An Introduction

      Momentary silence is a blessing in this place of madness.  It is so rare that I find a moment to think…reflect…remember the past.  The soft glow of the fireplace off of oak paneled walls reminds me of the innocence of my youth.  An oil lamp flickers on my desk, though we have possessed the modern convenience of electricity for over 80 years, it is hard to give up old habits.  I long ago surrendered my quill for a Mont Blanc Pen, it is one of the few luxuries I afford myself.  What I call my desk is little more than a large table.  It is covered with papers, apparently even a place of madness runs on paperwork.  I long ago exchanged my love of coffee for a new creation called Mt Dew.  It accounts for the small refrigerator that sits in the corner of my office.  I realize most men of my position would cling to more formal business attire, but I have adopted denim pants and a single needle stitched oxford cloth shirt for my daily attire.  My shoes vary according to my mood and comfort.  I was considered a giant in the time of my youth at 6 feet and 2 inches with dark hair and blue eyes.  I have always found it impossible to gain any significant amount of weight leaving me with a rather slender frame.  Though I have never lost the Southern Accent of my youth, with time, travel, and education I have been told it has mellowed.  I do apologize for droning on about myself but considering that I will be telling you my story, I figured that it might be kind to give you an idea of who and where I am as I write this memoir.    Some might call me an educated man and at one point I might have agreed with them but the one blessing of being frozen in time is the realization that you are never done learning or experiencing new things.  For over 120 years I have had The Asylum under my charge.  I came here with the belief that this was a place of rest for those suffering from things beyond this world.  I believed I had been chosen as a blessing, but I was wrong.  This place…this “home” of mine is my place of punishment and damnation.  It has taken all I hold dear and still daily it tears at the very soul of me. 

      So why would I choose to share this with you?  It would be a good question to ask.  Why after all of these years have I chosen now to share my world?  I do this in an attempt to stave off the madness that bites at my heels.   A madness that haunts my sleep and governs my dreams.  I fear I am losing touch.  I fear…that my nightmare has become my reality.

 

Chapter 1

 

      I sit back in an attempt to find a peaceful repose, but the walls quake with the cries for your company.  Someone who recently encountered my journal, has taken my writing quite literally.  I am not sure that my grasp of reality is as strong as it once was.  What I write is my view of the world.  But after 150 years, many of which spent overseeing this place of torment, I am not sure I know what is real.  This place is scarce more than a prison, as it is for me also.  All sins may be forgiven, but some require recompense.  Thus begins my story.  I was born in 1851, on a plantation in Northwest Arkansas.  It was a quiet home and I spent my first years being cared for by a nanny named Lauren.  She was a sweet older woman with coal black hair, deep brown eyes and skin the color of milk chocolate.  She had been given her freedom years before I was born but stayed with us as a member of our family.  I can still hear her laughter ringing through the walls of the sitting room.  On the summer of my 10th birthday (Arkansas and just withdrawn from the union) it was decided that it was time for me to become a man.  Our family was not overly Christian limiting our visits to the church around weddings, funerals, and certain holidays, but I did not understand the secrets that were hidden around me.  On the back edge of our property was an old smoke shack.  While I never saw it in use, I always presumed it was for the curing of venison.  On June 21, 1861 I was awoken from a deep sleep by my father and uncle and was told it was time for me to learn our family's way.  The house was quiet as we walked through the woods towards the old smoke house.  I was scared and curious, but dared not ask a question.  As we walked closer I could smell smoke and see a soft light coming through the splits in the boards of the shack.  Yet I kept quiet.  As we arrived my father turned and knelt, he looked deep into my eyes as he said, "Damien" and I shuddered.  "Are you ready to make me proud?" I softly whispered, "Yes."  He smiled and took my hands, "The people of our family are different than most, and over time you will come to understand.  But tonight, I need you to follow my instructions without talking."  He took a deep breathe, "Can you do that son?"  I nodded slowly.  "Inside on the table is a potato sack."  He handed me a long hunting knife.  "I want you to go in and stab the sack three times where the "X" is painted on."  I nodded and my uncle opened the door.  On the table was a sack, it looked like every other potato sack.  But there was a red "X" painted just to the left of center and my mother was sitting in a chair against the far wall along with other members of the family.  I walked in and paused looking at my mother who smiled and nodded.  I took a deep breath and stabbed.  I do not remember it well, I just remember stabbing what felt like a bag of fabric.  After the third stab my father grabbed me.  I was shaking.  My mother stood and walked over opening the end of the bag and pulled open the end and I was looking into the eyes of poor, sweet, Lauren.  I collapsed.

      In telling you my story, I left you having shared the first of my many sins.  I wish that was my only one, but my family did not believe in such civilized boundaries.  I awoke the next morning in my own bed, with the smell of coffee and bacon filling the air.  I yawned and stretched slowly, what a beautiful day.  I could not wait to see what Lauren had planned for us.  But her name froze on my lips.  Was it just a dream?  I jumped from the bed pulling on my pants as I ran for the stairs and down to the kitchen.  As I entered the door I stopped.  My mother stood at the stove.  She must have heard my gasp and turned toward me.  Her smile was so warm and inviting, but I could scarcely breathe.  A tear rolled down my cheek.  "Sit down, your breakfast is getting cold." my mother said softly.  I wanted to ask questions but the words did not come.  I ate, but the food held no flavor.  As soon as I was finished, I walked from the kitchen and ran to Lauren's bedroom.  It was empty.  Her feather mattress was rolled and tied at the foot of her bed.  Her wardrobe was empty.  I left and walked into my father's study.  "Father" I almost whispered.  He looked from his ledger and raised his eyebrows.  "Lauren" her name came out as a whisper.  He nodded towards the chair that sat across from his desk and I sat.  He removed his glasses and began to speak, "For hundreds of years the people of our family have lived quite differently.  At the mark of the summer and winter solstice we offer a sacrifice to allow for a bountiful year."  He cleared his throat, "We are all raised by a guardian until the solstice after our 10th birthday, and then on that night we sacrifice that guardian."  A sob escaped my lips.  "Son" he said, "You need to understand that Lauren was a willing sacrifice.  She accepted her freedom and the responsibility of raising you knowing what would happen."   My fingers went numb and I was certain my breakfast was not staying with me for long.  He opened the top right desk drawer and handed me a letter.  It was addressed to me and it was from Lauren.  I slowly broke the wax seal and pulled the paper from the envelope.  Here is what it said:

My Dearest Damien,

As you read this you are most certainly aware that I am no longer with you.  But you need to know that the gift I have given you was given freely and with the utmost love.  You are now on your way to becoming a necromancer.  The fresh bacon you ate this morning was actually my flesh and will be the first of many steps you will take in discovering your gifts...

 

I looked up from the page in horror as my father nodded and again the world went black.

 

Chapter 2

I do not believe I have ever been sicker in my life than when I woke up.  My mother was sitting next to my bed rinsing a wash cloth in cool water.  The porcelain basin was white with blue painting on it.  A wave of panic overtook me as I remembered the letter and I wretched violently.  My mother turned quickly guiding my head towards a milk bucket, but there was nothing left.  She whispered softly and suddenly I could hear the sound of Lauren singing the same soft lullaby she had sung to me every night of my childhood and I began to relax.  A cold chill swept through the room and with it came a sense of peace like I had never known.  I looked at my mother and she smiled softly, but didn’t say a word.  She simply placed a fresh wash cloth on my forehead and I closed my eyes.  But I didn’t sleep, at least I think I didn’t.  What I had was what I have come to call my wakening dreams.  The image of my mother was replaced by a large room with dark oak paneled walls and heavy red velvet curtains over the windows.  In the center of the room was a long table covered with a brilliantly white table cloth.  The table was sat for a feast and held more food than I had ever imagined could exist.  There must have been a hundred chairs at the table and each was filled with a body wearing a mix of clothes, some of which are still foreign to me, but they were all laughing and talking with such a merry tone that I believed that they could have never known sadness. 

      At the head of the table sat a broad shouldered gentleman with long silver hair pulled back and hanging almost to the base of his collar.  As I stood in awe, he turned to face me.  Smiling, he beckoned me to the empty chair at his right hand.  As I approached he spoke for the first time, “Welcome Damien, we have been waiting for you.”  I stammered a bit as I muttered “me?”  He laughed and said, “Your name is Damien is it not?  Son of Eugene and Kimberly Jones?”  “Yes sir that is me.” I managed to say with a hint of my normal voice.  It was then that I recognized him.  “Are you my grandfather?” I asked.  He smiled the gentlest smile in the world and said, “That I am my boy, that I am.”  I once again paused and looked around the table and all of the faces became familiar to me, it was like a tour of our ancestral home in Little Rock with all of the paintings of family members on the walls.  Except they were all talking and even more surprising, they were all alive!  Or at least they seemed to be.  I looked back at my grandfather and said, “My father has taken me to your grave.”  He chuckled softly and said “Sit, we need to talk.”  I wanted to run, I wanted to simply wake up, but instead I sat.  He took a long drink from a glass chalice and cleared his throat.  “This, my young Damien is your family.  I can tell by the utter look of shock that you recognize them as they do you.  You will see each of us over time as you learn new abilities.  Do not falter.  There is much for you to do.  Now wake up, your mother needs to talk with you.”   As quickly as he had finished speaking my eyes opened and my mother was sitting, watching.  “Will you tell me what you saw Damien?” she asked.  “I saw grandpa” I whispered.  She never asked what he said, but simply told me that this was the beginning of my education.  We buried Lauren that afternoon under a large elm tree.  It was a simple burial, she was in a plain wooden box wearing her favorite dress, her skin looked pale and felt so stiff as I leaned down to kiss her cheek, my tears falling and running down by her chin.  “I am so sorry” I whispered, “I didn’t know.” And then a sob racked my body and my mother guided me to a chair.  She was the first victim of my education, but little did I know there were to be many, many more.  I will not bore you with all of the details of my education as there was much to learn and parts of it were positively gruesome.  The old smoke house became as well known to me as my own bedroom and for every trip there was a new victim.  Of course, back then I did not think of them as victims.  Back then, I tried not to think of them at all.  Their faces haunted my dreams and made rest almost impossible to find.  In the end there became a trophy room of sorts where I would keep remnants of each person, not out of pride in what I had done, but as a way to remember those who had paid the price for my education. 

 

Chapter 3

      In the weeks and months ahead I was to learn that death takes on many shapes and forms.  The shock I felt at seeing Lauren’s lifeless eyes was replaced with a relaxed expectance of what was to come, the cost of my education.  I am thankful that the ritual of consuming human flesh was a one-time but necessary experience.  But the taking of life would be an ongoing necessity.  It was always done in what I call the “smoke house” and I rarely knew the one who was taken.  They were often travelers who would find themselves traveling through our isolated little corner of the world.  During the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, it was a busy time for the smoke house.  My father had no love of slavery and had long before the war, freed all of the slaves passed down to us from my grandfather.  Most of them chose to stay on with us working as field hands.  They had a strange way about them and my parents often said they practiced Voodoo not that I understood what that mean at the time.  It was the beginning of March and suddenly we were seeing union soldiers moving into the area surrounding our home.  At first they were not pleasant people, but as they became aware the black people that lived around us were freed, they felt they had found a sympathizer.  My father was thrilled to let them believe that as each night, one or two of them would find their way to our smoke house.  Unlike Lauren their deaths were not quick and as testified by their screams far from painless. 

      There seemed to almost be a mood of celebration leading up to the day of the battle and I was learning so much.  Taking the lives of strangers did not seem to have nearly the negative effect on me that sacrificing Lauren did.  Strangely enough I became so fond of a couple of them that their spirits still reside in The Asylum today.  You may even see an older gentleman walking through the cemetery.  In life, he was a Union Major.  In death, he is the caretaker of our cemetery.  It has been said that performed some gruesome acts in the performance of his duty to the Union.  That may explain the blackness that poured from his soul the night he died.  From that moment to this, I have never seen such a pure concentration of evil leave any man.  Someday I will tell you his story when I feel you have the stomach for it.    I was tempted to label this man, but no person should have to wear the badge for so many transgressions.  Of course he will spend eternity with us but that alone should be punishment enough. 

      What I wish most of all is that someone had told me the souls of all who I have killed would stay with me.  It is a “gift” I neither expected nor desired.  I should have taken the hint when Lauren began singing me to sleep, but I was too happy to have her presence back in my life if only as I fall asleep.  Not every soul that stayed with me is a happy to be bonded to me, especially now that I am unable to pass into the next life.  It most assuredly means that they will never find the peace they so desire.  I never bother to manifest most of the souls that plague me into a physical form the way I have with the caretaker.  But he was a particularly nasty human and became even more so in death.  So giving him a physical body was more a necessity of survival than a longing to spend time with that spawn of darkness.  This way at least I can keep an eye on him, and provide him work to occupy his time.   

      The second to go was a Union Private named Sean.  He was a bigger man who fought is fate bravely.  He died calling for his family and proclaiming his love.  It was by far the toughest of all my prizes to take.  Until I received a stern stare from my father I considered letting him live.  But the sky was dark and the beast I know only as “Master” demanded his blood.   I am not sure if it was done as a way to give me a deeper understanding of how to end a life or simply my father’s own boredom with letting it end quickly for them, but each person died differently.  At least for the first few year.  Sean died as a result of a rather nasty cut to the interior cut to the interior of his right leg severing his femoral artery.  He bled to death in about 15 minutes.  He screamed at first begging us to stem the bleeding, then he began to pray (a lot of them pray), followed by tears and slowly he called for his mother and then he passed.  On the table where he lay there were grooves carved in that collected the blood and guided towards a hole in the table.  The blood was collected in a large ceramic container.  I was still too young in my training to know what the exact ceremony it was to be used for, but after that night I always had a slightly more difficult time finding peace.  It must be the cost of taking the life of a good man.  I rarely hear from Sean, he is a quiet soul who keeps to himself, he only becomes truly unbearable if women or children are being hurt.  I would love to tell you that because of him that women and children were never harmed.  And it would be a lie.  Many women were to undergo visits to the smokehouse, though there was never a child.  A rule I still hold to today.  We have considered even banning them from this place, but the patients seems to especially enjoy the taste of the fear of a child and the anger of the parents. 

      The Battle of Elkhorn Tavern began in earnest March 7, 1962.  From our home, we could hear the sound of gunfire and the report of cannon fire.  My father moved us all into the root cellar where we wrapped in blankets and huddled against the walls talking softly.  The men of the home where outside watching over the house.  In frequently I would hear the sound of my father’s rifle, my uncle and the other men all preferred knives.  Shadows crawled along the dirt walls, my mother said they were our guardians.  My cousin Brandy and her beau Joshua had been sent down by our family in Missouri to stay with us, never believing the war would progress this far South or West.  Joshua was a brave soul who despite my father’s urgings refused to stay inside with the rest of us and stayed rather close to my Uncle Rob.  Brandy was as brave a woman as I have ever known.  She never once voiced a concern but simply sat rubbing a cross and whispering a prayer softly.  They were never to be allowed to know of the smokehouse or our family’s secret.  Though Brandi spent a lot of time in the cemetery, my mother said she was to “firm” in her Christianity to ever understand our way of service.  The battle was fierce at times throughout the day, and the wounded could be heard moaning into the night.  We were allowed to briefly walk outside on the morning of the 8th, if for no other reason than the fact that the chamber pots were getting rather pungent and a trip to the privy was a welcome thing.   It was during this time that we saw our first confederate soldier.  He was a tall lanky man, he was covered with soot and ash with his shirt covered in blood.  He had the most distant look in his eyes and did not even seem to notice that we were there.  There was a strange gurgling sound that came from his chest with every breath, but wherever he was trying to go, he seemed most determined to get there.  My Uncle Rob walked up behind him so quietly we wondered his feet were touching the ground and put his arm around his neck and gently laid him to the ground.  A pool of blood appeared in the dirt next to the man’s throat and Brandy screamed.  Everyone became suddenly tense and we were hurried back into the cellar.  Shortly after that the sounds of gun and cannon fire began again.  By noon the shooting had all but stopped.  And the smell of burnt powder drifted across our place giving it a rather ghostly appearance.  After that night, whenever the fog would be low to the ground, I could swear I saw the ghosts of the soldiers walking back towards the battlefield.  During a full moon I could hear the sound of gunfire and the cries of the wounded.  I never knew what happened to that confederate soldier though a fresh grave did suddenly appear in the family cemetery. 

      Brandi and Joshua left to return to Jefferson City Missouri a few weeks later when we were certain the last of the fighting was over.  We were told that Brandy was never quite the same after that and I was not to see her again until after her death some 40 years later.  I still watch over her ancestors to this day.