NAOMI COLLINS 1744 - 1796
It will be said of me that I lived only for my children, and that epitaph must suffice. It is all I have. With me in my grave the truth shall ever lie, for my children came to be my life only when I was permitted no other.
Barnabas and Sarah, so many years apart and yet so close to one another, were all the world to me. When both of them were taken, I no longer had adequate reason to live. Existence in that dismal house without them was more than I could face.
How different from my first thoughts of Collinwood! My initial sight of the white-pillared house (now the "Old House") with its broad green lawns and airy windows had inspired such optimism in me. How well I remember that day. A premature autumn had tinged the trees with gold and the air with cooling breezes. Harden steered the carriage up the winding road with evident sadness in his demeanor, knowing that he would be making the long return journey alone. I had no empathy for his regrets at the time, having thoughts only of my bright impending future as the new mistress of Collinwood, and the wife of Joshua Collins. That he was a man I hardly knew was of no consequence. He was wealthy, prominent, and capable of supporting me in the manner of my father, whose untimely death I still mourned, and whose ancestral New York mansion I longed to be rid of, for every room in it evoked memories too painful to be borne, and I wanted nothing so much as to be free of that reminder. The eminent Mr. Collins could accomplish that for me.
My anxiety had heightened at the first sight of Collinwood, and as the carriage moved rhythmically up the well-kept road, I strove to remember the names of the household's residents. There was Joshua's invalid mother, Isabel, whom I'd been told had never fully recovered from an infection she had suffered at the late-in-life birth of her last child. The son, Jeremiah, was now two years of age. Joshua's uncle, Efram Collins and his young wife Constance were also ensconsed at Collinwood, though I'd been given to understand this arrangement would not continue. Efram Collins resented the conditions of his late brother's will, which had left the estate entirely to Joshua. (What father, I wondered. would not have chosen his firstborn son over his brother when it came to leaving his fortune?) I was later to see that the umbrella of hatred that hovers over this place, and the evil that surrounds it, would capriciously determine that Efram's, and not Joshua's descendants would one day carry on the Collins name. The only other occupant of the house was Abigail, Joshua's sister, described to me as a religious zealot and spinster of an overbearingly stern countenance. Though older than Joshua, it was not expected she would ever marry. These, then, were to be my future family.
That first sight of Collinwood had filled me with hope, but my first days inside the great house were filled with disillusionment. I had been met at the door by the dour-faced Abigail, who unabashedly surveyed me up and down like a prospective market purchase, then showed me in and announced that Mr. Collins was away on business. That single terse statement had been the first nail driven into the coffin of my girlish dreams. My intended husband had not even considered me essential enough to be present when I arrived. He was, I had told myself, a very busy man and it was utterly silly of me to be hurt. Had I but known that I was about to learn the truest meaning of that word...
I met the taciturn Efram and his unattractive wife at dinner that evening, and swiftly was bereft of any thought that a close relationship with this family might be had. It appeared that I had been prejudged, their resentment of Joshua having been transferred to me before we'd even met, and I was a threat in their eyes, the means by which their rival for the Collins fortune would bring heirs -- also rivals -- into the world. I felt like the doomed wife of a newly-assassinated emperor beneath the blood-thirsty gaze of the conspirators.
Joshua returned the following day, and having greeted me with cold detachment, regarded me not unlike his sister had done, as though he could evaluate my worth with a glance. Though I had met him twice before. I had never seen the coldness that seemed to pervade his being. Later I would learn that cruelty dwelt there as well.
I met the ailing Isabel Collins only once, and the strange light in her eyes when Joshua told her who I was somehow spoke more of pity than joy. She died two days after I arrived at Collinwood, and I realized soon thereafter that no pretense of affection was present among the members of this so-called family. There was no sorrow at Isabel's death, merely an increase of unspoken hostility between Joshua and his envy-ridden uncle. I found myself wondering what life had been like for Isabel Collins. Perhaps she had once come to this house as I had, full of lofty dreams and aspirations, only to have them smothered in this stifling atmosphere of hatred and greed; only to die, withered, demoralized and looking decades beyond her years. Was this the sort of bleak future I too was to be granted? I lived in terror at the thought, forcing it to the back of my mind. But it lay there, smoldering, and would not go away.
Whether it was shock at such impropriety, or cowardice to voice my hidden fears, I do not know. But something prevented my objecting to his plans. That Joshua should proceed with plans for a marriage a scant two weeks past the interment of his mother was indecorous enough (the entire community was aghast) but that he should also insist upon a civil ceremony to be held in the very house in which Isabel Collins had died... Unthinkable. The minister, apalled at such social effrontery, had refused to perform the rite, until Joshua had plied him with sufficient gold coin to dissolve his indignation. We were wed in the drawing room of Collinwood on a blustery September evening, with only Abigail as witness. The minister did not even remain to share the marriage toast, but hurried to his waiting coach with both his pockets weighted down. Nor did Abigail remain, for she did not approve of drinking, and so we were left to toast one another, a bottle of claret between us. I was glad of it. The wine brought a peculiar buzz into my head and drove back my lingering worries. Shamelessly indulgent, I lost myself in that unfamiliar euphoria, and I remembered little of what happened after.
Joshua Collins knew nothing of love or affection, nor of tenderness or sympathy. These things were alien to him. Like King Henry VIII, he desired only that the woman he marry provide him with a son and heir. Unlike most of the king's ill-fated wives, I fulfilled that expectation. One year and two months past the date of our marriage, Barnabas was born.
My purpose, to Joshua's thinking, was over then. He literally had no further use for me, and had ceased visiting my room at night some months before our son was born. My objections were swiftly quelled -- Joshua would not speak of it and forbade that I should broach the topic ever again. I think he feared to father more than one child. He had seen the avaricious rivalry between the family members of his own generation -- to beget another of any size would only serve to set blood kin against one another once more, in battle over which should inherit the family fortune. This way, there would be no doubt. Or, so Joshua thought.
Denied my husband, I immersed myself in the duties of raising my son. Young Jeremiah, a perceptive and sensitive child, was a constant companion. They grew together like brothers, and I was pleased that though I should not be granted other children, Barnabas would have Jeremiah to fill that void which any child denied siblings must feel.
Word came, somewhat smugly, from Efram (long since moved to Boston) that Constance had borne a daughter, christened Millicent Collins. They once brought the child (when she was five years of age) to Collinwood to "visit" with her young cousins. Barnabas and Jeremiah, unimpressed with this diminutive, curly-headed female in ruffles and lace, had treated her with all the indifference eleven and fourteen-year-old boys could muster. The visit, contrived to begin with merely to wave the flag of an alternate branch of Collinses in Joshua's face, was mercifully brief.
The onset of the war brought many changes. The servants dwindled, and so did the Collins fortune, though it far from vanished. There was a time when even food was hard to come by, and Joshua was gone, engaged in what he hoped would be the lucrative trade of obtaining weapons for the rebellion. I did not see him and rarely heard from him for a space of three years. Then they brought him home, on a cold March day in 1780, grievously wounded, they had said, by a shot from a British infantry musket. There were no doctors to be had, and we were certain for a time that he would die. But as the raging fever subsided and the infection cleared, he slowly began to recover.
Some weeks passed before he was able to leave his bed. It was then he began to drink heavily, I supposed to suppress the pain that lingered. It lingered long, and still he sought to drown it in spirits. Thus nearly a year dragged on. Cornwallis surrendered, the war was ended, and while the rest of the new nation celebrated, Joshua continued to drink. I do not believe I ever saw him sober all that tumultuous year. Was it the effect of too much wine, or the need to know if his wound -- then two years past -- had rendered him 'incapable,' that drove him late one night to invade the long-respected privacy of my bedroom? And why did I permit the intrusion? I had the ill-inspired hope that the war and his illness might somehow have changed him: that our desolate marriage might now be different. But it was not to be.
He left on the following day, to make 'business arrangements' with some of his wartime cohorts. Just where he had gone, I did not know, but two months later, I confirmed that I was once again with child.
To say that Joshua was displeased would be simplistic. He was outraged, all the more because I had not written him of my condition (an unreasonable attitude -- where would I have written?) He grew ugly when he returned and learned of it, and he began to drink again, more than before, more than ever since then. And he spoke of unthinkable things, of places where a woman might go to be 'rid' of an unwanted child. It was the first time that lever openly defied him, and the first time I was driven to seek refuge in that "cure-all" he had long indulged. The claret and I became familiar friends after that.
He did not return home for the birth, though he knew when it was to be. In fact. he did not see young Sarah at all until she was a year of age. Though I did not mind his absence, I never knew just why he stayed away long past the time it seemed his business should have ended. And Sarah, having come into the world virtually fatherless, remained so all the years of her abbreviated life. Her brother was more like a father to her than Joshua, and it was in Barnabas' arms she died, grieving the brother we all had believed lost...
They both were lost to me then.
Though I did not then know of Barnabas' curse, nor understand the creature he'd become, I knew my life had ended with his, and with Sarah's. The cruel and heartless prank that tried to give me hope for Barnabas' return from the dead drove me at last to take my own life. And all the while, Joshua had known that Barnabas 'lived,' and had kept it from me. I shall never forgive him that.
At least in death I am free of him.
Let it be said that I lived only for my children. But let it further
be said that Joshua Collins made it so.
THE REVEREND TRASK 1747 - 1795
What evil trick is this? How is it that I am not sent to my just reward in Heaven, but abandoned in this sullen grey plain of nonexistence?
I have been deceived! Condemnation was not to have been my fate, I was untimely murdered! For that, at least, I should have justice served! Where is my avenger? Where is my reward? And where the God I served?
All these have forsaken me, and left me alone in this dimness. It is a place bleaker than the darkness in which I died.
I have often seen the insubstantial walls of Collinwood, like ghostly visions, come and go from this place. And sometimes I have seen the basement of the Old House, and the alcove walled with bricks wherein my foul murder was accomplished. There my mortal remains lie hidden, to this day a secret known only to Barnabas Collins and to those who conspire to deal in his evil deeds.
Is this why I am isolated here? Have I not been taken on Beyond because no mortal soul on Earth has discovered or avenged my wrongful death? This is an injustice of unendurable proportions! How can I have fallen victim to such infamy?! Surely no part of the afterlife could be so intolerably cruel!
To this very day, the greatest injustice walks the halls of Collinwood's estate. My murderer lives. Barnabas Collins lives. And this nebulous form in which I am imprisoned is helpless to repay him; helpless to touch or affect him in any way!
I will not have it so! In time, I vow I shall find a means to break this formless barrier, I will find a way to reach Barnabas Collins. And when I do, I shall happily avenge my own death! I shall see him suffer the fate I suffered; die as I died -- in hideous, solitary darkness!
Time is no longer an enemy to me, but the sole commodity which I have to my advantage, I will not spend eternity here! But I have an eternity to spend if I must, in finding a way to him! What strange contingencies. What bitter irony!
When I have found and destroyed my murderer, only then shall I be free of this monotonous plateau. But one day, it shall occur. Some one will release my mortal remains, and that day, I shall find him.
Do not forget me, Barnabas Collins. I am waiting.
((NOTE: Trask nearly got his wish. In 1969 the basement wall was opened,
and the ghost of Trask escaped to trap and wall Barnabas (then cured of
his curse) in the alcove. The weeping spirit of Josette led Julia and Willie
to the basement, where the nearly-dead Barnabas was discovered and rescued.))
MILLICENT COLLINS 1773 - 1839
A crazy old woman they called me. Deranged, they said, all her 66 years. But what did they know? The lot of them were crazy. I simply had my own, exceptional way of looking at things. It was, I suppose, a defense of sorts, but you needed that to belong to this family. Wealth is so often companion with cruelty; I wonder that any of them ever found a kind word for me. Millicent Collins came, you see. from an "ill-favored" branch of the family tree. Not a poor branch, mind you, just one descended from a brother Joshua Collins happened to despise.
Oh, Cousin Barnabas was kind to me in his way. And Aunt Naomi. But they had troubles of their own to deal with. No one really had the time to be concerned with me. No room in their busy lives for "daft" young cousin Millicent.
Little wonder then that I was flattered so by Nathan's fond attentions. Only he took time to speak with me, to show concern for my problems, to acknowledge that I existcd at all. And when he told me he wanted to marry me... You cannot possibly imagine the ecstacy wrought by a proposal of marriage to one who has spent her life in mortal fear of spinsterhood!
I had never dared hope to know the connubial joys. And to think that a dashing young lieutenant should be asking for my hand! I remember Joshua steaming like a bull in heat when he heard of it -- but he could do nothing to prevent us. He was not, after all, my father. And he did not control my fortune, for my family resources were independent of his own. So Nathan and I were wed.
I suppose you know the rest of that story. And you're thinking how gullible poor Millicent must have been, not to have seen through Nathan's cruel charade. And you might be justified to pity me at that -- if this were where the story ended. It isn't, of course.
There were those, I know, who suspected me of killing Nathan, because I had learned of his "other" wife. But it was Barnabas who killed him. You knew that, too, didn't you? Barnabas, whom everyone thought dead as well. Poor Nathan. As much as I grieved at the wrong he had done me, I never could have harmed him. After all, he was a good husband in some respects. And after he was gone I began to think of that. I remembered the happier times we'd had together. (They say we are all prone to remember the good things in our past and disregard the bad, don't they?) Anyhow, it was then that I grew desperately lonely, thinking of Nathan's touch, of his attentiveness, and of all the other joys we'd shared before his true motives were discovered. And I thought how unfair it was that by these cruel circumstances I should to cheated of happiness for the rest of my life.
The other wife, that "Suki" person, was really a trivial matter. I might have dealt with her myself, but Barnabas did it for me.(Good, kind Cousin Barnabas. He was always so anxious to defend my good name!) The unfairness was in learning the shattering truth of Nathan's intentions. He meant to procure my fortune -- by murdering Daniel if necessary -- and then would discard me once his own future was secure! Perhaps he'd even contemplated murdering me as well...
If only he could have been, well, another Nathan. A different one, whose overtures to me had been sincere. One whose embraces had held true desire and not a mere pretense. It was for this idealized Nathan that I longed throughout the tortuous years of 1797, 98 and 99. I shaped and remolded him in my mind until I had created the perfect husband of him. His crimes were all forgotten -- only his good points (or those I had invented for him) were remembered.
The ideal of my Nathan never spoke to me unkindly, never mentioned other women and never ever smoked within the house (which, as everyone knows, is most ungentlemanly.) He never smoked at all, in fact, for he was always in the house, and always with me -- by my side whenever I desired him and somewhere else when -- on rare occasions -- I did not. But most precious of all his new qualities -- he listened. He listened with quiet intensity to every word I spoke, never complaining when I complained, and always sympathetic to my difficulties. He was in every respect the perfect companion. _My_ perfect companion.
It was on tho eve of the century's turn that the idea first occurred to me, and that very night I asked Joshua if I might move from the great house into the cottage near Eagle Hill. He was only too happy to comply, though I know it puzzled him that I did not wish to take brother Daniel along. I simply wished to be alone, I told him, to live with my grief in private. Joshua, of course, assumed this was merely one more symptom of my advancing madness, but he agreed to the arrangement and saw to it my things were moved the very next day.
And from that day, Millicent Collins lived the rest of her life in seclusion. Acquaintances and cousins came and went at Coliinwood -- I never saw them. Daniel went away to school and no doubt forgot all about me; at least, when he returned some years later he never attempted to see me. Under any other circumstances, I might have been hurt by that, but I no longer had reason to care about any of the Collinses. I had found my happiness, and it was my very own, a thing none of them could understand or share -- or take away.
I found my Nathan. Oh, not the cold, cruel Nathan who'd deceived me years before, but one who fit the ideal I had created of him. Everything about him was perfect, right down to his handsome blue uniform, which still fit as well as the day we were married.
He never spoke to me unkindly. He never smoked in the house. And he listened to every word I said. He was a superb listener.
I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. Those three years of loneliness might have been spared me. But no matter. I had him back now. Nathan. _My_ Nathan, the way I wanted him to be. It hadn't been easy, getting him back. I'd searched a long time before finding the right marker. Then I'd had to break through the frigid December earth until I reached him. But my determination carried me through, and I felt neither the biting cold of the wind nor the grittiness of the soil that found its way into my clothing as I worked.
The village chimes were clamoring tidings of the new century when, together, we entered the door of our little cottage; the beginning of both our new lives.
From that moment, my life was complete.
You see now why I never cared how many tales they told of mad old Millicent
Collins? I never needed to care. I had my Nathan back. And that is all
LLAMAR TRASK 1786 - 1841
My father was a man of God; the right and proper Reverand Trask. He was the self-appointed guardian of all things just and holy, but of his son he was not guardian at all. I barely knew him. What few memories I do have coupled with those things I later learned of him made for an ill estimation, at best.
From the beginning I hated him. I detested everything he stood for. Even as a very small child, I lay awake at night devising ways to kill him. When he vanished, I prayed to a nebulous God that he would never return. I hoped some one had killed him. And I hoped that whoever it was had made him suffer in return for the suffering he had inflicted on my mother.
Now I know that he died such a death -- alone and afraid and crying out to a God who never knew him for mercy that was never to come.
His was an end more gruesome than my young mind could, at the time, conceive. But my childish plots were, if not quite so fiendish as Barnabas Collins' methods, equally lethal. I had thought of stealing bella donna from the local apothecary and slipping it into his tea. I considered setting the constable's dogs on him when he crept out the back door late at night. But most often, I fantasized the satisfying drama of tip-toeing into the room where he lay in bed beside my mother, and with a strength beyond my tender years, pressing a pillow to his loathesome face until at last he ceased to struggle.
When I was not scheming to dispose of him, I wept for my mother. I anguished at a woman forced for ten long years to share the bed of a man whose Christian name she never knew. He was the Reverend Trask. Perhaps he had no other name, but if he did he never deemed my mother important enough to know it.
Somewhere, on some lower level of this Hell, his vile soul is damned. But the god of this realm will indulge me; someday I will find the Reverend Trask. And may the Master of Hell allow my thirst for vengeance to be satisfied, for I would kill him a thousand times over, and each time find some different way more satisfying than the last.
What quirk of fate, I wonder, made Barnabas Collins and not I the hand of justice in sending my father to his just reward? No matter. Even though I never knew, in life, what had become of him, I was never the less pleased that he was gone. The charlatan "Man of the Cloth" would no longer darken my mother's doorstep.
She was an innocent caught in his fanatical trap, my mother. A spinster of moderate means named Anne Darrow, she was thirty-two years of age and living in the village of Ellsworth when they met. It was not until years after his disappearance that she told me of the meeting; of how she had at first been impressed with his fiery sermons that warned of the evils of witchcraft and the power of Satanic forces. Then, when his preaching had fanned the superstitious flames of their fanaticism, the village gossips had somehow singled Anne Darrow out as a misfit. A person of solitary, suspicious ways. A witch.
I know now that this singling out was no accident. It too was by his design.
He had come to her and promised to protect her from all forms of persecution -- in return for her clandestine 'favors.' When at first she had refused him, he proved the value of his word by sending to the gallows another young village innocent who had also declined his proposition.
In horror of a death on the gallows, my mother had complied with his demands. As a result, his 'protection' had continued for nearly a decade.
I never understood why she did not herself somehow find a way to kill him. Surely she must have hated him as much as I, and more so.
How she bore the shame of my birth is also a mystery to me. She made us both prisoners in that aging, lifeless house, locking herself away from prying eyes and wagging tongues. And he... He told the judgmental congregation of his church to be forgiving of my mother's sin, while he continued to visit her under the hypocritical auspices of counseling her wayward soul!
He permitted circulation of the pernicious rumor that I might be the offspring of Satan, and even taunted my mother with this to remind her of the necessity of his 'guardianship'. If any human ever sprang from Satan's loins, he surely had first claim on the title!
When, after many years, his credibility began to wear thin with the people of Ellsworth, he sought new ground on which to practice his religious trickery, and traveled south into the territory of Maine. Though he had promised to return, he never did. And we were never sorry.
One day I was to follow him, and by some evil irony, to meet death at the hands of his murderer. But not before I was to gain some minor insight into the methodology of witch hunts. I did not ply his trade, but I somehow saw worth in his philosophies, and foolishly embraced them to denounce the witchcraft that had long engulfed Collinwood. Even from the grave, he had caught me in his deadly snare. And I would remain in it -- as though possessed by his avenging spirit -- until my own fanaticism would bring about my death.
That was his curse upon me -- that I should die in the act of a persecution as cruel and unjust as his had been! And for that curse I hated him all the more.
I have perhaps defeated him in one thing only, and that is in the lives of the wife and son I have kept secreted at Worthington Hall in a village nearby. They are untouched by his evil -- and mine -- and so my son shall never have the Reverend Trask's predilection for cruelty.
I have vowed that he will escape this curse.
Gregory Trask will be free...
JENNY COLLINS 1864 - 4897
Has Quentin ever seen my ghost traverse the halls of Collinwood?
I think not. He does not remember me. Though he lives on, I have lain these many years within the tomb, despismg him, for it was he who placed me here. It should by rights have been the other way around.
The day we were wed he told me I was beautiful. He had often told me that. And I knew -- oh, I knew he had told many others. Countless others. No man has ever appreciated the creation of woman more than Quentin Collins. Was it vanity then that made me believe him? Foolishness that made me think my singular charms could hold him to me?
No woman ever held Quentin.
His proposal of marriage was what fooled me. Surely. I thought, I must he more to him than all the others. Surely they will all be forgotten now, for we are man and wife and belong to one another.
Some ancient must have coined the word "naive" with me in mind.
I learned the reason soon enough. A dynasty's survival is solely dependent on its heirs. In 1995, the Collins heirs were few. Of matriarch Edith's four grandchildren, only Edward had a wife and child, and upon these valued commodities the bulk of inheritance was destined to fall. A prominent place in Edith's will required the respectability of a wife and the blessing of children. That Is why Quentin Collins took a wife.
How did he choose, I wonder? Was I the victim of an idle coin, tossed to make his choice for him? Or perhaps he drew me from a hat.
My heritage became a source of shame to him when he learned of it (after our marriage) and we could not tell the family, for they would never have approved of bringing children of such blood into the world. Gypsy blood mixed with their own? Unthinkable. How queer -- and how just -- that the very thing Quentin sought so desperately to hide would one day have a hand in cursing him.
Insensitivity is a by-product of wealth. The others in the family were at first indifferent to me. Though they were no more aloof than my husband. Though she would never have confessed it, I think sister Judith pitied me a little. At least, when I was ill, she was the only one to care for me.
I spent a year "alone" in that house, a part and yet not a part of the entity of Collinwood. Detached, I watched Quentin's cottage stream of lovers come and go in mocking secret, laughing at our stolid walls and flirting in the garden shadows. He toyed with each of them only until he grew bored with the illicit pleasure of their company, and soon their pathways from the village ceased to be trodden altogether, for Quentin turned his quest for the forbidden inward -- and seduced his brother's wife.
Because Edward had come to despise me I did not tell him of the affair, though I knew of it from the first. Instead, I laughed at him, and at all of them for their blind and obstinate refusal to discern what was occurring directly beneath their marble noses. Fools.
I had the solitary consolation that Quentin did, on occasion, find it "necessary" to spend a night in my company. And though I knew that his ardor was inspired not by me, but by his love of money and the closer proximity with which an heir would bring him to it, I never refused him. Had I done so, I would have denied only myself. Perhaps a part of me thought the birth of a child might somehow bring him back to me. Another part knew better.
I do not remember precisely how poor dim-witted Edward finally learned of the affair. But I do recall that his umbrage was severe enough to set him off in pursuit of his brother with a loaded pistol in hand. He would have had a long trip to make in order to fulfill his murderous intentions.
Quentin and Laura Collina had already departed the village together, on a voyage that would lead them, ultimately, to Egypt, where months later Quentin would at last lose intrest in his brother's faithless wife.
He never knew about the birth of his twin children. That was my own private revenge. Quentin Collins was never to see his progeny. They were born the summer after he left, and I kept them with me, hidden in the tower.
Then, when the winter returned, so did he. Without her. It didn't matter. I had determined to repay him for what he had done to me. And I did. With a butcher knife. I was sure that I had killed him. I am still sure. So how is it that Quentin lives? He has survived to destroy other lives, and long ago he began with mine. Magda was the reason he lives on.
Oh Magda, my sister, did you know what an irony your curse had become? You sought to punish him: instead you granted him immortality. I would have preferred that he die, Magda, and be forced to share the eternity of the grave with me. At least here, more so than he ever was in life, he would be mine.
Shall my spirit walk the halls of Collinwood forever? Whether or no, he will not see me. My husband does not think of me, nor utter my name, nor visit my grave. For this is _my_ curse.
I am forgotten.
ARISTEDE 1871 - 1897
Death. That was a thing I'd often flirted with, but had never really intended to meet.
Blackwood. Why hadn't I believed, at first, that he could harm me? Because I knew that he himself was dead? I didn't think the dead could harm the living. Then.
His chain told me otherwise. Yet even when its coarse iron links had closed around my throat, I stupidly did not consider the possibility that I could be dying...
When I awoke, Blackwood's ghost was gone. I was standing in the ruin of the ancient mill, and I was looking down upon... myself.
In that instant I found that I could not remember what had transpired just moments before. I knew that Blackwood had been here and was gone, but... .who was this? I was here, standing, awake and aware of my own being, yet there on the rubble-strewn floor lay Arlatede -- or someone identical to him -- his dark hair and clothing (the objects of his lifelong vanity) in utter disarray and his handsome face a ghsatly shade of gray. There were ugly red welts at his throat. And in his hand, the polished blade of the Dancing Lady shone, its jewelled hilt clutched in stiffening fingers. The picture of futility.
I had to know who he was, this lifeless twin, mocking me from its ungainly sprawl of death. I went to him, intending to search his clothing for some clue to his identity. But when I bent to touch him... What kind of fiendish nightmare was I having? My hand passed completely through him and through the floor beyond! In vain, I tried to pull the Dancing Lady from his frozen grasp. I might as well have tried to grip a tendril of smoke in the air.
"I am definitely asleep, and dreaming," I'd told myself, and would have been content with that conclusion had the door at that moment not disgorged the obese figure of the Count.
He came into the room and gazed noncommittally down at the dead man. Only then did I realize that on the way he had walked, not past but _through_ me. Petofi, the great and powerful warlock, the masterful subject of my ineffectual hatred for so many years, had not even seen me!
I spoke his name. I shouted it into his ear. But he didn't answer.
"My dear, dear Aristede," he said, and I thought at first he'd heard me after all, but he was addressing the dead man. And he was calling this imposter by my name.
"Justice, I see, has caught up with you after all." This he said with that aggravating curl of his mustachioed lip that had always conveyed his contempt.
"You idiot, "I shouted. "That is not Aristede. Aristede is here, right here in front of you!"
But my raving was in vain. Petofi gave no sign of knowing that I was there at all. He was bending down, and whatever muscles were buried beneath his ample flesh were straining to lift the dead man from the floor. He was huffing and puffing from the exertion of hefting the dead weight over one shoulder, and as he did so I tried again to pry the Dancing Lady from the fingers of the corpse, to no avail. This pale look-alike was going to his grave with my most prized possession in hand.
Anger overtook me then. Why did nothing I tried to touch seem solid? What had happened to me? That I could possibly be dead was not a thought that would have occurred to me then, for I'd never believed in any afterlife. I had never had faith in either Heaven or Hell. Perhaps that is why I've been granted neither.
Petofi was carrying the dead man out of the mill, and I followed after, thinking that this sort of thing was rather out of character for him. Had he not had some hand in this fellow's demise it was doubtful he'd have gone to this trouble. Could he not have trusted one of his many "servants" to bury an inconvenient corpse? Apparently not. At least, not this one.
I trailed him into the nearby wood, where a short distance later he dropped his heavy burden. I had been so fascinated with the sudden knowledge that my feet were conveying me after him some several inches above the ground that I had scarcely noticed Petofi's hastily uttered incantation. A wind, not there a moment before, began to blow freely through the trees, hushing the night insects, and creating a miniature dust storm at the Count's feet.
I wanted to laugh when I saw what he had done. The meticulous Count Andreas Petofi? Never would he deign to soil his hands digging graves for any of his hapless victims. No. The warlock had conjured an evil wind to do that bidding for him! And when the dust flurry had died away, the grave was left, a gaping cavity in the soft black earth, dankly ugly, and waiting. I watched him bury my twin, and it was then, I think, that I began at last to understand the grim reality of my state. I remembered the gruesome scene of just minutes ago, and the ghastly image of Garth Blackwood with his terrible chain around my throat loomed horribly back into my memory.
The Count's enchanted wind was covering the body -- my body -- with damp earth, and he was watching over the proceedings with that maddening smirk still on his face. I knew then that this was no macabre duplicate being placed in the earth. No doppelganger designed by his evil hand to provoke me. No. He had called it Aristede because it _was_ Aristede. Or the mortal remains of Aristede. And I had not been able to touch him because he was dead.
Dead! The realization slapped me like an icy deluge. Dead. Murdered. And Petofi was to blame. Had he conjured Blackwood's foul ghost expressly to be rid of me? He must have known of it. How else would he have known to enter the mill at that moment and "find" me there?
Seething with this new suspicion, I watched him turn and leave the wood, and I silently vowed that I would avenge this treachery. The ghost of Blackwood still roamed the Earth, and I would find him -- he could, after all, not possibly do me further harm now. And when I found him I would learn if perhaps his hatred for Petofi were not as great as mine. Perhaps I could actually carry off an act of supreme irony, and employ Blackwood himself to avenge me against the Count.
I'll find him. Blackwood will delight in helping me. I know it. Even if he is slipping back into some hellish netherworld, I'll find a way to recall him. The great Petofi will not practice his evil art upon this Earth much longer.
He is about to die at the hand of his own foul creation!
I am dead, but not dead. The Hell-born never truly die. But I have many times "perished" while in mortal incarnations. To "die" in that sense is nothing. My fears lie only in that with each death, I am returned to the smoldering depths of Hades. There is no minion of Hell who would not prefer to roam the Earth.
"He walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour..."
A lovely word, devour. All of Hell devours.
I do not desire to remain here. I have determined that I will not. The treachery of one of our own has returned me to this place, but when I am free again, I will repay that act. And my retribution shall not be pleasant.
The Master is displeased with her as well. His anger with me is waning, and though I have not denied my failing in having loved a mortal soul, I have shown him that Angelique is guilty of the very same transgression!
He will delight in seeing her punished. Hence, when my own time of penance is done, I know he will permit me to return to Earth. One way or another, our spiteful child Angelique shall not be given to gloating over her triumph for very much longer.
There is but one difficulty involved in my gaining the Master's total favor. I must convince him that I have repented of my affection for the mortal, Maggie Evans. And in that I shall have to be very, very careful. To deceive the Prince of Death is a great risk indeed. but one that I must never-the-less take. For I must at any cost gain my revenge upon Angelique. And yet, I will never be capable of removing my love for Maggie Evana from a special, secreted part of my being. The feeling is entrenched there, closed away, forever hidden... but immovable.
Though I may never have her, I will always love her.
Love is a human failing. So we were always told. A mortal weakness which no son of Hell should be capable of feeling. But that is not so, for I _have_ loved. Maggie is a part of me, and no eternity spent in Hades apart from her will ever be able to change that.
So be it.
If I cannot have _my_ love, Angelique, then I vow that you shall not have yours. So relish your happiness while you are able. Bask in the glory of your triumph while you can.
Soon. Soon, Angelique, I will be coming back to Collinwood.
Death, true death, shall never taste of me,
A thousand lifetimes I have lived and died and lived anew. Now I wait to live again.
Ra is my strength. His fire comforts me. The flame burns low but vigilantly, keeping me. Comforting me.
The family I have chosen goes on, in the inevitable way of families. And there are children in the great house at Collinwood once more. David's children. My grandchildren. They are fair and lovely -- truly children befitting the altar of Ra. But they, unlike their children, will never know me.
It is too soon.
One day, son David, when your mortal grave is filled, I will come to the children of your children. The son of your son shall wed me, as did your father, and his father's father Edward, and Edward's twice great uncle before that.
Ra still awaits his sacrifice. And this time, I vow I will not disappoint him. Where I failed with you, David, and with Jamison and Nora, I will not fail with the children I shall bear your grandson. They will be fair and lovely too. And they will belong to Ra.
This time... this time I shall claim my rite. Ra's altar has been empty too long...
Thrice have I erred with this family called Collins. Thrice has fate defeated me. But Ra is forgiving. Ra is patient. Ra is eternity. He forbears my failures.
I remember each of them, and each is its own resounding misery.
You, Roger Collins, were the one I thought surely would understand and aid my cause, for you had every reason to hate the others who'd cheated you of your inheritance. They took Collinwood from you, handed it in its entirety to your strutting, imperious sister, and still you, groveling drunkard of a man, did not hate them enough to fight back. Instead. you did nothing. Nothing at all.
I tried to tell you we could defeat them: that there was a way. Your rightful inheritance could easily have heen restored to you, and all it would have cost was the simple, willing gift unto Ra of a firstborn child.
I overestimated your greed. I was certain you would give that child -- would give anything in fact -- for the right to be master of Collinwood. Some of your predecessors would have.
Some of them.
It seems I always choose the wrong Collins.
Such as you -- stalwart, unyielding Edward. Immovable guardian of all things just and true. What vengeful deity gave you leave to steal from Ra his right and proper sacrifice? They were mine to give -- the two of them, and they were very nearly Ra's. The room to which I'd lured them was ablaze, and you were safely locked without. The flames had nearly claimed them -- one more fleeting, infinitesimal moment and they would have been beyond your reach. Then that fiend -- that Bamahes for whom even you professed no love -- was permitted to interfere. How could you have allowed him to meddle? How could you betray me so? Your twisted sense of justice let you both snatch my sacrifice from me in the very last moment of my triumph.
My sacrifice. The blood of my blood, stolen from me at the hands of a stranger, a ghoul who posed as one of your own.
I despised you, Edward, for failing to destroy him then, for letting my children be torn from me. And I despise you still.
But that is nothing to my loathing for the first of the Collins clan to whom I was wed. The only helpful thing Barnabea Collins ever did on Earth was to slay him. And in whatever shallow grave he lies, I hope the gods continue cursing him. Simpering, weak-kneed, sniveling excuse for a man...
How I hated you, Jeremiah Collins.
You knew when you agreed to our pre-arranged marriage that no children could ever issue from our union.
Did you enjoy mocking me? Did it please you to hear village gossips call me "barren" and "incapable of fulfilling my wifely duties?" Not that they spared you their wagging tongues. All manner of lechery, infidelity, sodomy and perversion did they ascribe to you, and I never said anything to dissuade them. Never. Were they so far from wrong, after all?
I reveled in their ridicule of you. It was my sole revenge for the shame you brought me; the only way to repay you for the cruelty of having accepted my hand in marriage to begin with.
You cheated me of the only thing that could have given my miserable life with you any meaning -- the chance to bring forth children for the eternal glory of Ra. At least in that part of the sacred duty, your successors were somewhat less remiss. But I will never forgive you for deceiving me; for lying to all the world by pretending to he the one thing you were not and could never aspire to become -- a man.
When I return to Collinwood again, perhaps I'll seek out the plot of earth they laid you in, and burn the incense of a dark-cursed herb at the base of your gravestone. Though you deserve far worse than fragile curses, I should pray that Ra condemn you to the coldest, most frigid depths of nonexistence. That would befit you, Jeremiah Collins. It would befit you very well. One day, I think I will see to it.
Until then I have the promise of new life to sustain me. A new generation of Collinses thrives, the children of my son David. And soon, the halls of Collinwood will ring with the laughter of their children. My time will come again... Soon. And Ra will at last have his due.
One by one, the years dissolve upon each other in their breakneck race with time, but never have they touched me.
For I have the blessing of Ra.
The endurance of eternity.
The patience of the phoenix.