This episode begins at the point when my second summer on the Cape was nearing its end. That period was significant because it was the first time I'd lived by myself in my own apartment. It was also the first time I had my own business. In my tiny rustic shop, I sold lamps that I made from wood and stained glass and, also, art on consignment. The shop was called "Inner Light" - a name that made the people at the town hall a little nervous when I went for my business license. Apparently, - for them - the name conjured up images of head shops, and brothels. Once I'd assured them I wasn't peddling drug paraphernalia or sex, I got my license and was off and running - or, I should say, limping. You see, I didn't exactly make a killing that summer. It was an outcome that anyone with a brain cell could have predicted. On a basis that was too regular for practicality, I slapped a sign on the front of my shop that read: "Gone To The Beach". It was totally irresponsible of me, but I didn't care. I was young, and foolish, and the natural surroundings of the town were so beautiful, I just had to be out there.
On one of my hooky playing days, I spent the afternoon at the beach with some people I'd just met, from Long Island. When I returned home, I found the door to my apartment locked, [something I never did], and there was a big bag filled with all my earthly possessions, in front of it. I'd been a tad behind in my rent, and now I was out on the street. Although I hadn't been given the required thirty days notice, something told me to just let it go. Besides, I didn't feel right about arguing with my landlord, since I knew I was entirely, at fault. Eventually, I did pay the balance of the rent due. Motivated by guilt, and the necessity of not making an enemy in a town where everyone knew everyone else, I paid the landlord with money I earned cooking in a restaurant that winter.
The apartment I was leaving behind would always be my favorite. I refer to it as the Widow's Walk because it had a cupola on the roof where you could look out on the sparkling waters of the harbor. During the time I spent in that place I experienced the first major growth spurt of my spiritual development. The central lesson I learned there, was how to surrender to the universe. In fact, I learned that lesson so well, that when I was standing outside my locked apartment thinking about my impending homelessness, my inner dialogue went something like this: "Hmm. What to do?....I know. I'll go to a party." The people I'd met earlier that day had invited me to a party on the deck of Brittany House, the guest house where they were lodged. Leaving my sack of stuff just where I'd found it, [Why lug it around town?], I headed for the guest house whose second floor I could see above the tree tops on the hill behind me.
The so-called party was a pretty sleepy affair, one of those wine, and cheese things. However, the view from the deck was spectacular - almost as good as the one from my Widows Walk, down below. I'd only been there a brief time when an elderly woman, who I would soon get to know very well, emerged from the house with a platter of cheese and crackers. The woman's name was Catherine - a charming, seventy-five year old, with a thick French-Canadian accent, and an eye for the boys, especially a freckle-faced, redhead, named Brian. Whenever she saw him she would press her hand to her bosom and coo: "Ooh! dat Brian. He give me a trill." Later, when a joint being passed around had gotten too small to handle, Catherine came to our rescue by teaching us how to use a safety pin as a roach clip. Needless to say, I was instantly smitten by the old girl.
Catherine grew up in Montreal, where she spent the better part of her adult life caring for her invalid mother, her drunken husband, and her only child, Richard. Richard, now a grown man, had been a very, successful antiques dealer, before becoming an art history professor in Boston. He and his mother had pooled their money to buy Brittany House. Catherine's life had been one of self-sacrifice, and constant scrimping to make ends meet - a fact, evidenced by her extreme frugality. She never wasted anything - especially, leftover food. If there were even the remotest indication that something was still edible, it was sure to find its way to the dinner table that evening. I know because I lived in Brittany House that fall, and part of the winter. When I told Catherine I was looking for a cheap place to live, - without a moment's hesitation - she said: "Don't worry. Yer gonna live here, wid us." At the time I met Catherine, Richard was away in Boston.
That evening, when all the guests had gone up to their beds, Catherine and I were alone in the downstairs kitchen. Outside, the air already had a slight autumnal chill, and the scent of mint tumbling over the garden wall, wafted in through the screen door. Retrieving a tattered pack of playing cards from her apron pocket, Catherine surprised me when she announced, abruptly: "I'm gonna read yer future."
Catherine's method of reading was straightforward, and simple. She used only the sevens to the aces, (inclusive), discarding the lower numbers. The cards were laid out three times. The first layout represented the past, the second - the present, and the third - the future. I don't remember most of the reading. It was quite a while ago. I do know she made a couple predictions that came true the following summer, just as she had described them. She also told me things about my family that were so detailed and accurate, that, had I been a die hard sceptic, I'm sure I would have become a believer.
The whole time Catherine had been reading for me, she kept looking furtively, from one to the other of the three doorways that opened on to the kitchen. At one point after I'd laid down the cards for the third time, there was a sound like a footfall. Catherine scooped up the cards in a flash, and whispered: "Richard's home." We waited a while, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Why she was afraid her son would catch her reading, puzzled me - especially, when I found out later, that Richard was a student of the Occult. As I was getting up to leave, Catherine handed me the deck of cards and said: "You keep dem."
When I got to my room on the second floor, I spread the cards out on the bed. Seeing them had a hypnotic effect on me. In a matter of seconds, my mind was awash in streaming imagery, triggered, sometimes by individual cards, and at other times by clusters of them. As the energy around the cards continued to shift, I began weaving a narrative from the passing scenes - stitching them together into a story that I recognized as my own, but from an unfamiliar perspective - a prospect from which the larger patterns of my life were highlighted, and not just those of my past, but those that appeared to be, their logical extension into the future.
From that day forward, for several years, I carried the cards wherever I went. More than anything else, I used the them as a personal form of meditation. You see, it wasn't the prophetic aspect of card reading that fueled my interest. Instead, it was the simple, repetitive, act of doing it. The practice soothed me, and helped to keep my mind receptive to a bigger reality. If, however, the cards afforded me an occasional glimpse of magic - so much the better.
During the following week, I got the chance to explore the old house while trying to make myself as useful as possible. I didn't know the exact age of the place, but I recognized architectural details from the early nineteenth century. Richard had filled every nook and cranny with his collection of antiques - all a bit grandiose for my taste - items such as silver, Rococo wall sconces, and painted Venetian chairs from the Renaissance. The lavish furnishings made me curious about their owner, but I didn't get to meet him until the next weekend because he had remained in Boston on school-related business.
As the week progressed, guests started trickling into the house in time for the weekend - the last hurrah for the summer tourists. When Saturday arrived the weather took a turn for the worse. A storm brought torrential rain, and near, gale force winds that flooded the center of town. Rather than brave the elements, the guests hung out in the adjoining parlors downstairs. Sprawled out on the oriental carpeting, some played card games, while other sipped wine, and chatted amicably with one another. I sat on the floor playing checkers with a personable young man named Michael, the only guest close to my own age.
Around the middle of the afternoon, a motley foursome, who I later found out were sharing a small room with only one double size bed, wandered into the front parlor. The group - all of whom appeared to be in their early thirties - consisted of two women: one tall and beautiful with a great body, one short, fat, and mousy, and two men: one tall, nearly bald, and anorexic looking, and lastly - the one who appeared to be their leader - a man of average height, stocky, but not fat, with black, slicked back hair, and eyes that scared the hell out of me. Abnormally large, round, and bulging, his eyes were bloodshot, with large red veins where the whites would be, normally. One might have attributed their menacing quality to a disease of some sort, except that the characteristics already described, weren't nearly as frightening as the way in which the black, void-like irises seemed to track, and trap everything in the room. I had the impression it wasn't he who was peering out through those eyes, but a dispassionate, predatory, creature - one who had taken over his body, and was searching out the frailties of anyone locked in its gaze.
The four roomies formed a tight little knot as the snaked through the room. Stepping outside their huddle, the emaciated one walked up to an elaborate, bamboo cage filled with canaries that occupied the entire wall behind me, and, in a piping voice with a foreign-sounding accent, said: "Such pretty little birds." Then, as if responding to some secret cue, the four of them turned as a single unit, and filed out of the room.
That night, when the house was quiet, I left the library - my makeshift bedroom when the guest rooms were full - and went to the kitchen hoping to find Catherine still awake. Sitting at the table with Catherine was Michael, the guy I'd played cards with earlier. Before I had a chance to sit, Michael blurted out: "Did you see that man with the eyes? He was staring at me the whole time." To which I replied: "I thought he was staring at me the whole time." Then, Catherine, who often had premonitions about guests, even before they called for reservations, said: "Last week I dreamed a man wid terrible eyes was gonna stay here. His name was Artur."
Arthur and his companions were the only guests staying on the first floor. They were directly across from the library where I was sleeping. The distance between our rooms was no more than eight feet. Their room had a solid wooden door. Mine had the flimsy, shutter type that folds open in the middle. In my temporary sleeping quarters was a small, wooden chest that was always kept locked. Inside it was Richard's collection of rare esoterica. One of the books was a copy of the Cabala, which I assumed was written in Hebrew, since Richard later told me he'd been translating it over the previous six months. These details will seem trivial until you learn what happened later that night.
An hour or so after Catherine, and Michael went to bed, I was still hanging out in the front parlor, watching the last flickering embers in the wood-burning stove. Suddenly, I felt a wave of nausea come over me, just as Arthur was entering the room by way of the library. He walked up to a long, floor to ceiling bookcase to my right, and placed his hand on the spine of a book. Turning toward me, he observed me for several seconds without speaking. Then, in a tone that sounded both cordial, and threatening at the same time, he said: "I'm borrowing this book on Egypt." Once again, he stood there in silence, staring at me with those awful eyes. The cliche simile of the rodent, paralyzed with fear, before the cobra, poised to strike, fit my situation, perfectly. Unnerved, I averted my eyes, and when I did, Arthur snatched up the book, and slinked out of the room.
Shortly after that I went to bed. But before settling in, I secured the tiny latch on the shuttered doors. It wasn't much protection. A toddler leaning against it would have broken through. Still, it was better than nothing.
That night I had a dream in which I was lying in bed in the library, and Arthur was in his room transmitting some kind of negative energy to me. The energy, which looked like a red, laser beam, was shooting through a crack in the shutters, hitting the upper part of the window next to the door, and ricocheting off of there, and into my chest. As the beam was penetrating my chest it was making beeping sounds. Somehow, I knew my only salvation was to yell for help, but every time I tried, no sound came out. Finally, after many attempts, I found my voice, and yelled out loud: "Help!"
As discretely, as if he were a butler, come to announce the serving of tea, Richard, who I had not yet met, and who had just returned from Boston, stepped from the parlor on to the threshold of the library. For reasons unknown to me, I sprang to a seated position, and gaping at the silhouetted figure in the doorway, whispered:
"You know about him?" In a matter of fact tone, he replied: "Yes, he has some power." And then, without my mentioning the references Arthur had made to Egypt, or anything else that had happened that day, Richard said: "Now, lie down." And - instructing me to imitate his gestures - folded his arms across his chest, and said: "This is the pose used by the ancient Egyptians to protect themselves from evil spirits." Then he lay down on the floor beside my bed with his arms positioned the same as mine. I fell asleep, instantly, and slept soundly through the night. When I awoke, Richard was gone. I looked for him, and found him asleep in his bed. Arthur and company were gone, too. They had checked out at the crack of dawn. I never saw Arthur, or his friends, again. The rest of my stay at Brittany House proved most interesting.