GONE TO CROATAN
TEXT BY ANITA MOSCOSO
ILLUSTRATIONS BY HEATHER BLAKEY
Years ago, before they walked into oblivion someone turned back and left this message carved on a tree, " gone to Croatan ".
Now it's my turn, tonight I'm going to Croatan; I'm going to Croatan to avenge my own murder.
My name Is Livia Cotard and once I owned a little bookshop at the Marina on the Duwamish Bay.
In the front of my shop you would find books sought after by collectors from all over the world. Rare first editions, bound sets, atlases, maps, and a variety of other books that were prized by collectors for their illustrations.
The front of my store is separated from the back by a large imposing oak door. Its hinges are leather and its locks and tumblers are made of wood.
The Imposing Oak Door by Heather Blakey
This is where my real store is; this is where I conduct my real trade.
The room behind this door is a very comfortable library. The walls lined ceiling to floor bookcases. One case has a glass door, the second had an iron gate and others were left open.
Each case held over 100 volumes.
The books were crafted by an unusual group of Authors and had been written for a very exotic group of clients. These were famous one of a kind horror stories among this group of readers and they would spare no expense in collecting them.
The Authors by Heather Blakey
This is how these little treasures were created.
If the Authors were to arrive at a home for a story they always came hours before a funeral and they were never turned away. After a small ceremony involving salt and scented oils they were left alone with the Dead and their work would begin. The Authors would take blank sheets of parchment; sometimes strips of linen or thin sheets of copper, gold and in later years paper and place them over the chest of a dead person. Then the Author would place their hand over the corpse's stilled heart and the story would be recorded.
Authors at Work by Heather Blakey
It was said you could hear the scratching sounds of what was assumed to be pen to parchment and that no matter how much you were tempted that you should never try to catch one of these Authors at work. Not unless you wanted to end up bound in one of those books too.
When they were finished what was recorded on these pages were all the sins and evil that the dead person ever committed. Page after page would hold horrible dark stories and horrific illustrations. Brought forward by the Author's skilled hand, images and words and flashes of smell and sound would be captured then interpreted by the Author and burned onto the pages.
The Authors always left a gift for the stories. Sometimes they left gold or jewels, potions in bottles and sometimes money.
The Croatan Treasury by Heather Blakey
After they left these homes the Authors would take these pages and bind them, and place them in libraries in homes not fit for human habitation.
These books were not written to be read by human eyes.
Eyes accustomed to the dark and held by hands that pushed open caskets from the inside read them. They were cherished and prized by families whose bodies and very nature could be altered by the full Moon, by men and women whose bloodlines and family histories had been altered by curses and magic.
Owning these books and selling them wasn't where my trouble started, as you might assume. My family has been dealing in this trade since the Authors first turned up centuries ago. My problems started with a woman named Cynthia Kern.
I let her into my back room the day of my Murder, even though she was very much of this world because the book she held was already in her possession.
Cynthia was from the East Side and owned a large very traditional over priced antique shop. Her clients were as unique and demanding as my own and a few of them were well known art collectors. One of them, she told me had somehow gotten a hold of this most unusual book written about a woman who killed her own children and blamed the crime on a neighbor.
The neighbor was executed and the true murderess lived to a ripe old age and died childless because one tragedy after another struck at her new family. Her babies (five of them) who were born years after the death of her first family all met sad ends...unexplained illnesses, fires and another was drowned.
Instead of living under a dark cloud she was wrapped in the warmth of sympathy and kindness of her entire community.
There was of course no way to actually read this book because it was written in the language of a family named Benandanti. So, it was the artwork, the pictures that made these books famous and prized by the non-reader. Each illustration was a memory, which had been burned onto the pages
The stronger the memory the more vibrant and active the picture. It was like watching a movie.
The murdering woman in this story lovingly relived her crimes almost every moment of her day. Each memory had been captured on those pages with stunning detail and clarity. It was quite a find. I still don't know how this Kern woman came across the book but she brought it to me and asked if I could find more of them.
I told her this was an extremely rare series of books, created by request of the Benandanti family. Now days you'd call them true crime fans. At the time, I think the idea of infanticide intrigued a family who's children, poor little things, usually didn't live past the age of six.
Children were extremely important to them and the thought of killing one was, to the Benandanti, a true horror.
I didn't have any books from the Benandanti Collection.
The Venda Family I knew were avid collectors of the Benandanti book collections. If there had been any of these left to be found, the Vendas had no doubt acquired them ages ago.
Cynthia went through some of the other books on the shelves...and then she came to the Naemoor Collection, As she reached out and rested her hand against the glass case she asked me, would it be alright for her to look at these?
I saw no reason to say no. They weren't for sale though; they were part of my private collection. " They're blank " she said, confused as she turned the pages.
" They were for one of the Naemoor to use, when she became an Author, but she left the family and disappeared. Kids you know, they have minds of their own. "
" Why weren't they passed on? "
"It doesn't work that way, " I said taking the book and gently replacing it on the shelf and closing the door. " These pages were specially created for the Author, they won't...work right for anyone else."
Cynthia placed her hand with their long bony fingers, which had been over decorated with frosty dark pink nail polish, and many diamond rings against the glass. I recognized that look on her face. That volume was calling to her very soul...asking to be placed upon her heart. Begging to be allowed to capture her darkest secrets on its pages.
Strange to do that to a living person. Her heart I knew must be black and her soul darker yet. I must say I was intrigued by the way the book called to her.
No, not intrigued...mystified.
She tried again to persuade me to sell her the blank book bound in soft red leather and decorated with silver threads that are as delicate as a spider's web and I refused.
She tried to smile, make small talk and then she handed me her card. When her fingertips brushed the side of my hand my lip curled and I tried to not look repulsed. This woman was a husk; she was as decayed and foul as a corpse rotting in the hot sun.
It's not often you meet such a corrupted soul and her story would be valuable to any Author.
But that's not my trade, my trade is bookseller and for all these years I've been content to do that.
Until my Shop was robbed...and I was murdered.
It was my friend Ignancia Guzman who owns the Curio Shop six doors down from me who discovered my store had been broken into. She came down to my houseboat and got me, reassuring me that whatever happened, she would help me.
The shelf with the blank Naemoor Volumes had been struck at the side with an axe and one of the blank volumes... a black book decorated with gold leaf and edged with small blue stones, had been nearly hacked in half. The books don't like to be separated and the hack job was needed to get to the Red Volume out of the case and away from the other books.
Ignancia pulled the broken axe out of the shelf and threw it across the room. She carefully examined each book and found that it had bee the black one that had not been as damaged as the others and she asked me for a towel and some salt.
" It's gonna be alright, here sit down. " Then she carefully set the book down, and shook the towel open and held it up to the light. She laid the towel flat and sprinkled the salt on it and set the book in the middle. Then as careful as a surgeon she started to fold the towel around the book.
" It's the best I can do " Ignancia voice was angry but her eyes were bright...she wasn't the type of woman who cried or showed her feelings easily and I was moved, honored to know I mattered so much to her.
" I know, and I appreciate everything you've done. " I assured her.
She nodded and looked away and pushed the bound book into my hands. " Go, go ' she told me very crisp and businesslike.
I reached for the book and it crashed to the floor, I hadn't dropped it. It had passed through my fingers. I tried to concentrate harder and this time I was able to grasp the book and lift it.
I didn't look into Ignancia' s face. She was as I've said, a dignified person and I wanted to spare her the embarrassment of my seeing the pain on her face that I knew was there and she couldn't help but to feel.
I don't know what possessed me to leave the message on my door that I wrote on the back of my closed sign. It was very important for me to leave something behind, something personal and all I could think to say was " Gone to Croatan "
Croatan is home of the lost, safe harbor to ships that sail in permanent twilight and the place where people like me return to in the end.
The train that left the station just outside of Leaning Birch Cemetery was a special train. It only ran once a day and it didn't cost anything to ride. The Conductor was a tall thin cadaverous looking gentleman and when he saw me waiting at the stop he looked very surprised.
" I almost didn't see you there Mrs. Cotard, " he said.
" I'm glad to say it's not your eyes Mr. Inverness, I'm afraid it's me. I've...I've had a misfortune. I haven't much time. I was wondering if you could help me. "
" Certainly Mrs. Cotard. What can I do for you? "
" I can't travel in my, well, condition. I need a ride and I thought that perhaps your train would work for me. "
He looked at my poor fading hands and smiled, then he stepped aside.
As I boarded I handed him a very old gold coin. It was Roman and the design would mean something to Mr. Inverness who had spent a lot of time in that part of the world. It was a gift not a token and he accepted it.
The train turned out to be more animal then machine and the engine sounded more like a heart beat then anything mechanical. It felt as if it were breathing. I took a window seat as the train lurched and moved forward. Nothing I saw through the windows looked familiar, the landscape at times was foreign the seasons changed in seconds and the sun and moon sailed across the sky.
The train reared back and stopped and we were in front of a house in the suburbs. The house was Tudor in design with bright yellow roses lining the drive up to the house.
Mr. Inverness smiled as I stepped down, " Take your time Mrs. Cotard, we'll hold the train. "
" That's not necessary " I replied
Then he said almost under his breath " Just saving myself the trip Mrs. Cotard. "
I enjoyed my walk up to the door, I enjoyed turning my plan over and over in my head, walking around it and admiring it from different angles in my mind's eye.
It was going to be a work of art.
When I arrived I didn't knock at the door, it wasn't there for me anymore. Entire parts of my world seemed to be disappearing. I saw the floor in the hall but not the walls on one side of the room, I saw paintings but within the paintings little images were gone, I saw people walk by with no faces, missing limbs, some looked as if they had been neatly split down the middle.
What I saw looked like an incomplete puzzle...almost there but missing pieces in odd shapes and sizes. Making things more difficult for me to find my way was my failing vision. I felt as if I were looking down a long tunnel with fog banks creeping towards me...or perhaps from me.
Regardless, somehow I found Cynthia's room and my Red Book.
My last surviving book held all that was left of my soul. It was desperately calling out to what was left of me and it's sister, my poor damaged book. Which I had been holding close to my heart since my journey began.
It was now almost full.
That book I placed under her bed and I heard it thump as it opened itself. A dark fog crept cautiously from under the bed and then my anger and grief swarmed out like angry bees from the book and clung to my fading image before they flew from the room and burrowed into every dark soul they could find...and in this house there were many of those.
My nightmares would become their reality and soon they wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two.
I crept to Cynthia's bedside and watched her sleeping, my red book on her nightstand in agony because what it wanted most was just out of reach.
I had lied to Cynthia about the red book because it was my own and I had authored it myself years ago. It wasn't a blank book; it was full, bursting with dark terrible tales. The only person who could have actually seen the printed pages was a Naemoor, our language was the language of Authors and you don't learn our language you are born to it.
Those pages were full of words and images that only my family could decipher.
This was my proudest possession because I had turned the world upside down for this story and what I did to get it would be, how would you term it, be considered justifiable homicide.
That's what I told myself and my family after the deed was done.
We Authors only took stories from the dead...except for myself. Which was why I ended up selling books instead of writing them. My family was horrified I would take a story from a living soul because by taking a story from a living person you trapped them in paper and ink for all eternity.
You see in my younger days certain topics fascinated me, and one in particular fascinated me most of all. Cannibals...I collected story after story about Cannibals...and 200 of those dark tales paled in comparison to my Gentleman.
He was a butcher and a fiend and he called himself Jack.
I placed the red book on Cynthia's chest and held it down over her heart and because it was full I knew what it wanted was to speak to Cynthia...it was romantic in a morbid way. This dark book caged in a hidden room had called out to this woman's dark heart and she had answered.
So I gave them to each other and they became one for a moment. Then she was no more and someone else opened her eyes and blinked and squinted and sat up.
She was so hungry she couldn't stand it.
Then from down the hall came voices, relaxed unassuming voices and Cynthia rose delicately from her bed and went down to the kitchen to see about breakfast.
© anita marie moscoso 2005-text
© Heather Blakey 2005-illustrations