I hadn’t heard from Eula in a year. My uncle had gotten a postcard apologizing for wasting the opportunity he had offered her at Sheshequin College. Mulling over what had gone down out there in the forest, the material she’d sent from Buffalo, and her ergot poisoning, I figured she’d been through some heavy shit and could probably use a friend. Then a letter arrived, postmarked Roseau, MN, September 7, 1971.
I thought I’d write — for good or evil — I think there’s more good in you than bad, even if you say things that really hurt sometimes. You were there when this curse (maybe it’s a gift, like Brother Reynolds, a Jesuit I met here in —— has been trying to convince me) of finding trouble and not letting it be. If I keep writing like this, as I think of things, I’m going to twist everything up like a cat on a skein of wool. Well, the father’s been telling me that I was too big for my britches thinking I could take care of business myself — like he said, St. Patrick didn’t learn to banish snakes in a day — ha ha! Still, some of the things I’ve done, can I ever be forgiven? God, can he ever forgive me? All the evil that’s sought me out, isn’t that a sign I’m tainted beyond redemption? I know, you’re not a believer — makes it easy for you.
I reckon you’ve figured it out, so I avoided you the next day — I was scared — yeah, me scared! — scared you’d want to care of me, take care of the soiled goods I’d become — I couldn’t lay that burden on you. Well, I’ll tell you what happened, judge for yourself — it’s sad — maybe even funny.
After you’d left, I looked at myself — ugly, soiled I was, a vessel of sin — worried silly our work had been in vain. Part of me played being Eula, part dwelt on my guilt at letting it happen. In a girls’ college it doesn’t take long to know who hasn’t had their monthly visitor. Didn’t fit in before, then even less.
I spent my spare time exploring the campus’ outskirts, steering clear of the forest — and people. An abandoned stretch of highway running parallel to the river, close along the bank, drew my interest, and I followed it up to a wide plateau. A meadow, spread out between what remained of the road and the sharp bluff overlooking the river, housed the sunken walls of an old homestead. A small family graveyard, old slate stones askew, their weeping willow designs peeping above the tall grass stood nearby. I would often go there, sit amongst them and cry; they, at least, wouldn’t judge.
The college had a sort of sorority-like clique, mind you, only for the ‘right sort of girls.’ When I was invited to be a postulant and undergo initiation, I figured it was more to make a fool of me than anything else, but needing to belong, to be accepted...anyways, naively I accepted.
We gathered in the residence lounge . Outside, it was raining cats and dogs. Rumbling thunder followed vivid but fog-subdued flashes of lightning; pitch darkness followed the thunder. Each postulant was given a challenge — one to drink from a jar of foetid swamp water —a smaller jar of clean water being hidden within. Handed a tarp and some fancy ribbon, my mission was to fetch a box ‘in the old cemetery,’ wrap it up, tie it up like a parcel, and bring it back.
Outside, I considered what the ‘old cemetery’ might be — surely it wasn’t the one behind the church — where I’d taken the soil we used in the forest — that was cordoned off during the construction — besides it was too close and too easy. Presumably the old cemetery on the hill wasn’t just known to me. Donning my poncho I headed off in the steady rain. On the old road, I could only make progress when the lightning allowed me to see beyond a few paces ahead. The lightning getting closer, I was concerned about crossing the meadow; if I didn’t fall in the foundation, I’d get struck by the lightning. Expecting a prank, when the earth shook and a bolt hit the closest tree, I threw myself to the ground and waited. Eventually rising, I approached the cemetery, the next flash revealing that much of the bluff had collapsed. Peering gingerly over the edge I saw what appeared to be a mud-covered box. Seeing the ledge hold after rolling down a couple of large stones, I resolved they’d not get the better of me. The lightning having moved off, I recklessly slid down in the dark. Manually identifying something muddy and box-like, I quickly wrapped and tied it up.
Climbing out was nerve-wracking, the sound of rushing waters — they certainly had little thought for my safety. Managing to drag myself up and across the field, I reached the pavement to hear a great muffled crash announcing the disappearance of most of the meadow. Running, I didn’t look back until I was on the main road. Drenched and mud-splattered, I dragged myself into the lounge , and placed my burden on a table.
“Damn, you’ve been gone a long time, where you been? The cemetery isn’t that far. I bet you were chicken, probably got a box out behind the cafeteria,” said the club president.
She quickly unwrapped the parcel, and dropped to the floor. On the table were the remains of a small tin-lined chest, inside which an old butter box bore tiny bones.
I didn’t make it into the club, quite the opposite — when it came close to Christmas and I still hadn’t had that monthly visit, I got my hands on the ergot. Was I planning to send one or two to keep company with that mud-splattered box's little occupant, I can’t tell you, but God knows, and well... can He forgive?.
Yours truly, Eula.
Copyright: © 2010 Georges Dodds
Published in strong competitors to The New Flesh like International Agrophysics and Estudos de Literatura Oral, Georges Dodds has until recently kept his weird writing under mouldy cerements. His recent genre activities include textual resurrection for a publisher of Gothic novels, unearthing and presenting in an e-library some thematic precursors of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, translating early French science-fiction to English, and preparing a collection of American dime-novelist William Murray Graydon's earliest adventure stories. Georges and his 3-species family (4 with the goldfish), lives in a former bus garage, on the now relocated site of an18th century cemetery -- so far tilling the garden hasn't revealed its past.