I Am The Fire
(Center Street in Richmond Town – Photo/photoshopped by Joe)
With some trepidation of never seeing our fine oyster sloop again, we left it tied to a makeshift pier in New Dorp Beach and set out on a horse-drawn cart Jack had sent for prior to our coming to Staten Island. We headed along a wooded road surrounded by farmland that ran straight up from the shore. We wanted to talk with the families of the missing and murdered. They were all were located in the town of New Dorp. Jack had gotten the names out of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. But those we found would not speak to us; not one of them. Such was the disturbed nature we saw in their eyes, it was clear that no amount of begging or pleading for information would help.
A farmer, whose young girl had been abducted from his own bed in the middle of the night, met us on his property cradling an old blunderbuss. A newspaper report had stated that the girl had gone missing in the arms of an unidentified fiend, and that the father had searched the woodland beyond his fields, while his daughter cried out to him. When we asked the farmer to once again recount the events of that night, he threatened to shoot us if we didn’t leave his property. As with the others, a paralytic fear gripped the man’s body and gleamed in his eyes.
Jack said that the terror the beast had put into its victims had been born out of the fires of Hell, and had been transmitted through them to their family members. Before the three of us left each homestead, the one bit of information Jack culled was the name and relation of those we saw. Soon he pointed out to us that the non-blood relatives we met, such as step-parents and children from other marriages, did not display the same visceral fear. Gabe the gorilla and I agreed.
By sundown we had gone about one and a half miles inland on the same road. It was very straight. Only in the last later quarter mile did the road rise up much. At the top of the road and to the left, facing a steep hill, we found an old tavern where we rented rooms for the night.
A flash of lightning illuminated the room, followed seconds later by the crackle and explosion of thunder. I sat up in bed and put my feet on the floor. In a fetal position and still seeming to take up every last inch of the bed, Gabe the gorilla snored loudly on the other side of the room. Rain pattered on the window panes. It was a spring afternoon, yet there was a chill in the damp air. Aching from head-to-toe, it took some of my might to climb to my feet.
I dressed quickly and saw Jack was gone from the other bedroom in the garret. I went downstairs into the noisy tavern. The lamps on the walls and behind the bar burned brightly. Well-dressed gentlemen and farmers in shabby suits sat together at the tables and also stood at the bar. It was very queer to see four fair-haired ladies sitting at a table together without a male companion. I wiped my eyes as I surveyed the crowd, never having seen so many females in a bar unless I was counting whores. But none of these women sat on any of the men’s laps or leered at the customers, or drank gin or whiskey. It was all very strange*.
The corpulent proprietor came out from behind the bar. He ushered me into a small room and sat me at a table. He hurried out of the room and came back seconds later with a steaming glass of spiced rum. He set it down on the table along with a fork and a soup spoon. The glass warmed my hands, and the drink enlivened my spirit. The man put another log into the crackling hearth, below a kettle of simmering soup. Burning pine and sweet pipe smoke hung heavily in the air. Just minutes later his equally stout wife brought me a meal of roast pig, stewed liver, cold bread, and soup.
I felt my pockets. They were stuffed with money. Then I remembered Jack had paid the husband and wife handsomely for the three of us to stay one week. The price included food and drink. The couple, who both had strong German accents, had each counted the bills with looks of surprise, though had also been wide-eyed at the size of Jack and especially the gorilla. The couple seemed to have had past experience with demons and knew what the three of us were there for. More closely, I was almost sure the previous night that they had talked of a monster who terrorized their village in “the old country”, but I had drank far too much gin to remember what was said. One moment last night I was on my feet at the bar, the next I woke in a bed upstairs.
Jack sat down at the table and joined me for supper. He had gone out and gotten a shave and a haircut. Gabe the gorilla came down moments later and also sat with us.
Jack looked closely at me as I now sipped gin. “We’ll be stalking the demon tonight, so watch your altitudes.”
“I’m a f–king killer, drunk or not, was born to do this,” I said.
Jack stared into my eyes, and then blinked. “We’ll start on the top of the main road here; the one we came up. It’s the busiest area, having most the shops and establishments.”
“See where things take us,” I said and gesticulated with my hand out toward the crowd.
The both of us possessed almost hound-like senses for otherworld activity, if evil lurked in the night, we would be able to find its direction. Whereas our companion, Gabe the gorilla, was just a killing machine.
Jack lifted his glass of gin and seemed to thoroughly examine the clear fluid. “A newspaper account has all the murders and abductions occurring between the hours of 2 and 3 a.m. So we’ll go out around 1.”
“The only known dead are two adult males,” the gorilla said in his naturally high-pitched voice that now sounded a touch aristocratic. “They were knifed to death. I don’t think their end came at the hands of our demon. They were probably players in a criminal operation.”
“Yes, or gambling men,” I said.
“Which leaves us with six missing people,” Jack said. “Three mothers and three young girls.”
“One woman was pregnant,” I said, sweating, staring at the leaping flames in the large fireplace. It cast a healthy glow over the crowd, coloring many faces.
“So we may find them alive as yet,” the gorilla said, sitting up straight. His beefy shoulders were near the top of my head.
Jack coughed into his fist. “If we find any of the missing alive, even the children, we are left with only one manner in which to deal with them.”
“Kill them,” the gorilla said.
I was now spellbound by the flames. I could just see a face, same as when I sometimes stared into clouds in the sky. I spoke seemingly to the fire, “I won’t kill them.”
“You have the eye that can see through flesh. You will bare witness to their now cursed souls,” Jack said. “You will have no choice.” He waited a moment, then raised his voice. “There’s nothing we can do. You must for your own sake, and for that of the virginal and innocent.”
“I won’t do it,” I said, able to make out the shape of a woman’s face in the fire. Yet it was so perfect, it was closer to being a reflection. I turned and scanned the faces in the crowd.
“Then you risk knowing all the horrors the underworld can heap upon a man’s soul,” Jack said.
The image in the fire drifted before my eyes, giving me a case of double vision. At that same moment, I lighted upon a young woman and the fiery image fit perfectly over her face. When our gazes met, her eyes glinted a sinfully bluish-red. I thought her either a whore or the Devil incarnate. She turned away and began to speak with another young woman and a gray-haired gentleman. There was a haughty look in his eyes, and I thought he must be a lawyer. The three of them laughed. I looked back into the fire. Sweat dripped down my ears, and I took off my top hat.
Over the course of the next hour, I couldn’t stop sweating or exchanging glances with the woman whose face I had seen in the fire. I drank the gin like it was ale.
I was soon as drunk as a pirate on the high seas. Jack ordered me a coffee, which the proprietor, without my asking, sweetened generously with rum.
I took my coffee outside and took a piss in the slick cobbled street. I came back in. Jack and the gorilla were talking to the older gray-haired man who I thought was a lawyer. He wore a fine suit. A woman, who I had never seen before, beamed up at him.
I moved closer to hear what they were saying. A second later someone brushed up against me. It was the woman whose face I seen in the fire.
She gave a closed mouth smile. Her face was pale, but her cheeks were rosy. She looked at the proprietor as she spoke with a rich German accent. “They say I am their daughter. I am not.”
“I’m here for him and only him.”
“You know him.”
“You can call him that, but what you saw yesterday was just one small part of him. Because he is not one being, but many. ”
“How do you serve him?” I said and wiped a heavy sweat from my brow.
“No matter the shape he takes on, people always fear him. They don’t trust him. But they will follow a beautiful woman like myself, even if it is to their death.”
“You killed those women and children here.”
“No, they drank bad water from an old well and were diseased and dying. I ended their suffering and helped deliver them to a better place than this world.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the fire. That’s all you need know.”
“Can you tell me your name?”
I used my shirtsleeve to wipe the sweat from the sides of my face. I felt a cramp in my stomach. “Why are you telling me this?” I asked as sweat dripped into my eyes, momentarily blinding me.
“You drank from that same well.”
I remembered wandering off into the bushes to take a piss as we came up through New Dorp yesterday. I had seen an old stone well and pulled up a bucket of water and taken a sip. It tasted funny and I spat it out and then washed my mouth out with a gulp of gin.
“Come now,” Minna said with a smile, then grabbed my hand and pulled. “He’s outside, waiting for you.”
*Author’s note: Funny how Staten Island was whacked, even back then! Click here to read about one of my modern day adventures in SI.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Forty-Two