Archives After Dark 2018
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2018 Inspired by the Past
Eastern Kentucky University
Archives After Dark ÂŠ 2018 Eastern Kentucky University No reproduction of any material within is allowed without the written consent of Archives After Dark and the author/artist. All rights revert to the author/ artist following publication.
Table of Contents â€˘ Preface............................................................................................................................... vi Acknowledgments ............................................................................................................vii United States Military Gas Mask, circa 1917 | Owen W. Hisle Collection The First Breath | Darian Bianco...............................................................................1 Silver Loving Cup Presented to Mary C. Roark, 1910 | Roark Family Collection Vessel | Caleb Jordan Burchett.................................................................................18 King Bros. Circus Ticket, circa 1950 | Shropshire Circus Collection The Bone King | Abigail Byrd.....................................................................................21 Funeral Notice for Frances Ann Major, July 18, 1825 | Major Family Papers July 18, 1825 | Jacquee Cantrell..............................................................................51 Richmond, Kentucky Police Chase Goat, March 7, 1998 | Richmond Register Negatives The Goat | Erick Collings...........................................................................................53 Letter from Robert Lanter to Preston Lanter, August 10, 1945 | Robert Lanter Papers What They Lost | Jordan Connelly............................................................................65 A Sketch of the Life and Experiences of George White, circa 1870 | American Slavery Collection The Untold Story of John Smith | Emma Garness..................................................73 Gypsies in South-side Chicago, circa 1900 | Anna Kadlec Papers carry violet down | Wendy Elizabeth Gowins Trio | Wendy Elizabeth Gowins..................................................................................81 Sale Bill Advertisement for Locust Hill Farm and Personal Property, circa 1871/1882 Major Family Papers The Ghost of Freedom | J. Thomas Hudson............................................................85 Austin Lilly Wearing a Newspaper Dress, circa 1917 | Lilly Family Papers Austin Yesterday and Today | Caroline Ketron........................................................93 Valentine Letter from L. B. Crout to Mary Runyon, circa 1875 | Mary Runyon Papers Beloved, Receive Me | Josey Owens........................................................................96
One Archives Item - One Creative Product One Great Night Imagine eleven Eastern Kentucky University students with the opportunity to spend a night in the library to develop and polish their own creative work based on historical items housed in Special Collections and Archives. Combine that with the fabulous space and student consultants of the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity, and youâ€™ve got Archives After Dark, a celebration of archival collections and the creative process of telling the stories inspired by archives items. Archives After Dark 2018: Inspired by the Past is the culmination of a competitive application process, the selection of an inspirational artifact by each participant, several weeks of research and preparation, and the night of creativity in the John Grant Crabbe Main Library on January 26. Representing a variety of time periods between 1825 and 1998, the historical items chosen include photographs, correspondence, objects, and ephemeral materials. The resulting products range from short stories, including one with graphics, to artwork, a poem, and a play. All of them are unique works that showcase the ingenuity of these talented individuals.
Archives After Dark 2018 Participants Front Row: Erick Collings, Josey Owens, Jacquee Cantrell, Abigail Byrd Back Row: J. Thomas Hudson, Darian Bianco, Emma Garness, Wendy Elizabeth Gowins, Caleb Jordan Burchett, Caroline Ketron, Jordan Connelly vi Archives After Dark
The Archives After Dark event and this publication would not have been possible without the help and support of numerous people. Many thanks to Dean Betina Gardner, whose support of the Archives After Dark idea made everything possible and whose welcoming remarks set the tone for the night of the event. To Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Director of Special Collections & Archives at Wake Forest University, for freely sharing information about “Writers’ Camp @ ZSR,” which served as the inspiration for Archives After Dark. A huge thank you to Melissa Vandenberg of the Art & Design Department for mentoring the art students and photographing their work. You were invaluable. And to Alana Ghent of the English & Theatre Department for providing feedback and formatting guidelines specific to plays. I cannot express enough appreciation to Krista Rhodus for event planning advice, recommendations, and marketing. To Pennie Centers for ordering everything we needed for the event from food to SWAG. And to Melissa Abney for her wonderful designs and her layout of this publication. You make everything look fantastic! Thanks to the dedicated student consultants of the Noel Studio, who were willing to work an overnight event: Emily Adkins, Rachel Lachut, Tanisha McGaw, Kennedy Morin, Sarah Norris, Jessica Ralston, Chaise Robinson, and Jessica Vaught. To Gabi Zdrojowy, who volunteered to set up and take photographs during the event, you are the best. And to Jimmie Mayfield for the great group photograph of the Archives After Dark participants. A special thank you to my Archives After Dark committee members for your work in planning the event, selecting participants, and editing this publication: Jackie Couture, Jenny Holly, Neil Kasiak, Trenia Napier, and Ashley Thacker. And finally, thanks to the eleven Archives After Dark participants. Your work, along with the enthusiasm and excitement that you all brought to the event, were truly inspiring. Debbie Whalen Special Collections Librarian Eastern Kentucky University Libraries
Archives After Dark vii
The First Breath
Darian Bianco, EKU Junior
United States Military Gas Mask, circa 1917 | Owen W. Hisle Collection
Author Statement My name is Darian Bianco, and I am from Crestwood, Kentucky. I am an English Literature major entering my junior year at Eastern Kentucky University. I grew up an only child and I basically lived in the middle of nowhere, so I spent a lot of my time creating worlds and characters around me to keep me company. In my eyes, writing is my way of playing pretend in a socially acceptable way. I take great inspiration from horror and sci-fi works of fiction, and this process has only made me more passionate for the art of storytelling. My greatest dream would be that, someday, my writing can do the same for others.
The First Breath The alarm bells start ringing and another day begins. The bells blare once—twice—three times before stopping; giving us all the chances we are meant to need. We learned a long time ago to move before the bells stop. My eyes open as the lights automatically come on in the small room. Tears immediately begin to blur my sight. The fluorescent lights on the sterile white walls are blinding. I blink rapidly, dispelling the tears as quickly as possible. I swipe away the few droplets that escape down my cheeks, sitting up and settling into a familiar routine. My roommates are up and active as well, moving through the same motions that I am. It’s always the same, every morning. It has been this way Archives After Dark
since I was five, since I can really remember. But all the same, I take a mental inventory, committing these boys to my already solidified memory. Ro looks tired, as always. His movements are sluggish as he begins pulling off his regulation white pajamas that practically fall off his small frame. Dark circles hang under his green eyes like burnt Christmas ornaments. I heard him last night, sneaking out of the room when he thought we were all asleep. We all know, however, that he’s a “favorite.” One particular guard always treats him kindly, even patting him on the shoulder in public sometimes. He tries to act like he hates it, flinching whenever the guard’s hand falls on his shoulder—but we all know better. We’ve all talked late in the night about where he must go. We speculate that he gets to play games with the guard, and that the guard gives him chocolate and coffee. Ro knows we don’t like it when he sneaks out, so he doesn’t talk first thing in the morning. Really, he’s always quiet, and he always seems to be around in the background. He was the last one to join the room, as the youngest. Garrett is moving the fastest—he is somehow always the most alert in the mornings. He’s ahead of all of us, already heading for the sink to wash up and attempt to slick his wild, dark curls away from his face. He never succeeds. His untamable hair is our favorite feature to tease him about, besides the fact he acts like an eighty-year old in a kid’s body. Garrett’s pale blue eyes are determined, like he’s already at work and planning for the next week in advance. He’s the strict one, the one who has himself “together.” Garrett and I entered the room at the same time, so he’s my age. We share the same side of the room, and sometimes, when we’re the only ones awake, he’ll make quiet jokes about how my feet smell. He doesn’t typically make jokes. The first one to speak, of course, is Peter. Even if Garrett is the most awake, Peter is the most cheerful at all times. He constantly surprises me, since as the oldest, one would think that Peter would be the most hardened and unhappy of us all. Sometimes it drives Garrett crazy, seeing that constant smile on Peter’s face, but I think we all would suffer if Peter wasn’t so peppy. “Another day, another dollar, right boys?” Peter calls. This is the same call he starts every morning with, always shouted out as he grins and scrubs sleep from his eyes. He’s shrugging his uniform onto his tall, lean frame, taking his time. We all wear the same uniform. White shirt, white pants, gray jacket, gray shoes. We live in a world of neutral tones. “We don’t get paid, Pete,” Garrett replies irritably, his usual response to Peter’s cheer. Garrett scoots to the side of the sink to make room for Ro. Ro darts in to grab his toothbrush, scrubbing at his teeth with a ferocity that looks painful. “Ah, right. Flaw in the system then. We oughta take that up with the president,” Peter proclaims, slicking down a cowlick on the back of his blonde head. I smile despite myself, shaking my head and crowding up to the sink next to Ro. As if our lack of payment is the only flaw in the system. But there’s no critiquing our quality of life. Not if we want to keep living, that is. 2 Archives After Dark
“Do you need any toothpaste?” Ro asks quietly, his voice hitting me from shoulder level. I shake my head, offer him a smile and try to push away any negative gut reactions I have for him. We’ve all been together since we can remember, after all. In a weird sense—a sense that Garrett would never admit to—we’re a family. “No, I’m good. Thanks though,” I reply, setting to brushing my teeth. It takes us exactly ten minutes to get ready, and then the bells are blaring again. Enough relaxation time boys—time to get breakfast, and then go to work. “Gee fellas, I wonder what they’ll serve us today. Brown mush that tastes like turds, or green mush that also tastes like—” “Peter, shut up,” Garrett groans, throwing open our bedroom door and entering the hall. The hall is already filled with boys, boys who look just like us, walking the path down to the dining room. Peter grins and catches the door, waving Ro and me to go ahead of him. “What a sourpuss. I didn’t even get to mention the white mush, which really looks a lot like—” “Hush, Peter,” Ro says, smiling faintly as he steps out the door and disappears into the crowd. “I’m stunned. He speaks!” Peter cries with a mock-shocked expression, grabbing at his chest with his free hand. I’m chuckling, and he arches a brow at me. “Do you got anything smart to say, Richie-boy?” “No, not me Peter. Never me,” I reply, taking a step toward the door. “Ah, wait, wait!” Peter reaches out and grabs my shoulder with one hand, reaching back toward my bedpost with the other. He uses his foot to catch the door and stop it from swinging shut, stretching his tall frame out like a string being pulled taut. He tugs my identification tags off my bedpost and slings them ceremoniously around my neck, smiling and clapping me on the shoulder. This is another morning ritual. I tend to always forget my identification tag, and Peter always seems to remember. It’s just the way things go. “Can’t let you go out there nameless, can we Rich?” I shake my head, following Peter out into the crowd. “No, we can’t.” Especially when our names are the only things we have left. “Thanks, Peter.” ———————————————————————————— We don’t know much about the past, and we don’t really know much about how the world works now. We know what the guards tell us we need to know, and that should be enough. We know that the world relies entirely on chemical warfare, preferably in the form of gases. We know that the world has been at war for at least a thousand years, and that alliances between countries are nonexistent. We know that the whole world is competing, trying to find the best gases to kill each other with, and the best gas-masks to prevent that. We know that Archives After Dark
people don’t really live out in the world anymore, because the environment is apparently so toxic that nothing can survive. We know that most boys above the age of thirteen are drafted, and that we are “blessed” because we get to avoid all of that horror and ugliness. We know that the world has a surplus of girls, and that is apparently a problem. We know that we kill people every single day. ———————————————————————————— With our stomachs full, sickeningly so, we walk single file into the testing lab. Not that we’re the test subjects—we’re the ones administering the tests. Tests that can really only end in failure for the person in the little glass room. Our workstations are numbered for us. My workstation is #57. We all stand side by side, no more than ten feet apart, and our workstations are all exactly the same. We are given a white desk, with a yellow notepad and a black pen sitting on top of it. Next to the notepad is a little red button. Beyond the desk is the test subject room. It’s just a glass cube, with an airtight door and no distinguishable features. The glass is bulletproof and basically impossible to break—that is for our safety. I look up and down the row of workers briefly. I see Ro, next to Peter, who is a few stations down to my right. Garrett is by my side on the left, at workstation #58. To the government and the war effort, we are indispensable. Our test subjects are not. The alarm bells blare again, signifying that work has begun. The airtight doors all open at once, and in stumble all of the test subjects. The first of hundreds that will be tested today. They all look different. They all look the same. After all, they’re all girls, the only girls we ever come close to interacting with. Girls don’t get to perform the tests. There are plenty of girls in the world—the world could stand to lose a few. That’s what the guards tell us. My first test subject has bright red hair, a frizzy halo that frames her gas-mask covered face. She is pale and her skin looks soft, with plump arms extending from the white sleeves of her hospital gown. She stumbles toward the glass on bare feet. Her hands plant on the glass, press there beseechingly. She must be crying, but I can’t tell. Not with the gas-mask in the way, and not with the rooms being sound-proofed. I move my hand over the red button. This motion is easy and practiced. I perform it without thinking. Click. The gas begins to flood the chamber, a sickly brownish-yellow color. I watch attentively as my free hand takes the pen and scribbles on the yellow notepad instinctively, marking this as batch #1. I watch as her skin begins to redden, as the gas-mask begins to suck inwards and break, like she’s inhaling it with monstrous force. I watch as she 4 Archives After Dark
drops to her knees, clawing at her face, fingertips digging into the broken glass and drawing blood. I watch the blood begin to drip from her eyes, her mouth— every orifice is leaking. I watch and write everything down. And when she no longer moves, when it seems that it is all done, I move my hand over the button again. Click. The gas dissipates, sucked away by the same force that blew it in. The door swings open and two officials clad head-to-toe in safety suits come in. They grab her body by the arms and drag her out, heedless of the blood stains left behind. A moment later, another official comes in and scrubs the blood away. The room is pristine again, and the door swings shut. Approximately one minute later, the door opens and another test subject comes in. My hand moves over the button and my mind disconnects as I write down that this is batch #2. Click. I won’t think. Click. I can’t think. Click. ———————————————————————————— Click. I write down the effects of batch #132 and wait. I have a minute to breathe, a minute to look around and ignore the carnage in front of me, only disconnected by a pane of glass. Batch #132 was especially ugly. I look to my left at Garrett, who is actively in the middle of one of his tests. His cold, sharply blue eyes are focused on the glass room in front of him, while his right hand is furiously scribbling down each and every detail. Garrett never looks around when he works. He takes our jobs very seriously. He truly believes that we are doing something good for our country, that someday, by doing this, we are going to make the world a better place. That pill is too bitter for me to swallow. I do this to survive. That’s what I tell myself. I shake my head and look to my right. My eyes flicker straight down to Ro, who, like me, has a pause between batches. His green eyes flicker over and meet mine, holding for a moment before looking away. Neither of us smiles nor betrays anything—this is not a safe space to have friends or care about anything. I look at Peter, and immediately I feel my heart drop into my feet. He’s staring into his testing room, pale as he’s ever been. His dark eyes are wide, so wide that they’re basically all pupils. His hand is hovering over his button, but it’s shaking, shaking so badly that I can see it from my good amount of distance away. I look into his testing room. His test subject has pressed herself against Archives After Dark
the glass, delicate hands curled up into fists. In her agitation, she has ripped her gas-mask from her face—it’s lying discarded by her bare feet. Blonde, perfectly straight hair falls well past her shoulders. Her eyes are dark, the color of the night sky. She’s tall, lean, with sharp cheekbones and jaw. She’s beautiful. It’s like looking at the female version of Peter. Peter is frozen in time, and so is she. Their eyes are locked. She’s crying, and even from my distance, I can see Peter losing it and I can see the red flushing into his cheeks. Suddenly a guard is there, at Peter’s shoulder. The guard is shorter than Peter, since Peter is a lanky behemoth, but his tone is no less intimidating. “Peter, press the button,” the guard commands, glancing briefly at Peter’s identification tag to make sure he got the name right. Peter doesn’t move. I don’t breathe—I don’t think I could if I wanted to. Move, Peter. Please move! “Peter, press the button,” the guard commands again, frowning. I see his hand move toward his left hip. The guards get to carry guns. I’ve never seen a guard use one, and I’ve always been morbidly interested. Now I never want to see that gun ever leave its holster. Peter’s lips move and one quiet word floats into the room, only punctuated with the sound of buttons being clicked. The air is thick, and the word hangs like a curse. “No.” The guard removes his gun from his holster and I’m suddenly terrified that I’m going to be sick, that I’m going to throw up all over my desk and my carefully taken notes. “What did you say, Peter?” the guard questions, his tone a warning: Better change your tune, kid. “I said no!” Peter’s voice is suddenly a scream as he throws himself at the guard, hands hooked into claws. He’s going for the guard’s face, his eyes— really whatever he can sink his nails into. Other guards swarm in, appearing from nowhere, pulling Peter off of the other guard. They restrain him by his arms, but his long legs kick out, catching the guard who warned him in the jaw before Peter is pushed to his knees. “You fucks! You sick fucks! That’s my fucking sister! Let her go! Let her go!” The guard that Peter kicked spits a wad of blood onto the pristine white floor. There’s never blood on this side of the testing lab. My eyes meet Ro’s again. His green eyes are unflinching, emotionless. His expression does not change or betray anything. My breath hitches in my chest and I look at Peter again, struggling and screaming, being held in place by three different guards. The guard that Peter kicked moves toward Peter’s workstation. I look at Peter’s sister, and she’s screaming too, beating on the glass. She’s dropped to her knees. She isn’t looking at the guard—she’s looking at her brother. They can’t seem to look away from each other. The guard presses the button. 6 Archives After Dark
The gas floods the chamber and without the gas-mask, the process goes even quicker than usual. Her skin begins to shrivel like wet paper, pulling inwards. Her dark eyes roll back into her head. Her fingers hook into claws and drag against the glass as she sags forward. She has suddenly aged thousands of years, and she looks like a real-life mummy. She also looks like she was trying to say something—God knows what it was. Peter isn’t screaming words anymore. The sounds coming from his chest are animalistic, pure pain. Tears are running down his face, like he’s been out in the rain. I want to run to him, but I can’t. I’m vaguely aware that a test subject has entered my room again, that my hand has moved over my little red button automatically. The guard that Peter kicked presses his gun to Peter’s forehead. Peter abruptly goes still, panting for breath. He’s looking up at the guard. There is no fear in his face. I see his jaw clench, can practically hear the sound of his teeth grinding together. The guard’s finger tenses on the trigger. Peter. Bang! Click. ———————————————————————————— When dinner comes around, I’m not hungry. The image of Peter’s brains scattered across the white floor, a piece of his scalp caught on the corner of the work desk that used to be his—those images won’t leave me. I go straight back to the room, departing from Garrett’s side as he files in to the dining room like the obedient boy he is. He catches and squeezes my hand before we part ways, but the gesture is hollow. If he cared, he would be fasting too. I enter the darkened room, ready for the privacy I need to just cry and get all of my pain out of my system. But Ro is there. He’s lying on his side in his bed, rolled to face the wall. He is breathing steadily—he must be asleep. The thought fills me with sudden rage, and before I’m really aware of what I’m doing, I’m lunging forward. My hands take hold of the back of his shirt and his neck and I’m pulling him over. His eyes are open, he was awake after all, but I am beyond caring. My voice is hoarse, tearing raggedly from my throat. “What the fuck is the matter with you?! Peter died! Do you get that?! Peter fucking died! You’ve lived with him for nine years, don’t you care?! Didn’t you—” The words “love him” stick in my throat, turning into a sob as my hands clench tighter. Tears are streaming down my face. Something has irrevocably shifted inside my chest, and I wasn’t aware of it until now. Despite the fact that my nails are digging into his skin, Ro’s expression is still placid—except for his eyes. I’ve heard that fire burns blue at its hottest, but green is a close second. Ro’s eyes must hold the same ferocity and intensity Archives After Dark
that green fire has. One of his hands comes up and I’m ready for him to hit me, to push me off, to give me a reason to really lose myself to the pain that wants to eat me alive. Instead his hand lands on my shoulder and squeezes. His grip is strong, deceptively strong for how delicate he looks, but he clearly isn’t trying to hurt me. His voice is quiet, as always, but there is something there that wasn’t there before. “You know I loved him, Richard. You know that we all did, even Garrett, though he’d never say it.” Now, looking at him this closely, I can see the faded tear tracks on his face. I let go of him, sink down to my knees next to his bed. I am no longer strong enough to stand. Ro’s hand never leaves my shoulder, never stops rhythmically squeezing, like he’s applying pressure to a wound. “This is what they do, Richard. You know that. You’ve always known that. They aren’t good. What we do isn’t good. They are evil, and what we do is evil. Maybe we are evil.” His tone is gentle, almost like he’s talking to himself as opposed to me. “We should stop it.” The words are out of my mouth suddenly, like a bird flying from a cage accidentally left open. I look up at Ro, and he’s looking down at me, an eyebrow perfectly arched in an expression that would be comical under different circumstances. He looks surprised, perhaps more surprised than I am. His head tilts to the side, and for the first time, he sounds unsure of himself. “Stop what, Richard?” “This. Them. Everything,” I breathe, the words now feeling natural, as natural as my heartbeat. But then I think about who I’m talking to, and backtrack as quickly as I can. “You know what? Never mind. Never mind.” I scramble backward and out of his reach, shaking my head. “Forget that I said that. I’m just—I’m just upset, I didn’t mean that, so forget I said it—” “Why are you taking it back?” Ro pursues, cutting off my panicked rambling. His gaze is so intense that I can’t lie, I don’t even think about lying. “Because that guard likes you and you’ll tell him what I said. You’re his favorite. He gives you sweets and lets you stay up past lights out to play games and—” “You think that’s what happens?” His voice is full of shock and disgust, and his expression crumples. Suddenly he looks like he’s about to be sick—he looks the way I felt an hour or so ago. “You think that when I leave the room at night, I’m going out to have fun?” I don’t know what to say. With the tone that Ro has taken, it feels idiotic to say yes. My mind bounces back to the words he had uttered mere minutes before. They are evil, and what we do is evil. Maybe we are evil. Ro shakes his head in disbelief before looking down at his hands. They curl into fists in his lap, clutching tightly to the blanket pulled over him. “I do not go out to that guard to have fun,” he says through clenched teeth. His eyes have shut, shut tightly. I suddenly understand everything, and I want to tell him that he can stop, but I don’t say anything and he doesn’t stop. 8 Archives After Dark
“I go out because the guard tells me to, and because he tells me that I’ll end up dead if I don’t. I go out to his fucking bedroom and he… He…” His voice trembles and he stops there. That’s enough. I scramble forward, and put one of my hands on top of his. He flinches hard, hard enough to where he almost yanks out of my grasp, but I hold on. After a moment, what must’ve been an internal struggle on his part, he relaxes. His eyes have opened again, but he still isn’t looking at me. “I’m sorry.” The words sound so useless and pathetic on my lips, but I say them again anyway. “I’m sorry. I… I didn’t know.” “You didn’t want to know,” Ro replies. His tone is accusatory, but not as harsh as I had expected. His eyes flicker up to mine, and there’s forgiveness there. I can breathe again, and I nod. “I know. And I’m sorry.” “I know you are,” he replies, shrugging off my apology. He also must’ve shrugged off the topic, because without missing a beat: “Do you still take it back?” I pause to think, because I instinctively know this isn’t a question to answer rashly. I think about my bed, the three meals a day, the safety from the war, the small family I’ve built in this even smaller room. I think about security, a rare commodity in this day and age. Then I think about Peter. Peter cracking his jokes every morning, remembering my identification tags since I’m notorious for forgetting them. The pain in his eyes, the sounds that were ripped from his chest as he had to watch his sister die. Peter calling the guards sick fucks, and the way he didn’t flinch when the guard he had kicked in the face pressed a gun to his head. I shake my head. “No. No, I don’t take it back.” Something akin to a smile, a real smile, appears on Ro’s face. “Then let’s do something about this. Let’s stop them.” ———————————————————————————— When Garrett comes back into the room, Ro and I have moved apart from each other. I’ve gone back to my bed, and he remains on his. We’ve spoken in whispered tones, planning everything. Our only advantage is that the guards would never expect us to try anything. They see us as complacent, as totally mindless creatures that can only do as we are told. Garrett walks in and I speak as if picking up a conversational thread that had been going on a while. “So is your name actually Ro? Because that’s kind of a weird name.” I promptly realize that that was a really shitty excuse for a fake conversation, indicated by the bewildered look on Garrett’s face and the irritated one on Ro’s. Ro sighs, running a hand through his shorn, brown curls. “No, my name is not actually Ro.” And surprisingly, that was something I didn’t know. Ro introduced Archives After Dark
himself to all of us as Ro and nothing else. I exchange a look with Garrett, and Garrett is the one to break the silence. “So what’s your real name then?” he asks, taking a seat on his bed. He sits as far away from Peter’s bed as he can. Garrett, ever the alert one, looks incredibly tired as he pulls off his shoes. Ro is stubbornly silent for a moment, and I really don’t think he’s going to answer. When he does, his tone is sullen. He crosses his arms over his chest like a petulant child. “My name is Roland. But I hate that name. I like Ro much better.” “Why?” I ask, completely bewildered. As far as I’m concerned, Roland is a perfectly normal name. “I just do,” Roland replies with a shrug, lowering his gaze. Silence takes hold of the room for a few moments, only for Garrett to break it. “Was that really what you guys were talking about this whole time? Your names?” I shrug and look down. I attempt to pull some sort of emotion onto my face, to insinuate that we had both really been consumed with thoughts and conversation about Peter—it isn’t hard to do. “Yeah.” The simple answer earns both Ro and I a skeptical look, and for a moment I feel the urge to buckle, to let Garrett in on the secret. But now isn’t the time. We have a planned time, and then Garrett can know everything. But until then, everything must appear normal and unchanged. So I slide off my bed and stand, grabbing my fresh pair of pajamas, deposited clean in the room while I was at work. “I think I’m going to go to bed early tonight. I’m… Tired.” Tired is the last thing I am, but I hope that the redness of my eyes will work in my favor. Ro doesn’t say anything, but he nods his agreement, reaching for his own pair of pajamas. There is a beat of silence as Garrett looks between us. I am suddenly sure that he knows exactly what is in our heads, that our foreheads have turned to glass and he can see inside our brains. But then he nods, looking down at his feet, and I remember that no matter how strong Garrett may outwardly appear to be—he loved Peter too. “Yeah. Good idea,” he says quietly. And there is no more conversation, until we’ve gone to bed. ———————————————————————————— It’s late when our plan starts—at least three in the morning. I’ve been lying in my bed for six hours, but I’ve never once felt at all tired. I couldn’t have been more awake. It felt like my whole body was thrumming, all of my nerves turned into threads that were being tugged over and over again. Garrett is a slumbering mass in his bed, his sheets moving up and down as he takes deep breaths. A few hours ago, I think he had a nightmare. His breathing had quickened, escalated to a gasp, and I think he even woke up. 10 Archives After Dark
But he didn’t move, didn’t roll over, didn’t tap my foot to try and get me to talk to him. He’s too tough for that. After another hour or so, he fell asleep again. Ro is a deceptively good actor, and he’s very quiet too. I guess being small has its advantages. One moment the space next to my bed is empty, and then he’s there, kneeling to be at my eye level. He looks wide awake. My breath catches for a moment, but I whisper into the dark. “Now?” Ro nods, whispering back. “Yeah, now. This is the time he usually expects me.” The words make me uncomfortable, making me shift in my bed like something slimy brushed against my bare feet. “Are you sure that you can do this?” I’m unable to help the doubt that creeps into my tone. So much of this plan that was haphazardly thrown together in an hour of quiet discussion hinges on Ro being able to do what he claims he can. His plan? Lull the guard into a false sense of security, and when the guard is asleep or otherwise occupied, steal his gun, keycard, and map. We’ve seen the guards use keycards before—they seem to be basically universal. The guards use them to get into any room they want to. The compound is unlimited to them. We know we’ll need to get into quite a few places ourselves before we go. We’ll need to get supplies, and gas-masks, and we’ll need to find the girls. We don’t know how many boys will want to leave with us, but we’re almost positive that all the girls will come with us, considering the alternative. Ro also claims that his guard has a map of the outside world, or at least the immediate world outside of our compound. He’s seen it on the guard’s nightstand, crumpled up but clearly a map all the same. We won’t know much about where we’re going, but having a general idea of what our surrounding area looks like would help. The usefulness of the gun could be assumed. So the plan summed up was simple: Steal the guard’s gun, keycard, and map. Use the keycard to get all the supplies needed, and also free the girls. Load up with gas-masks and food, and escape into the night like rebellious heroes. It sounded simple, at least. I pull myself from my thoughts to see Ro nodding and, absurdly, smiling. “I can do this,” he replies quietly, and I realize that he’s excited, and he looks happier in this moment than I’ve ever seen him in our nine years of living together. “This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Okay?” He seems to need some kind of confirmation, so I nod. “Okay,” I whisper, and then I reach out to put my hand on his shoulder. I squeeze, trying to impart something, anything that could help him. “Be careful.” He nods, but I don’t think he really hears me. He stands, and slips out the door. And I am left to wait. ———————————————————————————— Archives After Dark
It is at least an hour later when our door opens again. My heart jumps into my throat and I am so sure it is going to be a guard, Ro’s guard, hauling me out of my bed to kill me for insubordination. My body will be thrown into a pile with Ro’s and Peter’s corpses, and Garrett will have a room to himself until new boys come in to take our spots. But it’s Ro in the doorway. In the brief silhouette I see of him when he is framed by the light from the hall, I see four very important things: his cheek is swollen and red, a keycard is hanging around his neck, half of a paper—most likely the map— is hanging out of his pocket, and he’s holding a gun at his side. He’s rushing to my bedside and I’m standing and rushing to meet him in the middle of the room at the same time. We crash into each other, hugging so tightly I swear I hear bones pop in my back. I want to ask if he’s okay, but I can feel his hands crumpling up the back of my shirt and I can feel the minute tremble of his body as he heaves in breaths. “You did it,” I whisper, giving him a gentle squeeze before drawing back to look at him. He nods, and smiles. The smile is so bright I can see it in the dark. “Yeah. I did. Now get your shoes and jacket on. We only have a few hours,” he mutters. And then, he holds out the gun to me. My eyes widen and I look from his face, to the gun, and then back up at him. “Why?” I whisper, my brow furrowing. “Just do it, okay? You need it more than I do,” he urges, lifting it closer to me. I could’ve argued with him ferociously but now wasn’t the time or place for it. I had to consider the gravity of his words. I don’t think about it too deeply. If he trusts me and wants me to have the gun, I’ll take it. I accept the gun from his hand and examine it for a moment. The weapon has a horrible weight to it. Peter got shot with one of these. One of these killed Peter. But that wasn’t quite right. The guard holding the gun killed Peter. Ro nods at me, apparently pleased, before slipping back into the hall. I don’t miss, however, the look he spares for Garrett. Garrett, who lies immobile, a rock in his bed. Garrett may have always been the harshest with Ro, but the compassion is clear in Ro’s gaze. Without saying it aloud, Ro says goodbye. I turn back to my bed, setting the gun down briefly so I can quickly slip on my white shoes and gray jacket. I wonder how long these clothes will stay pristine in the outside world. The thought of being anywhere but the compound sends a shiver up my spine, and I can’t tell whether it is a shiver of fear or excitement. Most likely both. “Richard.” I spin around, hand moving to the gun almost automatically. I take aim, ready to press the trigger and take care of whichever guard had caught up to us. But it was Garrett, standing between me and the door. He looks wide awake, despite how crazed his dark curls look. Had he heard everything? Had he ever really been asleep? I had been so sure that he had been asleep, but now… Thinking back to the way he had looked at Ro and me before, I can no 12 Archives After Dark
longer be certain. Garrett looks between the gun and my face. Part of my brain is screaming at me to lower the gun, this is Garrett for fuck’s sake, but… But the gun stays raised, because I know exactly what Garrett is going to say. “Richard. You can’t do this,” Garrett says, hands clenched into fists at his side. He shakes his head vehemently, and I can tell he is barely keeping himself together, barely keeping from screaming at me. “You don’t know what we’re doing, Garrett. Just… Trust us. Give us a chance to try this and then if—” I pause and clear my throat. “When we come back… Come with us. Don’t you want to get away from this? Get away from those fuckers who—” “Peter died because he wouldn’t do his job, Richard. We knew the rules when we got here. We’ve known the rules since we were five. Peter knew what he was doing.” Garrett is trying to sound so reasonable, but we both know he is grabbing for threads, trying desperately to hold onto something. The boy’s life hinged on order, on following the rules. He sounds petulant, like he’s five instead of fifteen. “Garrett, you know that’s bullshit. They wanted him to kill his sister. His fucking sister. They’re monsters, we shouldn’t—” “They feed us. Give us clothes. Give us a bed and a roof to sleep under,” Garrett recites, like a good little worker. His tone makes me want to pull my hair out. “And they get some of us to come to their rooms in the middle of the night so they can hurt us, Garrett. You really think they’re good guys?” I hear the venom creeping into my voice. “You’re… You’re going to get caught.” Garrett’s voice cracks—this must be his last defense. I take a deep breath, wanting to keep my voice strong when I respond. “Maybe. But… But at least I can say I tried. I would rather try and fail than—” “You’re going to die!” Suddenly there are tears in Garrett’s eyes, and his voice is barely subdued—he’s almost shouting. “Don’t you idiots get that?! You’re going to get killed, just like Peter did! I’m—I’m going to lose you guys too and I can’t, you guys can’t leave, you’re supposed to be here, you’re all I have—” His voice is rising and I step closer, clapping my free hand over his mouth. I’m trying not to panic, trying not to let Garrett break me down. Seeing him break brought me to the brink of what I consider to be sanity. He never let any of us know he cared, or that he was scared. Maybe more scared than all of us. The gun presses against his chest and there is no space left between us anymore. “Then just come with us, Garrett,” I hiss, catching his panicked gaze with my own. “This doesn’t have to be so hard. You won’t… You won’t have to lose us if you just work with us. Let’s get away together. You, me, and Ro. Please.” I take my hand away from his mouth, take a step back—I hated the feeling of the gun pressed to his chest. I swore I could feel his heartbeat Archives After Dark
through the gun muzzle. He stares at me, and many silent seconds pass. I’m sure that Ro is getting nervous in the hallway, and I pray he doesn’t come in. His presence would only make this so much harder. Finally, Garrett shakes his head. “No,” he says quietly, and my barely held-together heart crumbles to pieces. Garrett’s crying, and I feel tears similarly begin pricking at my eyes too. “I can’t. This is how we live in this world. We won’t survive in the outside world. None of us will. You need to stay here, and… And I’ll tell. The moment you leave, I’ll find a guard and tell. They’ll stop you, and I’ll make them promise not to—” “I can’t let you do that.” The words escape me before I can stop them, and suddenly I’m lifting the gun higher, my finger tensing on the trigger. I can’t do this. This is Garrett. Garrett’s eyes widen, and he doesn’t move. He looks between me and the gun, and swipes at the tears on his face. “Are you going to shoot me, Rich?” he asks quietly. My hand is shaking, the muzzle of the gun moving and dancing across Garrett’s chest. I can’t look him in the eye. I won’t think. I can’t think. ———————————————————————————— “So you went into the guard’s room… And then what?” My voice is muffled through the gas-mask. Ro is a slightly grimy image—after a few days out in the world, our clean gray and white clothes have since become browned and dirtied. With gas-masks on, we all look about the same, boys and girls. There are about one hundred of us total, and it’s hard to keep track of everyone, but Ro is unmistakable. His small frame and confident stride make him stand out. Plus, he hardly ever leaves my side. We’re leaders now, apparently. We haven’t spoken about Ro’s part of the night, before he came and got me in the room. I’ve left it alone, not wanting to push him… But I don’t think I can wait anymore. I need to know how he got the keycard, map, and gun, and I need to know how he got the bruise that is healing on his cheek, hidden by his own gas-mask. Ro looks up at me, only his eyes visible. I miss being able to see facial expressions, but Ro’s green eyes are strong enough to cut through. There’s a beat of silence. “I went in there—to his bedroom—and played along for a little while.” His voice emerges from the gas-mask, muffled but still audible, which was a miracle given how quietly Ro normally talks. “I… I acted like it was a normal night and I was just going to let him do what he wanted. But he started to reach for me and I… I didn’t want him to be my last memory of that place. So I went for his gun on the nightstand.” Ro shakes his head. “He was quicker than me though. That was when he hit me.” 14 Archives After Dark
Ro’s hand lifts to his cheek, pressing against the gas-mask right over where the bruise would be. I feel a small flare of anger on his behalf, but I suppress it as Ro continues his story. “I got away from him, and started to run. He chased after me. I didn’t really know where I was going, I just knew that if he caught me, it would be… Bad. Worse than bad, really. I figured he would hurt me and then kill me. So I ran until I realized I was… On the other side.” I furrow my brow. “On the other side of what?” “The testing rooms. I was on… The test subject side. I was just opening so many doors and running so many different ways I just… Didn’t realize.” He shrugs and continues. “Once I figured that out I… I had an idea. I hid behind a door, and when he ran past, I tripped him. He fell into one of the rooms and… And I shut the door.” Ro isn’t looking at me now—he’s looking down at his hands, curled up into fists in his lap. I don’t know if he’s ashamed or afraid, but he keeps talking. “I ran back the way we came, and I found my way to our side of the testing labs. Where we used to press the buttons,” he elaborates, as if I don’t remember. But I nod anyway, encouraging him to go on. “I think he was in Peter’s station, actually,” Ro explains. I could see his eyes light up, and I could picture his smirk under the gas-mask. I could feel a similar smile appearing on my face as well. “I could see him in there, beating on the glass, screaming… But of course he couldn’t do anything. The rooms are sound-proof and unbreakable… He knew he was screwed.” Ro’s voice is getting quieter and quieter. I have to lean in to hear him. “I put my hand over the button and I… I held it there. I held it there for a long, long time. I watched him panic, going from being angry to being this…. Pathetic mess on the ground and I realized that I had no reason to be afraid of him. Not anymore. I made sure that he was looking me in the eyes... And then I pressed the button. And I watched.” Ro looks up at me now, and I can see that fire that has become so familiar, burning in his eyes. He is almost defiant, as if he expects me to judge him. But all I do is nod and say, “Okay.” He deflates, relieved. I know the story from there. We went to the other boys first, and a surprising amount of them agreed to come along. Many of them disagreed as well, but those who stayed behind promised that they would at least wait until morning to tell on us. I figure that’s only fair. We raided the kitchen, gathering knapsacks and as many canned goods as all of us could carry, factoring in bags and cans of food for the girls to carry too. We got enough gas-masks for all of us and then some, just in case any sort of accidents happened. In the gas-mask storage room we saw pictures of the world before everything went to hell. It was terrifying to know that we had a world that was once so beautiful, and we all fucked it up. We got to the girls last, and sure enough, all of the girls came with us. It was strange, at first, being with a gender we’d only ever had negative interactions with, but it’s amazing how quickly people adapt when it is for survival. Archives After Dark
It’s been three days. We’ve lain low, covered our tracks, and stayed out of open areas. A ruined city is our current hideout—there’s an old, enormous statue of a woman with a crown and a torch out on the bay in front of the ancient building we’re staying in. Despite the parts of her that have been eaten away by time, she still looks beautiful, perched out on the polluted water in the middle of a wasteland. I wish I knew her name. “You should’ve killed him, y’know.” I’m snapped away from my reverie, looking up at Ro. I know exactly who he’s talking about, but I ask anyway, lowering my gaze to the ground. “Should’ve killed who, Ro?” “You know who, Richard. You should’ve killed Garrett.” Ro looks away from me, arms crossing over his narrow chest. “We knew we were leaving behind people who would tell on us, Ro. Garrett was no different. Someone would’ve told the guards about us either way,” I reason, thinking back to the horrible cracking noise that Garrett’s head made when I brought the butt of the gun down on his head. The memory makes me wince, but the cracking sound was far better than the sound of a gunshot would have been. “That’s not the point. The other boys wouldn’t know that we started this. You and me specifically. They’ll know our names and they’ll know our faces now, since you actually talked to Garrett,” Ro replies, lacing his fingers together in front of him, holding his own hands together tightly. “Knowing our names and what we look like won’t make us any easier to find,” I shoot right back, scratching at the back of my neck and hating the grime I immediately feel build up under my nails. Ro snorts and I see his eyes roll through the lenses of his mask. “You know, Rich, you’re constantly surprising me with how fucking reckless you are.” “I learned from the best,” I reply in a sickeningly sweet tone that makes Ro laugh. It is a rare sound, laughter, but it is becoming more and more common with time. The quiet in the ruined building around us is punctuated by snippets of conversation that can be heard from others in our group, all nearby but none close enough to really hear us. We are like a giant herd, or perhaps more accurately, we are like a giant pack—I don’t think we are prey anymore, even if we are being hunted. “Do you think they’ll hurt him?” Ro asks this tentatively, clearly trying to sound nonchalant and failing miserably. “What if they think he’s lying and they start to…” I shake my head. “No. Garrett will tell them everything he knows, and I bet he’ll actually be rewarded for it. Garrett… Garrett will be okay,” I answer, and the thought brings me a level of comfort. Knowing that Garrett will still have a roof over his head, along with regular meals and general safety… That helps me rest easier. “We have a lot of shit to do, you know. Out here.” Ro waves a general arm at our surroundings, and from the way his eyes look, I think he’s grinning. He’s moved on from the thought of Garrett—it amazes me how easily he is able 16 Archives After Dark
to compartmentalize. “This is a start, what we have here. It’s a great start, but… You better not be thinking about tapping out now, Rich.” “Who, me? Try to live the easy life? No way,” I reply, grinning right back. And despite my tone—I mean it. I stand, taking a few steps toward the shattered remains of a window. We are on the seventh floor of the building, and the sun is beginning to go down. Everyone will be going to bed soon, ready to get rest and be prepared to start a new day. Ro and I will stay up later, planning for tomorrow—will we stay in this building another day? Or will we move on, and attempt to put more distance between ourselves and the compound? “We really did something, didn’t we?” Ro asks, and I can hear the awe in his muffled voice. “No,” I answer, shaking my head. I look out over the ruined buildings, the streets filled with old, blackened cars. The air is filled with dust, but dust is all it is—this city had not been attacked in a long time. I reach back with both hands, fingertips fumbling for the clasps that keep my mask on. “But we will.” I think of Peter, and I think of Garrett, and I think of Ro. I hear Ro starting to panic and move toward me, but he is distant, far away from me. I take my mask off. And I breathe.
Archives After Dark
Caleb Jordan Burchett, EKU Freshman
Silver Loving Cup Presented to Mary C. Roark, 1910 | Roark Family Collection
Artist Statement The human form carries the potential for many creative interpretations. The same can be said for a cup, such as the Loving Cup given in honor of Mary C. Roark, the artifact I selected as inspiration for Archives After Dark. Roark, who was only recently recognized in 2015 as Eastern Kentucky Universityâ€™s second president, was a woman whose influence reached beyond her time. When her husband took ill, Roark stepped up to a position of power traditionally occupied only by men, thus serving as a model for future generations of Eastern women. In noticing that the shape of the Loving Cup mimics that of a human figure with hands on hips, I wanted to compare and contrast the human vessel with a literal vessel, specifically the Loving Cup. I find the human body the best way to express Mary C. Roarkâ€™s legacy. As a feminist, I want to promote the rise of gender rights. In turn, I chose to create a hybrid of masculine and feminine forms to foster an understanding that feminism is for everyone, both men and women, regardless of their gender identity or sex. I selected orange and green acrylic paint to represent a bright and progressive, fresh future. Gold and walnut inks connect back to the physical Loving Cup, the wide-mouth bronze trophy. The cup and the figure both become a vessel, supporting a future of equality. 18 Archives After Dark
Vessel Acrylic, Gel Texture, Gold/Walnut/India Ink, Water Soluble Crayons, Duct Tape | 26”x40” Caleb Jordan Burchett, EKU Freshman Archives After Dark
20 Archives After Dark
The Bone King
Abigail Byrd, EKU Undergraduate Student
King Bros. Circus Ticket, circa 1950 | Shropshire Circus Collection
Author Statement The things that I see influence my work more than anything else— film, photography, and everyday experiences really play a part as I am developing an idea. Before I can even begin writing, I have to dive into the internet and find reference images and photoshoots that encompass a period of time or even a feeling that I’m trying to describe. For the “King Bros. Circus Ticket,” the artifact I chose for Archives After Dark, I spent a lot of time studying oldfashioned circuses and the fashion for the time, but I also needed to find some artistic photoshoots that encompassed the feeling I was intending to invoke with “The Bone King.” This particular project took more prep work than most things I do. I’m not very well versed in history, but I wanted this piece to reflect the bizarre, confusing nature of the country at this time. In the year 1940, the U.S. was just beginning to recover from The Great Depression. The country was in the middle of World War II. Mount Rushmore was just months away from completion. The Empire State building was celebrating its tenth birthday. The country seemed to be holding on for dear life, hopeful and unaware of threats that waited just around the corner. The Influenza epidemic was still three years away. The Red Scare, the Cold War, the Texas City Disaster— all events that the young characters of this story would have to endure in early adulthood. While learning more about these events, I had the chance to fit them into a larger context; I found that I suddenly cared about them more because I had these fictional people that I cared about existing among those events. Archives After Dark
This piece ended up being a little different from most things I write. I started with a plan, but the characters wound up leading the way for the most part, which led to a whole new set of obstacles. One thing that I didn’t foresee was the main character’s inability to speak. I intentionally never confirm whether he was born mute or is experiencing an extreme case of selective mutism (a phenomenon that’s well worth looking into). I did this because I don’t want him to belong specifically to any one culture. Occasionally, I found it challenging to figure out how he was going to communicate non-yes/no answers with the world around him. It’s the one facet about him that I both enjoyed writing and feared I wasn’t doing justice. I also didn’t have time to develop a full mythology within the story. It’s very much a piece about a boy who gets thrown headfirst into a fate he doesn’t understand. I like that it ended up like that— it wasn’t too clean-cut. I think it reflects my experiences in school right now: still learning, always changing, always adapting to what’s thrown at me, and still figuring out what’s in store next.
The Bone King PART ONE— Plainfield, Kansas— 1940 As far as my two green eyes can see, which— to be entirely honest— isn’t very far, there’s dust. Dust and dead grass and a dead, flattened summer sky, all pressing down around me like a spatula on a pancake. Standing in the middle of one of these dead, grassy fields, I find it hard to believe that this is the place to be, but Danny seems sure, and what Danny says is usually the Gospel truth, so here we are. He stands a few feet away, big hands planted on his high hips, surveying the site with sharp, steely eyes. He stares for so long that I wonder if maybe there’s something that I’m missing. Plainfield, Kansas lives up to the name. Miles and miles of dead, flattened wheat fields stretch outward in every mile and unfurl into more and more dead, flattened things. Every so often there’s a gnarled old hag of a tree, stretching up toward the sky with heat-wilted, sun-bleached leaves. They speckle the fields like a ghoulish army, circling their prey, waiting for the right moment to strike. The whole place gives me the heebie-jeebies. I feel a little queasy. Like I can’t quite place where I am. Like there’s nowhere to run and nothing to run from. It’s my own fault for falling asleep in the truck as Danny drove the three of us into town. I can feel it in my bones and we haven’t even started to set up yet; this town is trouble. Trouble down to its bricks. Danny claps one of his big hands down on my shoulder and hands me a pile of flyers. “That’s enough gawking. You know the drill.” I take the flyers, nodding. We walk toward the town, Danny and Corbin talking and cursing and judging the town up and down while I follow behind, keeping the flyers close to my chest. They’re bright, gaudy things with swirling white and gold script and 22 Archives After Dark
caricatures of Joeys in clean white paint riding clean white horses with clean, polished reins. It’s all a bunch of horseshit. Sparkly, shiny horseshit. The flyers smell good, at least. Fresh ink on clean paper— one of the few fresh, clean things about the circus. Harvey keeps boxes of these things in his office trailer, each one marked with a city and a date, just waiting for us to unearth them and put them on display. When we reach the first building on the edge of town— a business, by the looks of it— they stop talking and get to work. We split up and cover the town— every, and I do mean every, available surface is a bulletin board if you’ve got the right tools. I’ve got a few handfuls of tacks and a roll of tape in my pocket— and if it can’t be fixed down with tacks or tape, there’s not much point in trying. I’m three blocks deep into a neighborhood, pinning a poster to a wooden telephone pole when the first curious face peeps out from behind some curtains. This is my favorite part of the pre-show. The town doesn’t know we’re coming yet. There’s a palpable tension in the air for a day or two as people begin to spot the bright flyers. Then sighs of relief as they realize, no, it’s not Nazi propaganda— it’s just the circus. Then the tension melts into a ravenous buzz as everyone around town begins to talk. If there’s one good thing the Depression did, it was stoking this country’s hunger for entertainment. People in places like this— quiet, plain towns with not much to do— these are the places that that hunger is the fiercest. In two days, the rest of the troupe will be arriving in town, and that dusty, dried-up field will be brimming with lights and music and all the starving people. PART TWO— Henry I’ll be honest, I’m not much to look at. Just like this Godforsaken town, I know I’m plain and sun-struck, with hair the color of fresh mud and eyes like grass. Amid the spectacles I work with, I could practically sink into the earth and no one would take notice. Acrobats and jugglers and Joeys and elephants and horses— those damn horses— and tigers and… everything you could hope for in a circus. There are so many of us that I lose track— so many coming and going all the time, it’s easy to stop caring about the trading-off of costumes and the ever-changing faces. Occasionally the odd cub will crop up and tell everyone how the Depression got his parents or how she ran away to escape an arranged marriage, but they’re the soft kind. The kind that aren’t as good at juggling as they think, or complain too much about the showgirl uniforms— the kind that last a few weeks, at most. Most people won’t tell you what kind of trouble they’re in, even if you ask— which you shouldn’t, by the way. There’s an unspoken and sacred rule among carnies: you don’t ask, they don’t tell. Most of us like it that way. I don’t mind this rule at all, seeing as how I haven’t spoken a word my whole life. Archives After Dark
I probably should have mentioned that earlier. I don’t speak. I never have. My mom used to say that it wasn’t that I couldn’t talk, it was that I just never had anything worth wasting my breath on. I’m still not sure if she was right or not. All I know is that after she and my dad died I felt even less inclined to talk than before. But back to the people. There are a hundred of us, at least. I know a lot of people by name, but there’s a small crowd that keeps to themselves for the most part. Despite their disinterest in socialization, they’re still just as much a part of the family as Marlo and Harvey. There are a few of us that call this place home and mean it. Danny’s in charge of most of us, but I don’t mind. The only time he gets mean is when we get lazy with heat exhaustion and he has to crack down on us. He gets red in the face and always threatens to take a riding crop to someone or another, but he never means it. After his yelling fits— when the work is done and there’s a throbbing ache in all of us that seems to reach all the way down to the bones— he’s got water and sandwiches at the ready. Riggs is… well, he’s Riggs. No one’s sure whether or not that’s his real name, but no one asks. He’s the head rigger— it’s his job to make sure the trapeze swings are set up properly, the nets won’t budge, and any kind of roping, wiring, or rigging is well taken care of. Sometimes, when he’s drunk enough and we’ve had a particularly good show, he regales us with stories of his time in the war. Every time he does, he pulls a long, jagged hunting knife out of a hilt on his waist and waves it around while he slurs about a man he stabbed to death for looking at his ex-wife the wrong way. I’ve seen him cut lengths of rope with that knife a million times, but I doubt it’s ever been used on any living being. Marlo’s been here the longest, and I’m pretty sure he’s older than God himself. He’s got hair as white as the chalk we use to paint the stallions before the shows, and a wardrobe that consists almost entirely of button-up flannels. There’s not much to be said about him, except for the fact that he has an uncanny ability to know which cubs are going to last longer than a week and which ones will turn tail and head home before the day is out. Marlo, for all his bluntness with humans, has a gentle, steady hand with animals. He takes care of the horses and elephants as if they were his own children. Then there’s Harvey. Harvey runs this whole show. He’s not the ringmaster— not in the literal sense— but he makes sure everything’s coordinated and ready to go. No piece of straw or stray peanut shell is out of place unless Harvey has it documented, approved, and properly filed. He’s kind of a recluse, and even more of a grouch, but you could say he’s everyone’s favorite. After all, he’s the man who makes sure we all get paid. Corbin is next to nobody to me. He’s been around for about eight years now, and in all of that time, he’s said approximately ten words to me. He and Danny seem to be friendly enough, though, so we put up with each other. If I’m being entirely honest, I think I spook him a little. Barbette is one of our lead acts. He’s slim and tall, and every show 24 Archives After Dark
night he dresses up in a long, shiny pink dress and wig, parading around the tents, flirting with the men, doing his bit. Then, at the end of the night, he removes his wig to reveal who he is, and the crowd is always uproarious while Barbette’s young male victims are left red-faced and stuttering. Then, of course, there’s The Madame. She sounds exactly like you’d think— our resident fortune-teller; a dramatic, ancient husk of a woman. Always wrapped up in dark green and purple cowls, pointing ring-adorned fingers with flourish, she draws in customers with a husky, foreign rasp and the promise of ancient wisdom or secrets of the future. She never goes by any name other than “The Madame,” and I’ve never heard anyone try to call her anything else. Even Marlo’s memory is hazy as to how long she’s been a part of the show. Every night, the line outside her tent is almost as long as the line to the Big Tent. What else can be said about The Madame? Each of them has a role in the ever-changing mechanisms of the show. They keep everything running smoothly, make sure there’s an audience to entertain, make sure everyone’s where they need to be— things like that. And then there’s Lorna. How on God’s green earth could I forget about Lorna? PART THREE— Lorna Lorna Hearse is the stuff of fairy tales around here. She’s a singer, and a damn good one at that, but that’s not what makes her so mythical. She’s a cub— she wasn’t born to parents that do this kind of thing for a living like most of the rest of us were. She showed up out of the blue, just like every other cub that comes through here. She doesn’t have any obvious deformities or oddities about her. I happen to know she can be smart when she decides to grace us with her attention. There’s no good reason that any one of us can figure out for why she should be here at all. Riggs thinks she fled an abusive household. Marlo jokes that she’s a reformed diamond thief, on the run from the law. Danny thinks she’s just a kid who got mad at her parents and made a bad decision one night. Danny’s eyes always get a little distant when he says this, and all of us pretend not to see. Once you meet Lorna, any one of those conspiracies is believable, so it’s impossible to decide which one is the Gospel truth. She’s just so unreadable, any one of those things could be true. It’s all equally impossible and likely. The girl’s an enigma. I said Lorna Hearse was a good singer. That’s underselling to an unforgivable degree. Her voice is hypnotic. If she wasn’t so elusive, she’d have reporters and agents breaking her trailer door down after every show, begging to sign her. She’s Harvey’s secret weapon— the thing that keeps people coming back night after night. Nights like tonight are a good example. The Big Tent is full tonight— people come for the acrobats and brushed, white horses and contortionists— but they’ll stay for Lorna. Archives After Dark
The Ringmaster— Hitcher Briggs— doesn’t have much to do with me. Like Corbin, we’re courteous to each other, but for the most part he avoids me. He stays out of my way when I’m tending to the animals, and I stay out of his way during rehearsals. I’ve got to say, though, Hitcher is kind of a genius when it comes to this kind of stuff. There’s no break between the jazzy, brass band circus music and Lorna’s performance. It’s real sudden, real shocking. Half the time the audience doesn’t even know what hit ‘em before they’re wrapped around Lorna’s little finger like a piece of ribbon. I lean against the broom, resting my chin a-top it and closing my eyes for a moment. Lorna Hearse has the voice of God’s wife, and they’ve got her singing old Celtic hymns, pawning her off to the world as some kind of “Siren of the Deep.” Every performance night, Lorna slips into the act during their finale— barely distinguishable from the dancers and acrobats lighting up the stage— then the white horses disappear and the acrobats bow out and it’s just Lorna. She grows somber and opens her mouth to sing and the laughter dies off, and suddenly the whole tent is silent. They switch the lights to a sulky blue. Riggs fills the place with a ghostly powder fog. Suddenly Lorna Hearse is the “Siren of the Deep” they market her to be. With her long, ghostly pale limbs and hair like spun silver, it’s not hard to believe she’s some kind of Siren. Clara Brown— our lead trapeze artist— paints Lorna up with shale-gray lipstick and nails, and dresses her up in a long, wispy dress that shivers and blends with the fog. She has each and every one of them wrapped around her little finger and she doesn’t even know it. Men, women, boys, girls— hell, even the fussiest babies seem to quit squirming and lean in with wide, enraptured eyes. I open my eyes, watching her for a moment more. I remember the first time I saw her. Three years ago, for sure. There had been news of a new hire, but the details surrounding her were a mystery— as was everything with Lorna. I didn’t think anything of it until I walked past Harvey’s office trailer on my way to clean water buckets for the horses. A crowd of about a dozen people swarmed outside his door, buzzing incoherently. I silently sidled up to Danny, trying to hear what everyone else was talking about. That’s when the door opened. We all fell silent, holding our breath, waiting to see the mystery girl. That’s when Harvey came out and chewed us all out for being busybodies, demanding we get back to work and earn the money he paid us. A tiny figure hid behind him, wrapped up tight in blankets and scarves, looking out of place in the sweltering summer heat. Harvey walked her through the camp with his arm around her shoulders, shielding her from our prying, curious eyes. The crowd dispersed like a flock of scattered birds— grumbling and dodgy— and I did what I did best. I spied. It took me almost half an hour to find the right trailer, but when I did it was well worth it. 26 Archives After Dark
I caught my first glimpse of her on top of that bright, sun-scorched roof, and it took my breath away. Her hair was dripping wet. Her skin was the color of fresh, cool paper, and just as thin. The violet-blueish bruises blossoming along her arms told me that wherever she’d come from, she’d had a hard time getting here. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said she looked like she’d climbed out of a well in the ground. I’d never seen anyone show up in a state like hers before. I think, if I’m being completely honest, it’s fair to say that I was a little infatuated with her from then on. I heard her muffled songs from just outside the metal walls of Clara Brown’s costume trailer; caught glimpses of her as Clara shuffled her from one trailer to another, keeping her away from prying eyes; I’d even seen her peeking out the door of Harvey’s office from time to time (when the workers were busy and the crowds were mild). She’d poke her head out the door, close her eyes, and just stay still for a long time. I wouldn’t actually get to hear her speak for another two weeks. Harvey showed her to the trailer she’d be sleeping in, then made each and every one of us swear to our deity of preference that we wouldn’t so much as look at Lorna Hearse unless we wanted to pick up our final paycheck on the way past. I shake my head, trying to resist the temptation to plop down right there in the dirt and listen to Lorna sing. So I keep sweeping, sweeping, sweeping. PART FOUR— A Stranger I sweep up straw and peanut shells and cigarette butts and tickets— so many damn tickets you could plaster a city with them— brushing them up into a tin dustpan that stands on its own. I’m making my way around the brass band’s tent to avoid a gaggle of giggly, polished girls when I see him: a stranger ducking out of the costume trailer, cramming something into his pockets. He’s wearing an old flannel shirt and jeans with brown suspenders, his scrappy boots sending little puffs of dust into the air with every step he takes. I don’t know what to do in situations like this. Usually if anyone tries anything, one of the other guys is quick to puff out their chest and smooth talk their way out of a situation before it gets too heated. Danny and Corbin are nowhere to be found. Harvey is probably still in the sales booth, dishing out bright orange tickets for late admission. I glance around, but there’s no one else who really knows me— no one else who would know that something was wrong if I ran up to them, waving and pointing. And it’s not exactly like I can yell for help. So I do the only thing I can think to do. I break into a dead sprint and tackle him to the ground. We hit the ground in a tangle and a puff of dust and straw. He throws his weight, and suddenly he’s on top of me, pressing his hands against my shoulders. That’s when I realize two things at the exact same moment. The first is that he is actually a she. The second is that she’s a particularly pretty she. Her face has the same sun-burnt flush as most of our tent-pitchers, Archives After Dark
and it draws out a mottling of freckles that burst from her cheeks. “What do you think you’re doing?” she snaps, jerking her arm back. I cringe, bracing myself for the blow. “Apologize and I won’t knock your teeth down your throat.” I look up at her, helpless and gaping. She arches a sharp, wheatcolored eyebrow, her brown eyes flashing. “What are you, stupid?” “No, just dumb,” a voice says from behind us. Suddenly a massive pair of hands come from above and grab the girl by her raised arm. I scramble backward, eager to get as far away from this girl as possible. Riggs is looming above us, holding the girl’s arm high above her head, arching an eyebrow suspiciously. She shouts a stream of colorful profanities that I’ve never heard before (and I thought I’d heard it all), and he lets go of her arm. “Empty your pockets,” he commands in his deepest, most threatening voice. “I don’t have to do anything for you.” “You’ll empty your pockets if you know what’s good for you.” He crosses his arms over his chest, straightening his back and wiggling his mustache. At six-foot-five with a mustache like a pine branch, Riggs isn’t the kind of man that you backtalk. He stares at her. She stares at him, fire in her eyes. In her defense, she lasts a lot longer than most— almost eight seconds. Then Riggs bends at the waist, his face just inches away from hers, and says, “Pockets, miss. Now.” She does so, turning her chestnut eyes on me. I feel my face flush red. She slaps a handful of beads and brooches and rings into Riggs’ hand, looking down at the ground. Riggs laughs— a course, raucous sound— and closes his hand around the jewelry. “It’s costume jewelry, missy. Glass and plastic. Not worth the time it took to glue together.” Her expression hardens, but there’s a shimmer of something behind her eyes. “I didn’t know,” she mumbles. “No, I expect not.” He spits to his side and looks her up and down. “What on God’s green earth could be important enough that you’d steal from a carnival for it?” Her cheeks flush red, her freckles paling in comparison. She looks at him angrily, then me, and turns her eyes to the ground, crossing her arms over her chest. Riggs straightens up and looks at the jewelry in his hand. He wiggles his moustache, sniffs, and shoves the jewelry in his pocket. “Before you go trying to steal jewelry again, I suggest you learn how to spot a real gem. Now get out of here and don’t come back.” She looks at him— confusion flickering across her face— then at me. She doesn’t need another warning. She swipes the fallen hat off of the ground and bolts toward the gate. I watch her go, scurrying off into the night. Riggs watches her too. He wriggles his mustache and makes a kind of grumble in his throat. “Take this back to the costume trailer,” he says, slapping the jewelry 28 Archives After Dark
into my hands. He strides back toward the Big Tent, tucking his hands in his pockets. I look at the jewelry in my hands— cheap, frail imitations, just like Riggs said. You don’t have to be a trained criminal to see that. As I walk toward the costume trailer, I can’t shake that thought. She had to have been able to see it. The glass pearls are streaky and warped— meant to be seen from the audience, not up close and personal— but she was going to take them anyway. There was something in her expression. I saw it there— I can’t quite place it— something I’ve seen in dozens of cities and I’ve never known the name of… I try to shake the girl from my thoughts. I’m almost successful, too. Much later, as the final show is about to wrap up, Marlo decided he needs a fresh box of cigars. Much to my dismay, he enlists the help of me and Danny to find him a place in the “Be-damned sorry excuse for a city.” We’re wandering around the town, looking for places that look like they might sell cigars and that’s when I see her again, standing outside the window of the grocery store. She’s rail thin and plain as could be— the opposite of Lorna. When we come up beside her on the sidewalk, she kind of leans against the window, mumbling a dazed, “’scuse me.” Then, with tired eyes, she happens to see me. Just like that, the fire is back. Her cheeks flush red and she marches down the street in the opposite direction. Marlo and Danny don’t even notice her. I pat Danny on the arm and wave him on, trailing her down the street with my eyes. She storms down three blocks and makes a sharp turn into a dusty, run-down neighborhood. I keep close behind, keeping my steps light and silent. It’s easy to sneak around when the only sound you make is your footsteps. She walks onto a sagging, dilapidated porch and stands there for a moment, taking a deep breath before walking through the door. There’s one street light, far away at the end of the road, and I use it to measure the distance she walked from the street corner to the house. Once I check twice that I’m on the right porch, I step up to the battered, wooden door. When I knock, I hear paint crackle against my fist. She throws the door open seconds later. Either she’s used to the dark, or she knew I was coming because she hisses, “What do you want, mute?” I chew on my lip and fumble for my pocket, pulling out the wadded-up bills I’d brought with me to buy cigarettes or a sandwich or whatever struck me. I peel her hand off of the door jamb and press the bills into her hands. I finally realized what that look was on her face back at the fairground. Desperation. Hunger. Maybe even a little bit of fear. I’ve seen it dozens of times in practically every city we’ve hit. Homeless kids abandoned after the Depression by parents who figured they had a better chance if their kid got picked up by the government. The only problem was the government didn’t have time to take care of all of those kids, either. There’s a voice behind her— young and sleepy— mumbling something I don’t quite pick up. Archives After Dark
“It’s no one, B. Just go back to sleep.” She steps out onto the porch, pushing her hand back toward me. Her voice hardens. “I don’t need your money, mute.” I shake my head and curl her fingers around the bills. She twists her lips up. In the dark, I can’t quite make out her expression, but she doesn’t say anything for some time. Finally, I hear what sounds like a small snort. “You really are stupid, aren’t you?” she whispers. I shrug. It’s stupid and I know she probably can’t see me, but I do it. I can feel her gaze in the dark, her eyes searching and scanning for my shape in the dark the same way I’m searching for hers. We stand there like that for what seems like ages. Neither of us making a sound. PART FIVE— Something Wicked A sharp, sudden wailing fills the air. Both of us jump, and she lunges toward the window with bated breath. “Police sirens.” As if on cue, a cruiser blares down the street that intersects this one, its lights casting shadows on every house. “Let’s go,” she says, reaching into the house for a jacket. “Ben! Sarah!” she barks. “Stay here and don’t you dare leave, I’ll be home soon.” She grabs my shirt collar and pulls me off of the porch and down the street, running all the way. We follow the street the lights went down until she catches sight of them again, pulling to a sudden stop just outside the circus. She grabs my arm again, jerking me right toward the action. The lights aren’t coming from the circus, but just outside— right along the edge where the forest meets the field. I feel a cool wave of relief wash over me as I begin to realize it might not be anyone that I know getting into trouble with the law. By the time we find the source of all the chaos, there’s a wall of policemen and a makeshift canvas tent, hiding something from the eyes of the public. My stomach twists uncomfortably under my heart. The girl cranes her neck this way and that, trying to get a good look. Then she spots something and a mischievous grin splits her face. She jogs up to a man in a dark blue uniform. I would have thought, given some of her more illicit hobbies, that she’d be wary of people like him. She whistles sharply and the man turns to her. “What’s going on, Pete?” His expression sours. “Nothing, Casey. Just get out of here.” “Come on, Pete. Petey. P.J. You know you want to tell me.” “Casey, go home,” he snaps. His expression wilts the moment he says it, and Casey glowers at him with sharp eyes. “Go back to Ben and Sarah,” he says, softer this time. I catch just a glimpse of something— something dark at the edge of the tent, seeping into the fabric and climbing away from the earth like something living. Something dark, and red, and wet. 30 Archives After Dark
My breath catches in my throat. Casey has just given up harassing Policeman Pete and is turning away when I come to my senses. I grab her arm, pulling her back into camp, crouching between the tents. “What are you doing?” I clap a hand over her mouth, then press a finger to my lips. I peel my fingers away from her mouth, and she whispers, “Ranger Roy sounded pretty serious when he told me to stay away.” It takes me a moment to realize she’s talking about Riggs. I clap a hand over my mouth, snorting. Her expression softens. “Huh. You do have a sense of humor.” The tents are alight on either side of us. To the right, sharp lights with purple gels— the band, I think, wrapping up the night. To the left, there’s hazy, soft candlelight dripping through the green-tinted canvas. With all of these colors blending on her face, Casey looks like a painting. The fairgrounds are all but cleared out. I lean out from our hideaway and glance in every direction, and when I’m sure that it’s safe, I wave her forward. Spying in a circus is all about being unseen, unheard, and unsuspected. What’s there to be suspicious about two teenagers when there’s a murder scene just outside the fairground limits? I find the trailer that I want— the kitchen trailer, the tallest of all of them— and survey the area. Then I take an empty wooden crate— the kind we usually use for transporting coils of rope and cables— and plant it in the dirt beneath the window. I spit in my hands and rub them together. Then I hop up onto the crate and plant my foot in the metal ledge around the window. It’s a thin, scrappy piece of metal, but if you’re quick to push off and smack your hands against the curved metal roof of the trailer, you can usually get a good enough grip to pull yourself up. Once I’m up, I hold my hand out for her. She looks at me, mouth hanging open a little. She looks from me, to the crate, the window— scaling the jump in her mind. Then she snaps her mouth shut, her eyebrows drawing together, and takes the jump in a running go. I grab her arm as she jumps, hefting her up onto the roof. “Oh. You’re, uh… strong.” I feel my face flush again. She looks at the yellowish, dust-covered roof and begins tracing her fingers around. It’s gotten a lot quieter all of the sudden. The circus-going people have no doubt been corralled back into their homes, tucking their children in and calling their neighbors to spread word that a boy was killed right outside the King Brothers Circus. “So you can’t talk, huh?” I shrug, looking up at the sky. Places like this seem to pull the sky closer to the earth— thousands upon thousands of bright white stars speckling the blackened sky like a dusting of glitter on a trapeze artist’s cheeks. It’s never like this when we set up closer to the big cities. The thousands upon thousands of bulbs bleach the night out, making everything hazy and grayish-purple. “Our mom died after Ben was born,” she says suddenly. I look at her, surprised. She pulls her knees up to her chest. “It’s not like, tragic or anything. Stuff like that happens…” Archives After Dark
If I could say anything, I’d tell her that it’s just a little bit tragic. “Can you whistle?” she asks, pulling a sudden switch on me again. I nod and whistle a quick tune, just to prove it. “Can you do that, uh, what’s it called— the hand stuff?” She wiggles her fingers nonsensically and I smother the urge to roll my eyes. Truthfully, I did know quite a few signs. Danny and Riggs had gone in together for a book full of drawings of clean, polished hands in different positions. I’d read it and practiced for a month. Danny and Riggs even worked to learn what they meant— we’d sit in Riggs’ trailer surrounded by a thick cloud of cigar smoke while he wriggled his moustache and struggled to mimic my hand movements. Neither of them were very good at it, but I appreciated the effort. After all, what’s the point of learning a language no one around you can understand? Even so, I didn’t have much time for signing. My hands tend to be occupied hanging posters or gripping ropes or stacking crates. But it comes in handy every blue moon. I nod again, but I don’t bother demonstrating. “Have you always worked for the circus?” Again, I nod, surveying the fairgrounds from my perch. “Were your parents performers?” A pause. And then… I nod, pulling my knees up to my chest to match her. My parents joined the troupe when they were young and in love. I don’t know their reasons why— and if anyone knows, they sure as hell haven’t told me— but I don’t care much. When they died, they left me to be held afloat by a hundred pairs of hands, surrounded by lights and magic and color my entire life. Have I ever wondered what it would be like to grow up in a family house with a history and a neighborhood to call my own? Sure. But I’ve got my own family here, in a way, and their messy, jumbled histories make up mine as well. Marlo could be my grandfather. Riggs is my overprotective, overopinionated uncle. Danny and Robert and Earl, and sure, even Corbin— they’re my brothers. I have dozens of brothers and sisters— cousins, aunts, even a grandmother or two. “So you were born in the circus?” she asks, arching an eyebrow. I nod again. She grows quiet, still tracing patterns in the dust. “What’s your name?” she whispers. I take my index finger and trace Henry into the dust. “Henry, huh?” She twists her mouth up a little. “I mean, I expected something a little more interesting, I guess.” Now it’s my turn to arch an eyebrow. “I just mean you were born and raised in the circus. You don’t have a nickname or something?” I think it over for a moment. I do have a nickname, and I could spell it out for her easily, but explaining it is a whole other story— and what’s the point of knowing a nickname if you don’t know the story behind it? Riggs is “Riggs” because, obviously, he works the rigging. The Madame is “The Madame.” When I was younger, Danny and Riggs used to call me “The Magician.” Not because I was particularly good at sleight of hand, 32 Archives After Dark
but more because I was good at disappearing and reappearing without leaving a trace. I could be by their side one moment, then slip away and be missing for hours before one of them would find me in the grass somewhere, picking insects off of plants or trying to climb a tree. Eventually they learned to let me be and wait for me to get hungry enough to come home. I shake my head no. I don’t have a nickname. She makes a small hmm, nodding to herself. Her brownish hair catches the light coming from the tents below us, setting her hair aglow in a soft, warm halo. I think sleep deprivation is beginning to set in, because the next thing I know, I’m imagining myself leaning over and kissing her right on her stupid, perfect pink cupid’s bow. “What are you staring at, mute?” Yeah. It’s definitely sleep deprivation. I shake the feeling off and take one last look at the sky before sliding off the rounded metal curve of the roof. I help her down next and walk her all the way back to town. She doesn’t say much, and I don’t say a word. By the time we get to the edge of town, I’ve decided I don’t mind being this close to her, so I walk her all the way home, just to be safe. She taps her foot against the cracking wood porch, staring at the ground. “Thanks for getting me home alive.” I shrug a little and begin to walk. “Am I going to see you again before you leave, mute?” I look up and down the street and shrug again, but I’m smiling. I think she knows. That night I have a simple, familiar dream: I’m standing in the middle of the forest. There’s a clearing around me, only about as big as the ring in the Big Top. A thick, wispy white fog begins to cover the ground, climbing up my legs. Suddenly I can’t feel my feet. I can’t feel my hands. I hear a soft voice in the distance, but I can’t see anyone in the trees. And just like always, I wake up with a start, feeling hot and smothered in my bunk, twisted up in a quilt. PART SIX— The Madame The show was meant to stay in Plainfield for another two weeks, but after the boy— Harry Burton, I later found out, was his name— was found dead there have been whisperings of moving on ahead of schedule. I know a man is dead, but I don’t know what the big deal is. I know for a fact that Barbette and Riggs have both seen three dead bodies each— and that’s just since they’ve been stateside. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Marlo has, and— if I’m being perfectly honest— there are a dozen more people in our troupe that I suspect might be on the wrong end of a murder trial. Something about this one has everyone spooked. I don’t mind packing up and moving from place to place. I’ve seen more cities and roads than most people see in three lifetimes. I’ve had food from all across the country, met thousands of people— some in passing moments Archives After Dark
of polite chatter before they realize I can’t talk, some in longer moments— and spent a lifetime of late nights with Riggs and Danny and Marlo, smoking, drinking, swearing. I don’t mind any of it. It’s the life my parents wanted, so why shouldn’t it be what I want, too? But, of course, there’s never been Casey before. She could always come with me, I think. Just as the thought crosses my mind, it’s snuffed out. Ben and Sarah. She’d never leave them. I’ve known Casey all of two days and even I know there’s nothing on this earth that could make her leave her family behind. But still… I don’t think I’m ready to pack everything up and leave her behind. I’m walking through the site, thinking about all of this, surrounded by a thin crowd of people dipping in and out of tents in their Sunday best, when I spot The Madame. She stands at the edge of camp, clutching her cowl tightly around her neck, her sharp silver eyes taking in everything and revealing nothing. Sometimes I think the whole witchy act is just that, an act. Other times— times like now when there’s something strange simmering in the air— I’m not so sure. There’s just something real about it. The way she talks about things with her customers, warning them about full moons and demons and whatever else… it all seems too real. From across the way, her steely eyes fall on me and she extends a knobby arm from beneath her cowl. “You,” she says, gesturing with a bony, ring-adorned finger. “Come with me.” And so I do. She guides me toward her trailer and holds the purple-painted door open for me. The Madame’s trailer is exactly as you’d expect. Thick, dusty Persian rugs and long, mismatched curtains. A shabby crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling above us, looking more like a few shards of broken glass than anything else. It catches light and casts rainbows across the opposite wall. There’s a poor excuse for a bookshelf bolted into the wall, bowing under the weight of dozens of thick, boring-looking books and a mismatched army of wooden boxes. There’s a curtain at the end of the trailer, which I can only assume hides some kind of bed. Knowing The Madame, I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t sleep at all. There’s a small round table with an old lace cloth draped over it, surrounded by three shabby wooden chairs. I take a seat without having to be told. Visits with The Madame are more or less the same every time. She whips the curtains closed and lights a handful of candles around the room. I lean back in my chair, staring at the ceiling disinterestedly. She trades her chunky, old leather shoes for a pair of worn gray slippers, shuffling around the trailer, sliding books back into place and throwing another cowl on top of the one she’s already wearing. “Few people remember your parents, but I do. I do.” I straighten up a little, my interest piqued. She taps a carton of cigarettes against the table and 34 Archives After Dark
tucks one between her lips, striking a match. “This is the first time you see a corpse,” she observes, nodding sympathetically. This, unfortunately for me, is not true. “The nightmares go away soon,” she resumes. Not soon enough, I think. I sigh and shrug. I’d like to move past the topic of corpses. It brings back memories I tried to leave behind. “How much do you remember about your parents?” I look at the floor and shrug, trying to look pitiful. I remember more than I let on, but it’s not enough. I didn’t have enough time with them— all I have is a handful of memories, and even the ones I have can’t be trusted. They’re more like vibrant, magical dreams draped in a haze of the past. If I close my eyes and think of them, they were larger than life. They weren’t just parents, they were keepers of the balance between good and evil. They were protectors. I can see the three of us in a field just outside the fairgrounds, my mother glowing with sunlight, my father seeming ever-present, ever-protective. I don’t trust myself to keep an accurate image of them. My memories have been polished with the distance of time and the perspective of a little kid who loved his parents. I need other people to tell me what they were really like. If I listen to what other people remember, I can almost convince myself that they’re my memories, too. I’ll take any opportunity to hear about them. The Madame nods, waving her cigarette through the air. It leaves an after-image on my eyes. A swirling, orange snake sweeping through everything I see. “Your matka was like a daughter to me. I meet your parents the day they arrive and I know she is something special.” I nod slowly. I remember. My mom was a horse rider— that was all— but she was damn good at it. The animals trusted her, and her performances were always something to be seen. I remember the way people talked— no one was as good as my mom. No one could get the horses to do exactly what she could. They joke about her being magic. The Madame takes a stack of large, thick cards from a box on the shelf and sits across from me, smoothing out the table cloth. And just like that, the time for talk is over, and I’ve learned nothing new. “Pick a card,” she instructs. She and I have done this a million times before. I’ll draw a card, she’ll frown a little, and she’ll tell me some overgeneralized omen. The one you love will turn his eyes your way. Keep a watch out for business opportunities in the near future. Your worst qualities will soon be revealed if you don’t keep them in check. Stuff like that. Nevertheless, I reach for the deck and let my hand flit over them. They’re worn and soft. I imagine at one point they must have been crisp and bright, but now the hand-painted designs have faded and the thick paper has become velvety from being passed between a million hands. I smooth the cards out on the table, just like I’ve seen The Madame do for her customers, and let my hands hover for a moment. I know if I pick too quickly she’ll reach across like lightning and smack my hand. I’ve nursed enough bruises from her Archives After Dark
knobby rings to know better. I try to imagine what the poor saps who come to her must think they feel. Some of them walk away from the table chattering about a warmth— a buzzing in their fingertips— so I feign concentration and try to convince myself that I feel it too. It works. My fingers twitch over one card, then another, drawn to them like magnets. I lay them in front of her with extra flourish, just for her. She watches me, a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. Then she looks down at the card in front of her, and her expression sours. “Draw again,” she instructs, throwing the cards back into the deck and shuffling. I press my lips together and reach in, pulling a card out at random this time. Then another, then another. I turn them over in order and feel my breath hitch a little. I’ve pulled the same three cards. A tall, brick spire with tiny blades of glass sprouting at the bottom: The Tower. A gnarled, grayish tree with a frayed rope hanging from the branches: The Hanged Man. And the one that strikes me the most—a stony-faced figure with his arms stretched over his head, reaching out toward a glowing purple orb. The Magician. I lean back in my seat a little, as if creating some distance between the cards and myself could ease this new, bizarre tingling sensation in the tips of my fingers. The Madame stares with bated breath, wide gray eyes locked on the card. She’s mouthing something to herself, but no words come out. I wave my hand above the table, trying to get her attention. She blinks and sucks in a deep breath, her silvery eyes snapping suddenly up to my face. I’ve never seen her look like this before. She leans back in her chair, her face looking somber and sunken. Man, she is really selling it this time. She looks at me for what feels like ages, then— in a voice barely above a whisper— she says, “Keep away from that girl.” My whole body goes cold, as if I’d just stepped into an ice box. I lean forward in my seat, shaking my head. I don’t understand. How does The Madame know about Casey? Or does she even mean Casey? Maybe she means Lorna. Or Melanie, or Florence, or Susan. She could mean any number of girls around me. I must look confused, because she shakes her head pitifully. Without taking her eyes away from mine, she reaches across the table and holds a card up between her fingers as if it’s dirty— as if it’s cursed. The Hanged Man. A sign of making sacrifices. I push my chair away from the table. You don’t know what you’re talking about, I want to say, and who put you up to this? Did one of the other carnies see me walking Casey home? Did I look at her some way that made them think… think what? That I’d give up everything I know for a girl? I want to yell something at her— I don’t know what, exactly, but it’s not like my repertoire of profanities is limited— but my mouth can’t form the right sounds; can’t shape the letters skillfully enough. So instead I throw the curtains open so 36 Archives After Dark
harshly that I extinguish several of the candles. The chill in my bones is gone, replaced by a hot anger. She’s just a scraggly old woman in a smoky room. Those cards are horseshit. She saw me with a girl— it could have been any girl as far as she’s concerned— and now she’s worried that I’m going to leave the circus family. If she thinks I’m going to fall for this hocus-pocus act, then she’s not as smart as I thought she was. She doesn’t know anything about me. She doesn’t know anything about Casey. Casey. Casey, with her fiery brown eyes and boyish frame. Casey, with no money and two siblings to raise. Casey, who’s never had a family as big as mine. I close my eyes. I take a breath. When I open them again, The Madame is still watching me with ancient, hawk-like eyes. Casey. Suddenly she’s the only person I want to see. I have this strange feeling in my gut and I want to know she’s okay. I burst out of The Madame’s trailer like a bat out of hell, shielding my eyes against the harsh, unfiltered light. People step aside as I march through, all the way to the edge of the fairgrounds. I pause for a fraction of a moment. I’m not supposed to leave in the middle of the day— there are horses to be fed and elephants to be washed and grounds to be swept— but the only thing I can think about is whether or not Casey’s had something to eat today. Horses be damned. I walk until I decide walking isn’t enough, then I jaunt, then run all the way to Casey’s house. If I’m being honest, it’s even sadder in the daylight. The windows are brownish and dusty, the roof is giving in more than I thought, and the paint on the outside has faded from a once-pleasant blue to a sad, greenish hue. I take a deep, gulping breath and step up to the door, knocking hard. The wood creaks inside, and the doorknob rattles for a moment before giving in. Casey looks up with sharp, suspicious eyes. When she sees it’s me, a smile flickers across her mouth. “You’re still here,” she breathes. I move closer toward her, and she moves a little closer toward me, and we both stand there for a moment. “I heard— I mean; people were saying that the show was leaving town…” She looks at the ground, her hands falling to her lap. “I thought you’d be gone by now.” I shake my head quickly. “Is everything… okay?” she asks slowly. I nod because, yes, it is. That odd feeling in my gut has subsided, the anger has subsided, and Casey is safe. I don’t know why I was so worried to begin with. It’s not like we’re anything to each other. I just gave her some money and walked her home is all. She looks up at me and smiles a little, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Are you… leaving soon? With the show?” I shrug and shake my head. I don’t know. They haven’t decided. I think— no, I know— I’ll go wherever and whenever they go. I have to. It doesn’t mean it’ll be easy when I do. “Is that a no?” She arches an eyebrow. I nod. She laughs a little and Archives After Dark
lets her hands drop on her lap, making a loud clap. “Well, I’m confused.” She pauses, looking up at me for a strange moment, then leans away from the door. “Come inside, meet the family.” PART SEVEN— Be As Safe As Houses Looking back through all of my memories, I’m not sure I’ve ever been inside someone’s house before. Sometimes Clara Brown and Margo Dennings will sit on breaks with high-end fashion magazines, poring over men and women posing in all sorts of places. Sometimes on long couches in shiny, wellorganized living rooms, brimming with polished wood furniture and clean rugs. This house is nothing like those houses. The windows are covered with thick, brownish curtains, the floor is wood, worn rough in some places, mottled with age. It’s a sparse, one-room house. There’s a tiny kitchen off to the side connected to a squat, plain living room. Instead of polished wooden furniture, there’s a sheet dividing the room in half— it swoops down from the ceiling, forming a makeshift tent in the corner. “We don’t really get guests.” There’s a pinch of something in her voice, and when I look at her, she’s staring at the floor. She clears her throat. “Ben? Sarah? I have a friend over.” A boy— Ben, I’m assuming— comes leaping out of the tent like a wound coil. He can’t be more than five years old, and when he reaches Casey he clamors up her like a pole, pulling himself up onto her back. A girl comes out next, much more slowly and carefully than Ben. Sarah must be ten or eleven. She’s pale and thin with the same brown hair and eyes as Casey. She crosses the room with a decided quietness, keeping her eyes on me as she comes to Casey’s side. They’re younger than I expected. Maybe it’s just the look in their eyes, but every homeless kid I’ve seen up until now has this feeling about them. As if they’re a decade older than they really are. Not Ben and Sarah, though. They still have that shiny sparkle that little kids have in their eyes. I guess they’re not really homeless, though, but without parents I think they might as well be. Casey pulls Ben off of her back and sets him on the ground. She runs her hands over his hair affectionately. “These are my siblings,” she says. I look at them, and they look at me. As someone who lives in a circus, you’d think I’d be better with children. Sarah comes in to save the day when she holds her arm out rigidly, extending her hand. I crack a smile and give it a shake. She purses her lips and turns back to her tent. Ben follows suit, smiling. Casey shrugs. “Like I said, we don’t get visitors.” She leans against the counter, running a hand over her hair as she thinks, looking around the room. “Do you want something to eat? There’s… milk, and uh…” She shakes her head, her cheeks turning a little pink. “Not much else.” I shake my head and try to offer what I hope looks like a kind smile. She smiles back. It’s almost unbearable how pretty she is. 38 Archives After Dark
“Let’s sit,” she says quietly. I’m surprised that I like being here— in a house, I mean. I never thought I’d actually enjoy solid walls and a foundation without wheels. I stay for a few hours. We don’t do much. Casey and I sit on the floor and she tells me about how Ben is supposed to start school in a month. Her eyes sparkle when she talks about how Sarah is already testing higher than anyone else in her grade. She scratches at a floorboard with her nail, telling me a little bit about her parents. Her dad died pretty early in the war. Her mom died after Ben was born. “Complications,” she says. It’s a harsh, calculated word. Casey is, I’m beginning to learn, a harsh, calculated person. Still, I find myself settling in nicely. Ben and Sarah emerge only to use the bathroom or to collect a pencil or crayon scattered here or there. I like these kids with their above-average test scores and penchant for climbing into Casey’s lap every so often. I like their little fort, armed with pillows and sheets; a fortress against all the things they can’t yet understand. I remember something my mom used to say: Let them be as safe as houses. I never knew where the expression came from, or what it really meant, but I liked the way she said it— as if she could drape a cloak of protection around anyone she said it about. I thought it was especially funny because we’d never even had a house of our own. To some of us, a house was as good as a prison. Still, I couldn’t help but think it as we left their tiny home. With Sarah lifting Ben up onto her waist, keeping him from trailing Casey out the door: Let them be as safe as houses. She pulls the door shut carefully behind her. The sun is going down now, painting the sky the same bright, summer orange as the circus tickets. In this light, Casey is a bronze statue, watching me with agate eyes. “How about tomorrow I come to you?” she asks, arching that eyebrow again. I nod, trying not to smile too much. “Great. I’ll meet you there.” She throws a look over her shoulder as she walks back into the house. It makes my skin flush. I don’t know how long I stand on the porch— it feels like an hour— but I just want to enjoy this feeling while it lasts. My fingers are tingling again, but this time it’s less like being stuck with needles. It’s more like… dipping your hands into warm water. It’s a soothing feeling. The sensation in my stomach that drove me here has subsided. I smile at the door and start walking. On my way back to my trailer, I shove my hands into my pockets and feel something give and crinkle against my fingers. A hand-painted card, soft and weathered from time. The Magician. The rage I’d felt earlier comes back in a wave and I dig further in my pocket until I find a lighter. It sparks to life and I hold the tiny flame against the corner of the card. It burns silently, tiny orange flames washing over the card. I hold it up until it’s too close to my fingers to bear, then I flick it angrily into a trough of water. That night, I have the dream again. Archives After Dark
PART EIGHT— A Dark Sign The next morning, I meet Casey just outside the gates. Danny, Corbin, and Riggs bring women through the gates all the time to “show them around,” and as embarrassing as it is, Harvey doesn’t bat an eye when I walk Casey through without paying. “It looks a heck of a lot different in the daylight,” she observes. I shoot her a look that means, it looks a lot different when you’re not trying to rob it. She deciphers it instantly and sticks her tongue out at me, crinkling her nose. We walk around the fairground, standing close together so we won’t lose each other in the mild Saturday crowd. There’s the sword swallower and the strong man and half a dozen other side shows— the people that go to sleep early while Lorna, Hitcher, and Clara Brown work their magic in the Big Tent. Casey watches each of them with the same look of awe and admiration. I’m studying Casey amusedly, watching her face light up with equal parts terror and excitement as the fire swallower breathes his scorching breath from atop a wooden crate, and that’s when I see The Madame, perched in a tent set up just outside her trailer. She spots me and begins rising up out of her chair like a swelling tide, ready to knock my feet out from underneath me. I try to guide Casey away, but The Madame is ready to pounce. She stands in front of us, chest puffed out, ancient and firm as the Great Wall of China. “What’s your name?” she asks sharply. Casey’s eyes dart from me to The Madame. “Casey.” “Hand,” she demands, holding out her own wrinkled palm open for Casey’s. Casey looks at me again and The Madame snaps her fingers sharply. Casey obeys, and The Madame takes her hand— a little rougher than needed, I notice. She traces her fingers over the lines on Casey’s hand, making the occasional hmm, mhmm. Her eyes give nothing up. She’s become harder to decipher since our last reading, and I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t been avoiding her. The Madame and I lock eyes. Her grip is firm on Casey’s hand. My fingertips feel tingly again, but not in a good way. They feel hot and restless. My stomach threatens to turn a little. The Madame narrows her eyes. “Hmph,” she grumbles, letting Casey’s hand spill out of hers. “Young people these days.” She hobbles off toward her tent, leaving me and Casey alone between a couple of rowdy young men and a couple that won’t take their eyes off of each other. Casey looks at me, arching that damn eyebrow again. I shake my head and take her hand, pulling her along. I walk her all the way to the opposite side of the fairground where food vendors peddle popcorn and cotton candy and all sorts of drinks. Maybe it’s the pleasant smell of warm, freshly spun sugar or just the distance between us and The Madame, but I feel better. I stop trying to pull her along with me. When we stop, she doesn’t let my hand go. She holds on, and when I look at her she won’t meet my eyes. Her fingers are surprisingly dainty and soft. The tips of her fingers are a little calloused, but whose aren’t these days? With 40 Archives After Dark
her free hand, she tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear, looking anywhere but at my face. I knit my fingers into hers carefully, enjoying the way the bony knobs and dips of our hands fit together so well. I don’t want to let go, either. I snag her a bag of popcorn and we walk around for another hour or so, stopping every so often to watch some act or another. We’re walking closer now. She smells like Ivory soap and old books. I think, maybe, I already knew this. I think back to just a few days ago when I tackled her to the ground. I think of how she threw her weight like someone who knew what she was doing, and suddenly I remember that Casey is not a good person. I regret the thought the instant I think it. Of course she’s a good person. Her parents are dead. My parents are dead. The only difference between us is that I had people to take care of me. I’ve had a job from the moment I was born. She has responsibilities, siblings, I have none. If I were in her place… I don’t know. I might have done the same. I might have done worse. She tosses a piece of popcorn into the air, catching it with her mouth. “I have to be honest, mute,” she looks at the ground, cocking an eyebrow. “I’m thinking I just might kiss you.” And I’m thinking I would sell my soul to the devil to make sure that happens. She guides me to the side of one of the tents, shielding us from any prying eyes. My heart is hammering against my ribs. Casey steps up onto a crate, making herself as tall as I am. “Be honest with me, mute. Have you ever kissed anyone before?” God, who does she think I am? I shake my head. “Good. Me neither.” Her eyes dart around my face. I have a million thoughts racing through my head— what if I’m terrible at this? What if she’s terrible at this? What if there’s no reaction? What if it just kind of sucks? Holy shit, what if I’m gay and I don’t know it yet because I’ve never kissed anyone? She leans in close enough that I can feel her breath on my lips. And that’s when all hell breaks loose. There’s shouting from the center of the fairground. We share a look for a fraction of a second, then she jumps off of the crate, already moving toward the action. The crowds merge chaotically, some people running toward the Big Tent, some people running away. There are shouts and shrieks from visitors and carnies alike, calls for police officers and staff to take action. I see a few familiar faces, some animal trainers, a trapeze artist I never learned the name of, Riggs’ underlings— all running toward the tent. And Danny, coming right past us. I grab his arm as he swoops past, so fast he damn near rips my arm out of the socket. I give him a look and he shakes his head, looking at a loss. “It’s one of Marlo’s cows. She’s dead.” Then he shakes me off, continuing his jaunt toward the animal pens. My fingers tingle. He might as well have told me that Harvey stripped to the nude and walked around the fairgrounds flapping his arms like a chicken— if one of Marlo’s animals was sick, we’d have heard about it. He’d have been in a rut for weeks. None of Archives After Dark
them were old enough to keel over, which can only mean one thing… I feel my feet carrying me toward the pens before I have a chance to weave my thoughts together. There’s a tense, shaky feeling rising in my gut, and I don’t like what it’s telling me. When I get to the pens, there’s a small crowd of carnies gathered around. Marlo sits on a wooden crate, twisting his thin white hair into anguished tufts that stick out from his head in every direction. I could hear him wailing before I even rounded the corner. He’s sobbing into a greasy cloth, blowing his nose every so often, his legs dangling dejectedly off the edge of the truck bed. Not too far behind him, there’s a giant canvas sheet spread over a heaping mound, blood— gallons and gallons of blood— soaking through. There’s so much, it pools out from underneath the canvas tarp, trailing down the hill toward the edge of the forest. That’s not what people are looking at, though. Hardly anyone is paying Marlo any mind, except for the officer who’s trying (exhaustedly) to take Marlo’s statement. No, everyone else is crowded around the back of the Big Tent, whispering sharply. It’s there— twenty feet above the ground and five feet high— that the message soaks through the tent, painted in blood:
The name feels like ice water dripping up and down my spine. The Bone King. The Bone King. Something about it is… familiar. “The Bone King?” Casey inquires. I shake my head, feeling my feet drawing my body closer to the tent. There’s something there, hidden just in the back of my mind. I can feel it… but I can’t quite reach it. There’s a hushed whisper as I walk closer. Dozens of pairs of eyes avoid looking at me, turning away to whisper amongst each other. The blood is drying, stiffening the tent against the wind. I stare up at the tent, then at the oozing elephant carcass, then at poor Marlo, weeping on a wooden box. He has company. The Madame pats Marlo on the back, saying something that I can’t hear. He looks completely and utterly defeated. She nods. He nods. Then he reaches for the hilt at his waist and removes his prized hunting knife. The Madame takes the knife carefully in her hands, wrapping it in one of her wispy gray shawls. They look solemn and old, so old it makes my chest hurt. I hate thinking about the day that they’re gone. They’ve both been here as long as anyone can tell. Then I remember the tricks The Madame tried to play with the tarot cards, and my stomach fills with fire again. I don’t want to be anywhere near here. I don’t want to be anywhere near her. My feet won’t do what I need them to. Casey tugs at my arm, but I’m frozen in place. The police swarming around, the buzz of gaping spectators, 42 Archives After Dark
Marlo’s choking sobs— it paralyzes me. My family is under attack. The Madame turns, and time seems to slow around us as her steely gray eyes find me in an instant. She holds out a bony, worn hand. There’s no mystery in her expression, no gimmicks, no charm. Just two ancient, steely eyes boring through the crowd, pulling me forward. She curls her fingers, gesturing me closer, and my feet obey. She and Marlo share a short look. Her voice is like gravel in her throat. “You need to know something about your parents.” PART NINE— The Magician I don’t like the look in her eyes. I shake my head. No, I don’t want to know whatever she wants to tell me. I’m sick of her and her fake mysticism and cheap parlor tricks. I hate the way my stomach feels every time she comes close— like I’ve swallowed a handful of hot needles. The Madame isn’t one to take no for an answer, though. She grabs me by the arm, dragging me back to her trailer. Casey trails close behind, helping me regain my balance every time I stumble. For a woman of presumably ancient age, The Madame can speed right along. She practically throws us into her trailer. She doesn’t bother with the ambiance and pomp. Releasing my arm like it’s diseased, she begins scouring her bookshelf, blowing dust off of some of the older volumes, spreading out over her little table. “Are you okay?” Casey whispers, steadying me. I don’t know. I feel… off? There’s something that’s bugging me, and I can’t place it. The Bone King. The Bone King. Where have I heard that name before? The Madame pushes up her sleeves— have I ever seen her bare arms? I don’t remember— I don’t think I have though, or I would have remembered the dozens of dark, prismic patterns covering every surface of her skin. That feeling starts up again— warming my fingertips and burning in my gut. She hurries around the room, completely ignoring us despite the fact that she just dragged me here to tell me something that I really don’t care to hear. Fed up and frustrated, I slap my hand down on the book in front of her and she flicks her eyes up to me. There’s a shiver of something there that I’ve never seen before. It’s fear. She presses her lips together and slides the book out from under my hand, pressing the open pages against her chest. “You’re not just some stable boy, Henry.” No, I’m not. I’m also a costumer and a cook and a custodian and whatever else they need me to be. If I had a thousand hands I could run this whole show by myself. She looks me up and down and shakes her head, flipping through the pages quickly. “Do you remember The Bone King?” she asks breathlessly. “Do you remember the last time he showed up? You were just a child.” I shake my head— Archives After Dark
I don’t know what she’s talking about, but I hate the uneasiness in the air. “Your mother told you stories, do you remember?” No, I don’t. I don’t know what she’s talking about. “Bloody Black-eyed Bone King, standing ten feet tall? None of this rings a bell to you?” I shake my head profusely. I don’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t remember my mother ever telling me any stories. She sighs deeply, clutching the book tightly and turning her eyes up toward the sky, whispering something under her breath. It sounds like a prayer, but judging by the harsh sounds, it’s in Polish— her native tongue. “Henry, dziecko, this isn’t just some story your mother used to use to keep you from wandering off at night. He’s real. He’s back.” She pauses, looking me up and down. “He’s going to try to kill you.” “I’m sorry,” Casey laughs nervously. “Are you insane?” “Stay out of this, girl.” Casey stares The Madame down with her withering gaze. I feel a little dizzy. The Madame flips through a few more pages until she finds what she’s looking for. She shoves something at my chest— a photograph. At first, I hardly recognize the people. It’s my parents and… me. We’re standing in front of the Big Tent. I’m sitting on my father’s shoulders. I don’t remember ever being so small. God, we look so happy. My chest squeezes tightly and I shove the photograph back at her. I don’t want to look at it. “There is magic in this place, Henry.” I roll my eyes and she takes me by the jaw, squeezing my cheeks. “Real magic. Not just fat men pulling sick rabbits out of hats— the kind of magic that makes rivers change direction. The kind that makes grown men strip naked and dive into the sea— good and bad magic.” She lets go of me, her eyes boring into me like molten silver. “You have that kind of magic.” Casey looks at me, her eyebrows drawing together. I shake my head. I don’t know what The Madame is talking about. “The Bone King is back,” she says again. “Your mother and father fought him a long time ago.” My knees feel like rubber. My hands are tingling. That new, bizarre feeling curls in my stomach like something living. “They sacrificed themselves to destroy him— I thought he was defeated.” I sink into a chair, that feeling in my gut growing stronger. “I should have been more careful. I should have seen the signs. The boy was one thing,” she explains. “I didn’t think anything of it until now. Nothing mortal could rip into an elephant like that…” She keeps talking, but I’m so far receded into my own mind that all I see is her lips moving. Marlo is out on the fairground somewhere, mourning one of his sweet elephant cows. A child is dead. Someone is out there killing— slaughtering people and animals alike— and she’s in here rambling about magic and children’s stories. I shake my head. I want her to shut up. The feeling in my gut worsens. I share a look with Casey, who must be thinking exactly what I’m thinking, because her eyes dart to the door. The Madame sees, and she stiffens up. “You don’t believe me. Fine.” She slams the book shut and pulls that familiar box off of her shelf, trying 44 Archives After Dark
feebly to put some composure back in her voice. “Draw your cards,” she demands. I shoot her a sharp look. “Draw your cards.” I reach into the deck blindly, pulling from the most random places I can, snapping them down on the table. She closes her eyes and flips them over, and when she opens her eyes a tiny sound escapes her throat. I can’t help but look. What I see is impossible. The Tower. The Hanged Man. The Magician. My heart freezes in my chest. The Magician. I set that card on fire. I’d held it in my hand and watched it burn away until the flames were too close to hold onto, then I ditched the last smoldering corner. My heart is pounding now, harder than when Casey was just inches away from kissing me. I don’t know what The Madame is talking about. I don’t know about any magic. “What does that mean?” Casey asks, eyeing the cards as if they might explode at any moment. “How many times do I have to tell you to stay out of this?” I hate the way she talks to Casey. She treats her like dirt. Worse than dirt. She treats her like some people treat us when we roll into town— like mutes and witches and cross dressers and freaks. I sink lower in the chair. The hot, pinching feeling roils in my gut and I double over. “Henry?” Casey gasps. It feels like biting down on an electrical cord— searing, red hot energy surging through my whole body. I bring my knees up to my chest and cup my hands over my ears in a weak attempt to protect myself from it. I feel it zip up and down my spine and out through every limb, tingling in my hands like lightning. I grit my teeth against the pain. There’s a sharp, sudden crack and each of the glass windows fractures. Thin, spiderweb-like lines shoot out in every direction. My chest squeezes tightly— I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe— the tingling in my fingers grows almost unbearable and I tuck my hands under my arms, collapsing into myself. There’s a shadow of something— a glimmer of a memory gnawing at the back of my mind, but I don’t know what it is. It feels so familiar. Like… like knowing how to play an instrument once, then forgetting in a terrible accident. It’s so close to being good, but it’s so wrapped up in badness that I don’t want to go near it. I can’t think straight. I can’t swallow. I can’t breathe. Then, like a flashlight in the middle of a storm, a spot of warmth— a hand on my shoulder. Casey looks at me, the fire in her eyes smoldering down to something warming. “Henry?” she says calmly, her voice low and sweet. I feel my whole body coil up, tense as a clock spring. She kneels down beside me, her warm hands on my shoulders. She’s never called me Henry before. “Henry, if what she’s saying is true—” I start shaking my head again, she shushes me, pressing Archives After Dark
down on my shoulders, breathing slowly. “If what she’s saying is true… we have to do something about it.” My eyebrows furrow together. We. She’d said we. I look at her. Casey. Sweet Casey, with two siblings to take care of. Casey, who I should have just let go when I saw her robbing the costume trailer, but now I’ve dragged her into this mess. She rests her hands on my lap, palms up, looking at me expectantly. I place my hands inside of hers. The hot needle-like feeling subsides to a dull ache. “What can we do?” she asks, still holding my hands tightly. The Madame is not impressed. “It’s not something that can be taught. To be honest, you don’t have the power, and I don’t have the time.” “Then how are we supposed to do anything about it?” “You won’t. He will.” She takes Marlo’s knife from the table and holds it out for me. Her voice softens, just a notch. “This used to be your father’s. He wasn’t like your mother, he was just a plain man, but he knew the risks. He swore to protect her. To be by her side until the end.” I stare at the knife for what feels like an eternity before wrapping my hand around the hilt, finger by finger. I don’t know what I expect— some kind of reaction? A warmth? A buzz?— but there’s nothing. It’s just a knife, heavy in my hand, slightly slick from the sweat coating my palms. She takes the book from the table and places it in my hands. It looks familiar— the smooth, worn-down leather cover. The faded silvery engravings. The swooping, silvery letters embossed in the cover: G.T. Georgia Tiller. My mother. I flip the book open to a well-read page. Two time-weathered tickets are tucked in the folds of the book— dated for twenty years before now. Then I remember: my mother used to read me stories out of this book. Stories about mermaids and wizards and— I find it somewhere in a dark, forbidden corner of my mind, the faintest memory of his name— The Bone King. My hands are still trembling. For the first time, The Madame seems sincere. “You are powerful beyond your wildest dreams, Henry. You know why they called you The Magician.” I remember things that I’ve been trying to smother for years. When I’d escape from Danny and Riggs as a child, I didn’t have to duck and dodge. I just had to close my eyes and think of where I wanted to be and… suddenly I was there. A hundred feet away, outside of the fairgrounds, free to wander and roam. I remember the way my mom had a way with animals— a way that people described as supernatural and ethereal. “You can feel it,” The Madame says calmly. “In the tips of your fingers, just under your tongue— you feel it in your gut. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.” This doesn’t seem like a viable plan for defeating a supposed murderous dark entity, but then she rests her hand on my shoulder and adds, “Just like your mother knew what to do.” If I had the ability, I would remind The Madame that I am not my 46 Archives After Dark
mother. I’m not half the person that my mother was. I look at the fractured windows. Everything she’s saying begins to fall into place. The Bone King. The Magician. The Hanged Man. It’s all too surreal for me. I live among men who stand at eight feet tall, women with forked tongues, and children with full beards, but this is too much. Then I remember the way people whispered when I came to the Big Tent. Did everyone know but me? “A few of us did.” I flick my eyes up to her face, eyes wide. She nods solemnly and taps one of the strange patterns on the inside of her arm. “Your matka wasn’t the only magician in camp, Henry Tiller.” Who else? Her eyes darken a little. “We knew what you were from the moment you were born. Riggs… Marlo… even Danny was old enough to understand.” I feel something new in my gut— not that fiery pins and needles feeling— something else. Something heavy and hard to swallow. I think… I think it’s grief. Betrayal. “When The Bone King disappeared— when your parents died— we thought that was it. You never seemed to use your powers after that. I’d thought they’d faded away. I didn’t even know if you remembered having them, Henry—” her voice turns pleading. “We thought you’d forgotten.” I did. “We didn’t tell you because… we thought it was over.” She looks at me pleadingly. Her voice is barely above a whisper, coarse and light as sand. “You’ve seen what he’ll do, dziecko. You have to fight him.” And that’s when I realize exactly what she’s asking me to do. I’m still not sure that I believe it— monsters, magic, any of it— but she’s asking me to run after something that I don’t understand, and get myself killed. I stand up. I grip the knife tightly. I turn away from The Madame with her wild half-truths and secrets and I look at Casey, who looks at me in turn, waiting for my signal to do something. In that moment, I make a promise to myself to protect her. I move for the door. “Henry,” The Madame says shakily, her thick Polish accent making her sound nervous and frail. I freeze, my hand on the doorknob. “You’ll find him in the woods… if you go. You have the book. You have the knife… you’ll figure it out.” She crashes down into one of her chairs, cradling her head in her hands. I look meaningfully at Casey and open the door. It’s dark outside. Marlo and Riggs and, hell, even Clara Brown are all sitting outside gathered around a fire burning in a tin barrel. Danny is with them, too, sitting on the chair, The Madame left in her tent. When he sees me, he bolts to his feet, pacing toward me, already forming apologies with his hands. “Henry, I—” I take Casey’s hand and walk past him, feeling that new electrical sensation swim back and forth across my shoulders. I’m not interested in anything he has to say to me. He’s not much older than me— we could have been brothers for all anyone else knew. He should have told me. Any one of them should have told me. I catch Casey looking at me as we shove past them, her mouth curved into a worried frown. I walk her home. She says nothing the whole time. She holds my hand tightly, but differently. It’s not the same young, fearful excitement as before. Archives After Dark
She holds on so tightly that I think our hands might bruise. I keep the knife in my other hand, the book tucked tightly under my arm. We remain silent until we reach her porch. She walks up the three sagging steps, pauses, and turns. You don’t have to have magical powers to know that she’s scared and conflicted. Her voice trembles. “Are… are you okay?” Honestly? I can’t feel anything but the vague tingling in my fingertips. I reach up and rub a hand over my mouth. My face feels foreign to me. I feel distant from my body. I nod anyway. She lets out a shaky breath, nodding back, maybe to convince herself. “Promise me you won’t go until tomorrow.” Her voice is low and serious. Just inside, I know that Ben and Sarah wait for their big sister to return home to them, safe and sound. “I want to be there. I want to help.” I nod. Then she looks up at the sky, takes a deep breath, and leans over the stairs. She takes my face in both hands and kisses me, crushing her mouth against mine. She tastes like popcorn and something else that I can’t quite put my finger on, and just as soon as it starts, it’s over. She pulls away, looking tearful. “Remember. You promised, mute.” I did. But I also promised to protect her. I know, even as I nod again— reassuring her that I’ll wait— that I can’t keep both promises. With shaky hands, she unlocks the door and I hear murmurs of Ben and Sarah. When she’s gone, I stand there just like before, staring at the house. I sincerely hope I get to come back. The night is dark and cool, and the sky is bright with stars and a waxing moon. A few streaky, gray clouds paint the sky, foreshadowing a bigger storm on its way. Maybe all this dust and dried, dead grass will get a welldeserved bath. I walk back to the fairground slowly. I need to think about everything, but I can barely think straight enough to remember which way to turn at the end of Casey’s street. Every step feels like I’m moving through mud. When I do find my way back, I still haven’t sorted through anything, and the fairgrounds are surprisingly alight. Nearly every trailer’s lights are on. People are darting around in pairs, waving flashlights around. Danny runs up to me, his eyes dark. I try to change direction, to walk past him again, but he darts after me, grabbing my arm. There are a thousand things on his face, each one more important for him to say than the last. Then he finally settles on what he must think will be the most important to me: “Henry, it’s Lorna Hearse.” The anger in my gut subsides a little at the sound of the terror in his voice. “She’s gone.”
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PART TEN— The Bone King I can’t see anything. The forest is so dark I have to hold my hands out in front of me just to keep from running into a tree. This is not the way I imagine most heroes charge into battle. There’s a fog that sinks around the earth, swallowing everything up into a gray sea. My fingers tingle. There’s an unnamable feeling in my gut. For the longest time, I thought there was something wrong with me. The sickening feeling I got around some people— like I was too close to a frayed electrical cord— I couldn’t describe it if I tried. I’d watched the people around me, trying to figure out if they felt the same things that I did. If so, they were all excellent at hiding it. Now it has a name and a meaning, though I’m still not exactly sure what that means for me. I still think The Madame is crazy. I think Casey is crazy for believing her. I think I’m crazy for running out into the woods in the middle of the night. I think I might just die out here— what kind of a moron takes a knife to a magic fight? Just when I’m about to chicken out and go home, I see it— a haze of light up ahead. There’s something ethereally familiar about all of this. I step into a clearing of grass, no bigger than the ring of the Big Tent. I hear a voice— a whispering— surprisingly sweet and dainty. My grip tightens around the knife and I take a deep breath. I need this fog to clear. I need the sky to clear. I need light. I focus. I take that feeling in my gut— that tingle in my fingers— and I focus it like I used to be able to. The Madame said I’d know what to do when the time came. I used to be able to make things happen, just by wishing for them hard enough. I can’t remember when that went away. When my parents died? Did I wish so much for them to come back that I strained my abilities to a breaking point? Focus. Sky. Clear. Light. My mom would have been able to do this, I know it. I have no idea what I’m doing. Focus. I imagine that feeling in my gut as if it were alive— a bird— twisting and flitting around in my stomach, eager to see the world. I focus on my heart beating in my chest— harder than I would like to admit. I focus on the weight of the knife in my hand. In my mind, I make it an extension of myself— my shoulder, my arm, my hand, the knife. I tighten my grip. I focus. The clouds shift out of the way, pushed by a sudden, warm breeze. I take a breath, feeling the bird flapping frantically in my stomach. I take slow, wary steps forward. The clearing is dark and silvery in the moonlight. Nothing makes a sound— not even a single nightingale. For the first time, possibly since I was Archives After Dark
born, I am completely and utterly alone. I wait. I breathe. I focus. Silence, for what seems like forever. Then a soft, breathy laugh from somewhere in the trees. I tighten my grip on the knife. Then I see herâ€” beautiful and radiant in the sliver of moonlight that reflects off of her long, slate-gray dress. She looks at me with sad, hollow eyes and extends her arm powerfully, brandishing a long, bone-white knife the size of her forearm. Lorna.
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July 18, 1825
Jacquee Cantrell, EKU Undergraduate Student
Funeral Notice for Frances Ann Major, July 18, 1825 | Major Family Papers
Author Statement When I selected my artifact, the obituary of an infant child, I assumed I would be producing a creative short fiction piece. I am an English Literature major who has been creating stories since I was seven years old and had tales prepared about my tragic orphaning and subsequent adoption by a kind American woman, ready to share whenever just the right moment presented itself. My mother was less than impressed by my reducing a woman to tears with my fictional backstory in the middle of the Piggly Wiggly check out; however, this event set a precedent that continued long into the future. Fiction remained an area of comfort for meâ€”one that I would default to when my imagination felt particularly active. Therefore, I was surprised when I struggled to write a short story during the Archives After Dark event, but fell naturally into stanzas. Poetry was a new and exciting avenue to explore, and I found the story in my mind existed better as images between the obituary lines than as a narrative.
July 18, 1825 The child died as the sun rose. She passed between breaths So quiet and soft, they did not notice, Until the sky changed from violet to pink. Archives After Dark
The mother felt something inside die, Not silent, but with a scream. They could not take the babe from her arms, She held tight for hours and hours, As the sun rose, unfeeling in warmth and light. Yourself and family are requested Gently she was cleaned, The babe’s last bath, With love and tears, And heavy hearts. The mother sat immobile, A silent vigil, In an empty nursery, Adding a second ghost to the haunted home. To attend the funeral of Frances Ann The blinds are drawn, To keep out the light. The mirrors are covered, To not trap her soul. The father cannot cry, There is too much to do, A home that is broken, Children confused, A grief left unspoken. Infant daughter of Samuel I. Major A tiny coffin is prepared, A smooth mahogany box, Filled with soft white and lace. Carnations and Baby’s Breath to crown her innocence, A small pillow to rest her head. From the house of mourning, They make their march, To a grave too small, To hold the pain left behind. From his residence in South Frankfort, today at 1 o’clock 52 Archives After Dark
Erick Collings, EKU Undergraduate Student
Richmond, Kentucky Police Chase Goat, March 7, 1998 | Richmond Register Negatives Archives After Dark
Richmond, Kentucky Police Chase Goat, March 7, 1998 | Richmond Register Negatives
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Author Statement I’m from lots of different places, but my creative roots took hold in Louisville, Kentucky at DuPont Manual High School. The biggest supporter of my writing has always been Victoria Collings, whose poignant stories and remarkable characters stick with me to this day. Much of my creative inspiration comes from the horror or paranormal genre. While writing The Goat, I kept thinking about two works: first, the Youtube series “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared,” because of its fantastic ability to unnerve its audience, and second, Macbeth, because of its powerfully unsettling rhythm. These characters appeared out of the blue during this project, and I am eager to explore much more of their backgrounds in future creative works.
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THE GOAT ________ A Play in One Act by Erick Collings
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Cast of Characters Grandma:
middle-aged woman,detached, traumatized
young boy no older than twelve years of age.
middle-aged man, police officer.
Scene The South. Time Early 1980s.
Archives After Dark
ACT 1 SETTING:
The left half of the stage is GRANDMAâ€™s living room. Empty picture frames are hung on the wall, which create a very unsettling atmosphere. The furniture is sparse, but should be asymmetrical. The right half of the stage is an empty field, surrounded by a wire fence. There is a fence or divide between the two halves of the stage.
In the living room half, GRANDMA is seated in a plain, antique rocking chair stage right. As GRANDMA rocks back and forth, an audible creaking sound is heard during the silence. BENJAMIN is seated across from her on the floor, stage left. The sound of the creaking of the rocking chair and the silence between creaks should punctuate and comment on the story throughout. GRANDMA and BENJAMIN are illuminated.
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BENJAMIN I know you haven’t been feelin’ good lately, but maybe can I have a story tonight, Grandma? I just been missin’ how we used to talk before-- you know. GRANDMA What kinda story you want? BENJAMIN Well I was thinkin’ a nice story ‘bout Papa from when he was still alive. GRANDMA Your papa was troubled. He’d have these episodes. Lord knows I didn’t think nothin’ of it. One night he was on patrol; had another one of these episodes. BENJAMIN Grandma, I don’t wanna hear this story again. GRANDMA I didn’t think nothin’ of it. Dispatch reported they had gotten a real peculiar call. (From off stage, we hear a voice.) “Something goin’ on ‘round the field outside the town limits near Boone forest; go on and check it out.”
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GRANDMA (continuing on, absently) So down your papa went. He rolled on over to the big ole open field that was boxed in by the plain wire fence at the edge of town. It was ‘bout midnight. (Enter PAPA stage right with a flashlight on the empty field side.) Your papa didn’t see much of anythin’ ‘cept brush. But as he kept lookin’ ‘round with his flashlight, he noticed something streak across the field-somethin’ fast and black as sin. (A dark shadow cuts upstage from down stage left and startles PAPA.) BENJAMIN Grandma, please. GRANDMA He could see it was some kinda beastie, but he was superstitious-you know, believin’ in all sorts of things like Bigfoot, and wendigos, and banshees, and demons. Bein’ out there all by hisself, he knew somethin’ wa’nt quite right, like it was more than just another episode. His skin itched and curled and crawled the longer he stayed there lookin’ for this thing. He didn’t think nothin’
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of it. He couldn’t hardly see, but he sure could hear. He started hearin’ this horrible snortin’ and groanin’ and retchin’. Your papa called out-Hello?
GRANDMA -- but whatever it was, it sure wasn’t callin’ back. He heard it all around ‘im, everywhere all at once: in front of him, to the left, to the right, behind him, above him and below him and ringin’ through the night he heard them sickly grunts. (Actors dressed in black crawling through the audience making animalistic snorting, retching, moaning sounds. As an alternative, recorded sounds played overhead at an alarming volume.) Papa spun ‘round lookin’ with his flashlight, only ever catchin’ glimpses but never gettin’ a good enough look to tell what on earth it was. (PAPA’s motions become more and more erratic and panicked.) Papa looked back to see where his cruiser was, and it was just gone.
Archives After Dark
Nowhere in sight. He started panickin’ somethin’ awful and decided to start headin’ back toward where he come from, creepin’ one step at a time. (PAPA begins to slowly walk down stage left with his flashlight pointed down.) Once he got his wits back, he’d walked back to where he’d thought he’d parked, but the cruiser just wa’nt there no more. BENJAMIN I don’t wanna hear this no more. GRANDMA Papa walked back to the road, and turned around to look back at the field which had got real silent. Standin’ not two inches in front of him was the biggest, blackest billy goat he ever did see. That goat... Its eyes were pourin’ blood and its mouth was slack open but it stood there perfectly still starin’ right at your papa like it was damn right fixin’ ta kill him. (BENJAMIN turns his face away. Lights fade from the field half of the stage.) He yelled or dropped down or turned away for just a half a second, and it was gone. Like it wasn’t ever there. He didn’t think anything of it. I
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didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t think anything of it. Papa just walked around and around ‘til he found the cruiser parked somewhere he must’ve left it. BENJAMIN (facing away from GRANDMA) Stop, Grandma. I don’t wanna hear this no more! GRANDMA (Her voice escalates in horror until she is practically shrieking, her hands slowly raise, open-palmed and outstretched toward the audience.) He drove home. Didn’t think nothin’ of it. He drove home. Found that damn goat dead right there on our front porch step. I came outside. He told me everythin’. Buried that goddamn goat carcass. That goddamn goat. Said he heard it whisperin’. Snortin’. Groanin’ there in the dirt under his feet. I didn’t think nothin’-- I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know what he was fixin’ ta do! (BENJAMIN turns, and moves to cup his hands
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around GRANDMA’s hands. GRANDMA is quiet and absent again.) So I went to bed. Your papa went out back to the shed, grabbed his shotgun. He didn’t think nothin’ of it after he pulled that trigger. (BENJAMIN envelops GRANDMA in an embrace.) BENJAMIN No more stories now, Grandma. (BLACKOUT) (END OF ACT)
64 Archives After Dark
What They Lost
Jordan Connelly, EKU Sophomore
Letter from Robert Lanter to Preston Lanter, August 10, 1945 | Robert Lanter Papers Archives After Dark
Author Statement My name’s Jordan Connelly, and I’m a sophomore here at EKU, majoring in English (Creative Writing) and minoring in History. Though EKU quickly became my home after I started attending here last year, I’m actually from the southwestern portion of Ohio, not Kentucky at all. Typically, I enjoy writing short fiction inspired by everything from the music I listen to, to images I find on the internet. So to write a piece inspired by an item from the Archives definitely struck my interest. All of the items in the Archives have a story to tell, and I’m glad I was able to play a part in bringing awareness to them. I applied for Archives After Dark with the intention of challenging myself and pushing the boundaries of my writing skills. To craft an entire story from start to finish in such a limited amount of time was definitely the challenge I anticipated it to be, perhaps even more so, but worth it. I learned a great deal about what I need to be a successful writer and to write a story I’m ultimately pleased with. I thank the Library and the Archives for this wonderful opportunity to get to know myself better as a writer.
What They Lost Richard dreaded nights aboard the submarine, and he was only a year into his service overseas. He wasn’t sure which was worse: the way the tumultuous waves rocked against the hull, or the foul blend of diesel fuel and body odor that hung on the stale air. Regardless, the presence of both did no favors to Richard’s stomach. Combined with his worsening insomnia, Richard wished for nothing more than the opportunity to throw himself into the icy waters just outside his porthole. There were five other men crowded into the room with him, and all things considered, Richard didn’t know how they were capable of finding slumber. The only sounds were those of their snores and the occasional creak of a mattress spring when they turned. Richard did too much of that. He beat his pillow flat and kicked at the scratchy standard issue blanket until it lay in a tangled heap at his feet. However, all of his efforts were in vain for he still couldn’t find the sweet release of sleep. Richard rubbed at his eyes, certain that they would be red and swollen come morning. It was on nights like these that the ache for home became a gaping thing in his chest that swallowed his heart whole. There were men aboard that submarine who refused to speak of what their lives had been like in the States, as though their experiences were something that had occurred to another person. And maybe there was some truth to that, for really, would any of them be the same once this nightmare was over? Still, Richard couldn’t resist the call of home. At night, once he forced his body to go still, he thought of his aging father tucked away beneath the body 66 Archives After Dark
of a Ford, working harder than he should with grease caked into the cracks on his hands. He thought of Carol’s hair between his fingers, too soft to be real; the taste of bourbon on a hot day; the scent of the pavement after heavy rain. More than anything he thought of running, feeling nothing but the slap of his shoes on the sidewalk and his own breath scraping against his throat. He’d run in high school. Been good at it, too. When he ran, he could shed his worldly concerns like an unwanted winter coat. The world became all the clearer, and he missed that clarity fervently. Maybe, in a world where there was no war threatening to tear the world apart at the seams, he would have done something with that skill. But Richard didn’t dwell on the prospect for long. There was no point to imagining a world without a war. Nothing was predictable out in the Pacific. No day was guaranteed. And the perpetual uncertainty was enough to drive a man mad. Richard closed his eyes and steadied his breathing, falling deep enough into his own mind to consider the presence of the other sailors a hazy dream. If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost convince himself that he was drawing crisp night air into his lungs. ———————————————————————————— One of the bragging points of the Navy was that their food was better than any other branch of the military. Richard didn’t understand why this was important. Men were constantly coming and going from their watches, and the strict rotation meant little time to eat. How a dish tasted hardly mattered when sailors inhaled rather than savored it. It was during breakfast one morning that Richard met Thomas, a rosy-cheeked young man from Tennessee, who clearly had yet to see anything resembling combat. There was a certain glimmer to his bright blue eyes that tipped Richard off, for he’d had it too when he first started out. Two years of service were more than enough to strip him of that naivete. That morning, Thomas tried to strike up casual conversation in between fervent bites of something they’d been assured was toast. Richard admired the effort. “What brings you to these parts, anyhow?” It took a moment for Richard to grasp the meaning of Thomas’ question. “Same as anyone else, I’d guess,” he replied. The water in his glass tasted metallic; he downed it in one gulp and grimaced. “We were attacked and we couldn’t let it go unanswered, y’know? I don’t think any of us want to see any more people die. That’s why I’m here, at least.” Thomas hummed thoughtfully, his jovial expression turning contemplative. “Sure,” he said. “Yeah, that’s a good reason, I reckon.” “What?” Thomas paused in his chewing. “Whaddya mean, what?” “Well, what’s your reason?” Richard rested his chin in one palm, the food cleared from his plate. “Sounds like you might have a different view on Archives After Dark
the matter, that’s all I’m saying.” Thomas shrugged and studiously avoided Richard’s gaze. “Things aren’t too good for me back in the States,” he admitted. “I figured if I came out here, maybe I could make a difference. At least for someone.” Curiosity piqued, Richard opened his mouth to ask more, but it was then that a new crowd of men swarmed into the mess for their meals. He mumbled a few choice words under his breath and grabbed his tray. To Thomas, he smiled and said, “Nice meetin’ you. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other here soon.” Richard tried not to think of when that would be, or how Thomas’ visage would change in the meantime. Maybe he’d be one of the lucky ones, and the vacant stare would be adopted later. Thomas grinned; never had his rosy cheeks appeared more out of place. ———————————————————————————— For many sailors, mail day was the only occurrence they lived for. Men who couldn’t recall the last time they smiled suddenly found themselves grinning to the point they thought their cheeks would crack under the pressure. They would hold the letters they received with a kind of reverence Richard had only ever seen in church. In fact, he couldn’t help the smile that rose to his own face at the sight of his father’s familiar, blocky scrawl on the envelope. It was no match for Charlie’s, though. Then again, for as long as Richard had known him, Charlie surpassed all others in everything he did. He laughed the loudest, talked the most, and (tried) to sleep the longest. He also talked about his sweetheart more than any man Richard ever met. Her name was Joyce, but Charlie never called her that, only Joy, and the two had plans to marry once the war was over. Whenever that would be. While Richard kept the contents of his letters to himself, Charlie saw no issue in telling him everything that Joyce wrote in his, from the state of his parents to his baby sister’s violin recital. Richard hummed his acknowledgment in all the right places, absently folding his father’s letter in on itself as he did so. Eventually Charlie fell silent, though Richard wasn’t sure if it was because he’d finally run out of things to say or because he realized Richard wasn’t paying attention. “Tell me something, Rich.” Charlie removed a cigarette from a pocket on his uniform. “Why’s your old man the only one who writes you, huh?” Richard scowled. “’Cause there’s no one else, why d’you think?” he retorted. “Whoa now, no need to get so defensive,” Charlie said, raising his hands in a placating gesture, but the suggestive arch of his brows stripped away any sincerity. “But you mean to tell me there isn’t some girl pining for you back in the States?” 68 Archives After Dark
Richard swallowed thickly. As much as he missed home, there were certain points his mind elected to gloss over, and she was one of them. Sensing the newfound tension in the air, Charlie’s smile faltered. “Sorry, Rich, I didn’t mean--” “There might’ve been, once,” Richard said softly. “Not anymore though.” Charlie watched him for a long moment, worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth. Clearly, his joking nature wasn’t suited to such heavy conversations. “You want to talk about it?” “What’s there to say?” “You could start with a name.” Richard considered Charlie for a moment. His friend squirmed beneath his scrutiny and looked ready to apologize once more when he spoke. “Carol,” he murmured. “Carol Wilson.” Charlie’s shoulders slumped with some form of relief. “That’s a nice name. Real pretty,” he observed. “She was a nice girl,” agreed Richard. “What happened to her, then?” Richard fell silent, eyes fixed on the porthole just over Charlie’s shoulder. All he could see was the inky blackness of the water encasing them on all sides. It was a familiar color, he realized, the same as Carol’s curls in dim light. Much of that night lay in the realm of what Richard wished he could forget. His last wish was to disappoint Carol in any way, much less upset her, but not enlisting was never an option. He could still feel the sting of her nails digging into his arm, the weight of her pleading gaze. He begged her to wait. Carol, after all, was a girl Richard could see himself marrying. Buying a little house, settling down, growing wrinkled and old but loving each other just the same. She refused with the argument that he didn’t know when the war would end, or if he would ever come back at all. How, she demanded, was she supposed to live with that uncertainty? It was that evening, as he watched her walk away, that an unshakable cold seeped into his bones, made brittle with what he lost. “Not every girl’s willing to wait through an entire war,” he said at last. Charlie regarded his own letter as though through new eyes. “I see.” Richard doubted he did but didn’t comment on it. Instead he contemplated what it must be like to have someone to fight for, and how his life may have been different had Carol decided to stay. ———————————————————————————— “Your handwriting looks like shit.” Richard’s grip on his pen tightened until his knuckles burned white. “Last I checked, no one asked you,” he said, shoving Charlie and his raucous laughter away. “And do you really need to smoke that here? God knows it smells awful enough as is.” “I swear, Rich,” Charlie lamented, “you’re the only man I know who Archives After Dark
can’t find joy in a good cigarette.” “I really doubt those cigarettes are as good as you claim they are,” Richard said dryly. He returned his attention to the paper in front of him, biting the end of his pen. The paper was standard issue and too thin, the ink bleeding through. Already there were multiple places where he had crossed out words he started wrong, and he knew that--though he couldn’t detect them himself--there were a plethora of spelling errors within his lines. Richard had many practical skills, but a way with words was not one of them. Before Charlie could work up a witty retort, another officer burst into the room, not quite out of breath but still visibly shaken. His frantic gaze darted between Richard and Charlie. “Have you fellas heard the news?” he demanded. Richard slowly released his pen. Charlie pushed himself off the edge of the desk, cigarette dangling limply from his lips. “Heard what news?” asked Richard warily. “One of ours got blown sky high!” the sailor exclaimed. Richard shot up from his seat, the chair nearly toppling over in the process. “They’re posting the names now--” Richard didn’t wait to hear the rest. He pushed past the sailor--a new recruit, he was sure, and for a moment he felt bad that the boot had been tasked with the spread of such awful news--and down the narrow hallways to the bridge. A crowd was already gathering, insistent on hearing the names of their fallen comrades. Though none struck Richard as familiar, each man listed as dead added another rock to his stomach. It didn’t matter how many submarines were destroyed or warships sunk: the loss didn’t get easier. The present commanding officer held up a finger for quiet, then announced the next name. “Thomas Miller, Knoxville, Tennessee--” Richard’s blood ran cold, and for a brief moment he didn’t know why. Then it struck him: the rosy-cheeked sailor he’d met so many months ago in the mess, who insisted on conversing with him when he’d had no real reason to. Grinning. Hopeful. Dead. Richard leaned against the wall. There was a hand on his shoulder and the overpowering smell of cigarette smoke in his nose. Green eyes met deep brown. Charlie frowned. “Rich, c’mon, you’re worrying me.” “Did you hear that?” Charlie’s brow furrowed. “Hear what?” “That name. Thomas. From Tennessee.” “Uh... Sure. Yeah, I heard.” Charlie stepped back. “Why?” “I met him. Once.” Charlie’s expression sobered. Richard pressed one hand to his forehead. He felt his heart beating in his throat. “He just wanted to make a difference, Charlie,” he muttered. Richard wasn’t sure why he was reacting so strongly to the death of a man he’d only 70 Archives After Dark
spoken to for five, maybe ten minutes, but the “why” wasn’t important. All that mattered in that moment was that he was, and he thought he’d be sick. “That’s what he told me. He said his life in the States was hell and he came here to make a difference. And now he’s dead.” For once, Charlie had no response. And for once, Richard was glad for the quiet that ensued. ———————————————————————————— Richard realized in August of 1945 that he’d spent three years of his life fighting in the world’s war. He also realized that those were three years he would never get back. He wished he could have been one of those guys over in Europe. For them, the war ended in May. They seemed to have the Japanese on the ropes there in the Pacific, but they were holding on in spite of the odds, and no one knew when the war would finally be over. That was when the first bomb was dropped. Until that day, Richard didn’t know it was possible for the submarine to become so silent. Most of the sailors kept to themselves in quiet contemplation. There was no doubt that this atomic bomb sealed Japan’s fate, but was it necessary? The U.S. claimed a decisive victory, but what vital part of itself did it lose in the process? Richard was unable to stop his mind from straying to the people. Innocent people, ones who wanted no part in this war, trying to go about lives that had suddenly and irrevocably been changed, even lost. Ripped from their unsuspecting grasps. Those people weren’t fighting. They weren’t the enemy, and yet they were the ones forced to pay the price. Where was the victory in that? As though sensing the unrest among their crew, those higher in the chain of command decided to host a showing of movies a few nights later. Films were Richard’s favorite luxury offered by the Navy, and the distraction became all the more welcome in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It offered a glimpse of normalcy in the midst of a turbulent life. Later, Richard would be unable to describe what movie he’d been watching or what about it had captivated him so. But he would never forget the sudden shrieking of the sirens, followed closely by a multitude of horns and whistles. It was as though every ship in the harbor had decided to sound off all at once. In a way, that wasn’t far from the truth. Richard’s heart seized in his chest. Beside him, Charlie’s cigarette fell from slack lips. In a voice so loud and raw that his voice cracked halfway, another sailor screamed, “The war is over!” For a long moment, Richard found he was unable to move, deafened by the blood roaring in his ears. Charlie was the first to recover, whooping at the top of his lungs and pulling Richard to him with such force that the latter knew he would bear the bruises on his arms later. The other sailors above Archives After Dark
deck followed suit immediately. In the minutes that followed, ships flipped on every light in their arsenals, the powerful search beams cutting through the dark with ease. Then came the fireworks: brilliant flares in red and white and green, painting the night. The closest comparison Richard could draw was the World Fair, but that was as effective as placing a candle beside a bonfire. Nothing before or after would ever match the sight of what was unfolding before his very eyes. The celebration lasted for hours. Never before was so much joy collected in one place, as exhilarating as a match placed next to kerosene. Never had Richard laughed as he did that night. Never had Richard cried as he did that night either, burdened by the memories of Thomas and the Japanese and Carol and everyone in between. By midnight the ships ran out of ammo and the sailors out of breath. Charlie collapsed on his cot and fell asleep smiling, a box of matches still in his grasp. Richard retrieved paper and a pen, the edge of which he tapped against his grinning lips. There was no reality where he would allow himself to forget the significance of this night. Though he lacked a grace with words, he would ensure that his father was the first to know.
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The Untold Story of John Smith
Emma Garness, EKU Undergraduate Student
A Sketch of the Life and Experiences of George White, circa 1870 | American Slavery Collection Archives After Dark
Artist Statement This is the untold story of John Smith, the slave owner of George Smith. It is based on “A Sketch of the Life and Experiences of George White,” the document that I chose as inspiration for Archives After Dark. In this document, a former enslaved man by the name of George tells the story of his life as a slave, and how he was treated by his owners. After the death of his mother, as well as his sister and brother, George felt he had no one left. He states that his master and mistress were “as kind to me as if I had been one of their own children.” George credits his eventual manumission on his obedience, honesty, and good character. Through my creative work, I hope to tell the other side of George’s story by writing from the point of view of John Smith, George’s seemingly reluctant master--but slave-owner, nonetheless. Parts of the original archival document and George’s own story are woven into my creative work to give a hint of accuracy to the tale, establishing a bridge between real life and fiction. Ultimately, this is still a work of fiction and in no way does it reflect my views, or the views of this publication.
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carry violet down and Trio
Wendy Elizabeth Gowins, EKU Graduate Student: Bluegrass Writers Studio
Gypsies in South-side Chicago, circa 1900 | Anna Kadlec Papers Archives After Dark
Artist Statement Because Anna Kadlec’s “Gypsies in South-side Chicago” photographs are part of EKU’s archival collection, and because my project is also influenced by the 1865 book History of the Gipsies: with Specimens of the Gipsy Language, Edited with Preface, Introduction, and Notes, and a Disquisition on the Past, Present and Future of Gipsydom by James Simpson, I chose to create an altered book. Inside the book, the orange design on the left represents the chakra that appears on the Romani flag, which was chosen to honor the Romani’s Indian heritage. The interior mirror is an element of Gypsy folklore. In the story of the creation of the violin, the devil uses a mirror to steal souls, but he leaves behind a fiddle, which is claimed by a gypsy girl, who plays it with delight. The chalk marks are hieroglyphs known as patrin, used to mark exterior walls. According to the 1961 book The Gipsies, by Jean-Paul Clébert and translated by Charles Duff, the marks included represent the following messages: you can tell fortunes with cards, the mistress wants a child, very generous people and friendly to Gypsies, and here Gypsies are regarded as thieves.
carry violet down (interior) Mixed Media Including Altered Book, Thread and Ink 9”x12” Wendy Elizabeth Gowins EKU Graduate Student: Bluegrass Writers Studio 82 Archives After Dark
carry violet down (exterior) Mixed Media Including Altered Book, Thread and Ink 9”x12” Wendy Elizabeth Gowins EKU Graduate Student: Bluegrass Writers Studio Archives After Dark
Artist Statement For this piece I used a variety of papers, both hand-made papers and found pieces, including antique personal letters, text in English and Russian, photocopies of the archival photographs and paint. I incorporated a quote using found letters and a line from James Simpson’s 1865 History of the Gipsies: “This young man sang two gipsy songs to me.”
Mixed Media Collage, Including a Quote from History of the Gipsies 11.5”x15” Wendy Elizabeth Gowins EKU Graduate Student: Bluegrass Writers Studio 84 Archives After Dark
The Ghost of Freedom
J. Thomas Hudson, EKU Undergraduate Student
Sale Bill Advertisement for Locust Hill Farm and Personal Property, circa 1871/1882 Major Family Papers Archives After Dark
Author Statement Hello! My name is Thomas Hudson, and I’m a history major in the Honors Program at Eastern Kentucky University. I’m the eldest of a set of twins, and I’m also a musician. I play violin, guitar, bass guitar, and a little bit of piano, and enjoy listening to a variety of music genres as well. To be quite honest, I do not have a lot of experience with creative projects like this one, especially with time constraints. In fact, what creative projects I have done usually revolve around the field of music, performing or creating musical compositions. I chose this medium for my project because I liked the challenge that it posed to me both as a writer and a historian. My last big project was very similar to this one in that my setting and characters had to stay true to the time period. The project revolved around the 7th century Visigoth kingdom (modern-day Spain/Portugal). I enjoyed the project and all the research that accompanied it, which is why I chose to do a similar project for the Archives After Dark event. This project was just as much fun to work on; but it was also challenging in its own regard. This piece is first and foremost a work of creative historical fiction. I only used the information included within the bill-of-sale broadside advertisement for the Locust Hill Farm as well as my prior knowledge of the area and time period. With that being said, this story is not a true historical account and should by no means be viewed as such.
The Ghost of Freedom Many people were fond of Mr. Robert Wilmore Scott. It could have been due to his political activity and his dedication to public education, or just his compassionate nature. These are the people who did not really get to know Mr. Scott. He was a kind man, yes, as well as a political activist for the causes he saw as important… but he was far more than that to those who truly got a chance to know him. This is how I remember him, as a man whom I had a chance to know personally and not as simply a symbolic figure for some cause. I still pass Scotland, the old estate named for Mr. Scott’s ancestors, from time to time, and each time I do, I begin to think about how far I’ve come in life. Scotland is the mansion that sits on the Locust Hill Farm just outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. It serves as a constant reminder that for most of my life, I was not free. Even for a good portion of my children’s lives, they were not free. You see, white people love to say that America was founded on the mentality of freedom; “all men were created equal” and all that. But for many decades, even centuries, injustices existed toward people like me: slaves. Tensions had to reach a point in which it divided the country in half, quite literally. I never thought it was possible for people to fight to the death in order to keep 86 Archives After Dark
other people in chains, and why? Simply to keep their fields harvested so they could maintain their happy lifestyle, while we slaves broke our backs for them. Thankfully, not all slave owners were as self-centered as others. Many treated us more like hired servants than slaves, which still is not great by any means, but by comparison, it certainly makes a difference. Mr. Scott was one of the “good” slave owners. The work on his plantation was still rough, and the hours were long, but as slave life went… we had it good. Old Mr. Scott was a nice man, very fair and understanding, at least as much as could be said for a slave owner. He was a heavy-set man who was almost always well-dressed and who loved the combination of good books and rocking chairs, especially on his porch in the afternoon and evening time. I can still remember how he would sit on the back porch every evening with a different book in his hand, watching as we servants would put our tools up after a hard day’s work. I don’t think he meant it maliciously, I think it was his way of showing us his presence and understanding that we were worth at least a little bit of his time. However, it still left the impression that he was somehow better than us, mainly because he never offered to help any of us pack up our things, and he rarely said anything to us on those evenings. I still wish I knew if it was because he knew we were tired, or if he genuinely didn’t want to talk to us at the end of a long day. With everything considered though, he always treated his servants well, even before the great war. After the war, slavery was officially made illegal throughout the states, and almost every slave took part in the great jubilee celebration. This was a chance to be treated equally and begin anew... or so we thought. Many people say that it was a victory for all slaves; however, in reality it began a new series of hurdles for us to jump, but I digress. My name is simply Elijah; my last name has been lost to the ages like many other former slaves. Most former slaves that I know of created names for themselves after the war in order to get land or because other federal paperwork required it, but I chose not to take a second name because I never had a need to, and it simply didn’t feel right. When you go by one name for most of your life, adding another just makes you feel… well, not yourself. I was born in 1823, or there about, on the Locust Hill Farm, as they call it; the name makes things seem rather joyful in comparison to other plantations, almost like the air of slavery didn’t exist, but I assure you it did no matter how nice the name may make it seem. I was born a slave on this plot of land, as were many others like me, including my beautiful wife Esther and eventually John and Beth, our kids. My parents were not born on this plantation though. As children, they were brought to Locust Hill Farm from Virginia around 1805 to be slaves for the Scott Family. Their parents were all from Africa and were captured and sent here as a part of the massive export of humans whose sole purpose was to work as slaves on the southern plantations in America. In comparison to other stories I’ve heard, growing up as a slave at Locust Hill Farm wasn’t so bad. Children were often given easier, less dangerous chores closer to the house and most of the girls were, at least to some extent, even taught how to cook and clean the house. It was when Archives After Dark
a slave became a teenager that the real work began. The day after I turned thirteen, I was told to follow my father to the field and learn the “trade,” as it were. The farm primarily produced fruit and harvested timber, and children were expected to follow in their parents’ footsteps. For instance, depending on the season and amount of each fruit produced that year, my father would work in the orchard, and when I turned thirteen, I began working in the same sections as him. This is one way Mr. Scott was rather understanding. He did not like to split families up, in any sense of the word, while they were on his land. Mr. Scott was certainly a family man in this way. Thankfully, his family-first policy allowed me and my father some time to talk and bond while still getting our work done. My wife Esther seemed to have much the same experience in that her mother was one of the few women to work in the kitchen; therefore, Esther was taught how to cook, and might I say, she learned rather well. Mr. Scott tried to keep around forty servants at any given time, but the slave quarters could easily hold close to eighty. Believe you me, that come harvest time on (what used to be) a 780-acre farm, any amount of people is nowhere near enough, especially when you consider roughly half of those were women who rarely worked in the fields. During peak harvest times, women did come work the fields with the men, and they worked just as hard as we did, some even harder. Every one of us worked like this for most of the years that we were slaves. It all ended in December of 1865, after the so-called “civil” war ended, and a federal law was put into place against the practice of slavery. This posed a dilemma for Mr. Scott, no matter how honorable or nice he may have been. He still owned the land and obviously needed help maintaining it, but he could no longer morally use slave labor on the plantation because it was seen as breaking a federal law, supposedly founded on moral grounds. I still remember his proposal to the issue. He told us at noon that Wednesday to gather at the back porch because he had an announcement for us. So, we did as we were told and huddled together to hear his proposition. There he stood, in a purewhite suit that he only wore on Sundays, which we knew was out of place, he set his book on the table and began to speak: As of today, each one of you are free to leave and create new lives of your own with no hard feelings from me or my family. Though Kentucky has not decided to ratify the federal law regarding slavery, I find it in my moral obligation to abide by it. I also want you to know that each one of you are free to stay, and there is always a home for you here. But, quite honestly, I will be needing a lot of help on the plantation and each of you knows the land better than anyone I could hire elsewhere. I am willing to sit down and negotiate a contract with anyone who would be willing to stay and work; but as for the rest of you, I would like to help get you settled in your new lives in whatever role you wish to pursue. Each of you should stop and welcome the sweet smell of freedom! For today you leave an apparition of your past behind you, and this begins a new day for each and every one of you! 88 Archives After Dark
He then sat down in his chair on the porch and watched as there was a great uproar of joy, everyone turning to their family and friends asking what the next step should be; not really understanding the entirety of the situation. Until this point, freedom was like a phantom. We had heard about it and knew the term, but none of us could quite grasp that freedom had come. I, for one, had been a slave my entire life of over forty years, and I knew virtually nothing outside of this farm work. What was I supposed to do now? My wife and I looked at each other and knew exactly what the other wanted, almost without saying a word to each other. We were the first of only a handful to take Mr. Scott up on his offer of continuing work at Locust Hill Farm as sharecroppers. My wife and I met with Mr. Scott in his private study, a room with floorto-ceiling bookshelves holding books of every shape, size, and color. He told us to sit down in these giant-backed, leather chairs and we discussed some of the reasons why we were so eager to stay on the plantation. He then spoke of what he would be willing to give us in exchange for our hard work. He offered to build us a suitable home on the property out of logs from the plantation. It would have three rooms, which is all we truly needed at the time. One room for me and Esther, and one of the other two would be for our children and their spouses should they choose to stay with us, which they did. The last room would be home to our hearth and living space. Additionally, we would each get certain days off and somewhat shorter hours. Esther and I agreed to his terms and continued to work for him for a few years until the day everything changed. We knew the favorable conditions would not stay like this forever; we weren’t that gullible. Around 1870, a few years after our “freedom” began, Mr. Scott got really sick. He was so sick in fact, nobody saw him for three whole months. He didn’t go to church on Sundays or come outside, not even just to the back porch with his usual book in hand. He didn’t so much as come to a window to watch us at the end of the day. We thought he had died and nobody had the heart to tell us. Then one night, I remember looking up and seeing a figure standing in the window of his room watching over us like a benevolent spirit. About a week later he was back on the porch with a new book and a small smile on his face. To this day, nobody knows what he contracted or how he survived; but everybody could tell how close to death he must have been. Mr. Scott’s brush with death was certainly a scare for everyone involved, but especially Mr. Scott and his family. After this scare he made arrangements, unbeknownst to us, to sell Locust Hill Farm in hopes that relieving some of the stresses of managing the land would improve his health. In 1871, the farm officially went up for sale, though nobody bought it outright. Over the next few years, there were several offers on certain parts of the land; some Mr. Scott accepted, and others he did not. In total, by 1882 only 440 of the 780 acres remained in Mr. Scott’s possession. Even with selling some of his stress away, with each passing year, Mr. Scott seemed to age at least three times what he should have. Each time another section of land was sold we sharecroppers got a little more nervous about our livelihood changing, but ultimately, we trusted Mr. Scott to honor our contracts and keep our well-being Archives After Dark
in mind too. By 1882, Mr. Scott received a reasonable offer for what was left of the land. He was afraid that he would not live to see another offer quite as fair, so he reluctantly accepted it. The only issue with the offer was that the man did not want to keep any of the tenants and wanted us off of the land immediately upon closing. The deal included those of us who were granted permanent residence on the land, such as my family and me. Mr. Scott gave us one week’s notice before signing away our home and everything we knew. Supposedly Mr. Scott tried to keep even a fraction of us on staff with the new owner, but the new owner was convinced he could find cheaper labor elsewhere. I was faced with a major life change. After nearly sixty years of living on this land and knowing only this way of life, I had no choice but to move on to the next chapter. Not only was I scared, but my entire family was looking to me for answers on the next steps, and I had no answers to provide for them. Even my loving wife was out of ideas or suggestions-- before we were so sure of our next step we almost didn’t even need to discuss it, now we found ourselves completely and utterly lost. I decided to go to Mr. Scott and ask for help thinking through ideas, and he was of very little help, but thankfully he at least agreed to give us the money which he valued our house to be worth. We were then able to find a small farm nearby which we could purchase with very little debt. In a twist of fate, Mr. Scott eventually took care of our debt as a Christmas present about a month before his death. We could now officially call ourselves landowners. My family and I have worked this land from the day we bought it, and thankfully the land has been good to us and we have been quite successful. We are by no means wealthy in comparison to Mr. Scott, but judging by where we came from, we’ve certainly come a long way. Currently, our six-room house sits on about eighty acres of land with various crops throughout the year which we are able to sell. Our farm does considerably more than break even each year, and we are looking at expanding our property within the next year or two. I hope to one day have enough land so that our family can spread out to more than just one home, but as for now we are pretty happy still living together. We now have three generations under one roof, and the first of the fourth generation on the way. We have no fancy name for our house or farm, and we prefer it that way. We’re pretty content in knowing our roots and seeing our progress thanks to the many opportunities that have been granted to us as a family, something I have come to understand is very rare in this part of the country. In comparison though, Scotland was named after Mr. Scott’s ancestors, and to my knowledge, it still bears their name even with the new owners. It is a beautiful house by all stretches of the word. Looking at it from the field day-in and day-out, one could hardly help but to dream about owning a house that is even a fraction as nice. On top of the vast amount of land, there is an orchard with various kinds of fruits, including apples, peaches, pears, and cherry trees. There is even a small forest on the land with a variety of trees. The inside of the mansion is even more extravagant than the outside 90 Archives After Dark
would let on; a sight one would have to see to believe. There are exotic woods and decorations all throughout the house in almost every room. There are more than twenty bedrooms, each one of them unique from the others, and most have a fireplace for heat. I can only imagine how nice it would be to have one for each room in our home, especially when the snow hits hard. It used to bother me that I would never be like Mr. Scott and own a plantation as successful as Locust Hill Farm, but the older I get, the more I have to look back on and see exactly how far Iâ€™ve come and how many opportunities Iâ€™ve been given. I donâ€™t seem to dwell on the negatives of not owning a major estate, but rather I have a great joy that I have my own successful farm with my family. I get this feeling almost every time that I pass the great Scotland estate. I get the opportunity to tell my grandchildren about life as a slave and how lucky they are to have a taste of a free life. Granted, even now in these 1890s we are still by no means equal, but we are certainly on the right path. I hope one day my grandchildren will be able to tell their grandchildren stories like mine. I also hope each of them finds a beacon of reflection, like Scotland is to me. And maybe Scotland will be their standing reminder too, long after they are given the opportunity to move away and have lives of their own, should they choose to.
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Austin Yesterday and Today Caroline Ketron, EKU Freshman
Austin Lilly Wearing a Newspaper Dress, circa 1917 | Lilly Family Papers
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Artist Statement Austin Lillyâ€™s parents, active civic leaders in Madison County, were very influential in their time and remain so today. As editors and owners of a newspaper, they were advocates for the free press and free speech, ideas that are still important and necessary today. In my mixed media artwork, I strived to make these ideas a prominent aspect, while also staying true to Richmond and Kentucky and its importance in her familyâ€™s lives and mine. Inspired by the photograph of Austin wearing a newspaper dress as an advertisement for the paper, text from the newspaper dress itself is expressed in my piece. I wanted typography to be present because it was such a major part of the newspaper. I portrayed a woman to symbolize Austin, but in a way, she also represents me.
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Austin Yesterday and Today Mixed Media 12”x16” Caroline Ketron, EKU Freshman
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Beloved, Receive Me Josey Owens, EKU Freshman
Valentine Letter from L. B. Crout to Mary Runyon, circa 1875 | Mary Runyon Papers
Artist Statement “The heart that has truly loved never forgets... As the sunflower turns to its god as he sits.” L. B. Crout’s vivid imagery appeals not only to his most adorable Mary, but to modern readers alike. I was personally drawn to this artifact because of its timeless romance. I cannot imagine Crout would appreciate future generations sifting through his most intimate thoughts. It would be like sending a message intended for his lover to a parent or grandchild, or having a note he hoped would make it across the room intercepted and read aloud to the class. This beautifully crafted valentine was originally intended to be a heartfelt letter— not an object to be observed through a public lens. Having been afforded the opportunity to create a work inspired by this artifact, I could not help but imagine myself as the recipient. If the faded lace and elegant font were instead typed and slipped into my mailbox, I would be overwhelmed. In reading this letter, and creating this piece, I was reminded that love truly transcends art, writing, and time. The romantic symbolism in this letter easily ignites the mind of an artist. From the golden ties of love to the weeping angels, there were endless opportunities. 96 Archives After Dark
I wanted to honor the beauty of the original piece by maintaining the iconic lace, warm colors, and hand lettering. In order to appeal to a more general audience, I replaced Mary’s name with the word “Beloved.” The concluding paragraph, written on the art piece, leaves the reader with blessings of happiness, and begs a final plea for acceptance. It is a beautiful excerpt that testifies to the reality of human relationships. In creating this piece I was able to combine my favorite processes and media, while honoring a historic artifact.
Beloved, Receive Me Mixed Media 12”x16” Josey Owens, EKU Freshman
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