Among these decimated villages
Upon this headland naked to the south wind
With the trail of mountains before us, hiding you,
Who wilt reckon up our decision to forget?
Who will accept our offering at this end of autumn?
- George Seferis
Now she's eyeless.
The snakes she held once
Eat up her hands.
- George Seferis
From a scrapbook kept by Ben Mears (all clippings from the Portland 'Press-Herald'):
November 19, 1975 (p. 27):
JERUSALEM'S LOT - The Charles V. Pritchett family, who bought a farm in the Cumberland County town of Jerusalem's Lot only a month ago, are moving out because things keep going bump in the night, according to Charles and Amanda Pritchett, who moved here from Portland. The farm, a local landmark on Schoolyard Hill, was previously owned by Charles Griffen. Griffen's father was the owner of Sunshine Dairy, Inc., which was absorbed by the Slewfoot Dairy Corporation in 1962. Charles Griffen, who sold the farm through a Portland realtor for what Pritchett called 'a bargain basement price', could not be reached for comment. Amanda Pritchett first told her husband about the 'funny noises' in the hayloft shortly after . . .
January 4, 1976 (p. 1):
JERUSALEM'S LOT - A bizarre car crash occurred last night or early this morning in the small southern Maine town of Jerusalem's Lot. Police theorize from skid marks found near the scene that the car, a late-model sedan, was traveling at an excessive speed when it left the road and struck a Central Maine Power utility pole. The car was a total wreck, but although blood was found on the front seat and the dashboard, no passengers have yet been found. Police say that the car was registered to Mr Gordon Phillips of Scarborough. According to a neighbor, Phillips and his family had been on their way to see relatives in Yarmouth. Police theorize that Phillips, his wife, and their two children may have wand?ered off in a daze and become lost. Plans for a search have been . . .
February 14, 1976 (p. 4):
CUMBERLAND - Mrs Fiona Coggins, a widow who lived alone on the Smith Road in West Cumberland, was reported missing this morning to the Cumberland County sheriff's office by her niece, Mrs Gertrude Hersey. Mrs Hersey told police officers that her aunt was a shut-in and is in poor health. Sheriff's deputies are investigating, but claim that at this point it is imposs?ible to say what . . .
February 2 7, 1976 (p. 6):
FALMOUTH - John Farrington, an elderly farmer and lifelong Falmouth resident was found dead in his barn early this morning by his son-in-law, Frank Vickery. Vickery said Farrington was lying face down outside a low haymow, a pitchfork near one hand. County Medi?cal Examiner David Rice says Farrington apparently died of a massive hemorrhage, or perhaps internal bleed?ing . . .
May 20, 1976 (p. 17):
PORTLAND - Cumberland County game wardens have been instructed by the Maine State Wildlife Service to be on the lookout for a wild dog pack that may be running in the Jerusalem's Lot-Cumberland-Falmouth area. During the last month, several sheep have been found dead with their throats and bellies mangled. In some cases, sheep have been disemboweled. Deputy Game Warden Upton Pruitt said 'As you know, this situation has worsened a good deal in southern Maine . . .
May 29, 1976 (p. 1):
JERUSALEM 'S LOT - Possible foul play is suspected in the disappearance of the Daniel Holloway family, who had moved into a house on the Taggart Stream Road in this small Cumberland County township recently. Police were alerted by Daniel Holloway's grandfather, who became alarmed at the repeated failure of anyone to answer his telephone calls.
The Holloways and their two children moved onto the Taggart Stream Road in April, and had complained to both friends and relatives of hearing 'funny noises' after dark.
Jerusalem's Lot has been at the center of several strange occurrences during the last several months, and a great many families have . . .
June 4, 1976 (p.2):
CUMBERLAND - Mrs Elaine Tremont, a widow who owns a small house on the Back Stage Road in the western part of this small Cumberland County village, was admitted to Cumberland Receiving Hospital early this morning with a heart attack. She told a reporter from this paper that she had heard a scratching noise at her bedroom window while she was watching television, and looked up to see a face peering in at her.
'It was grinning,' Mrs Tremont said. 'It was horrible. I've never been so frightened in my life. And since that family was killed just a mile away on the Taggart Stream Road, I've been frightened all the time.'
Mrs Tremont referred to the Daniel Holloway family, who disappeared from their Jerusalem's Lot residence some time early last week. Police said the connection was being investigated, but . . .
The tall man and the boy arrived in Portland in mid-?September and stayed at a local motel for three weeks. They were used to heat, but after the dry climate of Los Zapatos, they both found the high humidity enervating. They both swam in the motel pool a great deal and watched the sky a great deal. The man got the Portland Press-Herald every day, and now the copies were fresh, unmarked by time or dog urine. He read the weather forecasts and he watched for items concerning Jerusalem's Lot. On the ninth day of their stay in Portland, a man in Falmouth disappeared. His dog was found dead in the yard. Police were looking into it.
The man rose early on October 6 and stood in the forecourt of the motel. Most of the tourists were gone now, back to New York and New Jersey and Florida, to Ontario and Nova Scotia, to Pennsylvania and California. The tourists left their litter and their summer dollars and the natives to enjoy their state's most beautiful season.
This morning there was something new in the air. The smell of exhaust from the main road was not so great. There was no haze on the horizon, and no ground fog lying milkily around the legs of the billboard in the field across the way. The morning sky was very clear, and the air was chill. Indian summer seemed to have left overnight.
The boy came out and stood beside him.
The man said: 'Today.'
It was almost noon when they got to the 'salem's Lot turnoff, and Ben was reminded achingly of the day he had arrived here determined to exorcise all the demons that had haunted him, and confident of his success. That day had been warmer than this, the wind had not been so strong out of the west, and Indian summer had only been beginning. He remembered two boys with fishing poles. The sky today was a harder blue, colder.
The car radio proclaimed that the fire index was at five, its second-highest reading. There had been no significant rainfall in southern Maine since the first week of Sep?tember. The deejay on WJAB cautioned drivers to crush their smokes and then played a record about a man who was going to jump off a water tower for love.
They drove down Route 12 past the Elks sign and were on Jointner Avenue. Ben saw at once that the blinker was dark. No need of a warning light now.
Then they were in town. They drove through it slowly, and Ben felt the old fear drop over him, like a coat found in the attic which has grown tight but still fits. Mark sat rigidly beside him, holding a vial of holy water brought all the way from Los Zapatos. Father Gracon had presented him with it as a going-away present.
With the fear came memories: almost heartbreaking.
They had changed Spencer's Sundries to a LaVerdiere's, but it had fared no better. The closed windows were dirty and bare. The Greyhound bus sign was gone. A for-sale sign had fallen askew in the window of the Excellent Caf6, and all the counter stools had been uprooted and ferried away to some more prosperous lunchroom. Up the street the sign over what had once been a Laundromat still read 'Barlow and Straker - Fine Furnishings,' but now the gilt letters were tarnished and they looked out on empty sidewalks. The show window was empty, the deep-pile carpet dirty. Ben thought of Mike Ryerson and wondered if he was still lying in the crate in the back room. The thought made his mouth dry.
Ben slowed at the crossroads. Up the hill he could see the Norton house, the grass grown long and yellow in front and behind it, where Bill Norton's brick barbecue had stood. Some of the windows were broken.
Further up the street he pulled in to the curb and looked into the park. The War Memorial presided over a jungle-like growth of bushes and grass. The wading pool had been choked by summer waterweeds. The green paint on the benches was flaked and peeling. The swing chairs had rusted, and to ride in one would produce squealing noises unpleasant enough to spoil the fun. The slippery slide had fallen over and Jay with its legs sticking stiff y out, like a dead antelope. And perched in one corner of the sandbox, a floppy arm trailing on the grass, was some child's forgotten Raggedy Andy doll. Its shoe-button eyes seemed to reflect a black, vapid horror, as if it had seen all the secrets of darkness during its long stay in the sandbox. Perhaps it had.
He looked up and saw the Marsten House, its shutters still closed, looking down on the town with rickety malevol?ence. It was harmless now, but after dark . . .
The rains would have washed away the wafer with which Callahan had sealed it. It could be theirs again if they wanted it, a shrine, a dark lighthouse overlooking this shunned and deadly town. Did they meet up there? he wondered. Did they wander, pallid, through its nighted halls and hold revels, twisted services to the Maker of their Maker?
He looked away, cold.
Mark was looking at the houses. In most of them the shades were drawn; in others, uncovered windows looked in on empty rooms. They were worse than those decently closed, Ben thought. They seemed to look out at these daylight interlopers with the vapid stares of mental defectives.
'They're in those houses,' Mark said tightly. 'Right now in all those houses. Behind the shades. In beds and closet! and cellars. Under the floors. Hiding.'
'Take it easy,' Ben said.
The village dropped behind them. Ben turned onto the Brooks Road and they drove past the Marsten House - its shutters still sagging, its lawn a complex maze of knee-high witch grass and goldenrod.
Mark pointed, and Ben looked. A path had been beaten across the grass, beaten white. It cut across the lawn from the road to the porch. Then it was behind them, and he felt a loosening in his chest. The worst had been faced and was behind them.
Far out on the Burns Road, not too far distant from the Harmony Hill graveyard, Ben stopped the car and they got out. They walked into the woods together. The undergrowth snapped harshly, dryly, under their feet. There was a gin-sharp smell of juniper berries and the sound of late locusts. They came out on a small, knoll-like prominence of land that looked down on a slash through the woods where the Central Maine Power lines twinkled in the day's cool windiness. Some of the trees were beginning to show color.
'The old-timers say this is where it started,' Ben said. 'Back in 1951. The wind was blowing from the west. They think maybe a guy got careless with a cigarette. One little cigarette. It took off across the Marshes and no one could stop it.'
Malls from his pocket, looked at the emblem thoughtfully - in hoc signo vinces - and then tore the cellophane off. He lit one and shook out the match. The cigarette tasted surprisingly good, although he had not smoked in months.
'They have their places,' he said. 'But they could lose them. A lot of them could be killed . . . or destroyed. That's a better word. But not all of them. Do you understand?'
'Yes,' Mark said.
'They're not very bright. If they lose their hiding places, they'll hide badly the second time. A couple of people just looking in obvious places could do well. Maybe it could be finished in 'salem's Lot by the time the first snow flew. Maybe it would never be finished. No guarantee, one way or the other. But without . . . something . . . to drive them out, to upset them, there would be no chance at all.'
'It would be ugly and dangerous.'
'I know that.'
'But they say fire purifies,' Ben said reflectively. 'Purification should count for something, don't you think?'
'Yes,' Mark said again.
Ben stood up. 'We ought to go back.'
He flicked the smoldering cigarette into a pile of dead brush and old brittle leaves. The white ribbon of smoke rose thinly against the green background of junipers for two or three feet, and then was pulled apart by the wind. Twenty feet away, downwind, was a large, jumbled deadfall.
They watched the smoke, transfixed, fascinated.
It thickened. A tongue of flame appeared. A small popping noise issued from the pile of dead brush as twigs caught.
'Tonight they won't be running sheep or visiting farms.' Ben said softly. 'Tonight they'll be on the run. And tomorrow - '
'You and me,' Mark said, and closed his fist. His face was no longer pale; bright color glowed there. His eye flashed.
They went back to the road and drove away
In the small clearing overlooking the power lines, the fire in the brush began to burn more strongly, urged by the autumn wind that blew from the west.