Prologue to “The Persistence of Whispers” (Book II of The Archive Series)

Copyright, © 2017 Andrew Charles Lark

Through Facets Shine Phantoms and Chimeras

I stumbled over the rotting trunks of fallen elms and felt my way through the murk of a thick fog that shrouded Seminole Street in steamy pestilence. The roof lines of crumbled mansions materialized through the gloom and behind these the cracked skyline of a ruined city smoldered in the glowing haze of spent flame. The whispers that guided me silenced as the fog parted to reveal 418 Seminole, the decaying house of my ancestors.

I made my way around to the back of the house and pushed my way in through the shattered French doors of the sunroom. Broken glass and loose tile snapped and popped under foot. I stopped concerned about the racket I made. Through the dim I could just make out the arched entryway of the seldom used parlor.

“Come,” beckoned a voice, more sensed than heard. Black tendrils crept out from the parlor and blindly probed inward. They felt along the walls and floor, sensing my heat, drawing closer. I held out my arm and allowed the closest tendril to entwine through my fingers and around my wrist and the others reacted immediately, snapping toward me. They coiled around my arms, legs, and torso, and pulled me into the parlor. The tendrils released their hold and undulated back into the darker spaces.

Some trick of light was at play that made the modest sized room seem vast and cavernous. My eyes adjusted in aperture and what appeared before me now were row upon row of ornately carved, glass sarcophagi framed in bronze and decorated with grotesques, scrolls, and cherubs, and each sarcophagus contained the corpse of a long dead relative protected under green-tinted glass. Further off in a corner of the room, a giant, marble angel knelt weeping, its wings folded in sorrowful repose over a smaller tomb.

I crept down an aisle and stopped at the first sarcophagus and peered through the glass. The body of a woman, dead for eons, lay on a delicate bed of lace. Her head rested on a small pillow and her crinoline era dress—its bows, finery, and bustles, weighed down and flattened by the centuries—shrouded her like the yellowed wings of a dusty moth. Her face was frozen in bitterness and the white of her skin contrasted with the black of her pinched lips. Through granite hallways whispers not her ghost, I thought, remembering a line from some sonnet. Her slippered foot twitched and her head jerked toward me. Her eyes darted under their lids and opened.

“He’s not at rest. I hear his cries,” whispered her faint voice through the muffle of glass.

I stumbled backward and screamed, “Elliot! Where are you?” I covered my ears and shut my eyes to concentrate for the millionth time for any clue the remembered images might offer of the night Elliot disappeared, but only the rote memorization of nothing echoed back.

I shouted at this assembly of dead, “Where is he?” The whispers of my ancestors grew louder, morphing into screams. Clouds of dust rose-up under the glass of each sarcophagus as every corpse spasmed in epileptic hysteria. Drawn toward the silence of the angel, I walked toward it hoping for solace. The tendrils that pulled me into this place lay coiled like snakes around the base of each tomb, and they conjoined with others like the branches of a tree, growing thicker and fatter the deeper I ventured.

I walked, trance-like toward the angel attempting to shut-out the mad persistence of whispers. The angel’s gaze was set on the shattered glass of this smallest of tombs. Spidery cracks radiated outward from two, familiar shaped holes in the glass – holes which two crystals that uncloaked deadly passages would fill perfectly. The sarcophagus was empty and the bronze scroll at its base read, Nora Lintz. Here the tendrils writhed liked decapitated snakes.

Something above rustled. I looked up and Nora’s blank, white, face shone down on me. Her fingers and toes clutched a beam of the coffered ceiling, and she scurried, spider-like, avoiding the tendrils that reached and thrashed at her. I dropped to my knees hoping she wasn’t here to torture and mock me. I looked up at her in despair.

“Where is he, Nora? Where’s Elliot?” I pled.

She looked down on me with eyes that flashed lighting. Her black mouth curled into a smile then she scurried off and disappeared into the dark shadows of the coffered ceiling.

Copyright, © 2017 Andrew Charles Lark

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