Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Searching of Noth House (Part 2)

Elizabeth Knowles didn't believe in magic. She thought that people who performed rituals often entered strange emotional states. They became suggestible, and perhaps they hallucinated. She believed that people saw what they wanted to see. So do many of us.

She drove up through the rural Virginia countryside -- past flat green fields and abandoned store fronts laced with weed and moss -- toward her new home. She listened to a weather report on the radio. A fog was stealing over the area, and by night it would be quite thick. Knowles allowed herself a small, grim smile at the thought of it. It would be perfect. Her car's trunk was filled with several dozen mirrors of all sizes, wrapped in sheets and packing material. They rattled in the dark as she went over cracks in the old pavement. Her clothes lay bundled in several suitcases on the back seat, along with boxes of cleaning supplies, and a crude handmade crucifix. She had carved the cross herself out of apple wood, shaping the Christ from a yellow candle. When she was done, she pricked the thumb and four fingers of her left hand, daubing each of them on a different spot to mark the five Holy Wounds. Next to the crucifix was a copy of the Compendium Maleficarum, and a small black book written in Old High German.

Up ahead finally, she spotted the dark three-story building. She'd seen it in so many news reports, but Elizabeth had never actually visited, not even during the inspection. In front of it was an unmarked police car. Glen Chambers, a detective with the State Police, stood leaning on its side, waiting for her. He was a tall, thin man with dark straight hair, black eyes, and a deeply-lined face. He had divorced twice. During the investigation the two of them had spent weeks together in her home, and they'd become quite close. Neither of them acknowledged that, and after police closed the case there had only been a couple of phone calls and then silence for almost a year. Their eyes met as she pulled the car up beside his, and they smiled warmly.
"Well," said Elizabeth, stepping out of the car and appraising him. "I guess you got the news from Frieda. C'mere." They hugged, and then she turned away and began to unpack.
"You're not going to stop me," she said with her back turned to him.
"Frieda was just worried, and..."
"Frieda is a superstitious busybody. You don't believe in any of her nonsense."
"Neither do you," he said, looking at her car and fighting the impulse to help her.
"Neither do I," she said.
"Then why do it? Why?" He stood in her way and stopped her, and the two of them were looking at each other again.
"Do you think you're going to remember something?" Glen asked. "That there's some detail? There isn't. There isn't, okay? You told me everything. I made sure of it. The case is over; it's..."
"Don't you tell me that," she said sharply. "Don't you dare."
And now it was his turn to look away. Just for a moment.
"All I meant was that..."
"What? That Stephen Noth was the one who killed my daughter? Is that what you're saying to me? To me?"

Stephen Noth, an unemployed machinist from Ashland, was the previous tenant of the house. The task force identified him as a person of interest in three disappearances in the case. Thirty-six law enforcement officers entered his house one morning at 4:30, and a young SWAT officer shot and killed him on his staircase. Prosecutors closed all 13 homicides without trial.

"Look, Elizabeth... You can talk to me about this." He softened his voice. "I'm not trying to stop you from doing anything. Frieda was worried about those books. But I don't care about that. I'm just worried you're going to walk into this house, and you're going to close yourself off and just... go crazy."
"Yes," she said simply and firmly. "That's the idea."

And there was nothing else he could do to keep her away. He took out his card and pressed it into her hand.
"Keep this somewhere handy," he said. "I want you to call me in a couple of days to check in. If I don't hear from you I'm breaking in. Okay?"
They took a moment to say goodbye, and they both remembered that thing they had never put words to. Det. Chambers got into his car and left.

Elizabeth Knowles spent the next hour dusting and scrubbing the floor in the front parlor of the house. When she was finished she opened all the windows in the building, walking from room to room feeling small and afraid. Before long the fog came, and the mist began spilling into the empty, cavernous place. That was when she set each mirror out until scores of them surrounded her, propped up against walls with some lying on the floor. She lit a small fire in the fireplace with logs and some newspaper. When it became hot she quickly placed the crucifix on top, where it could gradually catch fire. The figure of Jesus melted, the wax running together with bits of her own blood into the fire, until it was gone. She felt the beginnings of some kind of seizure and began to cough. As she whirled around and stumbled to her knees she could see that the room was quite filled with mist and smoke.

The mirrors were filled with shadows. And before she collapsed, Elizabeth thought she saw letters forming. The message only appeared for an instant, and then she was unconscious:


(Image is of a seance in the 1920's from Wikimedia)

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