of our tribe in panic, and if the leader we decide to follow has himself lost his grasp, we may happily accept his delusions simply to find solid footing.”

I was silent for a long time. Dr. Brisson looked at me with gleaming eyes. At last I said, “All this from a third-year student?”

The professor laughed heartily. “Yes, she was a remarkable student.” he said. “For the longest time, I was hoping she would return and finish her work, but it appears unlikely now. I hadn’t thought about her for some time until you arrived. Tell me, why are you so interested in Ellen?”

I realized that I had no answer. I didn’t owe this man a lie like the one I’d fed the librarian earlier, so I simply replied with the truth. “I found a notebook of hers. It’s barely legible but now I’m trying to find out more about her.”

The professor asked to see the notebook. I reached into the bag and found it, but before I pulled it out, I hesitated. “It... it looks like it’s not in here.” I said at last. I don’t know whether it was out of a sense of competition or one of mercy, but I felt nauseous at the possibility of letting him in on what I’d found out so far. Best to leave it alone.

The professor and I had a short chat about my own work. I mentioned nothing about Triumph but discussed some of my prior fieldwork. After a few minutes of cordial conversation, I thanked Dr. Brisson for his help and excused myself.

I had learned something of Ellen, but nothing that would help me track her down. I at last decided that, revolting as the idea might be, I needed to return to Triumph. I began making plans, serious plans this time, plans with which I intended to follow through come hell or high water, to visit the town one last time. I had still not done the thing I’d been too embarrassed to do when Ellen’s name was only in a dream– I had to ask Cyrus, keeper of lore, about Ellen Daress.

The next weekend I was on my way back to Triumph, the corpse-bag hung over my shoulder and my thumb out in the mid-autumn chill. I had left very early; with any luck, I could make Lunenberg and have some time to myself before finding a ride to Triumph and arriving in the early afternoon.

I caught a ride in an old maroon car piloted by an old lady who had been driving these roads since the days when travel was done by carriage. She said little and drove slowly, but I was in no rush. In my mind’s eye, I went over the confrontation I’d had with my friend David the night before.

We’d still not spoken about Triumph. He had dropped by my room to say hello, when he noticed I was packed for a trip. When I told him I was going back to Triumph, he turned as white as a sheet. “Why go back there?” he asked, his voice betraying his nervousness. “I told you there was nothing there. You never found anything there, right?”

I turned and looked at him. His question had an obvious insistence that betrayed his words. “I did find something, David,” I said. “Or at least I think I did. I’m going to tie up some loose ends.”

David swallowed. “You didn’t find anything, my friend. I know you think you’ve found something, but there’s nothing to find there. The place is dull. You’re just going to be wasting your time.”

I shrugged. “I’ve got nothing else to do this weekend. Care to come with?”
He looked hurt, as though I was a kid on a playground, taunting him to climb higher. There were several seconds of silence. Finally he shook his head and said “If you want to go, that’s your business, I’m staying.” He had tried to sound ambivalent, as though the trip was only an inconvenience for him, but there was tension in his voice.

I never mentioned anything about the bulletin I’d found in the records room. He was running, just like I had tried to do. He was still running, and at the time I thought it would have been cruel to make him face the facts. He had left shortly thereafter, without saying goodbye.

So it was this meeting that was on my mind as the old lady steamed into Lunenberg and deposited me in front of the local library. I thought I would go to a restaurant for a cup of coffee, but before I did so I remembered the rolls of film that had been floating in limbo in my bag all these months. With little else to do, I wandered up the street to the drug store and turned in the film to be developed. I found a restaurant nearby. After my photos were prepared, I would have plenty of time to find a ride to Triumph.

I ordered a coffee and spread my old notes out in front of me. I spent half an hour or so flipping through them absently, trying to find some piece of the riddle that I’d not noticed before. What was Ellen’s diary doing in the lighthouse? From the notes I’d copied from her, she seemed a bright and intelligent young woman. Why, then, would she have been hanging around in a burned-out lighthouse?

I reached in the bag for my own notebook, in which I’d taken a few notes about Dr. Brisson’s explanation of Ellen’s studies. I felt that somehow this could tie together something I’d not noticed before. Rummaging around in the bag first for the notebook and then for a pen, my hand wrapped around a solid, heavy object at the bottom of the bag. I pulled it out. It was the bottom half of the rusty padlock that had hung from the lighthouse door, the half that had snapped off in my hand when I had visited the lighthouse.

Absently, I examined the object. It was rusty in places and seemed ready to fall apart in my hand. The spots without rust were stained with smoke and soot. Not the world’s finest padlock, to be in such rotten shape. I assumed it had been put on the door in 1911, after the first fire, and perhaps merely its age was the reason it was in such a state.

For no reason other than absent-minded curiosity, I retrieved my small magnifying glass from the bag and observed the padlock more closely. At first I could find only smoke damage and rust, but then I noticed, on the bottom, some fine lettering that I could not make out. I took a napkin from the table and rubbed at the lettering, clearing away enough of the soot to make the words more legible. Again I put my eye to the magnifying glass and peered intently at the words written there:

J.D. Behringer Security - 1928

I frowned in confusion. If the lock had been manufactured in 1928, then it
certainly couldn’t have been put on the door after the fire of 1911. Truth be told, it would make sense that it was put in place after the second fire, in 1928– but if that was the case, why was there smoke and soot all over it? The only logical explanation was that it was put in place shortly before the second fire. But then why had they waited seventeen years to lock the door after the first fire?

I looked at my watch. The photographs would be ready by now. Putting the padlock back in the bag along with all my notes, I pondered the situation as I walked across town to the drug store to pick up my prints. Upon looking through them I found that several were in bad shape, including one whole roll that was entirely useless due to overexposure. However, I did have fifteen or twenty decent photos of the church and the lighthouse. I returned to the coffee shop and spread them out in front of me. One picture had been taken quite close to the door of the lighthouse, before I had broken the padlock off, so I spent a few minutes analyzing that one closely. I thought that there might be some clue to be found by observing the lock in its entirety, rather than just the piece I had with me.

What I noticed, however, was nothing to do with the padlock. It was a small keyhole underneath the latch on which the padlock hung. A deadbolt, I thought. I remembered seeing a piece of it break off when I kicked the door open.

Two locks on the same door. But why? Increased security? The lighthouse was certainly not a very safe place in which to be playing around. My thoughts flickered back to the stairs and their tenuous grip on the walls above me. It made perfect sense that the town’s parents wouldn’t want their children hanging around in that mess. But again I thought of the smoke on the padlock; it had been there when the second fire started. Before then, the lighthouse was no danger to anyone, and the deadbolt would have certainly kept out anyone who wanted to get in. Why hang a second lock?

I became even more perplexed when I picked up a picture that showed the entire lighthouse. The windows on the side were broken, gaping wide open to the elements. I had planned on climbing through a window if I could not get in through the door. The overgrown woods would have made this manner of entry as easy as you like, certainly easy enough for a mischievous child. If security was the reason for the deadbolt, why were the windows not boarded up?

The answer hit me with so much force that I dropped the photograph and the padlock, making a loud clatter that turned the heads of everyone in the coffee shop. The padlock had not been hung to keep anyone out. It had been hung to keep someone in.

Looking through my pictures only reassured me of this. The metal grates on the windows were broken and bent from their frames, jutting out from the lighthouse rather than in. Suddenly everything made sense. That was why there was no mention of the second fire in the bulletins. Visions crackled through my head, visions of a dark night lit up by flame, the townspeople gathered around the lighthouse, screams tearing through the night as the fire reached up, turning everything inside to ashes. Everything except Ellen’s black diary, the enigmatic book which had been driving me forward, and had driven me back here. We take care of our own around here.

I shoved everything on the table hurriedly into my bag and stood up. There was one last thing I needed to check, in order to be absolutely sure. Cyrus had told me that the fire department had come down from Lunenberg to help contain the 1928 fire. I had noticed the fire department on my ride in to town and knew it was only a few blocks away. I raced to the fire department.

There was an old lady behind the desk serving as a receptionist and dispatcher. She seemed startled by the frantic way I spoke to her, the look in my eyes, my shortness of breath.

“Calm down, young man!” she cried, “What’s the problem here?”

I tried to calm myself and failed. “I need you to check your records.” I said. “The lighthouse, in Triumph. 1928. Was there a fire?”

The lady stopped to think. “I’ve been working here for fifty-three years,” she mused. “I’d remember something like that. The lighthouse in Triumph burned...” she paused and frowned as if trying to remember. “It burned, but not in ‘28. It was before that. I think it happened in 1910 or ‘11.”

My heart felt like a heavy stone. “I need to be positive, ma’am, do you have any records you could check?”

She gave me a scowl. “You don’t trust me, eh?” she asked. She sighed theatrically. “Alright, young man. I’ll go have a look. But if this phone rings, you yell, good and loud, get me?” I nodded, and with another dour look she tottered off into a back room.

She returned about five minutes later. “We’ve got no record of a fire at the lighthouse in 1928. Just 1911.”

My mind was reeling. I thanked her and ignored her when she asked what this was all about.

In a daze, I walked to the highway and flagged down a few cars before I found one willing to bring me to Triumph. This was a young girl who had all kinds of questions about who I was and where I was from, why I was going to Triumph, what I did, and so on. I responded curtly and only when necessary. I did not mean to be rude, but my head was spinning. I was having a hard time understanding all of this, but I felt I had finally uncovered the sinister secret of this town, and I was preparing my questions carefully.

When we arrived in Triumph, a great thunderstorm was raging overhead. The sky was nearly as black as night and the rain was coming down in sheets. I asked to be dropped off by Cyrus Peterson’s place, and I hurried into the hotel.

Cyrus came out of the office, a large cigar in his mouth. “Jason!” he cried. “Back again so soon!”

I walked to the desk and put my bag down. I said nothing but simply stood in front of the desk, looking downward, trying to figure out what to ask first.

“My God, boy, you look like death warmed over.” Cyrus’ voice was full of concern. I felt terrible bringing all of this darkness and disquiet here. I was an outsider come to disturb the tribe, and I felt vulnerable and intrusive.

“Mr. Peterson,” I said. I was breathing heavily, trying to avoid eye contact. “I need you to tell me about Ellen Daress, and what happened to her.”

Peterson leveled his gaze at me. When he spoke, it was quiet, but not menacing. “You just don’t know when to quit, do you, boy?”

“I’m tired of this going through my head.” I said at last. “I’m tired of all of this. Mr. Peterson, something awful happened here, and I’m not talking about the Jamesons. All I want is the truth. I just want to settle this thing in my mind and have done with it. I wish to hell I’d never come here.” I felt worn-out and desperate.

Cyrus looked me in the eye for a very long time. At last, he took a deep breath and opened the door to his office. “Come on in, son.” he said, his voice resigned, old and weary. “We’d better have a drink.”

I sat down once again in my old chair, apprentice and master, scrutinizing one another over the whiskey bottle that stood between us. Cyrus poured us each a glass. “What do you know, then?” he asked.

I reached into my bag and pulled out the padlock. I began outlining my evidence, not as an accusator but as a colleague sharing fieldwork with another. “I know that this padlock was put on the door of the lighthouse before it burned the second time. I know that neither the Lunenberg fire department, nor the church bulletins have any record of the fire. I know that Ellen Daress was in the lighthouse– I found her notebook there. I believe it’s true that the people in this town intentionally locked her inside and burned the lighthouse down. And I know from that notebook that all of this is tied to the Jameson family somehow. I just want the whole story.”

Cyrus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You’re good, my friend.” he said at last, in a low voice. “I’d hoped I’d never have to speak of this again. You’re right that this goes back to the Jamesons. I didn’t tell you because you shouldn’t know– no one should know. But now it looks like you know, and God knows there’s nothing I can do to help that. You want the whole story? To settle yourself?”

I nodded. I felt exhausted.

“It won’t settle you. But neither can it harm you now, not any more than it would otherwise. What’s done is done. You deserve to know the truth.

“Ellen Daress was a smart girl. She had gone to Dalhousie to study psychology, a very new discipline, and one the townsfolk weren’t crazy about– them that could understand it, anyway. Nor them that couldn’t, I suppose. She went anyway. In her third year, she got pregnant. A mistake, they said, and the father wanted nothing to do with it. She came home to Triumph in 1925 to have her child.

“She found out about the story of the Jamesons somehow, even though them that know the story keep it quiet. We heard that she had even gone to the woods to find their foundation. Slowly she began to lose her grip on reality. She would spend days and days trying to find out what had been going on in the heads of Jameson and his mother. Eventually it was all she talked about. We knew what was happening, but it was too late for her.

“We tried to get her away from her books, but nobody can take away the thoughts in a person’s head. She became violent and would stay confined in her room for days, with the door locked and the child with her. Eventually, we decided that the baby was no longer safe. We tried one night in ‘28 to get it away from her, but she fought us and escaped with the child.

“We didn’t know what had happened to her for another week or so. And then some kids were out at the lighthouse, fooling around, and they tried the door and found it unlocked. They didn’t know, none of us knew, that Ellen had somehow found her way into the lighthouse and was living there, scribbling madly in the diary that you found. The children looked around the lighthouse and quickly uncovered Ellen’s child. She had killed it, and the flesh was torn away, like it had been bitten and chewed.

“The children ran from the lighthouse. One looked back before they reached the woods and they saw Ellen there, naked and covered in blood. She did not chase them but returned to the lighthouse to wait.

“We heard the story the children told us and we went out there and saw the child where they had said it would be. Ellen could be seen at the very top of the lighthouse, just sitting and staring out to sea. We did then what needed to be done, the same way it needed to be done back in 1850.

“I’m not proud of it. It weighs on me every day, the knowledge of what was done to poor Ellen. But Jason, you have to understand, this has to stop. All of this has to stop. It’s chewed the soul out of me and it’s doing the same to you, just like it did to Ellen. When nobody’s left to tell the story, it will be over, so we need to just leave it alone. You and I will never forget about it, nor will anyone who knows, but we have to keep it inside of us, it needs to be stopped so that it will stop hurting people.”

I had been listening to all of this with an increasing sense of detachment. At last I could take no more. I jumped to my feet and grabbed Cyrus by the shoulders. He gazed at me, confused, while I shook him. “You did what needed to be done?! Did you stop to consider helping her? Do you ever think about that around here?” I released him and paced the length of the office, my face in my hands. The further this story drove me the more unholy it became. I felt like I was being forced to some great and terrible end and I had no chance of escape. The story was not through with me yet. “This town!” I cried. “Good God, you people!

Cyrus watched wide-eyed as I stormed out of the office. I slammed the door shut behind me and it echoed through the hotel like the last second of some monstrous, gargantuan clock.

I stood outside and let the rain pour down upon me while thunder rolled overhead. I felt like I was at the end of my sanity and the story still gripped me and would not let go. I was in despair. I came here to find finality, to put an end to this story, however gruesome it might be, but I had found no reason for this. Hunting this story was like chasing down some unknown vicious horror and finding only the bloody remnants of its voracious feasts. After each victim it became harder to track the beast, but I was driven on further by simple desire to know what the beast would look like.

I had nowhere left to go. I’d come back to Triumph and asked the question that I had assumed would end all of this, but I was left with only more horrible visions in my mind, now confirmed by a first person witness. Cyrus had told me nothing but the fact that the most horrific end I could have imagined for Ellen was in fact the way her story had ended– though of course it had not ended. I had been everywhere, I had seen everything. This story had seemed to drag me along, to chase me into its labyrinth, and now I had seen all and was this how it ended? Was this all there was? A terrible and bloody history with no motivating purpose, no justice?

Five miles up the shore from our lighthouse. That’s what the bulletin David had nearly disposed of had read. Five miles. A short hike for closure. With a grim, foolish insistence I decided that I would go to the only place left that could tell me anything, bring any kind of conclusion to this grisly tale.

The mud was thicker than the last time I had come out to the lighthouse. This time I was glad that I did not intend to go inside. When I came upon it, it was like a horrible monument to sin, primitive man’s self-glorification to the heavens. I walked quickly past it and down to the shore. It was fairly accessible and easy to walk on, although occasionally I had to wind my way up into the woods and clamber through dry sticks and patches of rotten, mossy earth. I measured my distance approximately, by my steps. I knew this was foolish, that there was little chance of finding the foundation, and that even if I did, I would not want to go near. I soon found an overgrown trail, however, that seemed to be leading in the same direction I was going. I followed it first simply to make walking easier, but I soon came to suspect that this path was made for the exact reason I was taking it, hewn, probably, by Jameson himself.

The rain began to subside, though I was soaked through.

My suspicions were confirmed when I walked to the top of a small ridge, at or around what I had estimated to be about five miles from the lighthouse, and saw the tip of an ancient chimney not far away. Without even trying, really, without having to root around in this forest like I had thought I would, Jameson’s path had found me, and had brought me here. This, I felt sure, was finally the end of the road for me. Whatever closure there was to this tale could exist here, and nowhere else.

At last I stumbled through a tangle of trees and briefly saw the ancient, broken chimney past the swaying branches. It rose obscenely from the ground like the gnarled finger of some long-dead antediluvian behemoth. I carefully stepped forward, eyes to the ground to watch for snaring roots that might trip me, when I saw the edge of a rusty object. Bending down and extricating it from a pile of moist, rotting leaves, I found its gruesome truth, a short length of antiquated barbed wire. With a shudder, I dropped it and continued.

Soon I was in the clearing. Before me lay the ruins of a long-finished house, the broken teeth of its foundation locked in their silent scream to the cloudy sky. For a moment I was compelled by something primal, something animal within me, to turn and run. Cyrus had told me the story of this place and the barbed wire had confirmed it. Before me lay the very house in which Jameson and his insanely hopeless mother had done their grisly deeds. These very trees which surrounded me had muffled their victim’s screams. The only part of this house which remained was the most terrible part of all. Justice and time had not wiped this place clean but had separated and exposed its singular sinful brutality. Though my very body seemed to resist each step, my intellect forced me onward.

Slowly I made my way to the edge of the foundation. My mind replayed flashes of my dream against my will. The desperation, the fear. I knew this place. There was the corner where I hid from the nameless it which had hunted me. There had lain the horse, returning to the earth under a blanket of decay. There, that very spot, the Thing’s human hand had gripped the foundation, pulled itself near. I felt dizzy and out of breath. Fear and sudden sorrow laid heavy on my breast. There was a rock nearby and I sat on it, gazing into the black, charred remains of whatever this place had once been. I put my face in my hands and closed my eyes. Fire and hopeless ruin, decay, rotting, my dream, my dream.

Somewhere deep in the forest I heard the faintest echo of birdsong, as light as memory. And I felt the Truth.

I slowly removed my hands from my eyes. I looked around at the forest in startled surprise as a child born new into this world. A bird sings in this forest. I was on the precipice of something massive, I had come upon an idea that was so vast and terrifying that at first I could only know that it was there, I could not understand it. A bird sings in this forest. I turned my gaze to the ruined foundation sprawling open before my feet. I sat in rapt amazement and peered into and beyond the charred blackness of time. With a surge my mind dove fearlessly into the timeless grandmother-idea it had found. And I knew the Truth.

The Truth was that this was only a foundation. Nothing more, nothing less. This forest did not remember the screams that its fronds and leaves had blocked from the ears of yesteryear’s townspeople. This foundation did not remember those who had died here. Jameson and his mother and all they had done was now only a shapeless mound of wet ash. The Truth was that these terrible things did not taint this place with a foul presence. The activities of humanity do not sink in the very earth and stones to fester and boil. What had happened here was finished, it was finished when the match was struck.

But then what? What was responsible? With no hesitation, with a mad desire simply to know at all cost, I felt my mind dive deep into the Truth, to the very center of the idea, and with a blinding burst of realization the name of Ellen Daress thundered in my consciousness. I went limp, I toppled off the stone, I lay sprawled on my chest as my mind recoiled and threatened to shatter. I truly understood then the essential terrible fact that lay behind everything I had seen and heard in Triumph: all comes from within.

Ellen Daress had come here and she had known the Truth. And the Truth is that the terrible, unspeakable actions of humanity, not only the depravities undertaken in this house but everything comes from within. There is no grand judge in this world, nothing terrible lurking in the remains of this hollow stone mouth. Insanity lies in us all like a foot of dark oil under an inch of pure water. It takes but the faintest jostle to stir the two together, to bring from below the hideous animal amorality which seethed in us before the Fruit. Nothing drives us mad. All comes from within. Reeling in this realization, my mind was turbulent, the oil mixed with water, and without thinking I reached out and felt the gritty surface of the mouth’s broken tooth and the animal awoken within me dragged me to the foundation. With wide hopeless eyes I gazed into the blackness and prayed for something to rise up within it, but all was still. And all was finished.

Some time later, I do not know for sure how long, I rose to my feet. I felt no reason to stay anymore. I had been laid low by myself and I would have to get up now and go live with what I now knew. Stumbling and tripping, the sun going down beside me, I turned my back on the Jamesons and set off down the trail. I remember nothing about what was going through my mind at this point. I was functioning only enough to keep my feet moving, to keep going, to get back to Triumph and find shelter. I needed to see Cyrus. I did not need to talk to him, but I needed to see him, to understand in him what was happening in me, and to find out how to deal with it. Cyrus could deal with it, somehow, through some great force of will he was able to keep this thing within himself, to look it in the eye and stand firm before it. I could do no such thing. This thing I had found now decided everything for me, it was the largest part of my mind, it made decisions for me. It was allowing me to walk back to Triumph.

Slowly, with the townspeople giving me untrusting looks, perhaps thinking me drunk, I staggered down the streets of Triumph. Cyrus’ hotel loomed like an ancient Catholic hospital. I shuffled indoors and made immediately for the office. I burst through the door and saw Cyrus, leaning over his desk.

“Mr. Peterson?” I called. My voice sounded sluggish and chaotic, the voice of a lunatic. There was no response. He was slumped over the desk as though he were drunk or asleep.

I slowly walked over to him and prodded him with a finger. I called his name again but he didn’t so much as move. My head was swimming as I noticed an empty pill bottle clutched in his left hand. In his right, he held a letter in a white envelope. I reached for his wrist, and felt no pulse.

My mind could make sense of none of this. I had to call Jebediah and he had to see this thing that had happened. Then I noticed the writing on the envelope. In a large and thick hand was written “For Jason”. I felt sick to my stomach. This man had committed suicide, and had left a note, for me. With all I that had learned that day and now this, I felt like burning the paper, grabbing it and ripping it to shreds, throwing it out into the rain to turn to a soaking, pulpy mess in the street.

But Cyrus had proven to be a friend, and a sufferer of the same disease that I knew had now changed me forever. If he had one final word for me, I felt that I should read it, even though the prospect felt like blackness in my mind. Almost against my will, I sat in my old chair, across from Cyrus, and opened the envelope. There was a letter for me written in Cyrus’s distinctly bold hand:

Dear Jason,

I am sorry that it had to be like this. I cannot go on any further. I have carried this burden on my soul for years and at last I know I can go no further with it.

I know I have lost my mind. I see things that aren’t there. I hear things when there’s nobody in the room. I feel ghosts, Jason, but there are no such things as ghosts. There’s only what we do, and what’s been done, and how we try to explain these things. You know all of this now, of course. You know how we’re trapped in ourselves, and how we can never get out, and that there are things in us, things that are so old and powerful that they come from before we called some things good, and others bad. What you’ve learned is that these things are as much a part of us as they are any other animal, and that they are within you, and because they are part of you there is no escaping them.

I’ve been a fool to help you. You should have never known any of this. I’ve done terrible things. I was there when Ellen died. I’ve kept this story alive in you. I hope you are a stronger man than I am, because for my part, I was unable to take this any more, and I’ve done the only thing that could have kept me from losing my humanity.

Tell Jebediah I’m sorry. I’ve left him a note as well. I told him that I could not go on alone, that I’ve been depressed and miserable since his mother died, and that that’s why I’ve done this thing. Please don’t tell him otherwise, Jason. He doesn’t know about this and I pray he never will. Tell him to sell the hotel and get out of Triumph.

I should have done better by you, Jason. I should have told you it was all a bunch of foolishness, told you that nothing had ever happened here, that everything is and has always been fine. Someday people will say that about Triumph because there will be no one left who knows these stories. I hope to God that day comes sooner rather than later.

Good-bye, Jason. I’m sorry.

With all I can give,
–Cyrus Peterson

For several minutes I read and reread the letter, gazing at it in abject horror. For all my love of stories, my desire to accompany my predecessor in his forays into the darkest realms of the human mind, I had now become a character in my own right. I knew then I would never be the same. The story was settled, the final conclusion for which I’d hoped had come, but I knew the rest I was seeking would never be mine. This horrible Truth about mankind’s savage remnant, this insanity, would remain like a lens through which I would now see every moment for the rest of my life. As if in response, deep thunder boomed overhead and the room was suddenly overtaken by the sudden black void of a power failure. I sat and listened to my heart thumping, holding in one hand a letter from the dead man sitting at the desk across from me. I vomited when I felt a soft, female hand grasp my own.

I rode again to Lunenberg with Jebediah that night, the cab filled this time with a granite silence that neither of us cared to disturb. Jebediah was fetching the coroner. I was merely trying to escape. I had Jebediah drop me off at the pharmacy and told him I would simply wait until morning to catch a ride back to Halifax. He gave me a stony nod and drove away without a word. In the metal trash can nearby I placed all of my notes about Triumph, along with Ellen’s diary and Cyrus’ letter, and set them alight. I gazed with no expression at the burning papers and saw in my mind’s eye the lighthouse blazing, Ellen pounding frantically at the red door whose new padlock resolutely denied her escape.

We think that ghosts haunt certain buildings, certain places, certain times. Can a ghost haunt a person? If there’s any truth to my experience, they can. I see them in waking light and again, more horrifically, every night in dreams of the utmost horror, dreams whose sense of reality and abject hopelessness I had never experienced in my sleeping subconscious prior to my arrival in Triumph, Nova Scotia. The ghosts of Ellen Daress, of Jameson and his mother, of the children they slaughtered, of Cyrus Peterson, these ghosts follow me everywhere I go. But they are not really ghosts. They are the insanity, the animal within me. The insanity that Ellen so rightly noted seethes in every one of our tortured souls, this insanity now haunts my dreams and shatters my consciousness. We say that the insane are different from us, but the truth is that everything we see in them is reflected in ourselves, and that is the true horror– that insanity is a matter of degree, and that the madness that swims just below the surface of a town called Triumph is nothing more than the tortured reality of our own glorious and hopeless victory over the simple minds of the animals we once were.