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May 3-Here there be strange people.
At times I feel as if I'm visiting some foreign country, like Slovakia or Romania-one of those Eastern European countries where the women huddle under shawls while making the Sign of the Cross and the men bluster about things that go bump in the night. I mean, one guy actually went pale-all the blood drained right out of his face, Minter!-when I asked him for directions to Cravenwood.
It's really so bizarre. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm only in Maine, that Boston is just a couple hours away, that just south of here lies Ogunquit-the place where we spent our most wonderful honeymoon. I force myself to remember that these are American citizens and this the 21st century-even if they talk as if their mouths are filled with cloves of garlic and they act as if I'm heading to Castle Dracula itself.
Oh, man, I'm beat. It's been a long day. Right now I'm curled up on my twin bed in Motel 6 ready to crash. There's not much else to do in this little seaside burg. Beautiful scenery, but not a bar or a club-gay or otherwise-anywhere nearby. The TV doesn't even get HBO! But as I promised you, sweets, I will write you every step of the way, especially since my cell phone zonked out just north of Kittery. What is it about small towns and cellular towers?
And the place I'm heading for doesn't even have electricity!
Maybe you're right. Maybe all this will turn out fine. It just might make a great article, after all. Do you think for the Globe's Sunday magazine? "Local Writer Seeks the Truth of his Father's Disappearance." Plus, it's got all of the elements that editors orgasm over. Boy grows up abandoned by father, fucked up by his unsolved disappearing act. Boy goes off in search of Dad in some forlorn outpost, trying to fill that empty hole in his soul left by his wayward father. I'll pile on the pathos-editors love that.
I can just hear you telling me to be serious. So I admit that I haven't been all that focused on my career. That's one of the things I love about you, Minter: how ambitious you are. How professional. I wish I could be more like you. I just haven't found the passion for anything the way you have. You love being a photographer. You're so committed to it. I wish I had your discipline.
Maybe writing this piece will do it for me. It's really the only thing that's gotten me interested since that idea I had to market those combination cell phone/car vacuums. But this is even better. It's the personal angle to it, I guess. I admit that my father's disappearance had an impact on me. It wasn't so bad that he left my mother when I was only five for some bimbo. What was worse was that he then had to go and move off to some godforsaken fishing village on the coast of Maine and then get caught up into whatever cult it was that swallowed him up. Of course, that gives the story one more juicy angle. Editors love stories about cults. I only wish I knew what this one-
Sorry. I'm back. I thought I heard someone at the door. But no one was there. Except-okay, so maybe all the weird looks from the locals have made me just the teensiest bit jumpy. But I saw something weird out there. A handprint on the outside of my door, Minter! In mud.
At least, I think it's mud.
Okay, enough for tonight. I'm going to sleep now. I'll keep writing in this journal as I go along. It will help me put the story together, plus you can read it to help give me advice. And I like writing it to you, Minter. This is the first time we've been apart for so long, and-well, maybe I sound like a goofy romantic fool, but I'm going to crunch up my pillow next to me and imagine it's you. Good night, babe.
May 4-Okay, so here's my first encounter with one of the natives who actually lives in Cravensport. This is how it went:
"Uh, hello, my name is Jeremy Home and I'm looking for the Cravenwood mansion."
He was a fisherman. All leathery face and black grimy hands, big bushy eyebrows and white hair growing in tufts out of his ears. He gave me the once-over and said, "Get on with ya."
"I suppose yuah one of them repawters from Bahston."
I had to admit I was.
"Thought ya wuh done with us yeahs ago. It's quiet up heah now. It's all ovah, all that nonsense. Why are you heah to staht things up agin?"
Now, Minter, I had no idea what he was talking about. Part of the problem, I'll admit, was that Maine accent of his, which I doubt I'm doing justice in my attempts at transliteration. But what "all that nonsense" was certainly raised my suspicions-I mean, you just don't say things like that to a reporter and expect him to go away-so I held my ground. "All that nonsense" was precisely why I was there, and if I was going to prove my worth as a journalist then I had better push harder.
"Well," I tried explaining, "what I'm here for is to find out what happened to my father. He lived here for a while in the late 1960s. He ran an antique shop. Maybe you knew him. Phillip-"
"I don't remembuh no one from back then," the fisherman said. "Cravensport has been destroyed. Wiped out. All on account of all that craziness the Craven family got inta. They useta run the fishing fleets heah but then they let 'em all go to hell. Which is where I 'spect all of them Cravens have gone too!"
"Are they all dead? Everyone in the family?"
"All but the crazy Mr. Bartholomew. Lives over theah in that fallin' down rat trap he calls home, with not even electricity or indoor plumbin'. And he's not talkin' to no one."
Now, you know, Minter, that I was prepared for this. Remember that call I made to the retired sheriff of Cravensport? He had told me all about this Mr. Bartholomew Craven-how he lived in an 18th-century manor that had never been hooked up to any modern conveniences. So I couldn't call Mr. Craven to let him know I was coming, because there wasn't a phone. I couldn't fax him or e-mail him either. Best I could try, the sheriff said, was writing him, in care of Cravenwood.
I have no idea whether or not Bartholomew Graven ever received my letter. I wonder if it's come back to me since I've been away. I expect you'd leave a message for me on my voice mail if it did. I'll check at a pay phone in the village later.
Anyway, old Jonah Salt wasn't going to be of any more help so I thanked him and headed back to my car. I didn't need directions to the place, I discovered: as soon as I rounded the bend in the road, what's looming down at me from the top of a craggy hill hut Gravenwood. It had to be the place. I doubted this little village had more than one gargantuan old house, boarded up and gloomy, with bats hanging from its eaves. I'm not kidding, Minter. Bats. Like the frigging Addams Family or something.
So I drove up the long winding driveway that led to the old place. Of course, at the top, there was a rusted old iron gate, padlocked and with a sign: NO TRESPASSING. So I got out of my car and went up to the gate, taking hold and peering through the bars. And I swear-this is no lie, babe-just then it started to thunder. Up until then it had been a clear day, but suddenly the sky went black and it started to pour. Huge lightning and monstrous thunder. It will make for a great lead to my story, don't you think?
May 4 (cont.)-Okay, I'm back. As the storm only got worse, I headed over to the inn where I'm staying. I decided to have lunch in their coffee-shop. I sat there for more than an hour, eating a crispy omelet and drinking three cups of strong joe, writing in my journal. The lady who owns the inn was very nice. She noticed me and came over to my table. She introduced herself as Mrs. Haskell, and said they didn't get many out-of-town faces anymore.
"Why's that?" I asked her. "The Maine coastline up here is so beautiful."
"Yes," she admitted. "But there's not much here to do. So many people have moved away. I keep trying to get the town to promote tourism as a replacement for the depressed fishing industry. But, well ... they're not very interested."
"Is it because of-well, what happened with the Craven family?"
She looked at me. She's an interesting lady, Mrs. Haskell. You'd like her, Minter. She's the kind of woman you'd like to photograph. I can see you doing a whole show just of her. She must be fiftysomething, but she's still really beautiful. Auburn hair touched with gray. And in her eyes there's a certain gentleness, but strength too, and a lot of wisdom. She's seen a lot with those eyes, I could tell.
Anyway, she sat down with me after I told her about my father. She knew him, Minter! Not well, but she remembered him. How he came to town and opened that antique shop with his wife. "She was very beautiful," Mrs. Haskell said of my father's wife. "She turned many heads in town."
I thought of how much my mother had hated Dad's wife. Megan-that was the wife's name-had disappeared, too. Mom always blamed Megan for stealing my dad, but what I resented most about her was the fact that it was probably her idea to head up here to Maine, and if they hadn't done that, my father would probably still be around today.
"It was a bad time for all of us in this town," Mrs. Haskell told me. "I'm sorry about your father."
"I just want to know what happened to him," I told her. "I've wanted to know all my life."
She smiled at me with sympathy. "I can understand your feelings. But some things-some things are better left as mysteries. Do you ever think that the pain of discovery might be even worse than the pain of the unknown?"
"No," I told her definitively. "I'd rather know. Not knowing is hell."
"In most cases, I'd agree with you."
"What happened in this town thirty years ago?" I asked her forcefully, leaning across the table. I suddenly began telling her everything my early investigations had uncovered. You know all about it, Minter. I've shared all the grisly details with you. A series of unsolved murders-one in this very inn. Men with their bodies mangled, women with their throats slit. And my father, in the midst of what the sheriff would only call "some kind of cult," disappearing forever one dark and foggy night.
Mrs. Haskell's eyes brimmed with tears. "I know about all that," she said. "I lived through it."
"What was the cult?"
"It wasn't a cult."
"Then what was it?"
"Go back to Boston," she said.
It was the same admonition all of the locals had been telling me ever since I'd arrived. But Mrs. Haskell said it kindly, and she reached over to take my hand in hers.
I told her I was going nowhere, not until I finally had some answers. "I want to talk to Mr. Bartholomew Craven," I said. "That's why I came up here. Everything points to that family and to that house."
She didn't deny my charges. She offered only an observation. "People are terrified of him."
"With reason?" I asked.
She shook her head. "He is sad and lonely. That's all. An old man who has lived beyond his time. Everyone he loved is gone."
"But he was apparently involved in this cult, or whatever it was that sucked my father in and brought about his disappearance."
She said nothing. How much more she knew, I couldn't tell. All she repeated was, "He's a sad and lonely old man."
"What was it?" I asked. "What happened here? What were so many of the townspeople involved in? If not a cult, what? The deaths that happened here in town-were they part of some kind of ritualistic sacrifice?"
"It was all so long ago. Why bring it all up? It won't bring your father back."
"The police have given up trying to solve these murders and disappearances from thirty years ago. My father. His wife. And so many others." I flipped open my notebook and began reading the names I'd collected. "Paul Patrick, his body ripped apart. Mr. Bain, the former innkeeper of this very establishment, found mutilated in an upper room. Donna Landers, her throat torn open and left to die in the woods. A policeman, Kenneth Davenport, with his head crushed and every bone in his body broken. And Margaret Everly-she disappeared for weeks, only to be discovered with her memory gone and half the blood drained out of her body."
Well, you should have seen Mrs. Haskell react to that, Minter. Her hand flew up to her neck and she gripped it tightly, as if from some old, half-forgotten habit. It looked as if she were covering something there. Her face grew ashen and she said she had things to do, that she couldn't talk to me anymore, that I really should take her advice and drop the whole matter. Then she hurried away.
Leaving the inn as the rain began to let up, I asked one of the waitresses Mrs. Haskell's first name. You guessed it, Minter. Margaret.
She was part of it, too. I bet everyone in town over a certain age was part of it. Whether they want to remember it or not. That's why they don't want me nosing around. They don't want me to discover their culpability.
It's only made me more determined to get to the truth. So I drove up to Cravenwood again, and tried to find some way past the gate. It was impossible. The rain threatened to kick up again, so I decided to put it off until tomorrow. I'm back in my room now and feel pretty sleepy. So I'll just bid you a fond good night, sweets. I'll call you tomorrow. I hope you and Ralph are cuddling up a storm. Just tell him to keep his snout off my pillow. And no drooling! I miss you both!
May 5, 3:15 a.m.-Minter, I need to write just to steady my nerves. I had a nightmare. Man, it was awful. I feel so nelly admitting how freaked out I am right now, but when you get to read this journal you'll see how much my handwriting is shaking. I'd call you but it's so late and you've probably turned the phone over to voice mail anyway. Oh, man, I wish you were here.
So this is what happened. I woke up because I thought I heard a noise. It sounded like a dog. In my half-sleep I thought it was Ralph and I tried telling him to calm down. But this growling sound only got louder, and for a half-instant I thought I was home and Ralph had detected an intruder. I sat up, put the light on, and realized I was at the inn. The growling stopped, so I got up, took a pee, and put on the television just to remind myself I was still in the 21st century. I watched ten minutes of an I Love Lucy rerun-the one where they're in the shack by the railroad tracks and the vibrations keep moving Lucy and Ricky's bed. It made me laugh so I felt better and turned the light off again.
Now here's what's so weird, Minter. I don't think I fell back asleep. Of course I must have, for what happened next couldn't have been real. I heard the growling again. I sat up in the dark, and at the foot of my bed were these two red eyes.
Excerpted from MASTERS OF MIDNIGHT by WILLIAM J. MANN MICHAEL THOMAS FORD SEAN WOLFE JEFF MANN Copyright © 2003 by Kensington Publishing Corp.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted December 9, 2008
MASTERS OF MIDNIGHT contains four novellas in which vampires play a prominent and erotically gay role. The authors have different visions of vampires leading to highly original and entertaining tales.<P> ¿His Hunger¿ by William J. Mann. Thirty years ago in Cravensport, Maine murders and disappearances occurred with no explanation. Jeremy thinks the story will make a good human-interest piece, but he also has a personal stake in the story as one of the vanished was his father. However, he is in peril after visiting Bartholomew, a vampire who plans to enslave Jeremy and convert the writer¿s lover.<P> ¿Sting¿ by Michael Thomas Forge. Following the suicide of his lover, Ben becomes head librarian in Downing, Arkansas. He sees customer Titus put his hands into beehives. When the two men become lovers, Titus explains that he is a vampire and the bee venom prevents his blood craving. Titus feels strongly about stopping his kind who kills innocent children.<P> ¿Brandon¿s Bite¿ by Sean Wolfe. His father was a vampire while his mother was mortal. His father taught him how to survive as a vampire. As an adult Brandon discovered he was gay so his father disowned him. Brandon can choose any victim he wants but fears love because he believes he cannot control his urge for blood.<P> ¿Devoured¿ by Jeff Marin. Three centuries ago two Scottish lords shared a secret passion for one another. When they were caught, Angus was killed but Derek was changed into a vampire. He avenged his friend¿s death before immigrating to West Virginia. Now an affluent businessman, he finally has a chance to love again but must first take care of Matthew¿s homophobic enemies.<P> Harriet Klausner
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Posted May 29, 2011
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