From the Jack Vincent Papers, Volume I, believed to have been written in 1820…
October 31, 18—
My reason fails me this night. Already, I have seen the shadows moving in the darkness beyond the glass. And yet, they tell me that I am ill. Ill I am, but I know that I be not mad. 0 curs’d flame that flickers but for the briefest instant! Yes, I am not mad although, in truth, I am yet afflicted with a dread-filled acuteness of the senses common to the male lineage of my family. Nay the less, I know what I have seen: things beyond the most vile imaginings of the minds of mortal man. What hellspawn awaits me, eager at the funerary scent of my most shameful degradation? 0 Bless’d Saviour, wherefore hast Thou abandoned me so?
The nightmare began but a year ago. Grenville and I had taken it upon ourselves to traverse the Swiss Alps for the duration of the summer months, it being the occasion of the mutual completion of our respective courses of study at Cambridge. Both in our twenty-first years, our European sojourn had passed without noteworthy incident, let or hindrance until we came upon the village of Karldstadt in the fading embers of an unnaturally becalm’d day. Almost beslumber’d after our day’s constitutional, we sought lodgings at a humble inn, thinking to stay but for the night before striking forth for the cathedral at Inglestadt the following morn. Grenville, a scholar of theology, was desirous of viewing the triptych of the famed Swiss master guild’s man Feidelstein housed within that great temple of our Lord, and I was happy to accompany my good friend on such a noble quest. Would that we had completed that simple task! But cruel Fate intervened as Grenville, that night, was overcome by a nervous exhaustion, no doubt engendered by the vagaries of such a foreign clime. We were thus compelled to remain in Karldstadt while I nursed my companion.
It was during this enforced hold in our expedition that I experienced my first sublime taste of that which men call love, beautiful yet perverted by the disastrous events that I may yet, God willing, relate.
Being a stranger of not unimpressive bearing, I was fortunate, or so it appeared to an innocent such as I, to court the attentions of the beautiful Isobella, a girl of but eighteen summers and the daughter of a local shepherd. Our youthful passion was withal but painfully brief, for her fair countenance, of such delicate, pallid complexion, foreshadow’d a consumption to which she would soon tragically succumb. After three months of divine exile, while my friend gradually recovered and my passion for Isobella flower’d into most perfect consummation, the Lord took her from me. The last word upon her exquisite lips, pale in mortification, was my name. With this, the breath left her body and my dearest love was gone.
Beyond consolation, I saw fit only to drown my fevered ravings in ever larger doses of laudanum, while the worthy Grenville supported me as best he could despite his weakened condition. Neither priest nor physician could restore my enfeebled spirits and, in despair, Grenville returned to England, unable to longer bear witness to my determined self-destruction.
No man has ever been closer to me in this life, yet I could not tell even he, my most benevolent brother, the true nature of the torment that enshrouded my very existence like the veil of the tomb. My beloved did come to me in my dreams each night; and the excesses of my fancied depravity wore heavily upon my heart, draining the life from my body. Unable to confront that which my mind could not comprehend, an animal lust did consume me. I thought of nothing but our one night of love together and this once glorious, yet now painful, recollection did burn me to my very soul. No longer sensible of my actions, I took to wandering the bleak cemetery in which my love was entombed. Finally, one terrible night some weeks after Isobella’s demise, I did enter her sepulchral boudoir and there, in that blighted vault, I gave myself to my beloved once again.
With the coming of the dawn, I realised the full import of this most heinous of crimes against Nature. Tortured to the very edge of madness, a fit of self-loathing came upon me and I hurled myself off the face of the mountain side. Memory of the vile deed which I alone had perpetrated had left me weary of this mortal coil and longing, in that final blasphemous act, for nothing more than the merciful oblivion of death. Yet God had deserted me utterly, denying any such relief from my agony. Instead I lay broken and bleeding beneath a precipice for two days and two nights, before my shattered body was recovered and returned to the keeping of that self-same humble swain who had sired my Lady Isobella. Inwardly I begged for death, but this good and gentle man did save my worthless life by applying balms made from the roots and herbs of the forest. And as I write, some nine months hence from that awful night, my health has all but returned to me; returned to face one final horror before Satan will, as I have no doubt, claim me for his very own.
So now, this night, they tell me that the balance of my mind is disturbed. 0 ye men that call me mad! Could ye but know what I know, have seen what I have seen within the shadows of Lucifer’s dark domain, that which numbs my very heart with the most unspeakable terror. For I have heard it, screaming like a feral cat in the night; I have heard it, my most loathsome progeny, wailing from within that ghastly mausoleum. A thing so hideous that I scarcely dare give its frightful form utterance. Yet I know, I am in no doubt, that a monstrous child was conceived that abominable night, within the dead womb of my beloved. And now that foul creature, neither living nor dead, comes to exact most bitter retribution upon the unworthy father that so callously created it.
As the church clock sounds the hour of midnight, I see again the shadows beyond the door and I am cognisant that no earthly lock will protect me from this dæmon. My blood chills, for I hear the creak upon the stair, the ghastly, laboured, preternatural breathing. My prodigal child is without the room. May Christ have mercy upon my tainted soul.