To my son, Johnathan,
If you are reading this it is because your father has honored both my memory and my wishes to unseal this letter to you upon your majority. I loved you dearly and my greatest dying hope is that you have grown to be a chaste and pious young man.
When I was a girl I traveled inside a ship across the ocean. I remember my mother, a midwife, delivering another soul into this world deep in the steerage of the ship. I remember her strong hands, her sturdy voice. And I remember the blood of childbirth on her hands.
I remember my father, a priest, praying over and comforting the worried passengers and expectant mothers. I remember his grim voice, full of conviction, and his stalwart faith in God's Mercy for all, especially for that poor innocent babe, born sickly and pale, who passed into His Arms after only hours of life.
I remember the grey skies and the grey seas that seemed to stretch across all of heaven and creation, parted in two by the bow of the ship.
I remember the sensation of flying.
But most of all I remembered the lapping of the ocean against the hull of the ship. In my mind, I envisioned sea monsters, flapping up against the ship with winged tentacles.
I still have the nightmares, of a great black demon grasping up from the darkness of unlimited fathoms, grasping at my ankles and dragging me down before I awoke, sobbing, where not even my mother's arms nor my father's faith could comfort me.
Thereafter, I always feared the sea, and whenever I could stayed away from the sounds and sights of the shore of the small town where my parents settled. My father administered The Word of The Lord to the small community of the faithful in that place which grew from a fishing village to that of a small bustling port in the time between my girlhood and my marriage. My mother continued to apply her vocation of midwife to the women of my father's congregation, and to the poor and unfortunate as is the duty of His faithful servants.
There were several families of Natives who belonged to my father's congregation, and among this dwindling community, I recall few children. Foremost among them I remember the medicine woman, called Weetamoo, whom of my father disapproved of, for she clung to many superstitions and animist beliefs, in spite of her conversion to The Faith. My mother however, gave this woman respect for her practical ability as a healer. My mother believed that God bestows many gifts to all who denounce Satan, and that this wise and converted woman had much to teach about the sicknesses and pediatric deformities unique to the new world.
It was under the tutelage of my mother and Weetamoo that I learned the practices of midwifery. It was late deliveries that troubled Weetamoo most. It was not in the more common risks and complications, that she was most concerned, for these were the common hardships that any mother will risk, but the risks assumed in the tales and superstition common to her people. Of these subjects my mother was most disapproving, for they were pagan things, and she generally forbade Weetamoo to speak of of such things in my presence.
One night however, only a year before my marriage, my mother who was ill and in bed, sent me to alone to accompany Weetamoo to the home of a Native woman who was sickly and late in delivering her first child. Weetamoo was very agitated by the lateness of the pregnancy and of the emaciated appearance of this young woman, who lay breathing shallowly upon the crude bed in the poor, single room of a house. Her husband, a young and destitute looking young man, sat nervously on a three-corner-stool. Even in the dim light afforded by the single tallow lamp, the girl's waxy skin seemed to shine with a loathsome luminescence, which I found to be particularly repulsive. Weetamoo fretted and paced about the earthen floor of the hovel. Suddenly, she demanded that the father-to-be to leave at once. The boy rose in protest, but was silenced by an elder figure whom I had hitherto neglected to notice in the gloom. The boy left the hovel with his head down and as he did the crone who silenced him crossed the room to the girl's bedside.
As soon as the girl's lack of consciousness was affirmed the crone turned upon me and with sudden speed closed the gap between us. The age upon her face was shocking but even more shocking still was the lucidity of her gaze and the authority of her voice. She spoke in a broken dialect yet with a conviction fathoms deep to which my own age-shallow faith withered immediately. I felt as powerless as a lamb bewitched by the eyes of a lioness.
"These poor souls," the crone began, "we used to take them across the sea to the islands near this place, mother and father both, and together bind them to the rocks. Your people...your people know nothing of this land....."
She told me that before the English or even the Dutch first arrived that this land was protected by powerful shaman priests and priestesses, avatars of forces that protected the world from evils from beyond who sought to destroy it. Principal among these forces was The Moon and the most feared time of the month were the nights of the Dark Moon, or the new moon as we call it. During the Dark Moon "she" could not see or protect us and evil was free to fornicate upon the land. It was therefore forbidden to copulate upon the night of the Dark Moon for the seed of demons would then impregnate the mothers. If such a mother was fortunate, she might have a normal child, but if she was unfortunate, the birth will not come on time as she was surely carrying a demon. A demon sucking all the life-blood of the mother from within leaving only an emaciated husk,
"Like the girl lying before you!"
More horrible still, the crone continued, if the mother survives until the night of the tenth Dark Moon of her doomed pregnancy, at the mother's moment of death, the demon will bear itself upon the world and seek out the blood of its mortal father. No matter how far the man might run, he cannot outrun the demon he sired, she cried,
"A demon who can fly upon the night and swim in the seas with equal ease with wings of black leather!”
“A demon who will find him no matter where he might hide, and with fanged tentacles will crush him and drain him of his blood!”
"They are both doomed! Doomed to fate worse than death! That is why we leave them chained together on the islands so the demon spawn will return to the ocean and spare the rest of us!"
I ran from that place and back home. I was shocked and horrified and angered even for never had anyone spoken to me about indulgences of the flesh, nor anything as ungodly as demons and moon spirits and pagan horrors. I dared not tell my mother nor my father, for surely I would get chastised or even whipped for permitting myself an audience to such heretical kind of talk by a pagan non-believer.
Yet somehow, I could not shake a grim conviction that what the crone told me was true! Did not the fishermens' wives tell of the human bones which lie scattered with pagan fetishes upon the small islands in the environs? I felt my faith splintering like a ship cast upon a rocky shore.
For three nights I suffered from vivid nightmares where I was on a ship upon the ocean, lost in a great storm with some great leviathan striking upon the hull. As the beast rose out of the waters, its massive shape abolished the stormy sky with monstrous wings, and I would wake soaked in terror. For three days I prayed and fasted to God for release from these dreams and for my breach of faith and for the delivery of that poor girl's baby and a restoration to the mother's health before the coming of the the new moon.
On the fourth night, two nights before the new moon, the poor girl gave birth, a stillbirth, and shortly thereafter, that young mother passed away. God had surely answered my prayers, but I was still too afraid to attend the girl's burial or to even venture outside. In the weeks that followed I began to feel myself very foolish at having believed in such a pagan superstition. The old crone and the destitute youth moved away. Months passed and I devoted myself to my Bible and to mending my faith, keeping myself away from others until the arrangement of my marriage to your father, Johnathan.
We were wed and moved to a larger town where we built our home. I tried be a dutiful wife to your father and devoted to God, who finally blessed us with you, my Son, after so many fruitless years. During these years, I continued to be a midwife to the faithful and to the poor and to the needy as Our Father has commanded. I have never before betrayed my conviction to never speak or write of what the old crone had told me that night, nor of the nightmares of the ocean that have never ceased to haunt me since I crossed the sea as a girl. But now I must also confess these as I do confess this grim misfortune which befell us a fortnight ago on the night of the new moon when you were still a young boy.
I had been attending to the pregnancy of the daughter of M. Cooke, a man of no small local influence, and that the pregnancy was overdue and that the health of the girl had begun to fail. On that dark and stormy night, close to the end of October, I was summoned by her family maid to make haste to their house, and that the Reverend Sheppard had been been called to administer last rites. When I was bade into the bedchamber, a grim chill overtook me as I witnessed the illuminance of the poor girl's waxy skin, her shallow breathing, and her sunken eyes as if death had taken possession of the shape of her face. I am no stranger to the agonies and to the mortal fragility of the maternal condition, my son, but I was seized with a singular dread by the size of the pregnancy, which seemed to be grossly larger than the preceding days.
The Reverend Father had already administered rites and now stood in silent prayer, with the men of the family, their heads bowed solemnly by the bedside. The women of the family, the girl's mother and aunt, wiped her brow and wept. I brewed a calming tea of herbs upon the fireplace brazier for the grieving family, and another designed to ease pain and induce labor for the girl, who remarkably, did not seem to be in a great deal of pain nor distress, only seeming to drift in and out of consciousness long into the night.
As the girl's breathing grew more shallow and ragged, a storm began to blow outside spitting a heavy rain upon the house and my unease intensified. I looked to the priest who was oblivious to all but his prayers and to the women who were lost in their grief as the Nor’easter intensified.
Then, with dread, I began to realize that tempo of the storm was rising and falling with the labored breathing of the girl. The tempest howled and thunder shook the house to the very foundations. As her lifeforce slipped away, the storm's intensity crested, but why could no one else notice the ferocity of the gale outside which seemed so suddenly to crescendo?
My insides turned to ice.
"I feel like.....I feel like I am flying," gurgled the doomed girl beneath the raging storm,
"I can see...I can see the whole world…..
And suddenly the storm fell silent as her head fell back upon her pillow.
If you are reading this, your father has decided that you are of strong enough character to reveal the charges the magistrates charged and convicted me of: Three counts of murder of M. Cooke and his son and of the reverend father Sheppard.
You must know the truth of my innocence though. Even a strong mortal woman would scarcely be capable of killing a single man let alone the "unearthly mayhem" that the jurists accused me of. The more conservative members of the inquest were even assured of my guilt of some sort of witchcraft or satanic possession for, "that scene of indescribable carnage," within the Cooke home.
Your father had little sway in the matter. The Cooke family demanded justice. And it was of little concern to them that I was discovered amongst the macabre scene just as unconscious, yet just as unscathed as the surviving female members of their family. Yet the local clergy was anxious to avoid the possibility of renewed mass hysteria. Thus it was a mercy that the more civic minded of those jurists offered to spare the community from disclosing the terrible circumstances of the night's events in a public inquest if I would quietly confess to the murder of the three poor souls. These men also advised that my confession to murder would spare my body from the pyre in favor of the relatively merciful noose.
And it was to these terms, Johnathan, I agreed, not only to save myself that physical torment, but also to spare the good name of you and your father and to allow the both of you the opportunity to start a new life somewhere far from that accursed cove beside the sea. In truth, I welcome the hangman as a reprieve from the horrors of that night and of the incessant nightmares that have haunted my dreams ever since I crossed that ocean as a girl. God alone shall judge me, not these mortal men, and may His Mercy save us all from the evil that was born on that black night.
Please, Johnathan, forgive my absence and honor my memory, stay far from the sea and never fornicate under The Dark Moon.
Your mother, Elisabeth Crowley