Journal of Dr. Artemis Strapp
Baltimore, Maryland. 1862.
The horror of my life is in the telling of it.
The young lady pulled her hood back and she was turned! A Vampire-Nosferatu! An undead parody, passing for human. Pale-white skin, so translucent I could see the bluish veins in her neck and head, elongated canine teeth grazing her lower lip, red eyes, coupled with a demonic smile without mirth or gaiety.
She reached out, faster than I could react, and shoved me backward. I flew across the room and into the hallway, sliding into a wall, cracking the plaster. My breath left me and a debilitating pain lanced through my back. I sat up coughing as the monster advanced on me.
“Shouldn’t have invited me in Doctor! Or should I call you by your real name? Child-killer! And now, I come to take your life!”
She took what seemed to me, one step, and was on top of me, breathing fetid breath from the grave. Though this woman had been slight of frame in life, her undead form seemed to have doubled her weight, as it felt as if a three-hundred-pound man sat atop my chest, crushing it!
“You killed my boy like he was nothin’! Did it feel good Doctor Strapp?”
“He…was…lost already…as you are…” I strained to get the words out, each effort a monumental task.
She placed a hand around my throat, hissing at me.
“Now you die child-killer!”
I looked into my death, and thought about my life…
Before I begin in earnest, I feel compelled to tell you that I have recorded, to the best of my ability, events culled from the diaries, journals, and letters of the individuals who were there with me; as well as various archival sources I could procure. I endeavored to recall with great felicity, the details as much as I could recollect so that a marker could be shared. An artifact of scientific fascination that future scholars can peer over and dissect. What was once normal has been forfeit by a descent into darkness. My curiosity remains, though it is touched less by a desire to know, than a responsibility to record. It is not enough to know darkness exists, one must catalog and record the darkness for others to understand their place in relation to it.
Baltimore is now a city torn by the strife of the Civil War and Martial Law. But beneath this war between men and states, there is a deeper evil lurking. An evil that, unless checked, threatens to destroy ALL mankind. And, the only hope to combat this threat are three broken people.
Few will believe my tales. I know this. But, as GOD is my witness, I have told the truth as I, and others have seen it
So, backward I go. Starting close to when these events first thrust me into the world outside the world.
Journal of Artemis Strapp
April 19, 1861
Secessionists have tried to seal off the city, forcing the first brigade of Union troops ordered by Lincoln to travel through the city. Violence has erupted and many civilians were killed or injured. As a doctor, I was called out to treat them.
I was there to help tend to the wounded as best I could, though I had a sense that this was just the beginning of a wildfire of violence that would sweep the city, and the nation. Horse-drawn carriages were parked along the muddy, unpaved streets close to the station proper, and as I picked my way through the angry mob, people were shouting. Police in their severe uniforms tried to keep the crowd at bay as I stepped over the bodies of the dead soldiers and civilians, holding a handkerchief to my nose against the awful stench of manure, urine, body odor, waste and blood.
I consider myself a man of strict personal standards and strong religious and moral convictions against slavery. Those who know me remark of my great depth of compassion for our fellow man and woman and how I am a respected member of Baltimore society held in high regard. To this, I cannot speak, but I can attest to my passion for humanity. It is indeed my calling. A calling I hold dear to my heart. One in which, I shall not fail or tire. This is the main reason I am so appalled about the violence happening in Baltimore. I think stronger hearts and minds are needed as we thread the moral needle. More voices are needed to stand against the evil that is the bondage of man.
What a bloody affair today has been!
From the open window of my office in Fells Point, I could see the tall masts of a myriad sea vessels waving in the breeze. I smelled the saltwater and heard the creaking of wood against metal as the ships heaved and jostled in the bay. The port was a non-stop panorama of activity that continued day and night; a great multitude of vessels that entered and exited the Patapsco with no end in sight. The Port near my practice housed a great many warehouses and factories, and these backed into the numerous pubs and several houses of ill repute where sailors spent their hard-earned coin for a few hours of pleasure during shore leave. Immigrants and other residents of this section of Baltimore conversed and interacted in a great throng of humanity that was vibrant and alive. I often would walk the cobblestone streets to feel the energy of the neighborhood. Unlike some, I reveled in the differences this neighborhood presented; the promise for our nation.
But today my mind was occupied with the saving of life as another patient would be arriving. I motioned to Judith Baker, my faithful assistant and housekeeper. She was an older woman with a short mane of sandy brown hair that always seemed to fall into her face no matter how she attempted to pull it back. Judith was widowed with no children. She raised me after my own mother’s passing and treated me as the son she had never been blessed with. Judith was an individual of stout heart and steely determination. She was unshakeable and I depended on her. We prepared tools and the like to work on the poor soul that was to be brought to us from the riot.
God-willing, we can help.
May 9, 1861
My lovely wife of fourteen years, Anna, has died. The poor dear fought a losing battle to pneumonia, although the symptoms were more akin to influenza. I tried all remedies but to no avail. What a poor physician am I! I could save countless lives, but not my beloved! I sat by her bedside until some of my fellow physicians forced me to part with her body. I fought them like a rabid animal until I was given a sedative and slipped into a fitful, dreamless slumber.
I dreamed of Anna last night. I wandered under a gray sky, along a long path leading to a large mansion. At the far end of this drive was a figure in white. Somehow, I knew it was my Anna! I ran to her. But, as I ran, she seemed to recede further and further into the distance. I screamed her name, trying in vain to reach her. Anna held one arm aloft, waving to me, then I woke. I spent the last few hours of night cradling the pillows her head once rested on.
December 12, 1861
Heavy snow has fallen on our city. The potential for violence still smothers the air. President Lincoln ordered Union troops into the city right after the War began. Baltimore is under Martial Law. People are wary of one another. Loyalties are divided. This is not my city. Not the one I remember.
I do not know the date or day. I have not slept nor eaten in…how long has it been? I do not know. Judith, the dear woman, attempts to force-feed me to no avail. I rebuff her gently. I know she sits by my door during the night, listening to my breathing. She is like a mother to me in so many ways. I know she grieves for my loss as well as her loss of me in this time, but for this I can do nothing.
My mind is adrift and I am stricken with loneliness and grief, and how do I honor Anna’s memory? By spending most of my nights in back alley opium dens. I inhale the resplendent, hallucinatory fragrance until the world and all pain melts away. I drift upon a cloud of translucent images, until I am yanked back to earth by the sound of patrons fighting each other, or the local police rousting the owners. For some miraculous reason, I am never arrested or even held. It is as if fate seeks to hold me for a crueler joke.
After one such incident, I walk the city streets, wondering why I go on. I stumbled upon the aftermath of a stabbing; the victim bleeding and the perpetrator long gone. I bent over to help the man even in my drug-induced state, knowing that I need to do something. But the man perished in front of me, bleeding his life’s blood into the dirty gutters. As I stared at his body, I noticed the knife laying there. It was interesting. Without thinking, I picked up the knife, feeling the weight of it, wondering what it would be like to end the pain right here, right now. I placed the blade against my throat, pressing until a thin line of blood welled up. If I pressed deeper it could all be over and I would see her again.
“Hey! Whadaya doin’ there!” A voice shouts.
I regained my senses and panicked, running away from the voice. Behind me, shouts and more voices. I ran with the blind animal terror of madness. I knew I was not responsible, but when I thoughtlessly picked up the knife, I became a suspect. So, I continued to run until the sound of pursuit was long gone. My mind assisted me in that I ran in a great circle, coming back to Fells Point right near the docks. I stopped by the pier gasping for breath and realized I still gripped the blade. I glanced around. Seeing no one, I pitched the knife into the dark waters and slumped down onto the wood planks.
I must find a way to venture back to myself because the only thing I long for is death now. But, even amidst these thoughts I wondered; could I find meaning and purpose again with my frail life; a reason to live and not just exist? Could I turn to helping others even if not as a physician or healer, but as living witness or chronicler? Or, perhaps, oral historian. I have uncovered rumblings of events that border on the supernatural. Perhaps a reason for me to not give up on this life? Is there life after love? Maybe this could be my new purpose. To document, catalogue, and encode a history of sorts on my investigations into the Supernatural, or, the Other-Natural. Curious events in this great city of Baltimore.
The Diary of Lucius Williamson, Esq. Baltimore, Maryland
February 9, 1862
War has come to Baltimore! I am afraid, and yet I must not be afraid because they look to me to be strong. Momma Simms and Ruby. Every eye on the Great Lucius Williamson! Ha! I do not feel strong, or brave, or great. I feel afraid. And I am ashamed of how I feel at this moment.
I gazed out at the wide river as it flowed ever outward, churning white foam into the night sky. The foam looks like snow falling up to Heaven. Momma Simms always told me that the Rain is God’s tears flowing down for his lost people, but the foam going up is our offering to him! She said we were lost like the Israelites.
Perhaps. But no matter. Nothing will stop the fog of war. It was inevitable, I think. Whites who fight for us, and Whites who fight against us. The enemy is all around, and I think I will never fully trust them.
I heard footsteps. Many footsteps. I turned away from the river, melting into the shadows until I could determine the level of danger I faced. To be a Negro, educated lawyer or not, was still to be a Negro. Dangerous business in these times. Whistles and shouting. A party of men rushed by. Then several wagons. As I tried to make sense of this commotion, I smelled the flames, a structure burning somewhere off the pier. Dragon fire illuminated the sky, casting a creeping red glow over the earth. How did I not notice the fire?
I gathered my coat around me and headed back to the house. My sister Ruby would be in a fuss by now waiting on me. Oh, how I dreaded that conversation! When Ruby was in a mood, Ruby was in a mood. A gift from our late Mother, God rest her soul; taken too young from this life. Ruby and I were only ten when Mother passed from pneumonia. It was God’s grace that Momma Simms showed us love, taking in two strange children without any kin. A debt we are forever grateful for. The very reason I became a lawyer was to help Momma Simms and others who run the boarding houses that Ruby, myself, and so many others called home.
I walked slowly, avoiding people, sticking to the shadows. Something strange was in the air, but what I did not know.
As I walked the sound of crying reached my ears. The crying of a child. There were many street urchins in Baltimore of course, but very few near the docks. I looked around, searching for the source of the crying. Then, in the gloom, I saw a shape. Small and curled up near a row of barrels. As I suspected, a young White boy of about seven. Just as I started to call out, I sensed, rather than saw, something emerge from the shadows. A man-sized shadow seeming to flow from the darkness like water into a river.
I stopped midstride as my insides froze. I felt an uncomprehending, primal fear. I have been afraid a good portion of my life, but this was fear at its most basic. Paralyzing, debilitating fear. The shadow motioned to the boy, lifting one long arm as it did. In turn, the boy stood, turning to the shadow. His gaze far away as if in a dream.
My mind began to scream that I needed to do something, but I was rooted to the ground. Unable to move, or speak, or cry out. As I watched in helpless agony, the shadow glided forward, closer and closer to the child, until it towered over him. Now my heart hammered in my chest, threatening to explode from my ribcage. The shadow reached out with lightning speed, snatching the child by the top of the head, pulling him away into the darkness.
The second the shadow dissipated I was able to move again. I fell to my knees, weakened from fear and exertion. I stumbled over to the barrels looking for the child but found only empty space. The patch of shadowy darkness from where the abomination sprang no more than the side of a warehouse building. I twisted this way and that, wondering if my mind had let loose. Not a trace. Confused, I walked back in the direction of the house, this time casting furtive glances at every dark patch of beckoning darkness as I did.
I hurried through the front door, glad to shut the darkness outside and drink in the warmth of hearth and home. I heard the voices of several borders talking and laughing in the main room. I often conversed with them, smiling at their rowdy tales of drinking, fighting, traveling, and working. Always told with a wink and smile. But, tonight, I wanted nothing more than to lay upon my bed and drift away, forgetting the impossibility of this night.
Upon waking the next morning, the events of the night before seemed naught but a faraway dream. I stared at my reflection for several moments, appraising myself. It is not often I do this, but I supposed I searched for slivers of madness to be present. Had I dreamed last night’s events? Of course!
The world was still as black and white as ever. There were good and evil men in this world. The supernatural did not hold sway with me. I had based my stock in logic, rules, procedures of the court, argument and persuasion. These were my weapons, and my weapons are oh so sharp indeed!
I allowed myself a small smile, then shaved, dressed, and headed downstairs to the kitchen to sup with Momma Simms. It has been our custom to eat breakfast early before most others have risen. It is a tradition both of us enjoyed and rarely missed. As soon as I entered the room Momma Simms frowned at me, her weathered brown face full of wisdom and love, but shrewd as any White banker uptown.
“What’s botherin’ you this morn Lucius? Don’t see any of your normal lawyer
“Nothing.” I replied, knowing as soon as the words left my mouth Momma
Simms would see the lie attached. I could never hide anything from this gentle, powerful woman. She lived through a life of slavery, birthed thirteen children, lost eight, helped run the Underground Railroad for a time, fought the Night Riders, and more that I would not ever know.
Momma Simms could see right through me.
“I saw something last night…I think I saw something. A child. Little white boy, down by the harbour. He was crying. I started to call out to him. He was there, and then he was not there. On my life, I could not account for why he seemed to vanish.”
The words felt heavy just speaking them. Momma Simms was silent for a long time. She sipped her bitter coffee, took out her tobacco tin, rolled a thin cigar, lit it with a match, then puffed out smoke rings toward the ceiling. When I was a young man this ritual would madden me to no end, but in time I learned to be patient. I believe this was the lesson I needed to learn, and still do. Patience was not an easy endeavor for me. The world marches by at such a pace that I could ill afford it to pass me.
“You seen her ‘eh?” Momma Simms said after a long puff. I was confused.
“Saw whom Momma Simms?”
I drank from my coffee, waiting for her to finish. I realized that if we were playing cards I would lose. I did not have the ability to bluff or pretend. My direct speech served me well as a lawyer where I could dictate terms, negotiate contracts, or cite the law. Less so in dealing with people. Momma Simms continued to stare at me so I played along best I could.
“Who is M’lady?”
“M’lady of the Docks. Can’t believe you never heard of her ‘afore Lucius. People been knowin’ ‘bout her for some time up this way. Heard tell that on seeing her, children take to disappearing. Never seen her myself of course, but that’s what I hear.”
“Some woman kidnaps children at the docks? I do not understand Momma Simms. Kidnapping, while abhorrent, is just a crime that can be prosecuted like all others.”
I chewed on a piece of toast with some egg. So delicious, as usual.
“What is so special about this M’lady”
Momma Simms leaned forward in her chair, her prodigious belly pushing the table my direction.
“M’lady been wandering the docks for years. Mostly just looking out at the river for something she can’t never find. What it is no one can say. She don’t bother nobody, ‘cept if she look you directly in the eye. She let’s out a shriek like from the pits of hell. Freeze your blood to the marrah. That’s what I hear.”
“A ghost? Some kind of spirit? Is that what you are telling me Momma Simms? That some ghost wanders the harbour, staring out at the water, and wailing if you look at her?”
Momma Simms nodded her head as if she had just presented a grand argument to the state board of litigators.
“Quiet as it’s kept.” She said.
And with that, she stood and proceeded to add to the breakfast spread since the regular boarders would be down soon.
I could not think of an appropriate retort to Momma Simms, so I left the topic, drank the remainder of my coffee, and kissed her forehead.
“I am off to the office. It will be a long day, so please do not wait for me.”
Momma Simms shrugged. “Ain’t me you got to tell that too.” Her eyes looked over my shoulder and I knew my sister Ruby was standing behind me, glaring I assumed, at my back.
I turned and was rewarded by being correct.
Ruby. My twin sister, older than me by five minutes. Or, as she liked to say, Five minutes, and lifetimes older!
I had to admit though, in truth, Ruby was older than I was, and possessed wisdom beyond her years. I believe that is why she and Momma Simms got along so well. They were like shades of the same person, which was a mystery to me since they were not blood kin. Ruby glided across the room and loomed over me. Even though I was taller by several inches, Ruby seemed to grow when she was trying to intimidate me.
I stared at her face, dark as chocolate, with a grin as wide as the moon, and a tiny gap between her front teeth. Ruby was as beautiful as what I imagined African skies to be. I loved my sister with a ferocity I could not always verbalize, and she exuded the same toward me. Neither Heaven nor Hell could separate Ruby and me from each other, although sometimes that closeness fostered irritation in me since she was always right, in her mind.
“Lu, where were you last night? As I recall, you promised to be home before eight o’clock so we could visit Ms. Wilhelmina as I recall. At the nine-thirty mark, I realized you were intent on standing her up, so I sent one of the boys over to give your apologies. I must admit though when you remarked how lovely she looked last Sunday at church, and how nice it would be to sit and have breakfast or supper, and how quaint it was that I was personal friends with her, that you would at least have the good sense to follow through on what I set up for you dear brother!”
Ruby did not really shout at me. But the intention and clarity of her conviction to shake me out of my doldrums was as forceful as if she had shouted it. I could feel the sting of her rebuke as acutely as the sting from a honey bee. So, I managed the best retort I could though…
Ruby’s stare cut me to ribbons. As she walked over to the stove to grab some breakfast, I noticed how slow she moved. And, I noticed her hands. Her fingers were starting to curl inward a bit like Momma Simms, except my sister was still a young woman. Working in that damnable shoe factory was taking a toll on Ruby, but of course, she was too proud to complain. So, she suffered in silence and it pained me to think that one day soon she very well might lose the use of her hands if she continued to work there.
Letter from Ms. Mare Adams to Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson
February 12, 1862
I hope this letter finds you and your beloved Herbert well. I miss all of you tremendously!
I had hoped that I could come visit as we had discussed several months ago, but all this talk of war has shattered the idea. War? Who could ever think that we would be at war since the Revolution? I am no lover of the Slave Trade of course, but fighting a war over it? I do not understand. I know you do not like me to discuss my “business” with you, but who else do I have to talk to other than my girls? They work for me, so they will not understand the complexities of business, finance, taxation, or other things, as you my sweet sister.
It is truly a blessing that you were able to marry into the family you did, and then pursue studies at the university. Herbert is a Godsend!
Even as war rages, I attempt to keep to a regular routine, and make the girls do the same. I wake early, first as usual, make breakfast (I will send you a recipe for a new pie I found from one of the Free People on Pratt Street!), then cook for the girls. Once Sarah and Olga are awake, we continue making breakfast for the others. I step away to tend to my bookkeeping, write letters, look at dress patterns for the evening, and then sit outside for a smoke while watching the ships in the harbour. I often send Sarah to the dressmaker here in Fells Point. The woman makes the most beautiful designs in all of Baltimore. I have calculated that if business continues on the same path, by this time next year I will be able to buy a small property I have my eye on in one of the upscale neighborhoods West of here.
With two properties (even paying off the police) I can leave this life in a few years. Maybe even come to Washington to live with you, Herbert, and the girls! I will have enough money to build a small house on your property if Herbert is amenable to the idea. It is this thought which keeps me going even when I want to give in to my darkest thoughts.
I love you, sweet Elizabeth! More than you will ever truly know! Please write back and tell me all the wonderful things that are happening in your life, and how Herbert fares in his new political career. God Bless and keep you safe!
Your Loving Sister,
THE BALTIMORE MESSENGER Newspaper
Issue #13, The Twenty-third of February, 1862
Byline written by Darcy Kilpatrick
******** Missing Boy last seen at Docks! ********
A young lad by name of Isiah Capston was reported missing near the dock. His mother, one Sarah Capston, twenty-four years of age, stated she had last seen her son half an hour before sunset when she sent him on errand to the market. Witnesses at the fish market remember the boy buying from several carts, but not what time this was, or which direction the boy was traveling. “It was before nightfall.” one witness recalls. Another witness claimed that he heard a “screaming sound” come from the docks at night. Like that of a “great owl, or other night creature”. This was referenced to have occurred at the same time as the fire on Pier 17.
No further information or witnesses came forward to give details.
The Union has placed a commander in charge of homicides by the title, Captain Alfred Tenny of the Second Maryland Infantry, under Colonel John Sommer. Capt. Tenny is tasked with investigating the killings of Secessionists which occurred last Winter, and reports of violent attacks against Pro-Union business owners. If reports of the Second Maryland Infantry redirecting to North Carolina for the War effort are true, Capt. Tenny will remain behind in Baltimore until the end of War, or further notice, to keep peace and quell activities deemed “rebellious”.
Mare Adams Diary
February 23, 1862
Oh, the worst has happened! Poor Sarah! Her child, Isiah kidnapped! I fear the child is dead, though I do not dare breathe that to the poor wretch. I have instructed the girls to tend to her needs as they can, love on her, and do small things to ease her suffering mind. I understand the loss of a child all too well…I plan to walk to the Union station to discern what these fellows are going to do about finding Sarah’s missing child! Some of my older girls laughed at me as I began to stride out the doorway, dressed in my Sunday best.
One remarked, “Oh they’re in for it now! Once they get a tongue lashing from Ms. Mare, they’ll beg to search the streets for the lad!!”
The rest laughed along with her. I was inclined to laugh as well until we noticed Sarah standing on the landing of the stairs. Her face with a ghostly parlor, and skin sallow. She came down the rest of the way, between all of us, and stood in front of me. Sarah lifted her doe eyes and stared straight through my soul.
“Make ‘em find my Isiah. Please Ms. Adams! Make ‘em find him!” She tried to continue, but collapsed into a sobbing heap, supported by the arms of the women surrounding her.
“I will.” And, I meant those very words. I left before the others could see
the tears forming in the edges of my eyes.
After entering the Union building on Pratt Street I was greeted by all manner of noise. Men about their daily business, Confederate sympathizers locked in cells screaming about injustice, business people and shop owners filing claims and reports, and even Free Blacks sitting in small groups waiting their turn to ask about something. All this activity flowing around me like an angry beehive. I did not know where to begin until a nice young man in a Union uniform waved me over to a small desk. I smiled and stepped his way.
As I recollect, his name was Private Denny.
“How can I help you ma’am?” Private Denny asked with a smile. I glanced around. His was the only smile I could see inside this dreary building. I remembered that this had been a meat storage warehouse or something before the Union took possession of it after declaring Martial Law last year.
“Hello…Private Denny…My name is Ms. Mare Adams, and I run a business a few blocks from here. I was wondering; could I speak to the person in charge?”
“What business is that ma’am?” He asked as he began filling out some kind of paperwork.
“It is…ah…a proprietary business where I employ several women.”
It sounded strange coming from my mouth and describing it to a stranger.
He did not look up from his writing. “Boarding house?”
“Well, yes. A boarding house. Could you tell me who I would need to speak to?”
“What kind of crime are you reporting ma’am?”
“A missing child.”
I waited for some kind of horrified reaction from Private Denny, but received none.
“Can you provide a description of your child? What is his or her age? Hair color? How tall is the child? Does the child have any marks? When did you last see your child?”
Too many questions. It occurred to me that I should have brought poor Sarah with me, but she was in no condition to answer these questions. The poor dear could barely stand up.
“Well Private, I am not the child’s mother. I am here on behalf of the poor girl I employ…” Private Denny glanced up finally.
“Where is the child’s mother? I can’t continue my report without her information ma’am. Rules says so right here.” Private Denny held up a thick manual of some kind for my inspection from the other side of the desk. I did not understand what the Manual of Union Military Procedures for Domestic Applications meant and did not care. All I wanted was to find someone in charge who could help me.
I bent over the desk, allowing for just a hint of cleavage to display for the Private’s eyes. As I anticipated, his eyes opened wide and a blush caught his cheeks. After glancing a bit too long, he lowered his eyes and coughed into his hand.
“I think…ahhh…Let me check ifin the Captain is back ma’am!” He mumbled.
Private Denny rose from his chair, almost tripped over it, and walked to the back of the building and into a secluded office. He came back scarce minutes later, still blushing, and stood next to me, making a very pointed show of not looking at me.
“I ah…Let me escort you to his office ma’am. The Captain’s I mean. Please, ah,
follow me, would you?”
I smiled like the genteel Southern lady I was not, and nodded my head.
“Lead the way Private.”
Journal of Artemis Strapp
Now to begin my new found research into the Other-Normal. But, where to start? How to embark on this quest for what I know not? Where to start? Where to start?
In the city? No. Yes! Or…perhaps an outlying area. Something rural.
As I pondered these thoughts, I heard Judith outside the door of my study. I was quite certain she had lain a tray of food on the floor, knowing that I’d hardly pause to eat as I researched. I did not actively practice medicine anymore though. Could I still call myself a doctor? Perhaps; perhaps not.
Then, I smelled the food. The sweet aroma of stew and baked bread wafted under my door, circling my nose until I was tormented by hunger. I realized how famished I was when I heard my stomach growl, so I stood, walked to the door and yanked it open as my stomach began to cramp from not having eaten in many hours (or was it days?). Judith stood in the doorway.
“Well Doctor, it seems the only way I can get you to open the door is to tease you with food.”
Judith was from England but had lived in Baltimore since she was a young lady. She tried her best to hide her accent, but when she took to excitement, it flourished like a flower in the sun’s rays. I do not know where in England, she never talked about it so I could only assume some kind of childhood trauma brought her “across the Pond” as the British say. Judith cared for me when both my parents were alive, through the death of my Mother, and then suicide of my Father from grief. I grew of age as a man under her watchful eye. She kept me on track through my schooling and medical studies, always pushing and prodding, holding me to account. And for this, I am forever grateful. But I also enjoy having a bit of fun at her expense when I can.
“Beggin’ your pardon sir, but when was the last time you bothered to bath? I’ll wager not in recent memory. And, look at you! All skin and bones! Your clothes positively hanging off you! No, no! This won’t do sir. Not one bit! I can’t be ‘avenin’ my employer looking a fright because he is too obstinate and lazy to wash himself! No, I’ll not be ‘avenin’ it I say!”
“Dear Judith, why ever do I need to bathe? It is only you and I here in this house. We do not take in patients any longer, do not entertain visitors, and never leave the house except to buy foodstuffs! I have everything I need here!” I said to her. To Judith’s credit she kept a stone face.
“Everything ‘cept water! No, no! I ain’t ‘avenin’ it!”
And, with that, Judith did what she had done since I was a young boy. She grabbed my earlobe, twisted, and marched me straight to the lavatory. In her foresight, Judith had already run a bath. She closed the door on me.
“There now, everything’s right with the world. Just as the Good Lord wills it! Don’t forget
to wash behind your ears Doctor!” She said from the opposite side of the door.
The last few months of misery over Anna’s passing had afflicted me, but now I had a mission! I had a reason to venture out into the world at long last. Somewhere, in this very city perhaps, was a mystery, a myth, an urban legend waiting for me to unearth it!
Judith, as always, was of course correct. I felt much better after bathing, so I combed through my tangle of hair, dressed in what I remembered doctors should dress in; pants, coat and some such. I sat at the breakfast table and opened the paper. As if by magic, a cup of black coffee appeared on the table in front of me. I sipped and grimaced, as in my thirty-five years of life she never understood how to sweeten my coffee, then began to actually read through it. I flipped pages and drank coffee.
Wait! An article about a lost child.
Unfortunately, this was nothing new, but what was new was the manner in which he was lost. The news story did not state this explicitly, but I felt in my very bones that something was amiss. A sound of screaming like an owl or night creature? This had the scent of Other-Normal all over it! A quiver of excitement coursed through my stomach. I would endeavor to speak with the journalist about this incident and find out what clues there were to be sought!
I could sense my thoughts coalescing, shifting. I needed to see the ordinary and mundane with new eyes. To think new thoughts outside the boundaries of scientific purview.
I jumped up from the table, striding around the room with renewed vigor. Judith looked up as if to say something, but refrained when she witnessed the resoluteness of my stride. She was proud and stubborn, my Judith, but also wise beyond measure. She knew when to push, and when not to. I gathered my satchel and coat, preparing to leave the house.
“Wait sir.” Judith walked over, pulled a long chain with a silver cross on it from around her neck.
I was not a particularly religious man in terms of traditions or symbols though. I believed in God in an opaque, distanced way, but did not attend church.
Judith placed the chain and cross over my head.
“I don’t know what you’re lookin’ for sir, but keep this close to your heart. It’ll keep you safe. I guarantee it.”
When I stepped out into the cold wind of the day, I felt the best I had felt in months. I turned right, walking away from Fells Point, leaving it behind in search of the Baltimore Messenger.
The Diary of Lucius Williamson, Esq.
February 23, 1862
7:15 - morning
I walked into my small, but most comfortable office. Small by White standards, but with two rooms, plus a small waiting area, it felt as large as King Solomon’s mines. And it was mine. I paid for my section together with four other Negro business men; another lawyer, a doctor, a minister, and a barber. Together, we were one of the first in a series of Negro-owned businesses to own property in this section of the city. For all the strife and toil that the War and Union occupation had brought to Baltimore, for Negros, it also brought about unexpected benefits.
I could not afford an assistant, so the various drudgeries of paperwork were left to me. My first client was not due for another two hours, so I set about the task of filing and sorting. I was a creature of habit and schedule, and liked things to be in order and in their place. Untidy habits, personal or professional, were anathema to me, so I endeavored to be the opposite. Unlike my sister, but I tried not to dwell on that.
8:02 – morning
A strange chill descended on my shoulders. It startled me as I had not left the door open or unlocked. I rose, checked both the front and back doors, then the windows. The building I was in had a low roof, so there was no upstairs. My associates were located in their sections of the building, partitioned off by load bearing walls, on the right and left of my office, although we all shared a large basement area, complete with a boiler, between three of us.
I walked down the rickety stairs to the basement.
The room always made me feel ill at ease. I knew this was superstitious nonsense, but I could not rid myself of these feelings despite my attempts. As I descended, the feeling became stronger and stronger, and the air seemed much damper and colder than I ever remembered. I wondered if the boiler was out, but when I came to the bottom of the stairs, I saw fire blazing inside the metal contraption. I walked closer to the boiler when a sudden draft of cold air stabbed me in the back. I spun around and was confronted by the same fear which held me at the docks several weeks ago.
A tall, black-robed figure stood in front of me with arms that seemed too long for the frame, and endless darkness inside the hood where the head should be. Icy tendrils of fear crawled up my neck. I could not breathe or speak. All I could do was stare in muted terror at the apparition before me. As I stood transfixed, the figure unveiled a long bony hand, ribbed with blue veins, raised it to the hood, and pulled it back.
Horror upon horror! A face too terrifying for words. Glowing orbs of light stared into mine, framed by hair that seemed entangled with roots and grass. I could not tell if the figure was male or female, but I did note the lips. The lips were a woman’s it seemed and as I looked longer, they began to move in a crippling pantomime of speech. A second later, the sound began. A keening cry in the back of my skull which radiated underneath my ears, filling my mind to bursting until I wanted to tear my eyes out.
Through the most Herculean effort, I snapped whatever devious witchcraft held me at bay, and ran up the staircase, slamming the door shut and locking it. I did not know what had just occurred but I was afraid. Just as afraid as I had been that evening on the pier. I sat on the floor and clapped both arms around my legs until I could engage my brain once more.
What had I just experienced? Some kind of psychological phenomena? Was I insane?
The same questions which plagued me then, plagued me now. Was the apparition real?
No. I was not willing to accept this notion.
And, of course, I could speak of this to no one. They would think me mad as a loon, and stop coming to me for legal advice and services. I would remain alone in my insanity. Not even my sister would know what happened here. I was determined to find out how tenuous my hold on reality was, but unless I suffered another temporary delusion, I would go on as if nothing had occurred.
If I could…
The Diary of Lucius Williamson, Esq.
February 23, 1862
I turned my client away, fearing that I would do them more harm than good in my current condition, after which I wandered around the city in a daze. It seemed I walked for hours as my mind turned back on itself, wondering about the apparition from my office. I was so consumed by this, that I failed to realize I crossed The Line. It was an invisible, but very real dividing line between Baltimoreans who supported the Union and President Lincoln’s efforts, and those sympathetic to the Confederate cause. I tried to involve myself in neither since my voice did not matter to the White citizens of Baltimore.
I was in Confederate territory for all intents and purposes, and more in fear of my life than on any normal day in this city. The Union had done quite the job suppressing secession activity, and any pro-Confederate activity. In point of fact, the Union soldiers jailed people for the most minor of infractions if deemed in violation of Martial Law and anti-Union policies. If I was so inclined, I would think this a violation of civil rights, but try as I might, I did not have it in my heart to be so forgiving. I had yet to see the kindness of Whites toward Negros, and until then, I would keep forgiveness locked in my heart. These thoughts chaffed Momma Simms, who despite all the troubles of her life, believed in the goodness of all men, Negro and White.
As if alerting to a siren call, a group of men seemed to emerge from the shadows of an alleyway. I was not certain if they were waiting for an easy target, or passing time. Either way, I endeavored to cross to the opposite side of the street. The group, now I counted four, moved parallel to me, walked faster, then crossed the street to my side and waited. I was not a fighter like my sister. My recourse in situations was always my wits and quick mind. I hoped I could fall back on these now. The first man who appeared to be a stevedore, looked me up and down, appraising my physical attributes, or potential profit.
“What’s this now? Nigger’s all dressed up for the circus! Is that where you’re goin’ Nigger? The circus? I think that’s where he’s goin boys!”
The others laughed. I could smell the stench of alcohol on their breath, and sensed the violence pouring off them. I took a step backward and felt a prod from behind. Another man stood, holding a large section of wood. He did not smile as the others did.
“Take what you will and let’s be gone.” Wood Man said.
Five in all.
A chill of fear raced up my spine, but this was completely different from before. What I faced now was not supernatural, but the harsh reality of my station in life. The banal horror of daily existence of life as a Black Man in this country.
One of them pushed me in the chest and I fell backward into the shaft of wood. Then one of the ruffians punched me in the gut. It took my wind, causing me to fall to one knee. The leader towered over me. All fraudulent mirth gone from his face, replaced by malice.
“Give us your coin, or we’ll beat you here and now!”
“Here. Take what you will. I do not want any trouble.”
I gasped while trying to catch my breath. Pairs of hands fumbled through my jacket and trousers, pulling out what little money I had on me. They threw my pocketbook onto the filthy ground and laughed.
“And that pocket-watch little man. I’ll have that too.” The leader said.
The watch was all I had of whatever family Ruby and I came from. It was stuffed into my pockets when we were left with Momma Simms. It was the only item I cared for. Probably not worth much in monetary terms, but priceless to me, and possessed a connection I could only guess at. Maybe it represented a freedom of sorts. I could not, and would never part with it. Not to death.