Death and Professor Appleton

By Brian Bixby ; copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby

We had spent the morning bird watching. It was spring time and we were good Audubon members, surveying the seasonal migrations. Our choice of venue I had thought a bit odd when I first heard it: Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But Dan had insisted that it would be worth our while, and it was his neck of the woods, so I let myself get talked into it. As it turned out, it was an excellent spot, well known to birders in the area: acre after acre sporting numerous different tree species, all delightfully landscaped with hills and dells, ponds and streams. Above all, there was the tower at the center of the cemetery, which gave us a panoramic view of the Charles River valley, perfect for bird watching. Dan knew some people on the cemetery’s board, and they had let us stay within the cemetery overnight, to give us the best and earliest start we could have.

We retired to Harvard Square to eat lunch at one of the finer establishments there. It’s strange, I don’t recall what we ate, only that we were served an excellent Burgundy with our meal. My health allowed me to drink only sparingly, and I limited myself to one glass. This suited Dan, who drank the entire rest of the bottle during the course of our meal, and in consequence grew atypically talkative.

“Y’know, Andrew,” he said at one point, “the Harvard Corporation owns a sizable lot there at Mount Auburn.”

This struck me as a bit odd. “What would a university want with a cemetery plot? Do they kill off disgraced professors and bury them there?” I should add by way of explanation that the governing board of Harvard University is called the Corporation. It’s a self-renewing body, accountable to no one else. Dan, well connected as he is, knows all the members.

Dan thought my remark funny. “I’m sure they’d like to. Given how deep tradition runs at that place, it’s a wonder they don’t hold a retirement ceremony there for each University President, ending with plunging a dagger into his heart.” He coughed, drank some more wine, and continued, “I don’t actually know what it’s for. But they bought it when the cemetery opened in 1831. Transportation was slow in those days, and they didn’t embalm corpses then, either. I suppose they used it to bury students or faculty who died during the school year and who wouldn’t or couldn’t be shipped home.”

Not exactly great luncheon conversation, especially as I had once watched a corpse being embalmed and had lost a fine meal in the bargain. But I stuck to the subject. “I suppose, then, that there are a lot of burials in the 1830s until the 1860s, and few after that, what with the railroads and embalming becoming common and all.”

Dan sat back, unsuccessfully tried to stifle a burp behind his napkin, and gave me an odd look. “I don’t know. I’ve never set foot on the lot, except once in college.”

That surprised me. “What, no interest in finding a forgotten ancestor buried there? Or is there some arcane rule about not going there except for funerals?” Ever since Dan had mentioned how one of the Harvard ministers would graze a cow on Boston Common to enforce a privilege granted in the 18th century, I had kidded him on the byzantine complexity of the university’s traditions and regulations.

Dan shook his head. “No, that’s not it.” He looked lost in thought for bit, and then gave me a wink. “There is a story connected to that lot, though, if you want to hear it.”

I thought he had some silly story in mind, and reacted accordingly. “Don’t tell me. The undergraduates use it as a trysting place. Though why they’d bother when the basement level stacks in Widener are handier beats me.”

Dan waved his hand dismissively. “No, nothing like that. In truth, it’s an odd story. But it will take some time to tell. What say we go back to my place and have a brandy and I’ll tell you about it?”

I was agreeable, especially as I knew Dan kept a good cellar, as one would expect in the house of an older and wealthier man. So we finished our meal quickly and walked over to Dan’s home nearby. It was a wonderful old house, filled with antique furniture that had been handed down for generations. Dan lived alone there. He started up a fire in the parlor to warm the room up, poured us both snifters of brandy, and sat down to tell his story.

§

You know how Harvard has gotten such a reputation over time, and how vain the place is about its reputation. Well, Andrew, it might surprise you to know that at one time you could buy a professorship at Harvard. Oh, not anyone. You had to come from the right families and have the right connections. And if you could show you had written some books on the subject and gave the university a lot of money, you could call yourself a Harvard professor, draw a salary (that you’d already paid for), teach students, and use the university’s press to publish more of your books.

Well, that pretty much describes Charles Henry Appleton. The Appletons were a solid old Boston family, proper Unitarians. Charles’s father had money, which was fortunate, because he enlisted in the Union Army and died at Fredericksburg, not long after Charles was born. Charles grew up in the care of his mother, who was a strange woman. They say she was a Swede, but I’ve often wondered if she was a Lapp from what’s now Finland. She was a short, dark woman, who muttered to herself in a foreign tongue, and was said by some to be a witch.

Charles got the best of looks from both parents, his father’s handsomeness and tall, athletic build, while he got his dark looks and a faint air of exoticism from his mother. They say he broke hearts right and left when he entered society. Rumor has it he did more than break hearts, and that it was an impending scandal involving a New York banker’s daughter that caused him to interrupt his education at Harvard and go abroad.

For six years, Charles Appleton traveled the world. Where he went or what he was doing, no one knew. Queries to his mother were invariably answered with some vague comments about getting an education and minding after the family’s business affairs abroad. About the only thing that’s certain is that the Tsarist government in Russia declared him persona non grata after he fled St. Petersburg in the wake of an obscure incident that led to a nobleman’s death.

Charles returned home just one day before his mother died. It must have been a sudden illness; the old woman had looked healthy at a horticultural society meeting earlier that week. Strangely, there was no funeral. Supposedly the minister objected to the old woman being cremated, which practice was unusual in those days. Whatever the reason, the family stayed in total seclusion for three months of mourning.

And then Charles emerged back into society. He was 26, and even more handsome than before. Alas for the women who fell for his looks and his purse, he was now a married man. Presumably he had met his wife in his travels abroad. She was young and fair and slim, all the required attributes of a Brahmin wife, save for a distinguished ancestry. Where she came from, nobody knew, but the few people who knew both Charles’s wife and mother say they both spoke the same unknown foreign tongue. Still, her looks and Charles’s money went a long way to make her acceptable in society, and her own gracious manners did the rest.

Charles was able to talk Harvard into letting him complete his studies and get his degree without the indignity of spending more time in classes. He then went on to produce an extraordinary set of books treating many esoteric subjects he had encountered in his travels. In his writings, Charles was never concerned about the proprieties of his fellow Americans, and his works were too shocking for general circulation. Their academic reception was mixed, some hailing him for his observations and breathtaking analyses, others accusing him of gullibility and an overactive imagination.

While Charles publicly dismissed criticism of his work as unimportant, privately he seethed. And he decided to get his revenge. He arranged to donate a substantial part of his fortune to Harvard, to establish the “Robert Hanham Collyer Chair in Applied Psychology and Metaphysics.” Naturally, he was the first person to hold the chair. And thereafter, until the day he died, Charles was Prof. Appleton.

Charles, or, shall we give him his due and say Prof. Appleton, had three children by his lovely wife. Tragedy pursued their offspring. Charles, Junior was admitted to Harvard, but instead went abroad to fight for the British in the early years of the First World War. He died in the trenches only a week before the war ended. Albert was weak and feeble-minded, and spent most of his short life institutionalized. Agatha, the only daughter, eloped at 16 with a Harvard student and died in childbirth a year later.

By all accounts, Charles, Junior had been the apple of his father’s eye, and most people attribute Prof. Appleton’s curious behavior after the war to his grief and disappointment. The father just dropped out of society all together, began drinking heavily, and almost ceased to teach at Harvard. He and his wife had always been on loving terms, but visitors after the war noticed that Charles treated his wife with contempt, and that she almost seemed to live in fear of him. She had been a marvelously attractive woman even into what were probably her forties, yet in the space of a few years she lost her looks and her health, dying in 1921. She was cremated, too, and again there was no funeral.

Meanwhile, Charles had developed an obsession. He had learned that Harvard owned that lot in Mount Auburn Cemetery, and decided that was where his son should be buried. And he pursued this matter with a monomania that convinced people he was becoming unhinged. The Harvard Corporation pointed out that Charles, Junior had never actually attended Harvard, and that he was buried among his brothers-in-arms in France. Worse for the father, Charles, Junior had actually married a French nurse during the war, and she opposed her dead husband’s exhumation and removal to America. Charles tried repeatedly throughout the 1920s to get the widow and Harvard to change their minds, but in vain. Not even Appleton money was enough in this case.

One sign of Charles’s monomania was that he started to spend time visiting Mount Auburn Cemetery, hanging about the Harvard lot and talking out loud to himself. People say he had marked out just where his son should be buried. The cemetery’s officials twice banned him, once after an act of vandalism, but relented both times, partly out of pity for the poor man, partly because he had ancestors buried elsewhere in Mount Auburn, including his own father.

As the years passed, rumors began circulating about Prof. Appleton and his interest in the lot. It was Prohibition, you know, and it was said that Charles actually was using the story of his son’s burial to cover up his meetings with bootleggers in the cemetery. According to that rumor, the “vandalism” was actually the damage to the grounds from Charles and his bootlegger friends burying a cache of spirits in the lot. That was the more innocent rumor.

The other rumor that began to circulate was that Prof. Appleton was drawing on his knowledge of esoteric subjects to conduct magical rites in the cemetery, and that the “vandalism” was actually the result of Charles’s attempt to bring a corpse back to life. It was absurd, but there was an uncomfortable amount of evidence pointing in that direction. Charles’s books hinted at involvement in questionable religious practices. It was said that Agatha eloped out of fear of her father, and she had died cursing him. And, most curious of all, the French widow, who could not have heard the rumors in Boston, alleged that Prof. Appleton intended to mutilate his son’s corpse in some fashion.

In 1929, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Looking for ways to cut costs, the Harvard Corporation informed Charles that his chair endowment no longer covered his salary, and suggested, in light of how few students he was teaching, that he consider retiring. Charles made a scene in the office of the university president, vowing he would never give up his chair, and that Harvard would pay for this insult. Six months later, Charles was dead. And, curiously, the Corporation allowed him to be buried in the Harvard lot, in the very spot, so it is said, he had intended for his son.

Why they did it, I don’t know. Maybe they thought it was a last gesture toward a graduate and professor who had so strongly identified with the university. If so, their gratitude had narrow limits. They put up no marker on his grave. And they retired his chair until they could rename it for a wealthy alumnus who donated the money to bring its endowment back up. The chair exists to this day, but you’ll look in vain outside of some dusty archives for any evidence that it once carried another name and had been held by Prof. Charles Henry Appleton.

In the normal course of events, Charles should have been forgotten. Harvard had no interest in perpetuating his memory. His books ceased to be read, and can hardly be found even in rare book stores these days. And his only heir was Agatha’s child, a daughter who did not bear the Appleton name and was raised in ignorance of her dead mother’s obscure heritage.

Still, in odd corners, Charles Henry Appleton’s reputation lingered. Stories about him in his later years were circulating at Lowell House, one of Harvard’s residential halls for upperclassmen, even in my day. The stories aren’t clear, but maybe he was head tutor there for several years. He’d had some connection with Lowell House.

Almost all the stories about him that went the rounds in Lowell House insisted there was something strange in the Harvard lot there at Mount Auburn. According to one story, Charles had been meaning to pick up a new supply of booze from bootleggers when he died in 1931, and that it was still buried in the lot. One could make a fortune from the vintage scotch that was buried there, or at least go on a mighty drunk.

Another story claimed that Charles had prepared the lot before his death for the resurrection of his son, thinking he’d eventually get his son’s body moved there. Since Charles himself was buried there instead, it was he who was going to be resurrected at some future date, the date usually given being November 4, 2018, one hundred years after Charles, Junior’s death.

One last story worth mentioning was that Charles had been buried with the ashes of both his mother and his wife, as well as various valuable magical instruments and texts. Anyone who aspired to magical powers would gain untold power if they dug up his coffin.

Well, you know what college students are like. And it was the 1970s, and the residential houses had become “coeducational,” which is to say the boys and girls were both getting an education in sex while living there. It was October of my sophomore year. By that time, you know everyone else in the house. There were far more boys than girls, so social life centered around the boys trying to raise their status high enough to get a girl. We boys did stupid things, and I fancy the girls looked on and laughed at how pathetic we were at times.

So we were sitting around in Rob Marsh’s room, smoking pot. (Yes, Andrew, serious gray-haired old me was a stoner back then. We all were.) Rob, who was a senior, had broken up with his girl over the summer, and was trolling among the sophomore girls for a replacement. He and I both had our eye on Mindy Thorpe, the prettiest girl in that room who wasn’t attached to a guy right at the moment. Mindy knew it, and was forever goading both of us to do stuff, with the implication that we might get to sleep with her if we did. So far she had implied much more than she had delivered.

It was Rob who brought up the stories about Charles Henry Appleton. He offered the black magic version first, to give the creeps to Mindy in hopes that she would want shelter in his arms. And when that didn’t work, he claimed the bootlegging version was the real one, and that we should mount an expedition to liberate the liquor for ourselves.

At first, the idea didn’t go over at all. Tom Fields, who was into mystical stuff, got off on a whacked-out spiel about how Charles Henry Appleton’s initials formed the first three letters of his given name, and how significant that was. But Mindy, who much preferred to drink than to smoke, was caught by the idea of the liquor cache, and finally interrupted Tom to ask who would join her in going out to the cemetery and digging it up. Rob, of course, was all for it.

Even stoned at the time, I thought it was a bad idea. Prohibition liquor had often been rotgut liquor, and probably hadn’t aged well in the intervening forty or so years. That was assuming that we could get in and out of the cemetery undetected, that we could find the proper spot in the lot to dig without any marker to guide us, and that the cache had not been severely damaged or removed in all the intervening years. It seemed a lot of trouble for booze when we could easily afford to buy our own. But there was Mindy, licking her lips and looking to me to see if I were man enough to do this, man enough for her. Naturally, I agreed.

We staggered out of Rob’s room and made it out as far as the street before we realized we had no idea what we were doing. We hadn’t shovels or flashlights, and although we were pretty certain Mount Auburn Cemetery was on Mt. Auburn Street, on which we were standing, we had no idea how far away it was or how to get there. To be honest, I doubt we had our heads on straight enough to know in which direction to go. So, after a great deal of confused discussion, and a Harvard cop suggesting we get inside before he had to arrest us, our little gang of would-be cemetery ghouls broke up. And that, I thought the next morning, was the end of that.

My willingness to go along on that aborted trip had apparently earned me points with Mindy, who started spending more time hanging out with me and even kissing me in public. It took me a while to realize that she was playing me against Rob, showing him she wasn’t just going to be a pushover because he was a senior, while making it clear she was my girl only so long as I behaved.

Rob was itching for a chance to show me up, and on the night before Halloween he made his move. We were eating dinner in the dining hall, Mindy sitting beside me, and Rob sitting across from her. Rob casually mentioned that tomorrow night was when he was going to break into Mount Auburn Cemetery and dig up Prof. Appleton’s booze. Mindy knew how to play the game. She lit up, began cooing at Rob across the table, and then turned to me and asked me why I hadn’t told her that me and my good friend Rob were going to do this and could she come along? And then Rob let the hammer down, by telling her this was his expedition, and I was not invited.

Ever since I’d realized that Mindy was playing off the two of us, I had considered the possibility that Rob might try something like this, and had made some preparations of my own. So instead of complaining, I congratulated Rob. With enthusiasm, I explained to Mindy how difficult and dangerous it would be to try to scale the fences and walls that surround the cemetery, and on Halloween at that, when security would be at its tightest. And then I casually concluded with the following line, “I’d actually considered doing the same thing myself, and had even found a secret way into the cemetery that’s much safer than going over the walls, but now that Rob’s announced he’s doing it, I wouldn’t want to horn in on his glory.”

An unhappy silence settled over the table. Rob was beginning to realize that he’d cut off his nose to spite his face. And Mindy could tell Rob was having second thoughts, but she wasn’t sure just which way this was going to play out, and so didn’t want to make a move. Instead, I made the next move in my plan. I said to Mindy, “Well, I’d better get going. I imagine you’ll be joining Rob on this expedition, and my presence here would just crimp the discussion. Bye.” And I got up and left.

I knew Mindy and Rob pretty well by this time, and figured I’d be getting a private visit from both of them before tomorrow night. The only question was whether they would come together or separately. If they came together, that meant Mindy had thrown in with Rob, and I no longer had a chance at her. In which case I would tell them nothing. I’d really lose any hope of getting Mindy that way, but I’d have the satisfaction of knowing that her relationship with Rob wouldn’t last long. Mindy would resent Rob for dragging her into danger if they went through with it, and would think him a coward if he dropped the idea.

But what if they came separately? I thought that the more likely scenario. There were all sorts of possibilities there. Although I was pretty sure that none of them ended with a naked Mindy in my bed. I had an advantage, but it wasn’t that big an advantage as far as I could tell.

Well, as I had hoped, it was Mindy who cracked first and came to see me. I’d been lying on my bed, reading. Mindy came in and sat down right beside me. Of course, I immediately sat up, which put my face about six inches from hers. Intimate. I’d normally take this sort of chance to give Mindy a kiss, but I wanted to see which way the wind blew first.

“Dan, you know what you were saying about there being a secret entrance to Mount Auburn Cemetery?”

“Yeah.”

“Where is it?”

I shook my head. “I know how to get there, but I’m not good at giving directions.” That, incidentally, is a lie. “Tomorrow night you’ll be going with Rob by whatever route he’s figured out, but I can take you some other time, maybe just before Thanksgiving.” I was doing my best to sound helpful and friendly the whole time.

Mindy got a pout on her face for a bit as she thought about her options. And then she said, “I’m not going with Rob.”

I acted surprised. “Why not?”

“He doesn’t really know any good way into the cemetery. He’s figuring on just scaling the fence.”

I was all false support for Rob. “Risky and all, trying to climb over the fence in plain sight on the street. But I’ve got to give Rob credit for taking the chance of getting arrested to do this.” Note I did not call Rob brave, which would have been putting a positive spin on his stupidity.

Mindy pouted. “But I don’t want to get arrested!”

I smiled and shrugged. “But you just told me you’re not going, so that settles that.”

Mindy squirmed, trying to figure out how she was going to take the next step. In a low voice, she said, “You know, apart from Rob’s hare-brained scheme, trying to dig up the booze or whatever it is in Appleton’s grave does sound like a fun adventure.” I didn’t reply. Mindy looked up and turned to me. “What if we went together?”

I could feel things slipping into place just where I wanted them. Not letting on, I looked doubtful. “I don’t know, Mindy. Rob’s a friend. I wouldn’t want to undercut him.”

I’ve already mentioned how we guys were acting like total idiots around the girls. Well, this is one of those times when it worked the other way. I knew Mindy now had her heart set on going to the cemetery, if it could be done with little risk to her. And I knew Mindy wasn’t really in love with either Rob or me. What she was in love with was the rivalry she had created between us, and the possibility that she might reward the more worthy of us with her body. So she swallowed the line that I was concerned for my non-existent friendship with my hated rival Rob, because it would show how powerful she was if she could force me to pick her over Rob.

And that’s exactly what she did. Mindy turned to me with her sexy look, eyes half-closed, mouth slightly open, and whispered, “Who do you want to help, Dan? Rob or me?” And then she leaned forward and kissed me.

I don’t need to go into all the details of what happened next; you can imagine them. What surprised me at the time was how completely Mindy surrendered. It fooled me into thinking she really was in love with me. In retrospect, I think Mindy had gotten so excited by the rivalry that she had created that she couldn’t handle the sexual tension anymore, and I happened to be the guy with her when she finally had to release it. Or, rather, when I’d helped make it happen by ratcheting up the tension a great deal.

Mindy had come just after 8 PM. It was just before 11 PM when Rob casually knocked and walked into the room, to find Mindy and me in my bed. It was an awkward moment for Rob and for me. Not for Mindy, who sat up beside me in bed and kissed me on the shoulder and neck a few times before shouting at Rob, “What are you, some sort of pervert, you like to watch? Get out!” Rob, shocked, fled. Mindy laughed once, looked at me, laughed again, and then proceeded to finish what she’d started.

I had won Mindy. I had triumphed over my rival. And so I stopped thinking, and didn’t consider that my relationship with Mindy was as poisonous as her relationship with Rob would have been. I got up the next morning all smiles, which continued while we showered together. If Mindy seemed less cheerful, I didn’t notice at first. But just as we finished getting dressed, Mindy said to me, “You know, Dan, you really should include Rob in this cemetery trip.”

A pit formed in my stomach. I shook my head. “I don’t think so. After last night, I don’t think Rob would want to go with me.”

Mindy smiled in a sexy way. “I can fix that. Besides, Rob’s done a lot of preparation. He’s got shovels and flashlights and all sorts of things we’ll need. Do you?”

I had to admit I did not, and Mindy thereafter took it as a given that Rob and I would be working together on this. I felt sick to my stomach, because I’d realized I’d not really won Mindy at all. I’d just set the stage for the next level of competition.

Mindy went to work on Rob, and we all spent the time just after lunch in her room putting together a plan. It was an uncomfortable meeting. Rob clearly hated me. Only his pride, and a hope that he could take Mindy away from me (which she had no doubt encouraged), made him willing to cooperate. And I was dismayed to see that, while Mindy initially sat beside me, she kept trying to serve as the impartial broker between Rob and me.

I was so jealous and angry that, after Rob left, I pulled Mindy to me, kissed her hard, and began tearing at her clothes. She tried to resist, and when I wouldn’t stop she pushed me violently away from her. She then told me that if this was the way I was going to act, taking her for granted, she wanted nothing more to do with me. And so I slunk out of her room, heartbroken.

You’d think that would have been the end of my relationship with Mindy. I could finally see it for what it was. I wanted her for her looks and her body. I didn’t much care for her otherwise. Indeed, I was disgusted with how she’d just been playing with Rob and me. Clearly, last night had been an accident, and I was a fool.

A fool redoubled. Mindy knew this expedition wouldn’t work without me. So she sat down beside me at dinner, and tried to treat me as her best of all possible friends as her way of ensuring I was still on board. But I was sick of her insincere affections, and barely spoke to her. It didn’t take long for Mindy to see that she wasn’t getting anywhere with the friend routine, so she began hinting that her interests went beyond just being friends. I tried to ignore her, but it was hard, especially after last night, and I couldn’t help but steal a few appreciative glances at her body. Mindy noticed, and knew she could get me back again. After dinner she pursued me back to my room, where she gave me the one thing I couldn’t resist. And I let myself believe that we’d only had a little spat, and that Mindy really did love me. As I say, a fool redoubled.

So I let myself be persuaded into taking part in the expedition to dig up Appleton’s grave after all. We ended up being a party of five. Rob had enlisted his roommate John Tappan, while Mindy had brought along her friend Ginny Chadwick. John was a good man to have along, a big, muscular fellow, a loyal friend of Rob’s who could be counted on to keep his mouth shut. Ginny, on the other hand, was a blabbermouth who was sleeping with Mike Scarpati, no friend of mine, and whose relationship with Mindy went through cycles of bonding and quarreling. I could have done without her.

We got to Mount Auburn around 10 PM, and I revealed my big secret: the lich gate. When the cemetery was first opened, it served as much as a park as a cemetery. And no one wanted to go in the same way as the corpses did. So a lich gate had been built in an obscure section of the cemetery wall, far away from any other entrance. It had long fallen out of use and was mostly forgotten, but my grandfather had pointed it out to me once. If you didn’t know it was there, it just looked like part of the fence surrounding the cemetery. The rusty padlock on it appeared to be a century old, and quietly snapped in seconds after we took a crowbar to it.

I’m told Mount Auburn was a pretty park when it was first opened, and you’ve seen what a pretty cemetery it is now during the day. But at night, that night, it looked different under the moonlight. The various gravestones and monuments cast deep and often oddly-shaped shadows. Even the lightest wind stirred the brittle leaves that remained on the trees, which made it sound as if thousands of ghosts were shuffling their feet. And there are creatures that live in that cemetery. I’m told that turkeys have recently taken up residence, but even in those days there were chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, snakes, and foxes, and rumors of deer. You’d see what looked like movements off to one side, and you’d look, and there would be nothing there, or, even worse, a shadow that vanished into another shadow. It’s not like our flashlights, provided by Rob, were any good at long distances. And it was cold. Oh, sometimes it’s a warm night on Halloween, but this wasn’t one of them. Under our light jackets, we were shivering within minutes of our arrival in John’s car.

Well, our shivering stopped as we approached the lot. It’s on the top of a knoll, you see, and it was a bit of work to get up there, especially given all the heavy tools we were dragging. John and Rob and I were sweating by the time we got to the top, and we gave each other looks as if to say, “Why did we ever decide to do this stupid thing?”

Mindy and Ginny were behind us the whole climb. I’d always thought of Ginny as the airhead, but it was Mindy who was giggling at everything at first. Rob had to tell her to shut up repeatedly. Ginny was quiet and serious, and looked like she was actually studying the monuments we passed. She’d shine her light onto them, read their inscriptions to herself, and then move on. Mindy was joshing her at first, but the farther we got into the cemetery, the quieter Mindy became. By the time we got to the Harvard lot, she was completely subdued, and looked as if she didn’t really want to be there, either. Only Ginny seemed unaffected. She was shining her flashlight at one stone after another, quietly reading them to herself.

Rob had visited the cemetery a few days prior, which is how he knew where the lot was. And it was he who told us where to dig. So Rob, John, and I got to work with our shovels, while the two girls hung back and watched and said nothing.

We’d got maybe four or five feet down when John’s shovel hit something solid. It made a distinct noise, as if striking metal. John dug down again in the same place, and this time we all heard the sound of glass breaking.

Almost immediately, gasses seemed to erupt from where John’s shovel hit. The next thing we knew, it was as if a geyser of dirt and dust was pouring out of the ground and shooting into the air. I must have taken a mouthful of it myself at first, and almost choked to death before I managed to crawl out of the hole we’d dug. Above ground, the dust storm wasn’t so confined, so it was less intense, but I still felt I was being blasted.

When it finally let up, I sat up and looked around. I expected to see the whole area sandblasted. To my surprise, there was no trace of the dust storm anywhere, not even on my clothes or skin. I could see Rob, Mindy, and Ginny all sitting up, and there was no trace of the storm on them, either.

Rob stood up, helped Mindy to her feet, and asked, “What the hell was that?”

Mindy smiled at him. “Let me show you.” And she seized Rob in a passionate embrace.

Ginny and I were on the other side of the hole, so we probably couldn’t have intervened, even if we’d known what was going on. To us, it looked like Rob and Mindy had just chosen an inappropriate time to make out. And what I thought about Mindy’s betrayal at that point you don’t want to know. But as we watched, Rob changed. He was taller than Mindy, and at first he’d been helping hold her up. But his body began to slump, and it started to look like she was holding him up. Rob shriveled and faded before our eyes, shrinking until his bones almost protruded through his skin and his clothes became loose.

And then Mindy let Rob go, and he fell to the ground. You could hardly tell who he was, he looked so emaciated. And he was clearly dead.

I looked up at Mindy. She was grinning at Ginny and me, and her mouth was covered in blood. It was horrible, it was repulsive. I was going to be sick. I wanted to look away. But Mindy caught my eye, and I couldn’t look away. Mindy was the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen. As I stared into her eyes, all I knew was that I was in love with her and would do whatever she asked.

Mindy had only one command. “Dig out the coffin and open it up.”

Ginny and I both obediently turned to the hole. The shovels were still in there. So was John, or what was left of him. It looked like the dirt had blasted away his clothes and most of his flesh from his bones. It was horrible. But neither Ginny nor I paid it the slightest attention. We got down into the hole, and began digging, tossing John’s remains out of the hole along with the rest of the dirt.

The whole time I was digging, I was there, but I wasn’t really all there, if you know what I mean. No, of course you don’t. Emotionally, I was enthralled by Mindy. I wanted her body more than I ever had wanted it before. I would do anything for her. Yet it was much more than sexual. I also wanted her to control me, to dominate me, to make me do whatever she wanted, even to take my life from me if she wanted. And since what Mindy had actually ordered me to do was to dig out the coffin, that is what I did wholeheartedly. But somewhere in the back of my mind there was a nagging feeling that something was wrong. At some level, I knew that wasn’t really Mindy anymore, that she had become something loathsome. Not that I could do anything about it.

Ginny and I worked without rest or complaint. I knew I was sweating heavily from the work, and so was Ginny. She even looked as if she were in pain, but she made not a sound of complaint. Mindy had ordered us, and we would carry out her orders no matter what.

Finally, we uncovered the coffin, cleared its top, and then forced open the lid. Inside was a skeleton dressed in early 20th century men’s clothing. If I’d been in my right mind, I would have wondered why there was no trace of decomposing flesh, but I was still under Mindy’s control. Ginny and I were both still standing in the hole when Mindy came down. She ordered Ginny to stand at the foot of the open coffin. Mindy herself took up a position at the head, her feet on either side of the skull. Me she ordered to kneel down in between us and take the left hand of the corpse.

I would have thought the left hand was just bones and would fall apart when I tried to pick it up, but it acted as if something held it together. There was a gold ring with a black stone on the index finger that was somehow warmer than the bones, and my fingers instinctively clutched at it.

Mindy began chanting. I did not recognize the tongue then. Since that time I’ve tried to identify it from what I remember, but I’ve been unsuccessful. And as Mindy chanted, the ring’s warmth increased. I could feel it spread through my body, and with it thoughts and feelings that were not mine. Something was arising in me and taking control of me. And because I was in Mindy’s thrall, I did not even try to fight it.

By the time it was over, I was two people. I was a college student named Dan, who could still see and feel everything, but couldn’t react to anything. And I was Charles Henry Appleton, who could do as he pleased. I looked over to Mindy and saw that she was my mate, and from the blood on her mouth that she had fed. She smiled, recognizing that I was now her Charles, and told me, “Take the girl.”

I turned and saw Ginny, staring blank-faced at us. The Dan part of me knew who she was. The Charles part of me neither knew nor cared. As I advanced on her, my mate released her control over Ginny. Ginny snapped out of her trance and immediately became confused about her situation. She saw me and her look shifted to one of relief. Then she saw my mate in the body of Mindy with her blood-soaked mouth, and that frightened her. She turned back to me, an appeal for help in her eyes.

It was her last moment of freedom. Once she looked into my eyes, she must have realized what had happened, what her fate was to be. For her own eyes opened wide, her appeal for help caught in her throat, and she tried to turn away from me. It was too late. She had looked, and she could no longer look away. She could not move, she could not escape. And then I summoned her in Dan’s voice. “Ginny,” I called, and she became entirely mine. She was no longer frightened. She would not resist me. Now all she knew was her love for me. She welcomed me as I embraced her. I pressed my lips to hers, and began to feed.

§

Dan broke off the story at that point, and refilled our glasses with brandy. I waited for him to continue, but instead he just stared into the depths of his brandy glass, as if lost in thought. Finally, I prodded him. “And then what happened?”

Dan gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Oh, the next morning all five of us were at breakfast in Lowell House dining hall, acting as if we’d never gone on the trip in the first place. And if there were any traces of our little expedition to the cemetery, the authorities must have covered them up, because no report of any act of vandalism ever surfaced.”

I was disappointed. “So, what? This was all a dream?”

Dan stared a bit more into his snifter before replying. “No, not a dream. You see, I don’t remember that morning in the dining hall. Or anything else that happened until next May.

“That wasn’t the only odd thing. Between November and May, Ginny, Rob, and John each fell sick in turn, wasted away, and died. And I don’t remember any of that, either.

“All I remember is waking up on May 27. Mindy was in bed with me. She didn’t remember anything that had happened, either, not from the moment in the cemetery when John’s shovel had hit something. According to all our friends, we’d been lovers the whole time, and had gone off on weekends someplace, nobody knew where.

“Which makes it weird that from that day onward, we wanted nothing to do with each other. Fortunately, it was the end of exam period, and we both quickly went back home for the summer. But for the remaining two years of college, we avoided each other as much as possible, and we never talked about what had happened. Seeing Mindy, remembering the sight of her blood-soaked mouth that night, was enough to make me sick. We graduated, went our separate ways, and that, I figured, was that.

“About three years later, just after I graduated from law school, I was in a bar in New York City, when I turned around and there was Mindy! But it wasn’t really Mindy. It was whatever had taken possession of her before, Charles’s mate. I fell instantly and completely under her spell. And I knew what she wanted. She wanted to feed. And once she had fed, I would become Charles Henry Appleton and I would feed and we’d be together.

“People soon saw I was living with Mindy and assumed we’d gotten back together. Over the next half year, four of my friends wasted away and died. And then one morning, Mindy and I woke up in bed without any memory of what had happened since that night in New York City. We might not remember, but we knew what must have happened, and we quickly went our separate ways.

“And that’s been the pattern ever since. Mindy, or, rather, that creature that takes her over every so often, comes into my life every so often and together we prey on people and neither one of us remembers it because it really isn’t us. And Mindy never ages. I think that’s why more and more people die each time she comes. She needs to feed more to keep herself young.

“What’s really dreadful is that I can resist her less and less. I used to be horrified at what was happening to me. I tried to fight fate and even got married at one point. And then Mindy came, and my wife died an agonizing death not long after. I learned my lesson, and steered clear of long-term commitments ever since.”

Dan got up and paced a bit. I have to admit I was horrified by the whole story. It matched up with a few things I’d heard about Dan’s life. At the very least, it indicated he was suffering from delusions and was perhaps dangerous. Still, he was a friend, and I tried to act as a friend. “That really is horrible, Dan. Isn’t there anyone you can speak to about this? Something that can be done?”

Dan stopped in his pacing, and looked at me, as if considering what to tell me. With a nod, he strode over to the door that connected to the hallway. “Yes, Andrew, there is something. As I’ve said, I’ve pretty much given up resisting her. But let me assure you, it doesn’t hurt. You’ll want to let her feed on you.” And then he opened the door.

4 Responses to Death and Professor Appleton

  1. E. J. Barnes says:

    Would Appleton’s father have been shipped back to Cambridge after dying at Fredericksburg?
    “…we could afford to buy our own — and in those days we non-Seniors didn’t need a fake ID.”
    I forgot about the rabbits! Surely (if we saw over a dozen rabbits on a recent visit) there would have been rabbits there in the 1970s.

  2. crimsonprose says:

    Love that ending. And that explains your recent trip to Mt Auburn Cemetery . . . telling me it was for photos. Oh, your secret is out now. What was that you said of a dental appointment?🙂

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Our Halloween movie was “The Shining,” another example of an author using a trip as material for a story. Though I must disclaim nefarious intent: the idea for the story came when a friend who saw the photos asked, “Do you know any ghost stories about Mt. Auburn?”

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