Mary and Sean spent Saturday exploring Mineral Point. That evening, over dinner at The Brewery Creek Inn, Mary was still bothered by the contents of the book that Sean had purchased at the antique store.
“Sorry to have been so moody on our honeymoon,” Mary said, “This is a great little town. You made a good choice. When I think of the lives of the miners and their families who lived here years ago, why, it’s almost impossible to comprehend. A miner’s life was hard enough, but to be out here in the frontier the way they were—grubbing lead from hand dug holes—I really should be grateful for what I have, even if things have been very strange lately,” Mary said, pausing for a moment, then continuing, “I do get tired of the sexism and racism, though. In my more paranoid moments, it seems to me that there is a secret organization whose sole function is to repress women and minorities. The concept probably goes back to animal dominance perverted into a quest to exalt men to god-like status: absolute authority, no responsibility.”
“A capricious and fickle god. Nothing seems to have any stability anymore,” said Sean. “Politics, economics, and this whole thing with Emily; my life has become strange too, stranger than I would have ever imagined. But better.”
“Better than before we became lovers.”
“Better than before the rings?”
“The rings,” Sean said, “I was afraid of losing myself in you completely when we were wearing them the other night.”
“They did make me appreciate certain aspects of your masculinity more,” Mary said, “but I was surprised at how closely we synced as we approached climax. Different methods to the same goal?” Mary continued, “I never said ‘I love you’ to anyone before I got to know you. Now, in light of what has transpired between us, I’m beginning to think that I don’t know what that phrase means. When ‘I’ and ‘You’ become the same, the only thing left is… love.”
“Love,” said Sean, “The rings do change the equation. I was alarmed, but I want to wear them again tonight, love.”
“OK, love,” Mary said, smiling for the first time that day.
They continued to eat. It was after nine by the time they were finished; the place had emptied out. They went back to the cabin.
“Rings on or off?” said Mary.
“On,” said Sean.
After they made love, Mary got up and went into the bathroom. The walls there had been decorated with fanciful paintings of elves and fairies and brownies, the paintings were dated in the late 1940s. Mary smiled, thinking of the children who had enjoyed this escape from reality. All the tedium of daily life—its pains, its joys—all of that would be a distant memory for those children, if any were still alive. The art had endured, however, its import remained as vivid as the day it was painted.
When Mary returned to the bedroom, she noticed that Sean had already fallen asleep, still wearing his ring. Mary thought of removing hers but did not. “Sweet dreams may we share this night, to rise, refreshed, in the morning’s light.” she mused. It was nearing eleven when she turned off the bed lamp.
A full moon was rising over what the men of The Brotherhood called “The Chamber House.” The Chamber House was very old; it had been built in the early 1800s when the land was part of a Virginia plantation and was situated in a remote wooded area. At one time it had been used as a smokehouse. The seven men who comprised The Brotherhood never spoke of its existence to anyone outside the group. It was nearly midnight when they approached it. The leader of the group unlocked the massive iron gate that opened into an outer chamber. He switched on a pair of lights which flanked the inside of the entry. The soft, yellow light that they emitted couldn’t quite erase the profound shadows which painted the far recesses of the building’s interior. Boxes and old farm machinery lurked in the gloom, all of it very old. The building’s inner wall was fitted with a door made of roughly hewn logs banded with iron and fitted with seven locks. Curiously, a large iron bar spanned the door, as if to prevent its being opened from the inside. The men stood quietly for several minutes until the leader, after checking an ornate gold pocket watch, spoke:
Each of the followers had a key which they used to open one of the locks. When they had finished, the leader lifted the bar and opened the door. The group entered the inner brick-walled room. The room was circular, with a diameter of about sixteen feet. Its sooty black walls muted the already dim glow that leaked in from the lamps in the outer hall. In the center of the room was an old wooden table, darkened by age. Upon it lay a shrouded figure. The leader took his place at its head while the other men stood on either side. After standing in silence for a few minutes, twelve chimes from the leader's pocket watch signaled midnight. Again the leader spoke:
“Remove the shroud.”
The heavy black velvet cloth was gently lifted and neatly folded and placed at the foot of the makeshift bier. The body on it was that of a mature woman, naked. Her skin was smooth and pale, almost pearlescent, and without flaw. She could have been mistaken for an alabaster statue, if not for her hair. The leader raised his hands and the other men followed suit.
“Brethren, as we gather here to honor the passing of one of our own, we will affirm our pledge to The Brotherhood and the principles upon which it was founded,” began the leader, ”Join with me in the sacred pledge.”
The group began to speak in unison:
“We, the Sons of God, in obeyance to the sacred spirit within each of us, with the authority vested within us by spiritual law, rededicate ourselves to the cause of suppression of those base and animal instincts present in Satan’s vessels: Women and their carnal desires, Pagans and their idolatry, and the threat of mongrelization from the lesser races.”The leader then spoke again:
“As proof of our dominion over the powers of sorcery, we will commence the laying on of hands. The body that lies here before us shall remain imprisoned. We exercise this power in the name of God The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We condemn you, Emily Carroll, vessel of Satan, to an eternity of suffering.”
She was in a tomb, lying naked on a platform, encircled by seven old men. She could sense an immense hatred, manifested in the black auras which draped their shadowy figures. They were chanting, but the words were unclear. Mary felt cold. Suddenly, the presence of Emily was very strong. The group of men stopped chanting and one of them began to speak:
“By the power of God The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we condemn you, Emily Carroll, vessel of Satan, to an eternity of suffering.”
And then Mary/Emily felt their hands: crablike in their movement, crawling over the surface of her skin, harshly touching her in a profane caricature of a caress. Waves of nausea began to spread over her.
Mary woke. She dashed into the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before copiously vomiting. The figures on the wall seemed to be mocking her now. As she regained her composure, she sensed Sean in her thoughts.
“Mary, are you alright?”
“I’m OK, now,” she thought, “How about you?”
“I’m not sure,” Sean thought, “What does it mean?”
“I’m not sure either, but whatever it is, we’ve got to find a way to help Emily.”
In the Reykjavík suburb of Kópavogur, Þora Sigmundsdóttir was awakened by the cries of her toddler.
“Fjandinn, 04:00. Hvers vegna er það alltaf að vera 04:00?”
She went into the child's room. Young Vilhjálmur Stefán, standing in his crib, was shaking violently and covered in puke.
“Allt þetta, og nú flensu hann fær!” Þora said.