Moriah

Moriah

by Daniel Mills

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Overview

In the summer of 1874 he is dispatched to the mountain village of Moriah, Vermont to investigate sensational claims of supernatural happenings at a wayside inn. There the brothers Thaddeus and Ambrose Lynch are said to converse with spirits and summon the dead.

In Moriah, Flood encounters others like himself: a grieving couple, a childless widow. By day he questions the Lynch brothers who prove less than forthcoming. They too are haunted by buried secrets, old ghosts. In the evenings he attends séances where the resurrected dead dance and sing and give comfort to the living. As Flood investigates the true nature of these phenomena he is forced to come to terms with his own past and with the hold it has upon him.

Moriah is a work of the historical Gothic which recalls the Victorian fiction of Sarah Waters, Michael Cox, and Charles Palliser.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781771484138
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Publication date: 05/23/2017
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 307,234
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Daniel Mills is the author of Revenants: A Dream of New England (Chomu Press, 2011) and The Lord Came at Twilight (Dark Renaissance books, 2014). His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies including Black Static, Shadows & Tall Trees, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. He lives in Vermont.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

23rd August, Sunday

FLOOD

The train has stopped. The car sways and settles, dust stirred up and swimming in the air between our faces. We are south of Rutland, miles from any station. Rocky pasture is visible to our right, swaths of scrubland bounded by fences and fringed with cattle grazing in the shelter of the tree line: maples in late summer leaf, the day's heat full upon them.

The spell is broken. An infant cries out, frightened, and its mother hastens to make the usual soothing noises. The child's father uncrosses his legs and retrieves his paper from the floor, The Sun. He hides his face behind it.

An aging woman occupies the bench in front of me, her spinster daughter seated beside her. The older woman adjusts her crinoline and skirts, the peacock feather in her hat.

She says: "A cow, no doubt. Some poor beast driven onto the rails."

"But surely, Mother, there is a cowcatcher?"

"You're quite right. Perhaps we've struck the drover."

"Mother!"

My notebook is gone. I notice its absence then fumble at the pockets of my waistcoat, turning them inside-out in my panic before the soldier seated opposite me clears his throat and offers it to me across the aisle. He holds the book with one hand, his left, as the other terminates at the elbow, the sleeve pinned back.

The two of us had exchanged greetings upon boarding in New York. Afterward, we lapsed into a kind of intimacy once it became apparent we had both served under Grant in the spring of '64 and that we had, somehow, survived.

The notebook appears undamaged, though it must have flown across the aisle, and my notes are likewise intact. Loose pages are folded into quarters and thrust between the pages, witness reports or transcriptions thereof, firsthand accounts of the Lynch brothers' purported mediumship: lurid tales of ghostly music, spectral voices, the spirits of loved ones conjured up bodily from the depths of the Spirit Cabinet.

The soldier says: "This, too, is yours, I think."

And hands me a copy of The Sunday Echo. It is today's edition, purchased on the platform in New York.

I thank him, but he only shrugs and extracts a pipe from his waistcoat then clamps the stem between his teeth. He strikes a match against the side of the bench and the flame leaps up to drink the unsettled air.

Behind him, two sisters (one married, one not) fall to muttering their disapproval. Presently one of the sisters speaks up. She is pretty and slim with her wedding band displayed prominently upon her finger.

"Excuse me," she says. "Sir?"

The soldier ignores her or else pretends to deafness and sets the shag alight.

The second sister — older, her aquiline features marred by a bluish birthmark — rises from her perch and opens the window.

Everything motionless: no wind in the trees, no scrap of cloud on the horizon. The August dampness seeps into the coach, fragrant with greenery, the acrid tang of coal smoke from the engine.

We hear screaming, a woman's. She howls like a wounded animal, her voice made ragged with anguish and the fever of dying while men are shouting to be heard. The commotion emanates from the front of the train and we realize at once what must have happened.

A woman on the line. A suicide, probably: she screams as the life drains out of her. I imagine it all, see her dragged along in the cowcatcher during all those long minutes in which the train screeched and shook.

The older sister shuts the window.

The woman's screams remain audible, if somewhat muted, and the other passengers have no choice but to speak over them, which they do. Some discuss the heat (unseasonable, they agree, for summer's end) while the baby's father at the back of the car reads aloud from The Sun, the financial pages — and still the screaming will not be silenced.

Opposite me the maimed soldier drags on his meerschaum, obscuring his face with a web of smoke and glowing dust. He is listening, thinking, perhaps, as I am of nightfall in the Wilderness when the screams rose and swooped from the dark and the fires eddied through the trees, consuming the wounded where they lay and pleaded for water or death. Their cries from the roaring: Is that you, Reverend? Can your God give aught to one like me?

I press my hands to my face, digging in the heels so my vision sparks and flickers under the lids, wind and flames dissolving with the rush of blood that fills the opening eye: gold light in the coach, glimmering on the dust as it settles.

The screaming is gone.

The door to the forward car opens and the brakeman enters with his uniform in disarray: jacket and cap removed, shirtsleeves rolled to the elbows. He is pale, unsteady on his feet, and his voice burrs and quavers as he speaks.

"Is there a minister here? A priest?"

I say nothing. It is ten years since last I wore the chaplain's collar and longer still since I have prayed — and though I feel his gaze upon me I do not speak or stand and at last he passes through to the next car, where we hear him make the same request.

The older sister speaks. "The worst has happened, I fear."

"Has it?" the younger replies.

"He did not ask for a doctor."

"Oh."

We wait. Beyond the window cattle graze in the cool of the maple trees, the cropped grass glinting with the sun in amongst it. Gnats gather in clouds over steaming pools where rainwater brims in old wagon ruts, and the brakeman returns, at last, alone.

The soldier finishes his pipe. He looks at me, a little curiously, no doubt recalling our earlier conversation when I had said I was an army chaplain, but makes no comment. Behind him the two sisters don pince-nez (matching pairs, for all their other differences) and proceed to read from nearly identical books, successive volumes from a set of Dickens.

The Sunday Echo is in my lap, my name visible near the fold, printed in small type alongside the first of my two articles on the mediums Thaddeus and Ambrose Lynch. The second piece will appear in a week's time after I have completed my investigation at their farmhouse in Moriah, Vermont. I am promised lodgings there, expected tonight, but Moriah is ten miles beyond Rutland and far from the rail-line, and I doubt I will arrive before morning.

I close my eyes, try to sleep. The baby cries out, a piercing wail. A rustle of paper as its father shelters behind The Sun, followed by a gentle music as the mother begins to sing. I listen. I cannot make out the words, but the tune is familiar enough.

Little Musgrave. Kitty's favourite.

* * *

An hour passes, more. We hear a whistle from the south: screeching, drawing near. The din reverberates all around us, swimming out of the heat then slow to fade from the clotted air.

Movement from the forward car.

The door shoots back, admitting the train's conductor. He is a greying man in his forties, tired, leaking sweat through the fabric of his uniform. He leads a column of overdressed men in damp jackets and women sprouting skirts and bustles who fan themselves with newspapers or novels or whatever is near to hand.

The conductor says: "We are changing trains."

He sounds exhausted, beaten. He continues: "If you'll please to follow me, we can walk down together to meet it. You should arrive in Rutland round about suppertime."

A furious whispering ensues as the conductor limps toward us. The woman with the peacock feather stands, indignant, and clears her throat despite her daughter's protests.

She says: "Now that's all very well, but what of our luggage? This carpetbag is new, you understand, a gift from my dear brother —" "Please, ma'am. Everything will be sent on to Rutland. You may collect your bags there."

"I shall have them now, thank you."

The conductor ignores her request and continues down the aisle, passing us where we sit, trailed by a procession of men and women, perfume and sweat.

"Please," he says again. "If you would follow me."

I slip my notebook into my pocket and stand, leaving The Sunday Echo on the seat. Across the aisle the soldier rises with the aid of a walking stick, while the two sisters clutch their books to their breasts and watch without expression as the others pass them by. The woman in the peacock hat is last among us to join the procession, and only grudgingly, after much coaxing.

We follow the conductor through each of the cars in turn until we reach the final passenger coach where we alight onto the southbound track some distance from our stalled locomotive. The engine is quiet, a wisp of steam clinging to the stack. Wagons and carts are assembled on either side of the rails, horses stamping idly amidst the shapes of men in dark coats.

The conductor hurries us along. His sole object, it seems, is to spirit us far from the scene of the incident, which he does. It's nearly dusk, but the sun beats down despite the lateness of the hour, blurring the ridgelines to either side of us and mixing the trees with their shadows, the stains beneath our feet: ruddy streaks on the rails where the engine braked and dragged the body on the ground.

No one else notices. The aging mother laments the loss of her new carpetbag while her daughter offers up some ineffectual words of comfort. The maimed soldier walks alongside me, his footfalls alternating with the crack of his stick against the ties. He does not speak but marches with face upturned and the black hair plastered to his pate, sweat sliding free in rivulets.

Just ahead of us are two young men attired in the costume of Wall Street speculators: silk tie and waistcoat, top hat. They talk too loudly, their cufflinks shining.

"A suicide, I expect."

"Yes."

"The silly girl. Probably unlucky in love."

"There will be a hearing?"

"Yes, but we needn't attend. The conductor said as much."

"Thank Christ for that."

The landscape shifts then slopes away. We see the second engine waiting for us at the foot of the hill, faced north upon the southbound track with black breath pouring from it. The conductor ushers us aboard.

There are only two passenger cars, so I find myself sharing a bench with the former soldier, who smells faintly of gin and camphor. He wastes no time in lighting a second pipe, ignoring the pointed sniffs of the two sisters now sitting across the aisle.

The conductor confers with the train's brakeman at the front of the coach. They exchange some whispered words and the brakeman nods, grimly. The conductor tips his cap and descends.

I watch him go.

He moves slowly, favouring his right leg (an old wound?), head bowed as he strikes north along the rails. The whistle bleats once then twice to clear the track ahead. The conductor vanishes over the rise even as the engine lurches into motion, lumbering uphill, gathering speed as we crest the ridge and push toward the other train.

A voice says: "Don't look."

It is the woman in the peacock hat. She is speaking to her daughter.

There are horses, carts, officials in dark uniforms. A hospital wagon standing empty. Two men in undershirts walk with a stretcher held between them and a humped shape laid upon it, draped in a horse blanket and mottled with dark stains.

The body is small, no bigger than a child's. A young woman shuffles along behind the stretcher, dazed and with her best dress soaked through, black flecks clinging to the sleeves. The mother. Her eyes are empty, set like stones in her skull, and she isn't screaming anymore. She follows the men toward the wagon, seeing nothing for the brightness that surrounds them, last light, her child's blood splashed across a horse blanket.

* * *

We are past it. So quickly it recedes: steaming horses, sun-drenched countryside. A child cut to pieces beneath a train.

The soldier extinguishes his pipe and folds his arms over his breast. His breathing comes slowly, slumberingly, and I look to my right, where the tree branches shed their flickering light, the white glow dimming to blue then purple as we steam toward Rutland.

Soon the coach is dark but for a single lamp, looped through a handle near the forward car. It rocks in place with the humming of the rails, casting a cone of shadow between the windows to right side and left, teasing out my reflection then annihilating it altogether.

My features blur. I see the ghost of a face, my own, past and present suspended within it, the real with the unreal and everything vanishing as the train rounds a bend and the shadow passes over me, a darkness like that of the Lynches' Spirit Cabinet.

The lamp swings back, revealing the dead child's mother, her face in the glass: bloodied and hollow and with the look of death upon it. I remember the wounded near Wilderness Tavern as they met us on the road, bandaged and limping, retreating from the battle to which we flew, and eagerly, as though to meet the night in its falling.

The lamplight veering: Kitty again and the empty way she looked at me. Her voice that night as she sat at the spinet. This was December '63, the evening before our regiment left for Brandy Station. She was pregnant then, a month gone and ghastly pale. She sickened to sing of Little Musgrave, waking in the night, and of the voice of his Lady beside him.

Is not your hawk upon its perch? Your steed is eating hay.

There she stopped and sang no more and her fingers ceased from moving on the keys. The song had dried up in her mouth and no words sufficed to bridge the brooding stillness that came between us, a place of perfect silence, like the fall of dark after a battle or the wordlessness that follows a death: hers and the baby's and the child that went under the train.

The last time we spoke. The things she said.

"Is it so much, Silas, to ask that you might stay? You are a man of principle, of faith, and in this alone you have given me no cause to doubt you. But such righteousness is as nothing beside the life that you would leave behind you — and with such cruel ease — while this war will kill a woman slowly with want and worry before it lets her follow her husband to Virginia. You will leave while I remain, having no choice. You know this as I do, as did my father in the days before we were wed. You depend on it and so I am lost to you already."

The engine jerks and rattles, slowing. The brakeman reappears. He retrieves his lantern where it hangs and carries it with him into the next coach. Beside me the soldier, sleeping, comes awake snorting as the whistle shrieks.

We are nearing the platform, the lights of the station.

Rutland.

November 13th, 1854 —

This room. I will try to describe it to you.

First there is the bureau which serves as my writing desk with drawers which hold ink & paper & in which I keep this journal. There is a looking glass over the bureau & a standing basin at my right where I wash myself in the morning. Behind me is the bed that was my mother's when she was a girl & which I would have shared with my sister had she lived.

The door is shut. The key is turned within it so I cannot see out, though I hear them in the hall, their voices. This room is in the upper corner of the house. There are windows to north & east but these too will not open, the sashes nailed to the frames.

Moriah is some two miles away: you cannot see it from here. Stand at the eastern window & you can make out the woodlot down by the road where we cut our winter firewood. Go down the road toward town & you'll reach the biggest of the fields where Father grazes the cattle & where I used to meet J. when the working day was done.

The northern window is a dormer with the roof sloping down around it. From here you can just see over the kitchen to the barn where we store feed, the summer's hay.

The icehouse is gone. Father knocked it down himself. This was in September. He retrieved an axe from the barn & drove it through the uprights 'til the wall collapsed inward, taking the roof with it so the old sawdust whirled up from inside in a cloud. My brothers were there, watching as they did before & did not look behind to see me at the window.

CHAPTER 2

24th August, Monday

FLOOD

I wake early. The sun is down, the east more grey than blue.

I collect my bags from the station and board the first train north to Brandon, where I hire a farmer with a cart and team who agrees after some persuading to take me to the Yellow House. Moriah lies some miles east of Brandon and the roads leading there are little travelled, with some stretches washed away entirely by the summer rains.

The journey lasts an hour or more, the farmer's wagon rattling past farm fields and pastures and the day's heat looming before us: seen more than felt, a glow beyond the mountains.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Moriah"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Daniel Mills.
Excerpted by permission of ChiZine Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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