The Journal of Charles Cooperton
February 9, 1860
I begin this journal as a testament to the trials and tribulations my family has endured.
May God have mercy on our souls; I feel that we are truly cursed.
To think it has only been six years since we left our ancestral home in Prince Edward Island to come to this so-called Promised Land of California. It feels like an eternity. I have become a widower. My left leg has been amputated and replaced with an uncomfortable length of wood so that I must limp and lean upon a crutch. I have watched as our family fortune has dribbled away to nearly nothing. And now I have had to send for a priest, for the condition with the girls has grown worse. Much worse. My little twin daughters—Bethany and Josephine—they have committed acts of desecration and fornication the likes of which I can hardly stand to think, much less commit to paper. It does in fact seem that my dear twins, only fourteen years old, have succumbed to some sort of demonic infestation and are in fact possessed by devils. Even now as I sit hunched over paper with my quill, turning this pale parchment black with my words, I can hear them screaming from their back bedroom where we have had to bind them to their beds, their howls and cries, animal like screeching, filling the void of the house.
And the situation with the natives has grown steadily worse. Though we have taken pity on their outcasts and brought in their sick and elderly, a widow and her children, and treat them with nothing but dignity and respect, as was the custom back in Prince Edward Island, they view us as evil and hate our pastures and fields, our barns and our fences, and most of all our mill. The attacks have grown so grievous that we have constructed a fence of sharpened logs, eight feet in height, around the perimeter of the mill and whenever possible keep armed guards at its gate.
Now, to make all these matters at hand the worse, a cold front has blown in from the North and snow begins to fall thick and heavy, covering the fields and forest in a blanket of ice.
When we left Prince Edward Island for the Promised Land of California our greatest fear was the journey by boat around the horn. For two hundred and thirty days we experienced nothing but auspicious sailing and when at last we made dock in San Francisco it appeared that the Lord smiled down on us with blessings, for the trip was mild and without any of the disasters that have plagued so many others who have made this same journey. All forty of us were hearty and in good health, and my wife Margaret had grown large with child.
Being the eldest it was my responsibility to go forth and find us land to farm and a heavy mountain stream where we could build our mill. I brought with me my brother Adolphus, born only one year after me. It was we to whom our father had imparted his wisdom and instructions in the business of men and the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The younger three—George, David, and John—were too young to even remember our dear patriarch, much less be taught in his firm beliefs in the ideals of tolerance, participatory democracy and diligent self-improvement.
Because gold had been found in the hills some four years earlier, a great migration had already spread its way before us in all directions from San Francisco and we were forced to travel far up the coast to find land for lease and sale. We entertained the idea of Oregon, but in the southern region of the county of Humboldt, on the outskirts of a small town by the name of Hydesville, we discovered what appeared to be a paradise. The soil was rich, black and fertile, the game abundant with elk and deer, geese and ducks, the streams filled with the finest salmon. There was open prairie ripe for tilling and steep hills with running water perfect for the hydraulics necessary for a mill.
After consulting with the local farmers and ranchers it was determined this would be a most excellent location to establish our mill and dairy. We secured promises for their wheat and corn to be ground in our mill and we gave them oaths that we would proceed to build stout roads over the neighboring Trinity Alps and into Sacramento where we could run cattle. We then made quick passage back to our family and friends in San Francisco. I being very eager to return, wishing to make it in time for the birth of my next child, hoping my wife had not already given birth.
Leaving that pastoral setting, our aspirations buoyed and dreams appearing a reality, little could we guess the horror that awaited our arrival. A cholera epidemic had swept through San Francisco. Eighteen from our party of forty had succumbed to the dreaded disease and perished. My wife was dead—my sweet, lovely Margaret—forever gone to me, as were the wives of all my brothers. Nearly all our women folk dead. That fairer s*x, it appears, did not have the strength and wherewithal to fight the disease like the men.
“And what of my child?” I asked my younger brother David, who was left in charge in the absence of Adolphus and myself.
“The doctor cut it from her after she perished. A boy. He lived for a few moments, but died before the day was out. I am so sorry, brother.”
A male. An heir. All I could think of was that life struggling within the corpse of my beloved wife, a spark of hope that was extinguished in a day. I was bereft and crestfallen. I struggled hard with these facts, but such is life and who are we to question the ways of the Lord? I knew I must proceed with forbearance. I had Bethany and Josephine to think of, my sweet, honey-haired twin girls. Now I would be their only parent. For them I must put aside my lachrymose nature.
Also, as the eldest, I must make a strong and stoic face as an example and to show respect for all the others in our party who had lost loved ones as well. I shed my doleful composure and made haste to gather our compatriots together for travel. Quickly we made our way north, eager to put the city that had claimed so many of our party behind us. I was now a widower with two twin girls to account for, leaving behind me a wife and newborn son in the cold, fog-shrouded earth of San Francisco.
We are an industrious and hardworking clan and within several years we had built barns and established a ranch with sixty dairy cows, two hundred head of cattle, and three hundred hogs. We harvested one thousand one hundred bushels of wheat our first year alone. Our dairy was the first in the region and we sold butter to the Trinity mines for one dollar a pound and packed pork to Eureka for fifty cents a pound. And on the outskirts of the settlements, on the edge of a dense redwood forest, we built our mill. The freight for the machinery, as well as the cost of labor, was immense, and took a large portion of our funds, leaving us in the end with little of the family fortune which my father had worked so hard and struggled for. But our enterprises appeared to be thriving and we had great hope that we would soon have our initial investment back and be seeing a tidy profit. In fact, our courage and enterprise brought other settlers to the area for whom we milled redwood for their barns and houses as well as grinding their harvests into flour and meal.
We saw little of the natives those first years, and what interactions we did have were of a peaceable nature. We even befriended a few of the elderly and infirm, as well as a widow with several children, and let them abide with us, giving them shelter and food for what labor they could provide. Little did we know that a flood of European settlers was crowding the various tribes from the coast out into timber country where they were hard pressed to survive. Conflict it seems was inevitable, though we, in our ignorance, were blissfully unaware of it.
The troubles began when Adolphus and I ventured out over the Trinity Alps to Sacramento where we could secure a herd of cattle. The trip there was uneventful; however, on the return we were attacked by a fierce band of aborigines. We were forced to abandon the cattle at the Hay Fork of the Trinity River. I was shot with an arrow in the thigh. It went deep into the muscle and its tip imbedded itself in my femur.
When we at last found ourselves back at our settlement, the wound was discovered to have grown septic. My entire left leg was amputated. An awful procedure. Held down by my brothers as the doctor diligently performed his duty, a leather belt clamped between my teeth, the feel of that saw ripping into my flesh before it hit bone, the sound and vibration of it as it worked its way through my femur: never before had I wished for death with such wholehearted fervor.
Afterwards, as I lay there in torment and suffering, leeches affixed to the wound to draw out the bad blood, Adolphus left with a team of men to reclaim the cattle. None of them returned. I would never see my cherished brother Adolphus again, nor would scouting parties ever find a corpse which we could bury and mourn over properly and give a Christian burial to. Indians were blamed, and I doubted it not. But I knew that not all tribes were violent outlaws, and many were quite peaceful. I wished justice for the killers of my brother, but I would not blame nor slander all of the native peoples as a whole for this crime.
Then the attacks on the mill began.
Because of the pressure needed for the hydraulics to turn the water wheel we were forced to locate the mill in the cusp of the mountains, a secluded spot far from the farms and settlements. This left the mill vulnerable. Evidently marauding tribes viewed its being at the headwaters of the redwoods and the river a sacrilege to what they considered a holy site, and the fields to the north, now fenced and cultivated, were once prairie where they hunted. Twice they tried to burn the mill down. We hired armed men to guard but this proved too costly, our funds were down to a pittance, and losing that large herd of cattle had further weakened our savings. We then built the fortifications around the mill, the tall fence with sharp-pointed tops, turning it into a fortress.
This is also when the troubles with Bethany and Josephine began.
Because of my infirmary I was deemed too crippled to be of much use in the dairy or farms, so I was left to oversee the labor of the mill and tend to the books. At some point there was a change with the girls. They began to sleepwalk. We would find them wandering the halls at night, holding hands, mumbling incoherently about the devil and the sulfurous flames of hell.
One night, going to their room to tuck them into bed, as was my custom each evening, they were behaving in an especially playful manner, leaping from bed to bed, laughing boisterously. I thought nothing of it. They were fourteen, nearing womanhood, their bodies growing plump and curved, their cheeks rosy, and, well I knew, silly games were all the norm for girls their age.
“Girls, time for sleep now. Stop this rumpus and get into your beds.”
“But we aren’t your little girls anymore,” they said in eerie unison.
“Come now, my sweets, whatever do you mean? Why would you say a thing such as that?”
“Because you aren’t our father any longer,” Bethany giggled.
“We have a new daddy now,” Josephine stated before she too burst into a fit of laughter, her face going flush.
But when I shouted, “Here, here,” and loudly slapped my hands together they stopped their antics and crawled obediently into their beds.
“Silly girls,” I said, smoothing the blankets over them, “you shouldn’t say such things. It pains your poor, old father.”
They snickered. I assumed it was just the follies of adolescence and left them, taking the lantern with me so that the room fell into darkness.
They’d changed so much these last six years, gone from children to young ladies. And in that moment, limping down the long hall, away from their room, my wooden leg dragging across the floor, I ached so hard for my lost Margaret that I felt a snap within my chest and broke down weeping. It wasn’t just sorrow and pity for my own sake, but out of a deep concern for my girls. How could I, a man, raise them to be upstanding ladies in this savage land? Without a single lady of refinement or standing within a hundred miles? I resolved I would send them to boarding school. I would look into the matter and find a suitable place on the morrow.
That night, long after midnight, a commotion was heard in the sheep’s pen.
Anyone who has butchered sheep knows the sound of a dying lamb. An almost human wail. It awoke me and several mill workers who were sleeping in the house. Grabbing lanterns and our rifles we ventured out to the small pen behind the house to find several of the animals slaughtered most savagely. One with its head clean decapitated.
The girls had done this.
We discovered them laying unrobed in the viscera of the gutted animals, drenched crimson in blood, and writhing in the gore. What’s the worse is that they appeared to have done this brutality with their own bare hands and teeth. How, I don’t know, but no knives were ever found. They were insensible, and babbled nonsense as I and a few servants brought them back to our home.
I bathed them that night. Bathed them as if they were but babes again. Sat them in the tub and poured hot water over them, soothing and cleansing them, washing the bloody clumps from their hair, telling them it was all right, while they quietly droned on, in a trance-like state, “Unclean, unclean, unclean.”
Fearing further odd incidents of sleepwalking I put a bolt on the outside of their door and took to locking them in at night.
Then it appeared a strange sickness befell them.
They lay in their beds, sweating and shaking. They began to bleed from out their ears and noses and a petulant, blue slime leaked from their eyes. No longer did they appear as my lovely twin daughters, brimming with womanhood, ready to bloom as a rose bud may grow plump before it unfurls. They began to take on the look of monsters, their eyes often rolling back into their heads so that only the whites shown, gleaming against dark rings. Their lips took on a rotten appearance and grew black and ragged. A doctor was called. He could ascertain no ailment. They had no fever nor swollen glands. They began to curse most vilely and blasphemously and spoke in strange languages of which we knew not the words.
This is when the doctor first opined that this was maybe a sickness of a supernatural order and recommended a priest.
At first I scoffed at this and was determined to patiently ride the strange course out, hoping daily for some improvement. There was none. They refused food and began to waste and wither, their eyes sunken and haunted in the emaciated skin from which their skulls began to preside. Their beautiful and thick, honeysuckle hair went limp and tufts began to fall out.
The workers around the mill began to grow uneasy and several quit. They could hear the cries of the girls, the abhorrent blasphemies they would scream long into the night. The remaining workers began to shun me as well, and when I went to oversee the milling of grain and lumber and check on the weights and quality an uneasy silence would fall upon the mill, punctuated by guarded whispers and furtive glances.
Then came that awful, harrowing night when I found myself with no choice but to call for a priest.
I awoke to the sound of giggling and moaning. It was very late. I crept into the hall and ascertained the sounds were coming from the girls’ bedroom. From behind the door I could hear strange suckling sounds and girlish laughter. I unlatched the lock, swung the door open, and in the pale light of the moon saw a most abhorrent sight.
May God have mercy on my soul for letting these foul memories surface forth from my mind and darken this pale parchment, but my girls were naked and entwined most wrongly. Their faces were buried between their legs, their calves encircling their shoulders, licking at each other, and, oh, this pains me to write, they must have been menstruating, for their lips were stained that dark red that can only be brought by blood. When I entered, they turned their faces to me, eyes rolled upward and fish-belly white, lips a dark crimson, dripping blood, and they spoke, in unison, sultry and heavy, “Come. Come and join us, Father.”
‘Twas then I knew I must call for a priest.
February 10, 1860
We have been forced to restrain the girls, bind them to their beds with rope. They seem to grow steadily worse hour by hour. They are wasting away. I bring them clabber, broth, tea. I try to spoon it into their mouths. They only turn their heads away, spit it back at me. Call me foul names. When they aren’t screaming and cursing me, they are giggling as they did when they were toddlers.
I feel so very alone and an emptiness rests in my heart. My brothers are far away at work on their ranches, my wife in the grave, and the workers here at the mill eye me with nothing but distrust and suspicion.
The only ones who smile at me at all in these dark days are the group of natives I have let into the compound. They are eight in number. An old grizzled man that never moves from the fire. Three old women. And a young squaw I assume to be a widow with three children, one only an infant. They speak no English and communication with them can be difficult. But they smile and nod at me. Mumble words I know are thanks when I offer them food. The widow—Kaiquaish she is called—is most helpful to me. When I lead her to any chore, such as to mop the floor of the dining hall or scrub the dishes, she quickly perceives my pantomimes and eagerly does the task. She is the only woman in the compound, besides my girls and the silent, elderly squaws, and her presence soothes me in some way I can not seem to put into words.
Yes, at the moment, these noble savages seem my only friends.
February 14, 1860
The priest arrived today.
He rode through the snow to the guarded gate of the mill atop a swaybacked steed of iron gray. A few workmen who had been guarding the fortifications from hostile Indians immediately noticed him and swung open the heavy redwood doors.
I limped through the snow, fighting to keep my crutch from slipping on the frozen ground, to greet him as he strode through the entrance and then dismounted from his horse which stomped its hooves on the cold, hard ground and snorted steamy breath.
He was a tall man with a long black beard streaked in gray, wearing a black frockcoat and a matching wide-brimmed hat covered in a thick layer of icy snow. He had dark, piercing eyes with a gun metal glint that seemed to bore into me as he presented his hand. He spoke clearly and with a deep voice, “Reverend Michael Waighten, at your service.” His grip was strong and I felt great fortitude emanate from him.
I welcomed him and ushered him through the compound. He led his horse along by the reins as I limped beside him. “Did you have a good journey?” I enquired.
“Uneventful,” he murmured.
Along the interior wall Kaiquaish and the other natives huddled around a small fire while her toddler chased a chicken through the snow.
“And why do you allow these savage heathens within your walls?” he asked, gazing with disdain upon them.
“They are impoverished and in need of care, so we have given them shelter, as our Lord Christ has instructed in the parable of the Samaritan.”
“Jesus came to bring division to the earth. Luke twelve fifty-one.”
“But, Reverend, did our Lord and Savior not say in Mark nine fifty, ‘Be at peace with one another’?”
“Among the saved, yes. But he is quite clear in Matthew ten thirty-four, ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword’.”
“Then what of Matthew twenty six fifty-one, ‘They that take the sword shall perish by the sword’?”
The priest grew visibly agitated, his face twisting into a baleful knot. He ran a hand over his long beard, turned to me, and nearly spat the words, “Revelation nineteen eleven, ‘In righteousness he doth judge and make war’! If you do not believe we are in battle with unclean spirits and heathens I suggest you re-read Revelations. I respect your learning, sir, but I have not come here to debate theology, but to cast out demons, if that is what is called for. Now where are these daughters of yours that I have been bidden to see?”
“Why, they are in the house, good Reverend. They have grown so violent, and, well, strange in deed, that we have been forced to restrain them to their beds.”
“I see. Take me to them.”
“Would you not rather me lead you to your quarters where you may unpack and wash up from your long journey?”
“There will be time for that later, my son. First, take me to see your daughters.”
I led the Reverend down the dark hall to the heavy wooden door, bolted shut with a black, iron lock. I fished the key from my pocket, unlatched the lock, and slowly swung the door open. Inside lay my two little girls, heavily bound to the bed with hempen ropes. They immediately sat up as far as their restraints would let them and began to hiss as a venomous viper might when disturbed. The priest entered the room but did not even look at the twins, who began to thrash and wail against their binds, making the bed chatter. He held forth a large crucifix and circling the room began to chant in Latin, “Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum…”
“It is the Black Number,” Bethany began to moan. “He with the number of darkness. I can see the blood on his hands, smell it in his mouth.”
“The Black Number,” Josephine wailed, “I can taste his sins upon my tongue. Oh, yes, he will satisfy us.”
“What is it you say?” I asked them. “Do you know him?”
He suddenly spun about to face me, his face like that of a raptor. “Silence! Never engage with the demons! They are full of deceit and trickery and serve the father of lies.”
Then he turned and faced the girls for the first time. “In the name of Christ reveal to me your true names! The power of Christ compels you, reveal your true name!” He thrust the large, black crucifix before the face of Bethany.
“Asmodeus, Zabulon,” moaned Bethany.
He spun towards Josephine, pressing the crucifix against her forehead.
“Gressil, Amand,” wailed Josephine.
The priest turned to me. “Can you bring me a plate of hot coals and the liver and heart of a fish?”
“Why, yes,” I stammered. “There are still hot coals in the hearth and we have fresh fish in the ice house.”
“Then bring them to me, with haste.” He then began to chant again and walk about the room.
I did as instructed and brought to him a metal plate laden with embers from the fire and a parcel containing the heart and liver of a salmon. He placed the plate on an end table, began to blow on the coals until they glowed red hot, then placed the organs upon them, where they sizzled and smoked.
This seemed to have some queer, somnolent affect upon the girls, for they stopped their agonized thrashing and fell into slumber.
“Now you may show me to my lodgings,” said the priest, stroking his long black beard and eyeing me with orbs like shimmering, shattered coal.
I took him to his chambers where he began to unpack a large valise of books.
“Why do they call you Black Number, if I may ask, good Reverend?”
“They jest and tease. A Black Number is a sin that has not been confessed nor forgiven. A number of darkness that can bring a good man into hell and the clutches of Lucifer himself. They call me an unatoned sinner. Unrepentant. But believe not their wickedry and lies, for they know me not at all.”
I nodded. “What are these tomes you carry with you?” I asked.
“These are my grimories. Texts concerning the demonic underworld.” He lifted a large book bound in black leather. “Dictionnaire Infernal by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy.” He caressed another, this one bound in crimson cloth, with the flat of his hand. “Le Dragon Rouge written in fifteen seventeen by Alibeck the Egyptian.” He cast a glance at another, still in his bag. “The Book of Abramelin.”
Then he turned to me and fixed me with those eyes, as sharp and cold as black diamonds. He furrowed his brow and brought up a hand to caress his lengthy beard of black and silver. “May I ask you, good sir, has there been any fornication? Have they tried to tempt you to lay with them, as the daughters of Lot had done?”
I went to speak but found only silence. My mouth moved up and down but no sound came out. My face grew flushed and I directed my gaze to the ground. “Yes,” I said, feeling dread rise up in me like an ugly bile in my throat. “They have fornicated with each other and called upon me to join them.”
“And for the sake of Christ, man, tell me the truth now, for all depends on it, did you answer their call with action?”
“Good Reverend, I beseech you, please do not sully my reputation by even uttering your doubt as to my chastity with my daughters. Of course not. They were immediately separated and bound and I called for you at once, knowing only demonic influence could be responsible for such lewd and shameful acts by my sweet girls who’ve shown nothing but modesty and virtue before.”
“Good. You are a good man, even stronger than Lot who gave in to his daughters’ demonic advances, his resolve weakened with drink. We are clearly dealing with Asmodeus, the dark angel of lust and perversion, or some of his underlings. The truth is they are legion. Do you know what a cambion is?”
“No, I do not believe I am familiar with the term.”
“A cambion is the child of a demon. The demons wish to infest the earth with these vile children of theirs. To create a hell upon this earthly plane.”
“But, Reverend, are not demons ethereal beings? How could they consort and create children here on earth?”
“The succubi and inccubi possess a being, then commit carnal acts and in the lustful act stain the seed with their being so that the child created from such an unholy union is tainted by evil. Is a monster. If the product of i****t then even more so. Look at the savages in the hills around us. They are all obviously cambion. Do they appear as whole humans to you?”
I was shocked at these words. How had talk of demons suddenly turned to that of the natives so quickly? And I responded as so. “Why, yes,” I said, repugnant, “they do. And I must admit you do offend me, dear Reverend. I thought a holy man such as yourself would not say such things about your fellow man.”
“Fellow man? They are not my fellow man. They are sodomites. They spend their days unclothed, naked and engaged in demonic rituals. They are stupid and silly. They have no respect for love or virginity. They eat fleas, vermin, spiders and worms. They have no faith in law or God. They are cambions plain and simple. They carry demons like a pestilence. They are infected with them the way a man may carry lice or scabies. They are infested with creatures of the underworld. Is that not plain to see?”
“Why, my father taught us to treat all men as equals. Back in Prince Edward Island, the land from which we hail, the indigenous were protected under the same rights as the white man. I have tried to practice those same ideals of tolerance and acceptance here.”
“And look where it has brought you!” he shouted. “A cripple. Your daughters under possession by demons! Your land, fortune, inheritance and livelihood on the brink of collapse. Let he who have eyes learn to see. Now, good sir, if you would leave me. I am weary from my travels and must rest.”
“Yes, Reverend. Peace be with you.”
“And also with you.”
I left the room, shut the door behind me, my vision swimming and my thoughts a jumble.
February 15, 1860
The priest locked himself in the room with the girls for the entire day. I sat poised outside that heavy redwood door for many a long hour. Listening, straining to ascertain what went on within. I heard many an awful thing. I heard my girls try to tempt him into their beds, language so lascivious and foul I dare not repeat it. He met their seductions with cries to Christ. I heard screams of terror that sounded more animal than human. Then chanting. Then long silence. I grew perplexed. Worried. Worried for my twins but also for this strange man. Though the priest had warned me against it, I rapped my knuckles against the door.
The door swung suddenly open and there he was staring at me with wild eyes, his beard unkempt and flecked with spit.
“I know you told me not to disturb you; I just grew worried with the long silence.
He held up a hand to quiet me. “It is all right. Your girls have returned to you. But I know not for how long. You may release their binds for now. But in the evening, before they slumber, you must reapply them. These forces of darkness are strong and will play tricks on you.”
I looked over his shoulder and there were my little girls. Their faces had returned to normal, their lips no longer black, their eyes clear. “Daddy!” they hollered. I ran to them and loosened their binds, freed them and swept them up into my arms where we all wept together.
“Oh, girls, how I’ve missed you. I love you so.”
“We love you, too, Daddy.”
They were hungry. Famished, and rightly so. How they had persisted for so long without food and water remains a mystery to me. I fetched them meat and broth. Bade them to eat slowly, lest make themselves sick. It was a glorious reunion and I sat with them till nightfall.
“I must bind you,” I warned them as I lit a lantern against the growing darkness of evening.
“Oh, must you, Daddy? My wrists are so sore,” Bethany pleaded, her emerald eyes a shine with pitifulness.
“I simply must,” I said, taking the ropes and preparing to strap them to their beds.
“Do you miss Mother?” Josephine asked.
I paused. Hearing her say that evoked many buried emotions and I took a deep breath to steady myself. “Of course I do.”
“It must be so hard for you, all alone.”
“Yes, my dear, it is. But I have you.”
“Yes, you do. You have us. I hope we can comfort you, like Mother did. Give to you what she gave you. Give you the pleasure she gave you.”
Horrified, I noticed the girls had begun to lick their lips as they spoke, and fondle their breasts, lifting their nightgowns up over their legs. I staggered back. “Girls, behave yourself at once!” I commanded.
“Come lay with us, Father. We can give you what Mother once gave to you.”
Mercifully the Reverend was suddenly in the room, howling, “The power of Christ compels you, down foul demons!” He turned to me. “Quickly, man, bind them!” and just like that they had taken on their monstrous forms again, faces pale and eyes gone white.
I grabbed a rope and wrapped it around the wrist of Bethany. She hissed at me like a cornered cat. As I went to grab her other wrist she reached out her hand, bent into a claw, and brought it across my face, her jagged nails, like talons, ripping painfully into my left eye.
Josephine was up off the bed, her hands clasped on the Reverend’s throat. For a moment I feared for him, till he picked her up by the waist and threw her to the bed.
“Hold this one down while I finish binding the other,” he shouted.
Ignoring the pain in my eye I threw myself down bodily upon Josephine, pinning her to the bed while the Reverend finished binding Bethany.
Josephine quit struggling and looked up at me, suddenly my little girl again. “Oh, Daddy, it hurts. Why do you lay on me so? Let me go. You are hurting me, Daddy.”
Then the Reverend was upon her, gruffly grabbing her arms and tying them with the coarse hemp ropes. “Don’t let him do this to me, Daddy. How can you let him do this to me?” she squealed.
“Listen not to their lies,” the Reverend commanded to me as he finished with his knots. He stood and began to make the sign of the cross with his hands, mumbling in Latin, “En Dominum, sanctum…”
They growled and spit at him. He turned to me and uttered one word. “Go.”
February 18, 1860
My eye is badly abraded and I now wear a patch over it. The girls grow lucid daily but I am wary of them. The priest assures me this is normal and that we make lead way. I fervently pray he is right. I have called on my younger brothers to come from their farms and ranches to meet this strange Reverend and confer with me over what is the best course of action.
February 21, 1860
Having received word that my brothers shall arrive on the morrow I went forth to relate this news to Reverend Michael. His door stood open a bit and as I went to knock I heard odd noises emanating from within: a loud snapping sound followed by dull moans. I pushed the door open ever so slightly that I might cast a look inside. There, kneeling on the floor of wooden planks was the priest, shirtless, his back to me. In his hand was a small whip—a cat of nine tails—and he flung it over his shoulder and scourged his back which was flailed and torn, bleeding profusely. Suddenly he turned with a strange quickness and caught my eye before I had time to duck away.
“Sorry, Reverend,” I mumbled sheepishly. “I did not mean to pry. I came to inform you of my brothers’ imminent arrival on the morrow, and hearing strange noises simply inquired of their origin.”
“No need for apology. I keep no secrets. No secrets. A man who toils fighting the prince of darkness and his legion must be strong. And atone. I keep no secrets, but I do appreciate my solitude.”
“Yes, certainly, Reverend. Pardon the intrusion.”
“Intrusion pardoned,” he stated as I swung the door shut, hearing that snap of leather on flesh echo again from the room.
February 20, 1860
My brothers arrived today.
They seem very worried about our situation with the twins, though I tell them it appears progress is being made.
“But your eye, dear brother,” John said, pointing out what all the others obviously tried to avoid. He has always been like this. Being the youngest he has no modicum of reserve and blurts out whatever is on his mind.
“’Tis but a scratch,” I said, adjusting the patch. “It shall be better shortly.”
They bring grim news of the native problem. A group of over a hundred Indians surround the redwood forests above our lands. They are hungry and openly hostile, swooping down from the hills to boldly steal cattle. They are also armed not only with bows and arrows but with guns as well, brazenly firing their weapons at any man who dares oppose them.
February 22, 1860
I awoke from a horrible nightmare.
I was rowing a small skiff out to sea. Josephine and Bethany were at the helm.
The girls were eight years old again, as they were when we arrived in San Francisco: sweet honeysuckle-haired angels talking quietly amongst themselves and laughing.
There was no land in sight and the sky was filled with stars and a red, red moon. I gazed out into the water and it reflected that deep red of the moon.
But then I saw it was not the reflection of the moon that made the sea red, but that the sea was blood, and, gazing out into the distance, I saw a body flailing, floundering, drowning in the blood. It was my Margaret.
I leapt overboard to save her, but found myself unable to reach her. The blood was thick and sticky with a foul stench. I couldn’t make my way through it and began to sink. I felt like one in quicksand. And it wasn’t Margaret struggling there; it was the Indian widow Kaiquaish and her children, as well as the old man and the two elderly squaws. They were wailing that howl that is peculiar to their people. I turned back to the boat, hoping to gain a handhold, only to see the girls standing there before me. Standing and laughing. Devilish cackling. And they were now nightmare-like monsters with rotten skin, eyes as white and clear as ice.
I awoke suddenly with a jolt, siting up in bed, gasping for breath. For a moment I thought I could still hear the screams of the Indians. Then nothing. Silence. I strained to hear what sounds might lurk above the creaking of the wooden beams. Nothing. Then whispers from the girls’ bedroom, followed by hackles and gales of laughter.
This morning when I went out into the courtyard of the compound there was blood in the snow.
Big pools of it.
And splatter marks against the walls. Flecks of bone and brain.
And drag marks through the snow. Furrows so deep they scratched into the earth and brought up clumps of mud.
There were also the footprints of many men.
All of the natives we had allowed into the walls of our fortress are gone—Kaiquaish, her children, the old man and women. Gone. No doubt bludgeoned to death. No guns used so as not to awaken anyone and draw attention to the slaughter.
I found the priest and my brothers eating in the dining hall.
“What have you done?” I shouted, limping up to the large table where they sat over steaming plates of eggs and mutton. “You’ve killed them all. Haven’t you?”
They replied with silence and icy stares.
“How could you? They were elderly, infirm, children and women.”
The priest caught my eye with a baleful glare. “They were a pestilence. A scourge. And they had to be exterminated.”
“You murdering coward. Get out!” I shouted, leaning forward on my crutch so that our faces were inches apart, looking at him with my one good eye. “Get off of my land,” I growled.
George stood up. “It is not your land, William. We are a family business and you have no right to command him to leave.”
“He’s right,” David chimed in. “We make decisions as a family.”
“Make decisions as a family?” I asked. “Then why was I not informed of the decision to kill our humble guests last night?”
“We knew how you would act. We knew your opinion already. You were outvoted.”
“Outvoted? I was not even present to cast my ballot in the matter.”
“Your presence was not needed. For our decision was unanimous amongst ourselves,” John stated.
“Do you not hunger for justice for our lost brother Adolphus?” David asked.
“What does the death of Adolphus have to do with the killing of a widow and her children?”
“Well, what of your girls, then?” George suddenly opined. “My fair nieces? Are we to leave them in torment? Not try to save them? And now you would dare to throw out the one man who can help them? Can save them?”
“I wonder at his sorcery. Deuteronomy eighteen ten, ‘Let none be found among you who practices divination’.”
The priest stared hard at me. Slowly he raised a steaming cup to his lips, sipped his coffee, then he calmly replied, “Verily, I say unto thee, careful where you tread and spread not calumnies. What we have done we have done for the sake of you and your daughters. We are at war with the devil and you must learn to accept that.”
“Put not your foul deeds on me,” I spat, and swung around on my crutch, storming away from them.
“We are forming a militia, William,” George shouted at my back as I opened the door and a cold wind blew into the hall. “Something must be done about this situation. It is us or them. You must accept this.”
I answered him not and stomped out into the snow and storm, the sky above me as gray and forlornly dismal as the ache within my ribs, ice cascading down from the heavens.
February 26, 1860
Lurching through the deep snow that lay heavy upon the courtyard, I spied my brother George with a cluster of workers and limped steadfastly toward him, pulling him away covertly so that we might whisper amongst ourselves in secret.
“I do not trust this priest. He appears not a man of God to me.”
“And why is that, William?”
“He locks himself in with my daughters. Does strange acts he allows no one else to see.”
“But you yourself said you have seen improvement in their condition.”
“Maybe. Maybe their infirmity leaves on its own volition. They call him Black Number. Say they smell blood on his breath and hands. What of that?”
“Good brother, my elder, you must not listen to the words and lies of the beast! The Reverend is a good man. I know. Long have we talked into the night. We are not so different. He was a settler once just as we are. He had a family and a large ranch. He went on a cattle run and came home to discover his ranch had been raided by a war party of Indians. His wife, his children, they were axed into tiny pieces. Mutilated beyond recognition. He knew only devils could do such a thing. Demons. So he gave himself over to the work of God.”
“Work of God? Killing natives? If their murders make them demons, then, pray tell, what do ours make us? How can we condemn them for acts of violence when we strive to annihilate them with our own?”
“Brother, you are embracing your weaker nature. I have business to attend to. There will be a meeting on the morrow, all the farmers and ranchers for miles around will be there. You may voice your concerns there.”
He strolled back to the workers and left me alone in the snow. My eye ached and I could feel a leakage of pus dripping down out of my patch. I wiped it with a handkerchief, spun on my crutch, and shuffled off. In the barren branches of an old oak some ravens quarreled and their caws of avarice echoed over the frozen land.
February 27, 1860
The meeting tonight has left me shaken to the core and I find myself in doubt of God and Country, wondering what it even means to be a Christian. My faith itself seems in peril, all the more so as I hear my daughters’ pleading and wailing cries echo through the darkness.
The meeting was held in our large dining hall. Many presided, my estimate would be sixty members of our settler community. The notorious Indian killer Henry Larrabee was present, a man whose very existence fills my soul with dread. Many are the tale of how he took great pleasure in smashing open the heads of squaws, children and infants.
E. L. Davis presided. He stood at the head of the hall, the Reverend to his right and my three brothers to his left. “We have petitioned Governor Downey that the Humboldt Volunteers be mustered into service and he declined our petition stating that the U.S. Army was sending an additional Company of Regulars to Fort Humboldt. Have we seen them? No.”
Seman Wright then stood up, shouting, “Our pleas to the Federal Government fall on deaf ears! Already South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas have seceded from the Union. They are poised on the brink of civil war and can spare no troops to help us. We are on our own.”
A great clamor of agreement with cheers of, “Here, here!” rose up and echoed through the chamber.
Davis began to orate once more. “This company is needed for the lives and property of our family and friends. If we can’t get our just protection from State or Federal Government, a protection that the citizens are entitled to, I for one oppose paying any more taxes! We will fight our own battles in our own way, exterminating the Indians from the face of the earth as far as this county is concerned!”
His cry was met with boisterous shouts of approval and a pounding of feet and fists. I, in the back of the hall, could hold my silence no longer and spoke up over the din.
“Am I the only man amongst you who beseeches peace with the natives? No good can come of bloodshed. Violence only begets more violence. We must find brotherhood or I fear we are all doomed.”
“Brotherhood?” someone shouted. “They are not our brothers.”
“They are no kin to me,” another hollered as a wave of jeers and japes descended upon me.
“Think of the message of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” I regaled them. “Think of the proverb of the Good Samaritan.”
Then the Reverend stood up. “We are engaged in a great spiritual war with evil here! Do not vacuously use the words of our Savior to make this Christian Army weak. Our Lord sayeth in Luke twelve fifty one, ‘Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you no but rather division’.”
“And may I ask who,” I yelled, “good clergyman, dear Reverend, are your clergy?”
“My clergy,” he shouted, “are any and all men who dare to ride with me against the heathens of these hills! The heroes of Humboldt County who dare to face the devil! Tis they to whom I preach! And they to whom I bestow my blessings!”
I went to speak but was drowned out by the cries of appreciation from the raucous crowd.
The Reverend went on, screaming at the top of his lungs, spittle flying from his mouth, “‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword!’ so sayeth our savior. What’s more, ‘Let him who hath no sword, sell his robe and buy one!’ Now, as commanded, let us, ‘Make WAR!’ ”
Suddenly everyone was up on their feet, clapping and stomping, marching out of the hall and into the night. I noticed George in the throng streaming by me and grabbed him by the shirtsleeve.
“Brother,” I pleaded, “this is madness. What would our father think? He taught us kindness to our fellow man. On Prince Edward’s Island he struggled to make peace with the natives. Surely, no good can come from this.”
“We are in Canada no more,” he replied to me, cold as a century-old tombstone. “We must manifest our destiny here.” He cast a quick, disdainful look upon me. “Look at what has become of you, brother. Feckless, a half-blind cripple. Your duty lies with your daughters. Go to them. Watch over them. We will do what must be done.”
He shook himself free of my grasp and rejoined the masses. The mob mounted their horses and took off at a gallop, out the gates of our fort and swallowed by the night, leaving only their echoed screams for bloodshed and vengeance.
February 29, 1860
I feel the grip of insanity tighten over my mind as the howling of my daughters fills my head like a swarm of bees may fill the hollow of a log.
I write as penance, as confession, to find atonement and divine forgiveness for the deeds I have done and am about to do. To rid me of the Black Number, to find redemption for this number of darkness that stains my soul. What great anguish it is to write this; indeed, I beat my fists upon my head and weep into my hands, my tears staining this parchment and smearing the black ink.
It appears that I too have fallen under demonic influence. How else could what has befallen me be possible?
Last night I was tormented with the most heinous of dreams. Foul visions of fornication of a most illicit manner. With my own daughters. My twin girls of only fourteen years. We lay together in ways I have never conceived before. Strange and unnatural positions. I awoke bathed in sweat, the sheets a tangle about me and pushed the foul dreams from my mind, determined to forget them, thinking them obviously the product of stress and exhaustion.
I dressed and went to check on Bethany and Josephine. I opened the door to find them unbound and naked, entwined with their arms about each other, kissing most lewdly with their tongues in each other’s mouths.
“Back for more, Father?” Bethany said, as she blinked one eye in a horrid wink. Then, looking down, I saw my pants, my work shirt and frock, there in a tangle on the floor, and with a gasp made the sudden realization that those horrid visions last night were no dream. Suddenly I remembered creeping to their room to unbind them and lay with them.
Josephine looked to me now and spoke. “I will name my son after you, Father. For you will be his father, too.”
They threw their heads back in laughter, foul taunting cackles, and Bethany said, “And I shall name my son Michael after the Reverend.”
I staggered back, crushed by the levity of their words.
“What’s the matter, Daddy? Sad that we had your little priest kill Kaiquaish? We saw the way you looked at her. Naughty, naughty. Maybe you’ll see her again in hell.”
“And do you know what we have your Reverend and your brothers doing now? Caving in the heads of babies on an island in the bay!”
They burst back into laughter then leapt to their feet in a most unnatural way, levitating, floating off the ground as they came at me, their fingers curled, claw-like and predatory. Just as they reached me I regained my senses and slammed the door shut, pushing home the large iron bolt. When they slammed against the door it bulged and for a moment I thought it might shatter, but it held firm. They then began to beat and pound upon it, scratching at it while they howled banshee-like.
“Let us out, Father!” their muffled cries from within. “Let us please you as we did last night!”
And now as I sit and write, my hand trembling so that the quill can barely scratch these words out upon the page, I only hope I can erase my Black Number with these confessions. That I can escape that incestual number of darkness which has somehow found its way upon my weak shoulders which are unable to bear it. Seeing only one recourse to this abominable situation I go to fetch the turpentine, the whale fat, the gear grease, anything flammable I may find, and cover the house in it. Cover myself in it. And hope that the flames of this earth can appease our Lord and Savior and spare me from the sulfurous flames of hellfire below.