A light smattering of snow greeted my arrival today as the carriage man pulled up alongside the baroque edifice known as The Manor. It was to be the only moment of beauty. The air was still and silent, the surrounding forest soothing (though I admit it has grown quite ominous since that initial moment of admiration). The three-story Manor itself is black, the only building I have ever seen to be colored of such a harsh nature. When I was first introduced to the (now absent?) caretaker Dr. Peters, he informed me that the large house had been white before their burning of coal coated the fašade, staining the wood permanently in glistening, speckled black; they had attempted to repaint several times, to no avail.
The job granted me had been that of assistant to Dr. Peters so that I may replace the elder doctor upon his retirement. We had met initially during a brief stay approximately two months previous, during which he recounted the tasks I was to perform daily upon employment. The eight infirmed residents ranged in symptoms, from body distortions and mental disability to the routine oddities tucked away in an attempt to shield their families from embarrassment. The Manor was tucked away; no person could find them without a well-guided map...much the same reason I chose the job.
I have yet to find Dr. Peters. I do believe him to have gone off for supplies, I suppose, though I do find it inexcusable to leave those incapable of helping themselves for an extended period; however, there may have been an emergency and I know not why or what drove the good doctor from The Manor.
During my initial visit, the doctor informed me that there are currently eight infirmed residents. Of those eight, I find only three remain. Of those three, one is deceased. The stench of the body was my second investigation through The Manor; the first being a search for the good doctor, which remains unsolved. Based on decomposition, I would approximate the death of the patient to have been within the week. This makes me unable to infer if this is a result of the doctor's absence or the cause of it. Regretfully, I determine the cause of death to ultimately have been a lack of care, whether the doctor was present or not. The man of no more than 22 years had fallen from his bed and been unable to help himself back up. I expect he succumbed to pneumonia but I was unable to certify the exact cause of death.
Of the two living patients, one remains cognizant (the male) while the other suffers typical symptoms of delirium (the female). They are both older and roommates, and it was not surprising to learn that they are married. The husband, though physically capable of very little, has kept them both alive and in rather good condition. Their food rations are plentiful (their closet is used as a pantry and I expect neither consumes very much), as is their wood and coal supply for the bedroom fireplace. The man has kept his wife clean, safe, warm. Fresh water has been the only hassle for him, carrying a bucket from the back yard well to their second floor bedroom. It would take him several days to fill the bath bin but the old man would struggle, and he has provided for his wife. He adores her, it is prevalent.
In retrospect I consider myself incorrect in an earlier statement and credit this as a second moment of beauty.
The husband was neither aware that the third floor invalid had passed away nor that five patients and one doctor are still accounted for.
If this does indeed become an emergency, I will be unable to return to the city until the carriage returns in four days and a week on Monday the 18th.
I have spent the previous two days considering all possibilities with the gentleman from the second floor. He has been a large help and, based on his appreciation for attention, I believe attention starved. His name is Robert. His wife is Judith. They have been completely self-reliant, long before whatever fate befell Dr. Peters. His wife does not speak much, seemingly frozen in a permanent gaze. She smiles, sometimes. I see her eyes when they look to her husband and her adoration is evident, even at this stage in her mental decomposition.
The body of the third floor invalid has been removed to the back area, where there are graves marked by weathered oak, though none freshly dug. It took some time and great effort before making a decision (as I find an unburied body to be an affront to God) but the ground is too frozen to dig. I have covered the body until I might bury it.
In my searching The Manor and the grounds, I have found no other traces of life. No signs of a struggle. Everything looks centered, organized, with the hint of being abandoned. A half full glass of long-rotted milk. Glasses set aside on a table. There was an open book on his bedside table, though his bed was made, sheets tucked, pillows stacked. The rooms of the other patients were not as tidy but of no discernible abnormality.
Robert informed me that patients had wandered into the forest before, sometimes traveling as far the Rappahannock. When I asked if there was a place where someone might hide, as in a basement or attic or nearby residence, he answered with a stern no...I found it odd, his certainty.
Tomorrow I shall search the nearby shore.
The first body was naked and frozen, half-lying in the bitter-cold water of Rappahannock. She was young and overweight. Though her cause of death was hypothermia, I neither know her name nor the ailment from which she suffered while alive; I have sought Dr. Peters' notes on the residents of The Manor but (as is the case with everything here) I have had no luck.
With great effort, I dragged the rigid body by its blue feet back to The Manor. I brought rope when returning to the forest, back to the shoreline.
I stumbled upon the entrance to a cave just prior dusk and found the gruesome scene of the second body. It was apparent that the man had used a jagged piece of granite to scrape the skin from his face. Before succumbing to his self-inflicted wounds, he had entirely removed his nose, lips, chin, and the entirety of his right eye and eye lid (the rock was still lodged deep in the socket). Large sections of his forehead and scalp were also missing.
Presumably with the same piece of granite, he legibly carved into stone the word ATTACHOA. I presume it to be the nonsense ravings of a madman. I tied rope around the second man's feet and dragged the body back to join the other two.
So many graves needed digging; I fear this business is not yet finished.
I have been hearing whispering at night. This has caused me to become most unsettled as there are two distinct voices. I cannot make out their words but they sound conspiratorial in nature, sharp and rushed. The grey floorboards creak under me as I travel the hallways searching, yet these whispers always stay equal in distance from me, almost just above and behind me.
Robert has denied hearing anything at night. I am beginning to think he is not telling me the full truth. I am not sure why. There is a distinct look of fear in his eyes when I catch him glancing outward, toward the forest, a look that vanishes quickly...but one that existed nonetheless, I am certain.
I asked Robert if he had ever heard the word, "Attachoa."
"God bless you," he answered, thinking I had sneezed.
This gave a moment of much needed levity.
After further discussion, he acknowledged that he had, in fact, heard the word. It had an origin in Mahican folklore. Robert and Judith did not interact with the other residents very often (they did very much cherish their time alone) but they had heard a myth that was prevalent among them, which I shall paraphrase:
In the late 1600s, a tribe of Native Americans were migrating north when they were stopped by Puritans in need of help. A small number of the Native Americans followed the Puritans to their camp, which turned out to be a prison for women accused of witchcraft. There was a mass grave and sickness was overwhelming; the Puritans were losing as many guards as prisoners. The Natives were asked to bless the land but they refused, calling the land Attachoa which, when translated, meant "motherless" or "not born of a mother." In essence, they said the land was not cursed but evil, and then they immediately left.
Tomorrow I shall investigate the grounds most thoroughly.
Last night I dreamt of a woman in the forest. She wore all black, her face pale and partially obscured by a black veil. She had blackness around her eyes that dripped down her cheeks. Her mouth hung open in a permanent scream, though she remained soundless and unmoving. Even though frozen with fear, something moved me further toward her, unwillingly. Foot by foot as if carried on the wind and she reached out...and I woke up.
The whispering is more persistent, now happening during the day, but their location remains a secret. Two distinct, rather deep voices. I try endlessly to convince myself it is the wind but have grown tired of falsities.
During my investigations of the grounds I found a basement doorway hidden behind shelving. I am unsure if Robert knew it existed...however, I do believe that Robert is hiding information from me. I am nearly certain of this. I cannot pin point why I believe this, why he would have something to hide, or what it is he may be hiding, but the feeling permeates our every conversation now.
The basement was secluded and empty but I could feel a deadening wind against my skin. With further examination, I found a hidden passageway leading to a series of underground tunnels which I believe to be part of the intricate network known as The Underground Railroad. The tunnels turn labyrinthine and will take a good deal of work to navigate.
In the morning I shall gather supplies and, at first light, I will follow the tunnels.
I have found the remains of Dr. Peters...
My faith has been shaken yet again. I find it near-impossible to transcribe the scene I witnessed at the end of the first tunnel.
My only child passed on from tuberculosis not two years from this season. As I raised my son alone - ever since those first seconds, when his eyes were open and bright and wondering...I have stayed alone since. We were a partnership and his passing split my life. There has been an abyss for the other half of my soul. It is the reason I chose a job of such remote location. I do not believe half of a soul has the remaining strength to battle whatever force lay behind such a massacre as that which I witnessed.
As I wound through the tunnels, leaving pebbles I had gathered from outside, I came to the conclusion that the tunnels divided in two separate directions (northeast and southeast). I followed the first, deciding I would follow the second soon after; however, I have yet to search the second tunnel.
The first ended in a basement, much like it had begun: vacant, a small amount of rotted supplies, no light, must, and stairs leading up. The stench was overpowering well before lifting the hatch at the top of the stairs, which led me into the center of a church not far from The Manor but one hidden in the forest and lacking any pathway.
The three bodies arranged to pray at the foot of the pulpit were all fresh, fresher than the invalid I had found on the floor my first day. This leads me to the conclusion that these bodies had passed on during my period of stay in The Manor. None of them had any distinguishable cause of death besides exposure and malnutrition, as if they had remained praying until death. What I could discern was that Dr. Peters had not gone willingly. His body was much older than the rest, nearly a month decomposed. He had been strung upside-down on the pulpit cross, his face covered in blood and distorted in pain. Based on the blood, precise laceration depth, and color, I was able to establish that the tool had been a scalpel and that most of the carvings on his bare body had occurred while he was alive; the femoral artery was severed during this process, causing the doctor to bleed out quickly. (There was a dry circle amidst the blood splatter below the hanging body where I presume a large bucket was once placed to catch the blood...but, as I found no bucket, who removed it?) His eyes had been absconded post-mortem and they, along with teeth and what looked to be a pound of flesh, rest atop the lectern at the front of pulpit.
Someone had also carved a phrase into his body:
I am not sorry
...followed by a single, familiar word:
The foul stench and revolting scene caused me great illness and I was forced to leave, but not before finding Dr. Peters medical bag and ledger tucked amid the bodies. The bag was empty of contents save a small pair of curved medical scissors.
Night has since fallen and kerosene supply dwindles but I shall do my best to pour through the ledger in search of clues until first light. Sleep is no longer an option. As I now consider this to be a dire situation in need of emergency attention, I must seek the only other possible option toward immediate rescue...the second tunnel.
It is first light and I have found that Robert and Judith are longer in attendance of The Manor. I had checked their room to ask a question and found it to be set just as Dr. Peters' room had been: organized, tidy, and of no malfeasance. I can find no trace of them, where they went or how they got there. As Robert is incapable of much and Judith is incapable of even less, I fear for their safety. I do not presume they will make it far.
Also, they were not the only disappearance. In checking the supplies I intended to bring this morning, I have items missing from the medical bag.
Most notably absent is an expensive set of variously-sized scalpels.
In reading Dr. Peters' ledger, I had found nothing abnormal aside from two details...
There was a male patient named Jonas whom Dr. Peters had considered a possible danger, the eighth resident...
And I had wanted to ask Robert why I could find no mention of Judith in the doctor's notes...
It is done and, I fear, so am I...
After an eternity, I reached the end of the second tunnel where there stood an ominous door. I attempted to open it but found it securely bolted shut. After much strength and frustration, I found the door to be immoveable. In the end, I found myself incapable of much other than banging my head against the door, lost to quiet tears. The tunnels grew darker and darker as my lantern lost the last of its fuel. I had planned to follow the tunnel where it led and, no matter the abhorrent scene at the end, I would travel in the cold forest to the nearest pathway and the nearest town's people; or, if I determined that to be my worst course of action, I was determined to hide until the carriage man returned at first light Monday.
It seems neither of those options are likely now.
In the darkness of the tunnel - my lantern useless, my head banging wood - and I heard it. Whispers, familiar whispers. This time they were not above and behind me but through the doorway, two distinct voices speaking short, harsh words.
And the door opened.
As blinding light bathed me, I felt saved, like all would be well now that the door opened.
Judith's face had been covered in powder, making the skin an unnatural pale. She smiled with greasy black teeth and her graying brown hair stuck up and out in all directions. The woman I had seen incapacitated at The Manor was gone entirely, replaced by this person in a decorative, frilly white dress and wild eyes. Despite her insane appearance, she welcomed me into her home in a polite, gruff male voice. The tunnel's doorway led directly into the first floor of a single story wood house. Robert was sitting at a table set for three, his back straight in an unnatural posture.
His eyes were open but unblinking. He did not move. His mouth hung open like he wanted to speak but no words came out, and he continued staring forward, focusing on nothing in particular. In moving around the table, I found one of my scalpels stuck into the back of his head, at the brainstem.
Judith asked me to sit and I refused. She offered me the stew she was making but, again, I refused. She told me, quite courteously, how it was disrespectful to turn down so much as a guest in someone's home.
The moment was surreal. She ladled stew into three bowls and set them at the table. I could do nothing but watch in shock. She appeared as no threat, older and feeble, so I wasn't physically afraid of her. She had no weapon in her hand aside from the bowls she set at the table, including one for Robert. Her front door was not ten feet from where I stood, unlocked and begging to be thrown open.
I kept a distance and asked about the bodies.
She told me that the invalid fell on the floor and no one cared to pick him up and set him straight, and his howling died down after a single afternoon; neither could anyone be bothered to search the forest for the mentally disabled girl. The man in the cave had been her first servant.
Even as I write it now it is hard for me to shed the "she" when I speak of the resident Jonas, as he hid his male features so successfully. Dr. Peters' notes described Jonas as quite intelligent but that he often had psychotic ideations. He was too smart for the loony bin and too odd for his wealthy family, so they abandoned him at The Manor.
He sat at the table - sipping stew off a large spoon, pinkie extended - as he regaled me with the horrific story. The witch in the forest had taken his mind some time ago. He had battled her but still found himself spreading rumors of witchcraft and death in the forest, stories whose origins he could not recollect. Based on Dr. Peters' writing, it is my opinion that Jonas had considered this a game to quench the boredom. Little by little he edged himself into the minds of the residents of The Manor, scaring them into believing a myth. He would whisper to them while they slept, giving them the image of a witch in the woods. Dr. Peters' became quite aware of what was happening and it was in that moment, when the good doctor was murdered, that Jonas left The Manor and Judith entered.
After that, the residents did Judith's bidding until they starved to death, as they had been asked to leave her all the food.
Robert had been the one chosen as her protector but she knew she no longer needed a protector. I could tell that the man known as Jonas was gone and that this witch, Judith, was a psychosis from which he may never return. When I spoke of this, Jonas/Judith just responded that the man had been entirely replaced by the spirit of a witch from the forest.
He was so quick. I had heard enough and, as I found him to be in a position unable to prevent me from reaching the door, I made a dash. But he was so quick. I could feel the blade slip past my skin and into my kidney as if I were the consistency of butter. Jonas would have killed me if he would have anticipated that I, too, was armed with Dr. Peters' medical scissors. I had sharpened them to a lethal edge using the refining block I keep in my own medical bag. He stabbed me a second time in the belly as my body turned to face him. He attempted to stab me a third time but his face twisted in horror as I stuck the curved scissors into his jugular, removed them, and then did it again. He lifted his hands to cover the wound as it gushed ounce after ounce of blood. In the oddest thing I have ever seen in my (soon to end) life, Jonas/Judith acted too hastily, forgetting to drop his own weapon and accidentally stabbing himself a third time in the throat with his own scalpel.
He is dead now. It is done, as am I...
I am writing this in the tunnels between The Manor and two abhorrent destinations filled with bodies. I am using a lantern found in the house and drip with my blood as I fill these pages so that, when someone finds all of this chaos, they shall know what happened.
It was my intention to return to The Manor but I have no strength left to walk and my hands tremble from blood loss even as I curl to write these final words. The cold has faded and warmth slowly fills me, one described by a few in their final moments - always starting in the belly and spreading to the extremities. It is very welcome as, each time I lift my eyes to survey the darkness of my tomb, the lamp light stretches a few feet and, on the edge of that blackness, I find the silhouette of my son patiently wai