Clark stumbled when landing and just about fell into his old friend.
“First day with the new legs?” Merfey chided, sending his high pitched guffaws into the cavernous cell.
“Yeah, right. Hey genius, here’s a question, uh, how are we supposed to leave?” Clark asked, pointing to the window they all entered from, now set eight feet above them streaming a shaft of dust filled light into the gloom.
“I’ll find us a way out.” Merfey answered, his eyes flicking to Esther as he straightened up. “Don’t you worry about a thing.”
“Who said anything about being worried?” Clark shot back.
“Guys no one is going to get anywhere if you both don’t shut up and let me concentrate.” Esther said.
Merfey seemed to deflate; “he started it” he muttered.
“I did n-” Clark started, but was cut short by Esther’s piercing stare. “Forget it.” he said, jamming his hands in his pockets and pacing to the other side of the room they were in, kicking what he hoped was a chicken bone into the shadows.
Esther stood to the right of Merfey. In front of her the wide metal door to the cell stood open bathed in a flashlight beam Merfey had taken from his bag while they were outside. She slipped a chain from around her neck and brought a small purple crystal from beneath her shirt. She held the necklace in her clasped hands with the crystal dangling between them. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath.
Clark began to slowly make his way back to the both of them. Esther took another deep breath and shut her eyes. She began to hum. Low and slow at first, so faintly you would mistake it for a sound deeper in the institution. It grew louder with each breath she took until she suddenly stopped completely. The crystal swung between her body and her outstretched arms. Her green eyes looked beautifully clear to Clark, even basked in the light of the flashlight.
“It’s this way.” she said striding through the metal door and along the leftmost hallway.
“Has she always been able to do that?” Clark asked as Merfey shouldered his bag and tossed him a flashlight of his own.
“She can do anything.” he said, his voice dripping with admiration as his eyes were glued to the door Esther had just exited from. Clark rolled his eyes and both boys followed her.
The place reeked, there was no doubt about it. Mildew and dampness forced itself up Merfey’s nose. He wondered briefly what kind of bacterial cultures were roosting in his respiratory system before reminding himself the place had tested clear. He followed behind Esther, eyes tracing her outline, trying to steady his heartbeat. She was wearing new black flats and red capris that were so blazing she almost didn’t need a flashlight. They looked like black to school clothes. Merfey could only assume she wore them to impress him and took it as a clue of her returned affection.
Then why did she invite Clark? He thought, but brushed the thought away, uninterested in the answer.
Merfey’s parent’s traveled a lot during summer break so he spent a lot of time at Camp Whereabearbee. Esther had been across the lake at the girl scouts camp. They had a campfire jamboree with capture the flag, that’s when Merfey first heard Scouter Simmons’ Weeping Willow Story. It terrified him as much then as it did each year following, but at least that year when he’d reached out for Estehr’s hand, she held his just as tight.
Merfey was shaken from his memory by almost walking into Esther. He stopped close enough to smell the cloud of lavender that always seemed to permeate around her and felt his legs turn to Jell-O. She was standing outside of a nurses office, her crystal making short jerking movement towards the chained door.
Merfey’s hand was in his bag in a flash and after a few moments of rooting came out holding a pair of bolt cutters.
“Now this has to be illegal.” Clark muttered. Esther only looked from the crystal to Merfey, her eyes asking the same question he was thinking: “now what?”
Merfey looked from the locked door to the fire engine red cutters in his hand. Apprehension battled curiosity and in the end curiosity won out. Competition or not Clark was still a skeptic, and if Merfey could prove the existence of energy rich beings then he would never let Clark live it down. “Well, in for a penny.” Merfey said, thinking it was a pretty cool line, before notching a link of the rusty chain in between the teeth of the cutters and squeezing for all he was worth. It took some doing, and he felt his calf cramp before Clark muttered some snide thing that Merfey pretended not to hear. In the end his strength won out and the chain clattered to the ground. Through the door Merfey spotted movement on the floor as mice and insects alike fled the intrusion of his Converse clad foot falls and flashlight beam.
Inside the tiny office every surface had a thick coating of sticky cobweb and dust. Papers were strewn on the floor and the stink of mouse urine was unmistakable.
“Jesus God Merfey if I end up in the hospital this close to school my mom is going to hit the roof.”
“You technically are already in the hospital.” Merfey sputtered a weak laugh, ring to keep things light. It was the first time he’d heard genuine concern come from Clark and it brought him back to camp, and the old need to impress the older boy.
It was Esther who came to the rescue. “Let’s set up here. If nothing happens let's get out. I can’t risk ruining this outfit either, my grandma spent a fortune on it and made me promise to only wear it at school.
“Deal.” Merfey nodded even as he felt a pang of opposition to leaving so soon. He set the duffle bag down on a nearby metal desk, trying to find the spot with the least amount of feces and creepy crawlies. From within he drew out a large flat square object wrapped in dark satin. Clark placed himself closest to the door, suddenly ready to be back outside. Getting to first base wasn’t worth picking up the bubonic plague from this place. Maybe if they left he could shake Merfey and still take Esther out.
Merfey took off the satin covering and shone his light on a strange lettered board. Clark had seen only a few, mostly at sleepovers when guys would try to freak each other out before resorting to sticking one of their hands in lukewarm water. He’d never seen the stupid things work. All the same he’d never seen one like Merfey’s; the thing looked like it belonged to the pilgrims. It was damn near ornate.
From a side zipper pocket Merfey drew out a smaller satin bag and revealed the planchette. A hunk of wood carved smooth with a magnifying glass twinkling in the centre like a jewel in the heart of a dragon’s cave. Clark gulped in spite of himself. When the planchette met the smooth wood of the board the air in the small office seemed to get thicker. Clark breathed in slowly through his nose and out through his mouth. Merfey placed the index finger of his left hand at one end and Esther did the same. She looked at Clark with an unreadable expression in her eyes. They were dark, they beckoned him. Without thinking he took a step forward. She blinked and the spell seemed to be broken, but all the same he was standing in front of them with his finger placed on one end of this stupid pointer.
“Be perfectly still.” Merfey said “empty your head of any notions you think you know of the world around you. For we are now entering the realm where men fear to tread.” His voice seemed cavernous in the small office and held an authority Clark had seldom heard from the meek nerd.
“Ask only one question. Allow for the planchette to guide you to an answer, do not resist, as we are only observers to this inquisition.” Merfey continued. Clark could almost feel an electrical charge moving from his fingers through the planchette. It’s only my imagination, he thought, but he still felt as if the room was dropping in temperature. He shut his eyes and opened them, trying to focus, trying to keep his teeth from chattering.
They stood in silence. Clark listened to a drip far in the distance, to the groans and moans of the building settling. All of the sounds blended together and for a moment Clark felt overwhelmed at the seemingly living entity that was coming to life all around them, yet still the planchette remained stock still. Clark considered calling the whole thing, he wondered how long they would have to stand here before Merfey gave up the ghost.
“Don’t make a move.” Esther whispered as if reading his thoughts. “Breaking the chain right now would not be smart.” Clark sighed and shifted his weight to his right leg.
It wasn’t for another few seconds that he felt a miniscule movement jerk under his finger tips, so small he equated it to his imagination before the planchette began to move in slow jerking motions.
“Who’s moving it?” Clark accused
“SHHHHHH” Merfey’s eyes blazed at him enough to make Clark shut his mouth. The planchette moved to the top left of the board at an agonizingly slow pace, crossing through a sea of letters with a clear intent.
As it moved closer Esther could feel a presence with them, a faint one just beyond the glass. She looked up into the inky blackness but the glare of theflashlight threw her reflection back at her, she made eye contact with herself before thinking she could see another figure just beyond her. She could almost make out a woman standing beyond them. A tattered gown hung to her ankles and her shoulder length hair was ink black. Esther’s eyes adjusted and she was once more looking at her reflection wondering if it was all just a trick of the light. Esther drew her eyes back to the spirit board, the planchette finally resting on one of the only single words on the board.
Lucinda couldn’t remember the walls decaying. She couldn’t remember the staff leaving. She couldn’t remember when the light changed and the doors locked. All she could remember was her daughter, and all she knew now was rage. She immortalized sorrow. She would scream and claw and shriek. She railed like a force of nature against anything she saw in her presence that didn’t belong. Physical barriers posed no threat, temperature and hunger were trivial now; ancient urges forgotten beneath her will to find Molly. The three before her were not a new occurrence. She had seen the same greedy hunger in many who had crossed the barrier to her domain.
These three differed only in that two of them shared a budding love, and one a suppressed anger. Love was an unwelcome warmth in her world, a vulgar display of what she could no longer endure. A concept she could no longer fathom.
But the rage,
oh, she could do much with the rage.
She thought herself alone in her prison as the years peeled away. She remained there as her hands wrinkled and her tremors grew. She was plagued by the cold until one day it no longer bothered her. She was plagued by the young doctor until one day he stopped visiting. The physical world became frail as paper, folding against her touch as she was suddenly able to move through Marshwood’s vastness, yet if she tried to leave its grounds she was stopped by an invisible wall that seemed stone solid. Lucinda puzzled over this for a time until even her curiosity deadened.
She found more like her. Many children entered to speak, yet none were her daughter. More and more the building filled with curious beings. Their emotion a burning light to her eyes, a stinging heat to her skin. She writhed against them until once more the cold comfort returned. Sometimes the interlopers joined her, most times they left never to return. The building began once more to be filled with noise, a chaos of souls left to rage within the moon’s light and January frost. All of it a tornado of disorder until one day the young doctor returned. His polished loafers clicking against the chipped and cracking tiles, his being shifting as it moved through the cobweb-like insulation. Lucinda needed only one look at him to know he was something else, something more. The young doctor spoke in an ancient tongue. A language long dead even as the first bricks of the Great Pyramids were laid. He fed her rage, nourished her sorrow, and Lucinda watched his strength grow.
The three children before her were to be victims, as they all were, their sorrow and rage would soon enough sustain Lucinda. She moved beneath them, retreating into the gloom like a spider after weaving a web between garden stakes. Lucinda knew she needed only to wait.
Merfey watched the planchette move. This part was not new to him, but the force propelling the wooden piece was immense. He wondered at first if it was Clark being a dick, but the way Clark kept looking between Esther and him, you couldn’t fake that kind of fear. Merfey even felt tendril of apprehension mix within his own deep curiosity.
“What is your name?” Esther asked. Her necklace once more resting just above her breast bone felt like it was vibrating against her skin. All three teens watched as the planchette moved from letter to letter.
“Butcher.” Merfey muttered. Beside him he had placed a device on the table and it let off clicks and beeps in the silence. They were spaced about a minute apart.
“Ok, come on guys for real who’s moving it?” Clark asked. His voice was tight. He cast a glance back the way they came, his thoughts on the window they’d crawled in from. No one answered him, from the look on their faces Clark could tell Esther and Merfey were sharing something he had no idea of, the thought stabbed a pang of jealousy through his stomach. He clammed up., unconsciously clenching his teeth.
“It could be her.” Esther spoke to Merfey
“Could be something pretending to be her.” Merfey said, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down as he said it. “We need a name.”
Esther asked the question again, and a third time. Each was met by the same spelling. As the planchette moved to make its fourth lap around the board Merfey furrowed his brow and tapped the device with his free hand.
“It’s too weak.” he said. “We need more energy, I think.”
“We want to speak more to you.” Esther started. “You must feel very lonely and confused, where are you? We want to find you.”
The planchette stopped dead. Each member of the seance met each other's gaze as the seconds slipped by. Dust drifted through the flashlight beams and Clark could hear a scratching rustle beyond the orange light. He tried not to think about what else was floating around in here. The planchette began to move again and Merfey let out a disappointed sigh as it moved towards the B. But perked up as it moved towards a different vowel.
“Basement.” Clark whispered, his neck tightening into goosebumps. “I thought we were in the basement.”
“Where in the basement?” Esther asked. This time the planchette remained lifeless for five minutes before Merfey took his finger from it. The device beside him had gone silent. He frowned down at it.
“Well.” He said “I guess that settles that. There has to be a way down.” he began packing the board up. Clark made eye contact with Esther. He could read curiosity in her eyes and what he hoped was apprehension. He didn’t want her to think he was a chicken, but this place was really starting to give him the creeps. His eyes adjusted and he could see some of the scraps of case files splayed across the table. He saw neat and tight looped handwriting describing acts of murder that no true crime book could come close to. Through a hole in the glass he could see into the hallway where someone had spray painted ‘abandon hope.’
He wanted Esther to protest, and his heart sank a little bit when she didn’t, but he wasn’t going to leave and have Merfey Davis be the only one to protect her from whatever was in here. He was the first of them to leave the nurses office. Happy to be out of the cramped space. He kept his eyes on his feet as Merfey and Esther searched the hall with their flashlighst.
“Here.” Merfey called and the three of them congregated on a peeling wall map. Merfey had his light trained on one corner. “See. we are right here.” he moved his beam in a slow circle. “And it looks like there are two sub-basements beneath us.”
“Intensive Therapeutic Correction.” Esther read out slowly.
“Sounds intense.” Merfey chuckled, his voice actually sounded to Clark like it was glee filled.
That was enough.
“Guys look.” He started “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about all I can bear of this lice ridden plague factory. And you want to go deeper? Why? Someone tell me why we are spending one of our only days off trying to get tetanus?”
Merfey’s shoulders sagged and he exhaled a sigh into the gloom. When he spoke, it was a coldness that shocked Clark.
“See, Clark, this is why I didn’t want you to come. I don’t want to stop every five minutes to explain myself. You want to know why we are here? Because the beings we are trying to communicate with are made up of pure energy, an energy we may be able to harness to usher in a new age. You said it yourself about atomics. As far as why you feel like you're wasting your time, well I can’t answer that. Because Esther and I like this kind of thing. If you want to leave the exit is marked on the map. Kick rocks if you’re going.”
“Miles!” Esther scowled at Merfey and Clark felt even lower as his girl had to rescue him. “Do you browbeat everyone who questions the scientific process? Shame on you. Shame.” Even in the dim light Clark could see the crimson colour Merfey’s face and he turned back to the map, muttering to himself. Esther pushed by him and led Clark back toward the nurses office.
“I know this isn’t how we thought today would go.” she whispered when they were out of ear shot “but something is happening here. If we can capture some of it, or even measure it, we could make a turning point in scientific history. Stick with me a little longer?”
Clark looked at her, her eyes softened. She gave him that slight smile that turned up the left side of her mouth. He watched the way her necklace hung just above her breasts. Clark swallowed, feeling a rush of heat. After a few minutes of contemplation he nodded.
“Ok, but if anymore hinky shit happens I’m pulling you out.”
“Scouts honor?” Esther grinned wickedly.
The moment was punctured by the slamming sound of metal on metal making both of them jump. When they ran toward the sound they saw Merfey wrenching open a door.
“You’re both coming. Great.” he said flatly “well, let’s go then.” He led the way as his flashlight beam illuminated a spiral stairwell that led deeper into the tomb-like basement