When I was a child there was a female slave on the family plantation who liked to say that the New Year was a chance to reinvent oneself and become the person God wanted them to be.
It is to my own shame that I cannot remember that slave’s name yet can remember her words. She was a field slave and thus I did not see her very often, and when I realized that she was gone and asked my mother about her, she shrugged and told me to ask my father. I asked him and he told me he didn’t care what her name was, only that she had netted him a significant profit. I believe my father knew darn well what the woman’s name was, and that his refusal to tell me was, in some way, supposed to be a lesson. Desperate to please my father at that age, I made a point to pretend to not know any of the slaves’ names for several months.
I slip into memories of the past because it gives me strength to think that who I used to be is not who I became.
Today has been stressful.
The clock nears midnight and I have finally reached the end of my first day in the employ of Kraken Moor. I spent the previous night at the home of Gail Crochoix, a French woman only a few years senoir to my own 19 years. After Harald made his unsuccessful pass at me, he turned his attentions to Gail, who rebuked his wandering hands with a pot of hot cider to his temple. Needless to say, her services were no longer require at the Warthog’s Inn.
Luck was on my side as Gail had exited the Warthog just as the unholy scream had ripped apart the night at Kraken Moor. When I emerged from the woods, she was standing near the gate of the bailey.
I think it’s called the bailey – I confess that I was not ready for the sheer variety of castle types in England. In my mind, all castles looked the same: large, surrounded by high walls, and made of indiscriminate grey rock. Kraken Moor is apparently unique (though I may be completely wrong). The castle is of what the locals call a mot (mott? motte?) and bailey variety. Kraken Moor sits atop a hill (the mot), but the bailey part of the equation – the enclosed courtyard – is located a mile from the castle, down a long dirt road that cuts through a half mile of rolling fields and then a half mile of forest, inside the village of Marehaven, named for the departed Mary Williams Shepherd, wife of Captain Eugene Wallace Shepherd, owner of Kraken Moor.
I cannot help but steal repeated glances at my pocket watch, a dull, round thing I was given by a Union solder at a field hospital in Virginia. In and out of the front pocket of my traditional, black and white chambermaid’s uniform it has gone until I finally placed it on the desk to save myself the trouble. There are nearly ten minutes to midnight, and given my theory on the time of the scream last night, I dread the arrival of the approaching midnight hour.
My room here is
wofully woefully small, with just enough room for a bed along the right wall and a dresser and desk on the left, but it is clean and relatively warm. The staff sleeps inside the castle, but we sleep underground, down the hall from the old dungeons. Except for the foundational wall that separates the interior of the basement from the earth, the walls and floor are made of red brick, and I find this to be completely disconcerting. I suppose it to be better than the dirt and rock I was expecting when I was told I would be housed in the basement.
Nine minutes to midnight.
Gail and I spent the night huddled in her small, but warm bed, gossiping about the young men in town. Since the day I met her, Gail had made it clear she found the men of England to be a far inferior lot than the men in France, but she also made it clear that their money spent just as well. At first, her boldness of tongue made my opinion of her to be lower to the ground than the sole of my shoes, but in time I came to find her willingness to say whatever was on her mind completely refreshing. When we were speculating about the men of both Marehaven and Kraken Moor, Gail playfully suggested the scream was probably nothing more than a woman having sex with Lord Shepherd, son of the Captain, current master of the house, and legendary lover, according to the locals.
Upon my arrival this
mornign morning at the castle, it was Lord Shepherd with whom I first spoke. A handsome, dignified man in his mid-thirties, he has raven-black hair and eyes that seem stolen from a wolfpack. He wore d a dark suit and had a rough energy to him, which I attributed to the scream of the previous evening.
“Who the blazes are you?” he asked. “The women were needed last night, not this morning.”
A thousand sharp remarks threatened to burst from my mouth, but my need for a job kept them locked inside of me, and I calmly explained to Lord Shepherd that I was the new chambermaid.
“Pity,” he replied. “You’d make more money in my bed than cleaning it.”
Before my tongue threatened to ruin another employment opportunity-
Five minutes. My hands are starting to shake.
-the Head of Staff, Mrs. Cotts, arrived to usher me inside the walls. A tall woman in her forties, Mrs. Cotts was exactly the kind of stern taskmaster that I wanted to avoid. Between her stinging remarks and Harald’s wandering hands, however, I am glad to be taking orders from her instead of Mr. Harl. She gave me the briefest tour of the castle – which was, in essence, merely showing me which rooms I was not allowed to enter – and then put me to work polishing silver ware. It was mundane but mindless. None of the other twenty members of the castle’s staff said any words of note to me, though it was clear I was not welcomed with open arms into their company.
I am unafraid of doing a commoner’s work, and I did my part to make a good impression on Mrs. Cotts while keeping my ears open for news about the scream. No one mentioned it, but there was an odd energy in the house that instructed me to keep my questions sheathed. When I was ten, I was awoken from my sleep by the sound of yelling and screaming. Running to my window, I looked out on our fields and witnessed the slaves burning pieces of the barn. The fire seemed to reach the moon, and the slaves wailed and screamed as they danced around the pyre. One of the voices kept yelling he was coming to the house to kill the children and balance the scales. I was terrified, but that was not altogether new for me at that age. What was new was the look of fear on the faces of my father and the overseer. They brought us into the master bedroom, and spent the night checking and rechecking their riflse as their eyes never left the fire, searching, I imagined, for the man who spoke the worlds of violence. It was then and remains the longest night of my life. Mother was convinced the slaves were coming to kill us, but they never did.
The next morning, no one spoke of these events, but there was a nervous, tense feeling the entire day, as if both the whites and blacks were afraid to discuss what had occurred, for fear of the other side creating retribution. Until today, I had not since felt the —
I must stop writing. My writing is barely legible. My heart pounds. There are only four minutes until midnight. I am trying to be strong and fear I am failing.
Smthg hsa hapNNNd. Somethng has hapnned.
Something has happened.
It is now half past one in the morning, meaning I have “lost” a full ninety minutes, except it was not the minutes that were lost, but me. I shall describe the events in the briefest manner possible.
The midnight bell from the Marehaven church tolled.
There was no scream.
The second bell chimed, and then the third, and fourth, and … I can not remember the fifth bell. I remember the bell ringer was slow tonight. There was but a moment between the first and second bell, but then a longer moment before the third, a still longer moment before the fourth, and then …
There were no more bells and I was standing, in my maid’s uniform, in front of an ornate, full-length mirror. The mirror was framed in rich wood, and atop its two corners were carved gargoyles. A dream, of course. I looked
beautful beautiful. I do not mean that I am full of such conceit that I am especially beautiful, but that I looked like a woman of means who has been primed and primped for a night at a costume ball, and not a woman who has spent the bulk of the past 12 hrs polishing silver and scrubbing floors. My outfit was still plain, but I looked washed, pampered, refreshed.
There is no tall mirror in my room here in the basement of Kraken Moor, so I do not of which mirror in the house I was standing before. I am certain I was in this house, however. (A room I shall endeavor to find.) I was running my hands through my blonde hair – and it was soft! So soft! Soft like it had not been since I stepped aboard a merchant vessel in Boston – and then the mirror shimmered and I was no longer looking at myself.
I was looking at the inside of Gail’s apartment.
I was looking at –
I would not say what I am about to say but for two reasons. The first is that this journal is for my eyes only. I understand that journals have a tendency to walk away from their writers in order to reveal their words to the eyes of others, but I will not live my life according to what may happen. The second reason I will write what follows is that I am taking strength from Gail’s ill manners in order to write about Gail’s ill manners.
In short, I saw Gail in a carnal embrace with Lord Shepherd.
I could not tear my eyes away. I watched them for only moments, however, before Gail turned her head to the left and looked directly into my eyes.
The image was broken and …
I was here. Back in my brick room in the basement.
Awoken from a dream, of course.
And yet, as I run my hands through my hair, it is … it is …