As I drove home on Thursday I ran through the day in my mind. I was really getting back into the groove at work and was even more productive than the day before. Of course I had fewer interruptions. The police didn’t call once and I didn’t have anyone try to enter my head.
To be truthful, I did miss talking to Amelie. A longing started welling up. I needed to hear her voice, feel her warm presence in my mind. I began to feel an echo of that warmth. I laughed it down. I barely knew the woman!
Then I thought of Bethy. At first it was anger, but I realized I missed her. I missed her touch, the sound of her voice, her scent. Despite all that had happened I could recall some recent tender moments, like her surprising me with little gifts and touches of affection out of the blue. It was a little depressing to realize I was heading to an empty house.
Only I wasn’t. For some reason I had gone north on 128 instead of south. Planning on turning around, I made my way over to the right lane and exited. As soon as I got off of the highway, though, I knew where I was headed.
A stone wall surrounded the large plot of land. Over the entrance was a sign in wrought iron, “Halley-Hawkins Cemetery”. I pulled in and drove up the access road. The land was now owned and maintained by the town, but this had all been part of Miles Hawkins estate which the Halleys later inherited. After the dispute over the ownership of the mausoleum in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were resolved, George Halley donated most of the land surrounding the mausoleum plot to the town to be used as a public cemetery.
I continued until I hit the pull off area just west of the mausoleum. There was a small fence, about a foot tall, around the inner plot. This piece of land belonged to the Hawkins Plot Trust. The trust was now mostly run by the town, but any ancestor of Miles Hawkins could lay some claim to the land. A very large sum of money was placed in the trust in 1805, just after the mausoleum was renovated, to be used to maintain the land and building. Stan was on the board and hinted that the trust was now in the millions of dollars. Most of the land around the mausoleum had been used by Miles’ family, with his parents interred there before the mausoleum was built. There were some more distant relatives and even some close friends and servants.
I took a long look at the building. It was modelled on the French neo-Gothic that was popular at the time it was rebuilt, with tall, steep pitched roofs. The main building over the Octagon was a squat square. The roof’s ridgeline ran from the main entrance in the west towards the Hawthorn Branch’s crypt to the east, though, since the roof was semi-pyramidal, the ridgeline was about half the length of the structure. There was a small structure, three quarters the height of the main one, going out in each of the four cardinal directions. The front of the main entrance was flat to accommodate the entry way, but over the crypts the roof slanted back. The Halley Branch’s crypt was to the north, the Hawthorns in the east and the Hawkins was in the south.
I closed my eyes and tried to picture the original structure, a large brick pyramid that covered the Octagon. The pyramid was hollow, being held up mostly by wood scaffolding. Of course there was no dome at that time. In staying with the early nineteenth century Greek Revival style, the 1803 structure was based on a round Greek temple covering the dome with rectangular temples over the crypts and the entrance. Some of the wooden Doric columns of this incarnation had been incorporated into the present building.
I unlocked and lifted the bar then unlocked the main door. Once in I switched on the lights. They flickered then came on. I descended the steps into the Octagon.
The Octagon was roughly 16 feet across, with each of the eight faces being around six and a half feet, a four foot wide door being in the middle of every other face. A bench, about five foot long, stood about three foot out from the blank walls on either side of the Hawthorn Branch’s crypt to cover the blank walls between the crypts. I sat down on the bench between the Hawkins crypt and the Hawthorn crypt.
I sat for a while, staring at the floor in the middle of the Octagon where I guessed Miles must be interred. Was there some type of closed off crypt down there? I never knew but with the information Bill had given me, that is what I assumed. I guessed he was placed on a block with only a shroud around his body.
My curiosity risen, I tried to scan his tomb. I could feel nothing. In fact, since I had been in the Octagon I had felt nothing at all. Not a thing. I felt much more walking across the cemetery.
I stretched my mind out trying to pick up anything at all be it good, evil, neutral, anything at all. There was nothing, void, the absence.
I had always felt the watchers of the Hawthorn crypt, but even they were missing. I pushed at the Hawthorn crypt but couldn’t feel it.
The complete absence of anything meant something else was blocking it.
I hammered as hard as my mind could against the Hawthorn crypt. Finally I felt something. There was a barrier sealing it off. The barrier was much stronger than anything I had encountered.
A loud noise made me jump. The door at the entrance to the mausoleum had just slammed shut. I looked up the stairs towards the entrance.
Benjamin walked down the stairs and stopped at the second one to the bottom.
“Welcome,” he said. “And to what do I owe your visit today?”
“Uhm, I, uhm,” I said.
“Some things haven’t changed much in the last 20 years, have they?” he asked. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going to try to catch you today. Why bother? No, I think today all I want to do is talk. That’s why you came isn’t it? To gain information? And who better to ask?”
“I do want to find out more about the family,” I said.
“Good!” he replied. “That’s a great sign. I’ll tell you what, let’s play a little game about the families. You’ll like that, won’t you? Everyone likes a good game.”
I could only nod my head.
“Fine,” he said. “Here is how we’ll start this game. The door is closed. You are trapped here forever. The next family event isn’t scheduled until the equinox in late September, about a month away. There’s no way you can survive.”
“But, what about,” I said.
“I don’t care about your vehicle, just be a good boy and play the game,” he said.
“Good,” he continued. “So, you are down here forever. Where will you go to curl up and die? Which branch will claim you?”
“That’s easy,” I said.
“Shut up!” he said. “I’m not done laying the ground rules.
“Obviously you can’t stay here,” Benjamin continued. “Miles wouldn’t stand that and the families would be upset with you for stinking up the Octagon. No, you won’t stay here.
“The Hawkins branch?” he continued. “There is a little of their dark blood in your veins, though very little. Surprised? Like attracts like, as I see you’ve found by nosing around the Hawkins girls. They have joined your line at least twice. Your great-grandfather didn’t realize that pretty servant girl he married was actually a n..er nor that they were distantly related. But just two Hawkins is too little blood, isn’t it? They wouldn’t have you.”
“I know where I,” I said.
“I’ll tell you when you can talk, if you please. You are my guest and have to play by my rules,” he said.
“So, you can’t stay here and the Hawkins won’t have you, so you believe your beloved Hawthorns will?” He laughed. “I’ll talk about them later.”
I was about to protest but he went down a step and glared at me sternly.
“So, why not the Halleys?” he said. “Did you know that Gustav had a brother and a sister? No? There are still many Halleys in the Boston area. Not everyone by the name is related, no, not by a long shot, but you’d surprised by how many are. And those of other names but still related. As I said, like attracts like and I’ll admit the Halleys can be a bit narcissistic making them even more attracted to their own. Even though there was no incest, and relative didn’t knowingly marry relative, the bloodline stayed unusually pure with the Halleys..
“The Hawthorn branch married decedents of Gustave’s siblings on several occasions,” he continued. “Even your cousins have as much if not more Halley blood as Hawthorn. Now isn’t that ironic?”
He stepped down in the Octagon and pointed at me. “Do you know your father’s family tree? No? The Halley blood runs true in that man. He gets it from both parents. Of all the men in the world you are the most closely tied with the Halleys. Your father comes close, but he doesn’t have any of Miles’ blood while it is unusually strong in you. There are females, but they don’t count for my game, do they?”
Me a Halley? It couldn’t be.
“The reason they don’t count is I’m looking for an heir. If you decided to reclaim the Halley branch I believe it would be very simple,” he said. “I can quickly lead you to the resources to prove how closely you are related. You are and should be the heir to the name.”
“But I’m a Hawthorn!” I said.
“Have you ever wondered why you’ve never felt comfortable in the crypt?” he asked. “Did you wonder why the watchers seemed to concentrate on you while leaving everyone else alone? They know. If you crawled in there to die, they would block your way. The Hawthorn branch would not want to claim you as one of their own. You are far more Halley than Hawthorn.”
I felt a shiver up my spine. I had never felt right in the crypt, I had always felt like an interloper.
“And there is more,” he said. “For twenty years I have been slowly working on you. I have been shaping you, twisting you, forming you. I have been making you more like me, a Halley. You are now so much a Halley inside and out. Have you seen any of the portraits? You fit in with the Halleys much more than the Hawthorns, despite your darker hair.”
“But, but, why?” I asked. “Why did you do this, why me?”
“My line should have never died,” he answered. “We should have continued. I have been waiting for an heir for nearly a century and a half. And since it was a Hawthorn that ended the line, doesn’t it make sense that a Hawthorn would restart it? You are the closest in blood to a true Halley than any male since I died, so you are the one. You will bring it full circle and restart the line that your ancestor ended. And remember, you volunteered by coming to visit me all of those years ago, being drawn by the attraction to your true family.”
“But the Halleys are evil,” I said.
“According to whom, may I ask? Look it up,” he said. “Miles was the original philanthropist and we followed in his footsteps, giving to the needy throughout. Little bad can be said about us.”
“Racist?” I asked.
He laughed. “Just because I use the term we all used back then? My feud was with the Hawkins, not with the entire Negro race. If you only knew the truth. Oh, I might as well tell you a little. You may not believe it, but I had at various times thought of taking my heir from the Hawkins branch. There is much more Halley in them than in the Hawthorns, at least until you came along. Would a racist consider a ni, sorry, a whatever the hell you think I should call them, as an heir? Do you have anything else besides calling me a racist?”
“How about what happened with Dorothy?” I asked.
“As your courts would say today, temporary insanity caused by stress,” he said. “We had an agreement, a trust. She knew what was expected and she knew the consequences. She broke the trust just to hurt me. She purposefully stabbed me in the back in the worst way possible. Does anyone call her evil? Why is it only me? But for the pain I caused her? I am truly sorry. I do suffer for it. You once felt her pain? I feel it every day and it weighs heavily on my conscious. I pray to her daily for forgiveness.
“But is there anything else you can think of?”
I tried to think of all of the stories and rumors about the Halleys, but I knew most of them were false. I shook my head.
“You cannot reclaim my fortune, of course, but I can help make you rich,” he said. “And that without hurting anyone. You don’t need to step on the heads of others to raise above them financially. You’ll find that out soon enough. Yes, very soon you’ll find how easy it is to become rich. And then you can do what you please. Give to whomever you want. You can be great, but you can also be generous. You are the heir and can choose your path.”
“I am a,” I started, but he cut me off again.
“Shhh, shhh. Tonight is not the night for you to decide,” he said. “Because, of course, this was only a game.”
I heard the door of the mausoleum reopen.
“Game or no,” he said, “you are a Halley and should be proud of it. You are my heir and only need to nod to reclaim it.”
I stared at him with all of the bravery I could muster. “No thank you,” I said.
“Good, good, I love a fighting spirit,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll meet again soon enough. But, in the meantime, think about it.”
He came up in front of me, gave a small bow and then descended the steps into the Halley crypt.
I got up off of the bench and ran up the stairs. Hand shaking I fiddled with the locks. Door shut and barred behind me, I stood blinking in the late evening sunlight breathing the heavy, humid August air. It had never tasted fresher, nor had it ever felt better.
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