Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 30)

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Peabody Hall

Chapter Twelve, Section Two

The veneration connected to Purcell Collegeís repository library, Peabody Hall, was due to its collection of rare books, most of which were cloistered away in tenebrous recesses on the second floor off the rotunda. This level overlooked the ground floor with an encircling balcony.

Aloysius inquired about his mysterious professor at the reference desk, and a librarian put him onto the original copy of Daedalus Monetís unfinished autobiography. Records and newspaper articles connected to him had also been downloaded from microfiche to a computer database, and these seemed pertinent to the investigation. The patron soon ran across his first significant entry, a story from The Stonesthrow Register dated from Spring of Nineteen Seventy-nine: HOME STRUCK BY METEORITE. WOMAN KILLED IN BLAZE.

The first paragraph laid out details:

Spyglass Darkly House, home of Professor Daedalus Monet of Purcell College, was almost destroyed when a meteorite struck it early Saturday morning. A subsequent fire swept through the residence and killed a young but as of yet unidentified woman in an upstairs bedroom. The professor was hospitalized in fair condition with smoke inhalation. Firemen on the scene say toppled candles were the likely cause of the ensuing fire.

Two days later, more developments made the front-page:

The identity of the deceased woman is still unknown, although rumors suggest she may have been a student of the professorís who secretly moved into his house. According to unnamed sources, Daedalus Monet has a history of questionable relationships with female students, although there are no current reports of students missing from campus. The professor, for his part, is reported to have called the deceased girl “a celestial being,” and owing to his sudden deteriorated state of mind, his release from the hospital is being held up pending psychological evaluation.

A second story on page two went into background:

The professor’s eccentricity is well known, though colleagues are uniformly quiet on these latest developments; neighbors, however, are not reticent. They describe the taciturn Monet as an “egregious property owner” who “brings mice into the neighborhood by keeping junk in his yard.” When questioned whether the young woman was seen around the property, no one at Willis Quadrangle can testify to this fact. Given the young woman was allegedly living in the house for several months, police regard it as odd that otherwise attentive neighbors should not have noticed her comings and goings. This mystery is compounded by a delay in issuing a death certificate. No firm conclusion has been reached on the woman’s cause of death.

Only a day later:

The abrupt disappearance of both Daedalus Monet and the remains of the unknown woman have left hospital staff in disarray. The Mayor has called for an internal review of hospital security procedure, while police continue their statewide dragnet for the professor and the corpse presumed to be in his possession.

These bizarre events were soon chased from the front-page with no further developments to report. Nevertheless, leaked police notes led to a follow-up article a year later:

The professor told the police he designed a special room in his house, one where a “rogue angel” resided. He claimed this deity was given to him by his father, who inherited it from his father, who inherited it from Native Americans before statehood. Monet explained that tribal elders, being forced off their land, gave the spirit to Adrian Monet for safekeeping, claiming the form was so old it did not have a name, and “fell from the sky to create the mound.” In exchange for sanctuary from his angelic league, this deity reportedly gave the professorís lineage special powers.

Later in this saga, and initially unrelated to the angel, Monet told police he found body parts of the woman in the meadow one day while plein-air painting. He did not have the heart to turn them over to authorities, so carted the remains back to the house in a wheelbarrow, whereupon the services of his angel were employed to make the deceased whole.

The angel was incapable of taking on spatial dimensions, but could assume the womanís form in the dimension of time as a memory. To affect this end, the bodily remains were returned to the mound in the dead of night and consumed in a pyre. Her ashes were then placed in a special urn and, when stirred, the angel was “made flesh as a recollection.”

This “recollection” slept in a guest room, and when the professor painted her as a nude model, the angel purportedly fell in love with him with “a womanís heart.” On the night their love was consummated, avenging angels, sensing inattentiveness in their defector, stormed the house in a fiery invasion. The professor insisted the renegade escaped to its secret place, yet left the young girl behind in the dimension of time as an inert memory, one waiting to be re-inhabited. When asked how an inert memory could take up space in the present tense on a morticianís table, Monet replied the girl was a memory for all who came across her. Regardless of her perceived state, she had no spatial body.

The only ashes authorities said they found on the professorís premises, beyond those necessarily connected to the house fire, were burnt remnants of paintings in a suitcase. Police stated these set-aside ashes were demonstrably not human, and it was more likely that the professor, seeing the writing on the wall, rushed into his studio to facilitate the destruction of evidence that connected him intimately to a student; and perhaps aggravating the blaze in the process. By the time firemen arrived, he had heaped cinders into a ready suitcase and concocted a story. (Police, it is worth noting, have been unable to locate the suitcase since Monetís disappearance, and as of the writing of this story eleven months later, it is ironic to add that the meteorite, which started these events, has itself gone missing in a theft over Homecoming weekend.)

After this account, no further mention of the professor or mysterious dead girl appeared in the paper. Ownership of Spyglass Darkly House eventually transferred to the college in an intestate state, seeing Monet had no living relatives.

Aloysius was perplexed by what he read. He had, he believed, found fragments of Monetís paintings in the battered suitcase, though could not say they were depictions of the student in question. It seemed improbable that police, or even those charged with the rebuilding of the house, would not have found the suitcase in the readily discoverable crawlspace between the two upstairs bedrooms.

Scene: The library patron moved to a large wooden table to peruse the professor’s autobiography under a reading lamp. Before settling into its pages, an empty display case was noticed. A dusty plaque mounted on its base declared: Nadir Meadow Meteorite. Crashed May, 1979. (Stolen the following year.)

This element of the queer story was a little too conveniently placed in Aloysius’ path, leading him to regard his surroundings with a warier eye.

He was soon engrossed in his reading material, and it was as strange a book as he expected to find. There were notes in the margins and crossed-out passages, which made deciphering the text problematic.

After a half-hour of research, a wearing day began to catch up with him. The pages grew increasingly heavier in his hands until, lost in an absent thought, the book dropped to his feet. When he reached down to retrieve it, he blearily spied an elderly woman dusting books with a feather duster. She appeared to be neither a student nor a library employee. A tote bag half as big as her was slung over one shoulder; a small asthmatic dog, resenting the debris settling on its head, was tucked inside.

The recess where this impromptu housekeeping took place was shadowy, though the housekeeper clearly engaged Aloysius in eye contact. She continued to poke her duster into cubbyholes with a sense of purpose, so the patronís attention drifted back into his book. There it remained until the woman, abruptly in front of him, tapped his glass-covered tabletop with the duster’s handle.“She followed you in here,” came her warning.

Aloysius met her frighteningly huge eyes. “Excuse me?”

The housekeeper rapped the table again. “The naked woman. She followed you through the door.”

The rest of the library was uninhabited except for the librarian at the front desk, who flipped through crisp pages in a magazine.

The old woman jabbed at his book. “She put a note in there while you were napping. Just thought you should know.”

Matron and dog wandered off to resume their self-appointed duties, leaving the cautioned patron bewildered. He opened the back of the book to see a note slip out. The acid from the yellowed paper left a ghost impression on the inside flap of the cover, indicating it had not been disturbed in years. The handwriting was feminine: Will we be discovered?

The lady had disappeared into the murky bookshelves, and Aloysius was not sure what to make of her remarks, or how they related to the dated correspondence. Closing his book, he took stock of the darker stacks circling the upper level, yet could not say whether his feeling of being watched was a legitimate one, or simply owed to the power of the old woman to spook him. He lastly raised his sights and took in the domed ceiling over his head. The cave-like light traced out the relief of a watery nymph whose unclothed body conformed to the concaved surface; a swirl of stars spewed from her womb in a winding vortex.

Peabody Dome

Aloysius returned the book to the reference desk and crossed back through the connecting mezzanine passageway to Nadir Hall. He was rapidly turned around, and given he did not have a watch—and the only “clock” in the huge building was stopped—it was surely later than he realized. He dashed past a student lounge where a roaring fire was peculiarly quiet. Directly a squeak punctured the cavernous silence. It resembled wheels of a shelver’s cart, such as heard in Peabody Hall; and it was comical to suppose that one had followed him.

He was primed for a scare, and anticipated the dark figure who darted in and out of view around a corner ahead. The witness could not proclaim whether this was a playful child gesturing him, but in reaching this corner he found only another uninhabited passageway. Again—more movement emerged from a corner, but this time the shape was pared down to a signaling hand, or so it was reasonable to suppose.

The visitor was becoming increasingly hesitant pursing this course, yet was soon rewarded with a view of the atrium and an exit. Approaching the pneumatic doors, he spotted his chaffinch lying in the floor along a plate glass window where it evidently died in a collision. This explained the chirping sound, and perhaps what he glimpsed urging him forward.

A hail of dead leaves pelted him on entering a courtyard, but Aloysius was of no mind to humor his over-stimulated imagination so cut the shortest path across campus toward home.

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