Journal of a Mad
a short story by Dennis
First portrait in the glass studio this
morning. Photographed Alderman Green & daughter Charlotte.
Green’s wife deceased a season now, killed by pox. A somber
bloodless sitting with his monocle & pocketwatch. His eyes
resembled oozing warts. Charlotte gave a smile & a warming one at
that. I regretted how her hair was pinned. He seemed to have her
pinned at every angle of her figure.
She did not reply to courtesies. The
Alderman explained she neither answered nor inquired. “Deaf
& dumb,” he said. “The better part is dumb.” Wretched man.
In a moment of distraction, Charlotte kissed her little finger,
pressed a print upon the lens & then departed with her father. I
shall have to keep the lens.
Mongrel Alderman perturbed to learn
the portrait had been ruined, tho’ my offer of a second sitting,
wholly free of charge, mollified his temper. Yet the portrait has
survived, carried close at my breast. How his ears would turn to
cinders if he knew my machinations. I have studied both her portrait
& the finger printed lens. Every facet of her image, every coil of
her print, thrills me powerfully…as tho’ I’d never seen a picture
or a finger but for Charlotte’s. I have thought of little else.
Second portrait today. Charlotte
pinkened like a bud. She conversed in perfect silence with the color
of her throat, the flicker of her lash, & her eyes, many spangled
in the shadow of her father. Yet the Alderman’s impatience left us
barren of enjoyment.
But before he stole her off again, I
handed her a card—undetected—with my finger print. Beneath it,
in a riddle, was a coded invitation:
o’clock, Crescent Hill, 11 August.
moon will light your way.
She hid it in her bosom. We have now
exchanged our fingers.
Crescent Hill, above the valley at the
border of the cemetery, lies within a maze of broken willow trees
& nettles, not several minutes distance from the Alderman’s
estate…so affording her a brisk & easy passage to our rendezvous.
I pray we may converse in more than fingertips & glances. I am
anxious with excitement & divert myself with cider, tho’ my
ruined constitution takes it hard. Very hard.
Hope to photograph her sitting in the
full moon’s light. We shall meet in seven hours. How the sun burns
& dawdles, scarcely moving into night. How it glares upon
impatience. Damned sun!
She arrived at eleven, pale &
lovely as a specter, & we gazed at one another many minutes on the
hill. I requested her to sit before the camera I’d arranged. She
was so completely still I might have photographed for hours. I
entreated her to bare a single shoulder for the lens. She rewarded
me with two. Then astonished me with more.
So enraptured by her form, I
neglected other senses, neither hearing nor intuiting the motion on
the hill. My beloved, hearing nothing but her everlasting quiet, was
as powerless to recognize the Alderman’s approach. Finding Charlotte
so exposed, he abused her in his fury, & he struck me on the
temple with a polished stick of hickory. He smashed apart my camera
& removed her from the hill, & she begged for his
forgiveness as he dragged her by her hair. I attempted to pursue
them but could not regain my senses, & the blood upon my eyes
turned the moonlight red.
The Alderman has sent today a lackey
with a message, warning not to file grievance or pursue his daughter
further, as his influence & allies would demolish me severely. As a
token of his fervency, the lackey, with his knuckles, smashed eleven
of my windows. He departed with a grin & very lacerated
Yet a draught of bitter cider set my
nerves upon their feet again. I do not fear the devil or his bastard
vulgar minions. I would shatter every glass before abandoning my
Charlotte. I shall send another note.
A month of cruel suspense come &
gone. Still I wait. I endeavored to communicate with Charlotte with a
riddle. I had spied her in the mercantile, ordering a book, tho’ I
kept myself concealed because the devil lurked beside her.
Spoke to Clarkson at the counter. For a
dollar he agreed to slip my riddle in her book, & so he did when it
arrived…where by now she must have found it. Past the fiend’s
scaly eye! It conveyed an invitation for the evening of the tenth,
once again at Crescent Hill, ‘neath the next full moon. How I hope she
finds the courage. I will see in twenty hours.
Went to Crescent Hill at nine &
brought my new acquired camera, which was scarcely even utilized in
intervening weeks. Charlotte failed to meet the rendezvous but left
instead a letter, wrapped in silk upon a flagstone:
received your charming riddle and am heartened by your flattery. I must
refrain from meeting you. Forgive me this fragility. Remember my
affection. We shall meet whenever each of us reflects upon the moon.
I could not have hoped for more. Tho’
she failed to steal away beneath the fiend’s jealous eye, she has
promised—God be praised!—to meet with every ripened moon.
Walking home along the road, I met a gathering of children. They were
playing Wink’em Slyly, & I very nearly joined ‘em.
Frequented the town in hopes of
glimpsing my beloved. But the devil keeps her prisoner of the manor
more & more. I imagine that she looks upon the slivers of the moon,
while it nightly grows & beckons like a slowly opened portal.
More than twenty seven days. I neither
sleep nor work in comfort, spending all my waking moments in reflection
of her face. All my nights of awful solitude! I think I must be mad to
pin my life upon her coming. I have dreamt of her incessantly, of
chasing her forever, thro’ the willows, up the hill, into ghastly open
spaces. I have scrutinized her portrait till the features seem to
bleed. Time increases her but draws her ever further from my self, like
a will-o’-wisp a will-o’-wisp pursues.
Pray she comes.
Neither Charlotte nor a note. Saw the
moon rise low, shining huge upon the fields. It diminished as it rose,
drawing farther out of reach, till it hovered overhead & I
reclined & felt dejected. Took a portrait of the moon. Left an
hour after dawn. Passed a cartload of pumpkins overturned upon the
road. Seemed the brains of many heads, broken orange in the cold.
Charlotte failed to come again
tonight. The cold was like a vein of ice fracturing a rock. All about
me, ‘neath the hill, willows crackled in the dark, shedding bark,
Hours I insisted on a doomed,
cheerless vigil, & the moon refused to show herself, brightening
the sky & yet concealed behind the clouds, like a candle thro’ a
curtain or an unformed thought. She appeared only once, glancing
briefly thro’ the veil, in a moment I was peering down the hill to
look for Charlotte. When I raised my head to see her, she abruptly
disappeared. I imagined Charlotte turning & withdrawing from the
hill, as capricious as the moon, having promised then revoked
My nose has swamped my handkerchiefs.
Neither dawn nor fire nor the mugs of boiled cider thaw the
enervating chill that I have suffered overnight. And the Devil seems
to cackle ever closer in my room. Charlotte’s portraits seem illusions
I have conjured out of air.
My blankets smell of shrouds. I will
sleep if sleep will have me.
Sleep will not.
Direct appeal provoked the Devil
& his wolves. I arrived today to find my precious studio
destroyed. Every windowpane shattered, every camera o’erthrown.
Tables smashed, jars exploded. All my spirit lamps demolished.
Fuming alcohol & rottenstone & mercury dispersed.
I am ringed in lethal fragments
strewn about me on the floor, & the Devil’s stern assertion rings
& echoes in my memory—“I do not have a daughter.” So he said
before departing. What malevolence & trickery! The cruelty of his
words! Is my total desolation not enough to sate his anger? Must he
leave me with the echo of his daughter being gone? Has he sent her off
in misery, entombed her in the manor?
Both her portraits have been lost
beneath the rubble & the glass. I am left with only memories of
memories of ghosts.
Spent the night amid the wreckage by a
low, cold fire. Bent with stomach pains & grippe. Dogs howled in
the woods. I perceived a flash of eyes, drawing nearer in the dark,
circling round about the rubble of my ruined atelier. But the fire
kept them off. Once I howled in reply. Watched the moon rise grim,
shining down upon the glass. I could almost see her face.
Visited the hill tonight, expecting
nothing good. Expectations proved correct. Oddly warm for early
February, wading up the snow, which had melted into mud & left me
soiled as a root. Tho’ the Devil has abolished both my craft &
reputation, my inheritance provides for my existence & my lodgings.
I subsist upon a common bread, hunks of dusty cheese, half a hogshead of
cider—mostly mold, dirt, alcohol. All that my diminished strength of
Have repaired a single camera &
replenished my supplies.
Gazed for hour after hour at the high
cold moon, till the craters & the pockmarks burned upon my eyes.
Now it hovers here before me in the mirror, in my eyelids…crystal,
ineffaceable, permanent as Hell.
I hastened up the hill despite a
mortifying rainstorm. Worms were driven upward from the saturated
ground, where they writhed & made the hillside slither underfoot.
I was so completely sodden by the time I reached the top, I began to
worry maggots might be driven from my body. I was stricken with the
knowledge I was standing on my grave. She was utterly obscured, tho’
I waited many hours.
I am weak. I am dying.
Purchased Crescent Hill. My
inheritance is gone. Have commissioned the construction of a buried
mausoleum, where, as Providence allows, I will meet her in the dark.
I walked to the hillside in early
afternoon, feeling low & disenchanted since another month had
ebbed. I set my camera there to photograph the building of the tomb.
Excavation had been hindered by the hardness of the ground, yet a
quantity of earth had been successfully removed, & the hole was
like a great fearsome maw upon the hill.
I resolved to spend the night, out of
habit or delusion. Blessed habit! Grand delusion! Several hours after
dusk, she appeared upon the distance, so discreet I almost doubted
my perception of her coming, & I sickened at the thought that it
was some renewed deception. She ascended Crescent Hill to my
astonishment & wonder, bathing everything anew. I was shamed that
I had doubted her.
She chastened me with silence,
neither listening nor speaking, but her face was brimmed with pity for
my desolate appearance. She was frightened to embrace me so we stood
apart & gazed, standing hours in reflection. She was bound to
leave the hill, lest the Devil find her absent. But she waited for a
Have discovered what appears to be a
flaw upon the portrait, like a miniature spider in the corner of the
plate. I have never seen its equal. A peculiar disappointment.
She came again to meet me at the half-completed
tomb, which appeared in my exalted state a grisly aberration. She
disturbed me with her silence tho’… a silence not from muteness,
but from deeper wells of being. It appeared as if her spirit had
decided not to speak. We were statues on the grave.
She denied me her embrace again. She
seemed to hint a faithlessness & subtle diminution. Have the
Fiend’s insinuations taken root without her knowing? She appears upon
the hill, which attests to her devotion, yet her reticence suggests an
inclination to abandon me.
To think that I have found, lost,
waited, rediscovered...only now to feel the agony of willful
disaffection. She did not resist a portrait, but her countenance
diffused. I could not abide her listlessness. I left her on the hill.
How astonishing my arrogance to chasten
Yet another creeping flaw upon the
latest of the portraits…slightly wider than the first, tho’ of
similar appearance, like a spider or an ink stain blotting out the edge.
I have checked the plates & lenses. They are clean. I am
We met upon the hill & I
beseeched her to forgive me. Yet she shrank as if she loathed me…I
should think I had defiled her. Thus reflected in her scorn, I began
to loathe myself, & I withdrew toward the tomb & sat considering
We were startled by a girl who had
emerged as I was sitting, so abruptly we were frightened to discover
her between us. She was eerily familiar, tho’ I couldn’t fathom how.
Had I photographed her sister? Had I known her as a child? Yet she
knew me like a lover, threw her arms around my collar…pressed her
bosom so emphatically I nearly tumbled o’er. She behaved as if the
two of us were utterly alone.
I removed myself by force & she
was stricken by my anger. But her gesturing & gawking seemed to
mock my lover’s muteness, & the girl’s offensive pantomime was
gravely misconstrued. My beloved looked upon us with an air of
bitter jealousy. She seemed to think the girl & I were mocking her
I insisted she depart. Still pled in
vulgar pantomime. I hauled her rather crudely by her elbow off the
hill. She was sobbing & her face assumed a new familiarity, a
mirroring of something I had witnessed long ago, & it pained me
to remove her—such a pitiable creature. Only what was I to do with my
beloved looking on? I redoubled my insistence when the girl began to
struggle, & her wild desperation made me seize her by the hair. She
resisted, pulling hard until I clapped her on the
ear…accidentally, tho’ my blow restored a measure of composure.
She descended from the hill, full of tremors & convulsions, &
I watched until she finally disappeared beyond the fields.
My beloved grew imperious &
looked upon me coldly. She interpreted my fervency as proof of some
betrayal. My assurances of innocence were futile & ignored. She
withdrew herself & left me to consider what had happened.
I suspect the Devil’s hand.
I have dreamed of the black, creeping
blotch upon her portraits. It has covered her with limbs & creeping tentacles of oil. I awaken soaked
convinced the shape has swallowed her. It seeks to swallow me,
slipping fingers through the windowpanes. Where am I to hide? Even God
Himself is eaten.
She is lost, dead, gone. I am
paralyzed with nausea, & the creeping aberration formed a
thunderstorm above me, sending wind, rain, hail, fearsome bellows
thro’ the window frames. I cowered ‘neath a table &
remembered my ferocity—to think of my abuse toward the poor,
wretched girl! She could not have been an agent of the Devil’s
machinations. My nostalgia for her face has left me certain she was
wronged, tho’ in spite of my conviction I cannot remember how.
My beloved must have viewed me as a
monster on the hill. She will never come again. She has finally
abandoned me. The marring of her portraits was a dire premonition,
& the grim black stain seems to signify my self. I am hungry &
diseased. I am penniless & feeble. She is right to look upon me as
the truest aberration.
Construction of the tomb recommenced
seven days ago. The builders work with fury, like the architects of
Hell. Took a portrait of my self today. The image showed a ghost. I am
barely even human. I am something like a smear.
The tomb has been completed. I am
sitting underground, on the corner of my coffin lid with candle, ink,
& pen. Overhead I see the portal of my private oubliette, hanging
open with its keyhole, urging me to lock it.
Neither star, moon, nor meteor has
passed within the aperture. It seems as if the sky itself is buried in
the ground. She has vanished in the dark & I will chase her
through oblivion. Her image, tho’ eclipsed, still exists beneath the
veil. I will stand upon the coffin, lock the door, & eat the key. I
will blow the fire out. Sleep will have me after all.
© 2006 Dennis Mahoney
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