The Hollow Crown
A Rose for Emily
Vicksburg Mississippi 1863
The night air was pregnant with Magnolia blossom, Noah looked up a second before a Barred Owl let loose its ‘who-cooks-for-you-howl’. He returns to the desk, blowing the pounce into the gas flame, causing it to momentarily burn red.
He finds it difficult that he most now remind himself how to do this simplest of human activities. The humid air of the South means that nights where it is clear he no longer breathes are rare, but he has to draw on his acting skills to remind himself how to masquerade as a human.
He clears the last few drops of ink from the end of the owl quill pen, and sets the quill back on its rest. His fingers trace across the silver reliquary box, converted from its original use to an inkwell of exquisite refinement. The ink bottles themselves are finest Venetian glass of a century ago, but the box itself is much older. It is designed with twin symbols, a Damask Black Rose and a Winged Lion. As his fingers make a feather light contact, his sense are filled with the smell of the sea, the cries of merchants on the Rialto, the commotion of the Grand Canal and the strange wail of a cat. He wonders why this is the memory that has been written onto the piece, why was that so significant to the previous owner.
Memories, he wonders how long some of his memories will last, the feeling of the sun, the satisfaction of a good meal, or will they like fade like the very act of breathing with time.
School Street, Boston Massachusetts 1858
‘Dear god, the play was horrific, I’ve had better evenings listening to Thoreau drone on about manumission and civic duty.’ the drunken boor of a newspaper man continued to hold court in the saloon bar of the Inkwell Tavern, his flamboyant hand gestures occasionally causing him to spill some of the claret he was imbibing at a rate of knots. ‘What was the idiotic popinjay playing Tancredi called? Gaviscon, Gaveston oh it was Galveston wasn’t it? Dear god, if I was forced to watch that again, I’d be praying for a Mortimer to pierce me through the fundament and put me out of my misery.’
Noah looked down at his book, trying to avoid his continuing annoyance. Whilst this drunken fool of a newspaper man might attack his performance, he satisfied himself with the knowledge that his preparation had been disturbed in sneaking two packages from New York to here. They rested now in the room of a most fragrant lily, although how they could move the heavily pregnant Mary was unclear. Hopefully Julia could make contact with the next station master, a couple by the name of Barrett, based from Providence. He’d not expected to have to use public transport to move North, and it had dented his funds, obliging him to stay in this miserable flea-pit of an inn, close to the play-house where he was acting.
He places down his copy of Poe, and tries to move toward the bar, only to find the boor blocking his way. ‘If it isn’t Piers himself’ the drunk cries out in exclamation ‘Come and have a drink with us, let’s face it, it can’t make you performance any worse.‘ The blonde man’s arrogant grin, more a smirk than a smile, seems to mock him.
‘I much prefer my own company to that of drunks. Now if you excuse me, I find the air in here has gone bad.’ Noah stalks out into the night, and wanders the streets of Boston until the appointed hour when he will meet with Julia. In his anger, he fails to notice the fugitive slave catcher that follows him from the Inn.
Julia shivers against the chill air, looking around the graveyard. She briefly turns to Noah, ‘they are running late, what is keeping them?/ she begins to pace alongside the churchyard wall. ’Finally.’ A light appears at the end of the row, blinking on & off in the pre-arranged signal.
‘Julia, wait, something is wrong.’ Noah’s warning comes to late, as he realises that the signal is wrong. From either end of the churchyard, slave takers rush to block off their exit. Noah is barely able to draw the sword from his walking cane, before the first ones are upon him. He fights well, but is subdued quickly and cudgelled over the head, just in time to see the blond man from the bar wade into the fray laughing as he does so.
When Noah comes to, the slave takers lie scattered around. The blond man, strangely sober, seems to wipe something from the corner of his mouth, and a demure woman in modest black clothing is helping Julia from her bonds. ‘Anne Barrett, at your service, and this is my’ she hesitates ‘brother, John.’ The man walks across to them, ‘We have very little time, thankfully I don’t believe these men saw our features, but I believe this is the last time you will be able to operate on this route.’
‘Yes, Piers was damned sloppy.’ John moves over towards them, picking up Noah from the floor he goes to hand him back the book. Just before he does, Noah notices the movement of one of the slave takers who has reached for a gun. John throws Noah to the side and seems to take the full force of the shot. Noah feels John fall against him, hears Julia’s cry of horror, and then he realises John is winking at him. ‘Knew this Southern garbage would be useful for something.’ He pats his chest, before rolling over, and standing up. Noah cannot be certain, but he thinks he hears Anne bringing a stone down on the man.
‘If you don’t mind brother, I think we had best leave with our charges’ She looks at him with a tone of command, and swings herself into the covered wagon, the Diamond sails for Nova Scotia with the tide and we’ll need to ensure the good Captain Van den Berg is suitably remunerated to keep his silence. "
As the Barretts ride into the night with their charges, Noah looks down at the Poe book, John’s blood has seeped through from the bullet hole, which went straight through. The page that has fallen open reads, and he begins to read, ‘For indeed strange things shall happen, and secret things be known, and many centuries shall pass away, ere these memorials be seen of men. And, when seen, there will be some to disbelieve, and some to doubt, and yet a few who will find much to ponder upon in the characters here graven with a stylus of iron.’
Noah looks at their retreating backs, and prays to god that the packages will reach Canada safe.
Vicksburg Mississippi 1863
He is convinced now that John & Anne Barrett are like him, Nosferatu, but their actions in the Underground Railroad suggest that they need not be monsters.
He rises from the desk, contemplating whether to send the missive, asking for their help in understanding his existence, working out how to continue his role in the War of Rebellion. He decides to take the risk, and as he does so he sees the last remaining wisps of his maker’s hair crumble on the bed. The crucifix he had used to stake her falls onto the pillow.