Michael and Harold drove to the Fabled Fiddler in his dented blue Jeep, and Harold bought him a dinner of oyster stew and entrecote steak. For the first time in two days Harold found that he was really hungry, and he ate two portions of Irish barmbrack with his stew, and a heap of salad with his steak.358Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡT1M51B3TPs
The Fiddler was decorated in that nets-and-lobsters style ubiquitous in restaurants all along the New England shoreline; but it was dim and relaxing and comfortably normal, and the clams and flounder were better than most. All Harold wanted was good food and normality, especially after last night.
Michael had told Harold that he had started sub-aqua diving in San Diego, when he was 15 years old. "I'm not especially good at it," he said, buttering another piece of tea-bread, "but it did whet my appetite for underwater archaeology."
Contrary to the popular notion that the Pacific and the Caribbean were littered with the wrecks of Spanish treasure ships, Michael said that the best-preserved vessels were almost always in northern waters. "In the Mediterranean, for example, a timber ship will last about five years under the water. In the Pacific, you'll be lucky if it lasts just over a year. Ironwork, in warm water, will last only thirty or forty years."
He drew circles on the tablecloth with the tip of his finger. "What you grow to understand when you get involved with underwater archaeology is that there is no such thing as 'The Ocean.' The conditions under the ocean vary as much from one location to another as they do on land. Take the Wasa, which sank in Stockholm harbor in 1628, and was raised almost intact in 1961. She was in amazing condition, just because the water was too cold for teredo mollusks to survive there, and attack her woodwork. And in the Solent, which is the entry to Southampton and Portsmouth harbors in England, the Royal George was still pretty solid after 53 years on the bottom, and the Edgar was still an obstruction to shipping after 133 years. The classic example, of course, was the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545. That was nearly 150 years before the George Badger went down, and yet half of her hull, the half that had been buried in the mud, had survived."
"It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring up the Wasa and the Mary Rose," Harold reminded him. "How are you going to raise the George Badger when you can't even afford a thousand dollars for a painting?"
"The first step is to locate her, to prove that she's there. That done, I'll be able to approach the Peabody and the Essex Institute and City Hall, and see what I can do about raising money."
"You're pretty confident."
"I think I have to be. There are two compelling reasons for raising that wreck. One is its straightforward historical significance. The other is that it's having this weird effect on the people of Ol' Spithead."
"Well, I'll go along with that," Harold said, beckoning to the waiter to bring him another whiskey.
"I have a terrific idea," said Michael. "Why don't you come driving with me over the weekend? If the weather's all right, we plan to go down on Saturday morning, and maybe Sunday, too."
"Are you kidding? I've never dived in my life. I'm from St. Louis, remember?"
"I'll teach you. It's as easy as breathing. It's pretty murky down there, not like diving off Bermuda or anything like that. But you'll love it, once you get used to it."
"Well, I don't know," Harold said, reluctantly.
"Just come try it," urged Michael. "Listen, you want to find out what happened to Mrs. Donald Baylor, don't you. You want to find out why all these ghosts have been walking in Ol' Spithead?"
"I'll give you a call then, Saturday morning, if the weather clears. All you need to bring is a warm sweater, a windbreaker, and a pair of swimming trunks. I'll supply the wet suit, and all the sub aqua gear."
Harold drained the last of his drink. "I hope I haven't laid myself open for anything terrifying."
"I told you, you'll love it. Oh---just remember not to have anything too rich for breakfast. If you vomit underwater, it can be really dangerous, sometimes fatal."
Harold gave him a slanted smile. "Thanks for the warning. Is a bowl of Wheaties overdoing it?"
"Wheaties are fine," said Michael, quite seriously. Then he checked his waterproof diver's watch, and said, "I'd better be going. My sister's coming up from New York tonight, and I don't want to leave her on the doorstep."
Michael drove Harold back up to Harvest Mills Cottage. "Do you know something interesting?" he asked him, as he drew the Jeep to jerking halt. "I once checked back on the history of Harvest Mills and found out something that might be of some concern to you."
"What?" Harold asked him.
"I found, in the flyleaf of an old book that was sent to the Peabody, Harvest Mills, Ol' Spithead had originally been called 'Craquer Lane.' "
" 'Craquer'? Isn't that a French word?"
"Yes. It means to crack, or break."
"So why was it called Craquer Lane in those days?"
"How would I know? I'm just a maritime historian, remember? Maybe the surface of the lane was notoriously broken-up. This was the way they used to carry coffins up to Angel Point Cemetery, remember, so maybe they called it Craquer Lane because they were always dropping the coffins and breaking them. Who knows?"
"That's what I like about historians," Harold told him. "They always bring up more questions than they can answer."
Harold climbed down from the Jeep and closed the door. Michael reached over and put down the window. "Thanks for the dinner," he said. "And, you know, good luck with the cops."
Michael drove off downhill, the wheels of the Jeep splashing and jolting in the puddles. Harold went back into the cottage and poured himself another drink, and started to tidy up a little. Mrs. Aaron from Gingerbread Cottages sent her maid Marie up to "do" for him twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, change the bed, vacuum the rugs, clean the windows; but he liked to have the cottage reasonably clean and tidy in any case, and he always liked fresh flowers around. They reminded him of the happy days there with Nancy; the best days of his whole damn life.
That evening, he sat in front of the fire and read as much as he could find about sunken ships, and sub-aqua diving, and the old days in Salem and Ol' Spithead. By the time the Tompion clock in the hallway struck midnight, the wind had dropped and the rain had leveled off, and he probably knew about as much about raising wrecks as anybody, apart from the real experts. He poked the last crumbling log in the dying fire, and stretched and wondered whether he deserved a last drink or not. It was an odd thing about drinking on his own: he never quite managed to get drunk. He got the hangovers, though. It was the punishment without the pleasure.
Harold locked up the cottage and took a last measure of Chivas upstairs with him. He ran a deep, hot tubful of water, and slowly undressed. He hadn't slept properly for two nights now, and he felt exhausted.
Once in the bath, he lay back and closed his eyes and tried to let the tension slowly soak out of him. All he could hear was the steady dripping of the hot faucet, which had never turned off properly, and the crackling of Badedas bubbles.
Now that the weather had calmed down, and the wind had stopped sucking and breathing its way around the house, he felt strangely less afraid. Maybe it was the wind that had brought the ghosts, the way that it had brought Mary Poppins; and when it changed or dropped, the spirits left us in peace. He prayed to God that they would. But he also added a codicil that the weather should work itself into a frenzy on Saturday morning, just for a few hours, so that he wouldn't have to go diving.
He was still lying in the tub when he heard a faint whispering. He opened his eyes at once, and listened. There was no mistaking it. It was that same whispering he had heard downstairs in the library, a soft torrent of scarcely audible blasphemy. His shoulders felt chilled, and all of a sudden the bathwater felt uncomfortable and scummy.
There was no doubt about it. Harvest Mills Cottage was possessed. Harold could feel the coldness of whatever phantoms were passing through it as if all the downstairs doors had silently been opened, and wintry drafts were blowing everywhere. He sat up in the bathtub and the splashing of the water sounded awkward and flat, like a cheap sound-effect.
It was then that he looked up at the mirror over the wash-basin. It had been misted over by the steam rising up from the bathtub, but now the mist seemed to be condensing in patches, forming itself into the pattern of a hollow-eyed face. Dribbles of condensation ran from the darkened eye-sockets like tears, and from the line of the lips like blood; and even though it was probably nothing more than the gradually-cooling vapor, it looked as if the face were alive and moving, as if somehow there was a captive spirit within the silvered surface of the mirror, trying desperately to show itself, trying desperately to speak to the outside world.
He stood up, showering water everywhere, and reached for the washcloth on the side of the basin. With three violent strokes, he wiped the steam off the mirror until it was clear again; and all he could see was his own harassed face. Then he stepped out of the bath, and took down his towel.
It was no use, he told himself, as he went through to the bedroom. If he was going to be visited by whispers and apparitions every night, then he was going to have to move out. He had read in Architectural Digest about an Italian who happily shared his huge palazzo with a noisy poltergeist,, but he was neither brave enough nor calm enough to handle the disturbances at Harvest Mills Cottage. There was a terrible lewdness about the whispering; and a terrible suppressed agony about all the visions he had seen. He felt that he was glimpsing and hearing things from Purgatory, the dreary and painful antechamber to hell. The worst part about it was that Nancy was there, too, the woman he had loved and married, and still loved.
Harold toweled himself dry, brushed his teeth, and went to bed with one of the sleeping capsules that Dr. Lockwood had given him, and a book about the building of the Panama Canal. It was well past 1:00 now, and the house was silent, all except for the steady ticking of the long-case clock in the hallway, and the occasional chime to mark the quarter-hours.
He didn't know when he fell asleep, but he was awakened by the sudden diming of his beside lamp, as if the neighborhood were suffering a brown-out. I dimmed until he could see the filament in the light-bulb glowing orange and subdued like a dying glow-worm.
Then came the coldness. An abrupt fall in temperature, just the same as the chill he had experienced in the library the night before. His breath started to vaporize, and he wrapped the comforter more tightly around himself to keep himself warm.
He heard laughing, whispering. There were people in the cottage! There had to be! He heard shuffling on the stairs, as if four or five people were hurrying up to see him. But the noise died away in a flurry, and the door remained closed, and there was nobody there at all.
He stared just where he was, wound up in that comforter. His elbow ached from supporting his body in the same position, but he was too scared to move a muscle. Yesterday morning, when he had thought back over the way in which he had broken into Mrs. Donald Baylor's house. He had congratulated himself on how brave he must have been to do it. But now, in the middle of the night, with all these rustlings and murmurings at his bedroom door, he remembered just how blatantly terrified he had truly been.
"Harold," whispered a voice. He glanced around, his teeth clenched rigid with alarm.
"Harold," the voice repeated. There was no mistaking whose voice it was.
Croakily, he answered, "Nancy? Is that you?"
She gradually began to appear, standing at the foot of the bed. Not so dazzlingly bright as before, but still flickering like a distant heliograph message. Thin, and sunken-eyed, her hair waving around her in some unfelt, unseen wind, her hands raised as if she were displaying the fact that she was dead but bore no stigmata. What scared Harold most of all, though, was how tall she was. In those dim white robes, she stood nearly seven feet, her hair almost touching the ceiling, and she looked down at him with a serious and elongated face that sent dread soaking through him like the cold North Atlantic rain.
"Nancy," Harold said, in a constricted voice, "you're not real. Nancy, you're dead! You can't be here, you're dead!"
"Harold...." she sighed, and her voice sounded like four or five voices speaking at once. "Harold---make love to me."
For a moment, all vestiges of his courage and his confidence collapsed inside him into that gravitational black hole they call panic. He buried his face under the comforter, and squeezed his eyes tight shut, and shouted under the bedclothes, "I'm dreaming this! It's a nightmare! For Christ's sake, tell me I'm dreaming!"
He waited under the comforter with his eyes shut until he could hardly breathe any more. Then he opened his eyes again and stared at the darkness of the quilting, right in front of his nose. The trouble with hiding is that some point you have to come out again, and face up to what it was that made you hide in the first place. He said a silent prayer to himself that Nancy would be gone, that the whispering would have stopped, that the cottage would have warmed and restored itself.
He whipped the comforter away from his face and looked up. What he saw just above him made him yell out loud. It was Nancy's face, only four or five inches away from him, looking directly down at him. She seemed to melt and shift and change constantly; sometimes looking childish and young, at other times looking old and ravaged. Her eyes were impenetrable; there seemed to be no life there at all. A nd her expression never changed from a dreamless serenity.
"Harold," she said, somewhere inside his head.
He couldn't speak. He was too scared. For not only was Nancy staring at him closely, she was actually lying, or rather floating, on top of him, toe to toe, five or six inches above the bed. The coldness poured down from her like vapor from dry ice, and he felt as if frost crystals were forming on his hair and on his eyelashes, but Nancy kept floating above him, ethereal and freezing, suspended in some existence where gravity and substance seemed to be meaningless.
"Make love to me..." she whispered. Her voice echoed, as if she were speaking in a long, empty corridor. "Nancy---make love to me...."
The comforter slipped away from the bed as if it had a life of its own. Now he was lying naked, with this flickering manifestation of Nancy hovering horizontally over him, whispering to him, chilling him, and yet begging him for love.
She didn't move her arm, and yet he felt a sensation like a cold hand drawing itself across his forehead, and touching his cheeks, and then his lips. The coldness crept down his bare sides, tingling his nipples, outlining the muscles of his chest, touching the sides of his hips. Then it touched his testicles, making them harden and shrink. But it aroused a curious tingling in his penis that made it rise despite his fear and discomfort.
"Make love to me, Harold..." she whispered, voice upon voice, echo upon echo. And the coldness massaged him, up and down, until feelings began to stir inside of him that he hadn't felt for over a month now.
"Harold...." she said again.
"This is a dream," he told her. "This can't be happening. You can't be real. You're dead, Nancy. I've seen you dead and you're dead!"
The cold massage continued, on and on, until he began to feel that he was close to a climax. It was like having sex and yet totally unlike having sex: he could feel slipperiness and softness and the wiry stimulation of pubic hair. Yet it was utterly freezing. HIs penis felt white with cold, and his body was covered with goosebumps.
"Nancy," he told her, "this isn't real." And as his body tightened into a climax, he knew that it was completely impossible, he knew that he couldn't be having sex with his dead wife. As the semen spattered over his bare stomach there was a hideous loud screech and Nancy seemed to come hurtling towards him with her face exploding in a welter of blood and shattered glass and for one instant of sheer terror her skull seemed to collide face-to-face with his, the cheekbones rawly exposed, the eyes gouged out, the tattered lips spread to bare grinning bloodstained teeth.
Harold rolled out of bed and across the floor so fast that he collided with the bureau and knocked over a clinking assembly of aftershave bottles, photograph-frames, and ornaments. A vase of porcelain flowers dropped to the floor and shattered. 358Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡFNjFswGZUc
He stared at the rumpled-up bed, shivering. There was nothing there at all, no blood, no body, nothing. He felt the stickiness of semen sliding down his stomach and he put his hand down there and touched it. A nightmare, it must have been. An erotic nightmare. A mixture of sexual frustration and fear, all wrapped up in images of Nancy.358Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡm4cxzrZ1Ii
He didn't really want to get back into bed, and he was scared of falling asleep, but it was 2:00 in the morning now, and he was so tired that he couldn't think of anything but crawling under his comforter and closing his eyes. He pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead and tried to calm himself down.
As I did so, gradually, he began to see brown marks appearing on the bedsheet, like scorch marks. Some of them even smoldered slightly as if they were being burned from beneath the sheet by someone with a red-hot poker, or a cigarette-end. He watched them in fearful frustration as letters formed themselves.358Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡyA1cHT6EzN
They were blurry, hard to read, but they were definitely letters. SA----VA----E.
SAVE ME? SAVAGE?358Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1jqcKJvsuE
And then it occurred to Harold. It may only have been because he'd been talking to Michael Trotter this evening about that very thing. But it seemed to fit in so well that he could barely believe that the letters meant anything else. SALVAGE!
Through the spirit of his dead wife, whatever lay in the hold of the George Badger was pleading to be rescued.358Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡFUys5JHVvxns 22.214.171.124da2