And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Mark 2:5 (context)
— March, 18XX+1 —
March 2, 18XX+1
I come with great reluctance to this document, for I must record the dreadful truth. Yet no amount of cowardly avoiding the truth can change the bitter reality that Charlotte has contracted my terrible disease. She, too, awoke from her deep coma and immediately attempted to attack one of the servants, who sat in watch over his sessile mistress. He narrowly escaped, terrified, and alerted me immediately. I procured the fresh brains of a cow and, upon offering them to my much-changed wife, watched in horror as she consumed them with as much finery as a wolf falling upon its prey. I stood by as she for whom etiquette and most particularly correct utensil placement and use were once paramount gathered fistfuls of bloody, still-hot, delicious brains and shoved them into her mouth like an animal.
The nightmare scene of elegant, aristocratic Charlotte with blood and gore spread across her face and nightdress must forever remain emblazoned across my vision when I close my eyes, a silent curse far worse even than my own suffering. For I see now not only what she has become, but what I myself have stooped to, and worse, for I have thrice taken human lives, smashed skulls and committed murder for the sake of consuming that most delightful but forbidden delicacy of a fellow man’s brain material.
Would that I had used the paltry, miserable intelligence endowed me by my Creator! Such utilization may have led me to understand the likelihood of infecting my own wife; thus, I might, albeit with great difficulty, have quarantined myself from her presence and spared her this accursed existence. Now, alas, I must suffer daily not only bearing my own cross, but shoulder also the near-crushing guilt associated with the knowledge that I have spread this dementia to a true innocent.
Truly, I cannot imagine a greater evil than to inflict this debasing, dehumanizing curse upon one whom I swore to love and protect all my days.
April 13, 18XX+1
As I draw near to my time of mindlessness, I fear greatly for the future of the Sherborne name. Can Charlotte, in her incapacity, maintain the façade required to obfuscate the truth? Will the servants’ extra pay and privileges retain their loyalty and seal their tongues? The lower classes, like the Negroes I encountered in deepest Africa, love to gossip; yet I must stake my reputation upon that slender thread, that they will refrain from speaking of this incredible series of events unfolding even before their very eyes.
My dear wife appears to have affected a full recovery, although she tells me she has missed her monthly time. I fear, too, that the family shall end with this generation should the mindlessness have rendered myself or my wife incapable of producing children. Should such a blessing be denied us, and I must confess that I see no reason such a joy as children should enter our lives when even my best-intentioned endeavor has wrought such evil, I will have not only failed to resurrect our name but have utterly failed to carry on the family to a new generation. XXX hundred years we trace the Sherborne name, back to the signing of the Magna Carta; Sherbornes have served in all England’s greatest military and civilian ventures, served the Royal Family unswervingly and with deepest devotion, and at the last I, with my ill-fated journey, may perhaps have destroyed that magnificent line forever.
I could not bear that final failure. Should such prove to be the case, I would have no recourse but to honorably take my own life, and that of my wife, to whom I had caused only suffering and whom I had, in the final accounting, failed. If there is a God in Heaven, I pray such must not come to pass.
May 31, 18XX+1
God be praised, some small redemption may not have yet escaped our grasp. Instead of infertility, as I feared, we now believe and hope fervently that Charlotte carries my child. Though I fear the effect of her infirmity on a developing child, I also pray diligently each day that God bless us with this gift, at the least. A boy to carry on our family name, in time to assume the mantle of responsibility – I can scarce hope for such, after so great a fury of evil has inundated me since I discovered the accursed treasure.
“Accursed,” I write, but I now attribute this bizarre phenomena not to supernatural causes, as the ignorant natives of the African jungle did, but to the same unseen origin behind other physical malaises that infect mankind. If such is the case, I can hope that, perhaps, the assiduous pursuit of the natural sciences could uncover a treatment for this disease, much as some plants and chemicals are observed to apparently revive those ill of certain ailments.
In the hopes of a cure, I have decided to fund the scientific exploration of disease undertaken by the physicians and natural philosophers at the Royal Society. Although such an investment cannot provide returns enough to sustain us in the manner we have become accustomed, I believe that the benefits outweigh the potential detrimental effects. If necessary, I shall undertake another journey back to the treasure sooner than initially planned, that we might simultaneously sustain ourselves and support this important line of inquiry.
— September, 2009 —
Kim was starting to worry. She was a natural at it, and so generally she tried not to let worrying get the best of her until it was clearly time to let the worry take over. But Tristan had missed an entire week of school, and the dance was scheduled for that weekend. He hadn’t called, texted, emailed, tweeted about her, or friended her on Facebook. Something was wrong. Did he not like her after all? It was unlikely, but could he have actually transferred schools rather than tell her he didn’t actually like her?
That was ridiculous, of course – he’d been dumbstruck when she asked him to the dance a week and one day ago. She was certain his face had shown incredulous joy rather than revolted horror. Even she, dense to emotional tones as Selena said she was, could presumably distinguish between those two.
“What’s wrong?” Leslie nudged Kim’s arm, jostling the steering wheel and causing the yellow Mustang to almost swerve into another lane.
“Don’t bump me!” Kim snapped, and immediately regretted her tone. She glanced over at her sister, who had immediately assumed the Innocent Victim pout, which all the Benson girls had spent the last seven years mastering. Mother and Father gave them all plenty of opportunities to practice that particular look. “I’m sorry, Les. I was worrying and I wasn’t paying attention. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
Leslie, feeling hurt and angry, said, “You’re just like Mother.”
Silence descended and filled the car for the remainder of the drive to school. Kim held back tears, even though she knew the jibe was intended to hurt rather than tell the truth. Fighting about it wouldn’t help. She and Leslie would just have to make up after school. Leslie resolutely stared out the passenger window, arms crossed firmly, entire attitude radiating a desire to be left alone.
When they finally arrived at school, the near parking lot, reserved for seniors, and then next-nearest parking lot, reserved for juniors, had already filled up. Kim drove slowly, searching for even the tiniest spot, but a mouse on a moped couldn’t have squeezed into either parking lot. They were obl
iged to park across the street and down a long hill in the underclassmen parking lot. Then they had to wait at a crosswalk and walk to campus with a crowd of sophomores, all of whom were obligated as underclassmen to park farther away. The longer walk meant that they arrived late to their first period classes along with all the slacker sophomores; Leslie shot Kim a withering parting glance, as if to say, “Good one, genius. Now we’re late, and it’s all your fault.”
In all, Kim arrived to AP Chemistry in a foul mood, wanting nothing more than to bite the head off of the first scapegoat to make an appearance. Her friends, however, seemed to sense her mood and restricted their comments to the bare necessities: “Could you please pass me the Erlenmeyer flask?” “Could you hand me a filter?” “What’s the molecular weight of copper?” “Can I borrow an eraser?”
After class, Kim silently gathered her materials in high dungeon. Her experiment had failed – she had, in a fit of inattention, accidentally used 5 molar hydrochloric acid instead of water to rinse through her filter – and so, in addition to being late, now had no results to report for the lab and had burned a hole in the sleeve of her favorite sweater before neutralizing the acid. It was not shaping up to be a good day, and she blamed it entirely on Tristan. This was all his fault. If he’d done what any normal boy would do and contacted her somehow after their nice encounter last week, well, then none of this would have happened.
When she saw him standing in the back of the Spanish class, conferring seriously with the teacher, Kim couldn’t decide if she wanted to slap him or hug him. Kissing was definitely out right now, even though he was tall and rangy, the way she liked, with nicely smooth, angled cheeks and eminently kissable lips.
That was not the point. The point was that here was the boy who had ruined her day, and what would she, Kim, do to show her displeasure? As she took her seat, she felt Tristan’s eyes on her. Clearly the first step was to ignore him during class. That would make him realize something was wrong. Then, when he asked what was wrong, she’d tell him – in satisfying detail. Once Kim could tell he had truly repented and would never stay out of contact with her for a week again, then she would magnanimously allow them to make up.
But as the class progressed, everybody else seemed to need Tristan’s help. When she raised her hand, by a perverse quirk of fate, the teacher came to address Kim’s question, which meant that Kim had to make up a dumb question on the spot and look stupid to the teacher. Tristan was really digging himself in deep, that’s all Kim could say. By the time they had slogged through a totally unmemorable lesson, something about Hispanic culture and skeleton candy or something, Kim was really fuming. Tristan was supposed to have noticed her by now; he should be squirming, wondering why she didn’t acknowledge his presence. Instead, he went around diligently helping everybody, answering questions, and then spent half the class sitting in the back correcting exams. As a result, Kim’s entire campaign was ruined and she was really ready for a good fight.
After class, Tristan caught up to her in the hall – finally! – and presented her with, oh God, a dozen roses. Where he’d hidden them, she couldn’t imagine. They were red and brilliant and perfect, their scent filling the hallway. Everybody stopped in their tracks, a circle formed around Tristan and Kim, and a wave of whispers and gasps passed like a breath of wind down the packed hall.
“These are for you,” Tristan said, unnecessarily, seeming totally unembarrassed at the fact that the entire student body was captivated by this interaction. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry I wasn’t in touch, and I was thinking of you even though I didn’t get to talk to you last week. I hope you’re not mad at me.” He smiled tentatively, his sea-green eyes searching her face.
Kim found that she wasn’t mad at him after all. This was by far the nicest thing anybody had done for her in, well, it seemed like forever. Her lowered brows and stern face relaxed as she took in the vision of Tristan holding the flowers out so earnestly, hope written clearly across his face. She felt herself starting to smile in spite of the fight with Leslie, the late arrival, the botched experiment, the ruined sweater, and the failure of her punishment plan. This was one special boy.
She watched as he visibly began to relax as he saw her accepting his offering. “I’m not mad at you,” Kim said, and hugged him in spite of the awkwardness of roses, backpacks, and astounded student cross-talk. This would be a day to remember for the students at Somewheresville High. The day the cheer squad captain hooked up with a quiet, weird, nerdy nobody. Astonishing.