For me, the summer season ends too quickly each year. Just as the leaves begin changing, we pack up and winterize the cottage in Clayton, NY, pull the boat, and head south to Pennsylvania. This Thousand Islands story, however, begins on Halloween.
When I was a kid, a television commercial for a popular candy, often handed out for Trick-or-Treat, boasted that it featured two great tastes (chocolate and peanut butter) that taste great together. That's what I'm aiming for here; a somewhat scary (but fast-paced and fun) mystery set in the heart of the Thousand Islands.
And what better setting? The St. Lawrence's scenic beauty is an excellent backdrop, along with charming river towns, ancient forests, granite cliffs, castles with towers and secret passageways, ghost stories, and legends of all sorts!
However, I do have an admission to make. As I write this introduction, I'm not entirely sure where this story is going. My 9-year-old son, Lee, and I talk about it. He has contributed some pretty good ideas. During this strange COVID-19 year, I have made writing this story and enjoying Halloween a priority, as traveling along this road seems to make everything else seem a little less weird by comparison!
So please join us on this journey and together we will find out where it leads! . . . By Patrick Metcalf
"It's not an easy thing to explain," said Sarah. "We came here to seek your advice."
They were all sitting comfortably in the library, after Edwin and Pete returned from their tour of the castle's many secret passageways. Pete showed Edwin the Confederate pennies that mysteriously appeared at the diner. Edwin grabbed a magnifying glass off of a shelf and stared at them closely.
"What do you think?" asked Pete.
"I'm no expert," said Edwin. "But these are most certainly replica coins."
"How can you tell?" asked Sarah.
"Well, to begin with, they are nearly perfect. That alone is a red flag."
"How so?" asked Pete.
"Confederate coins from the 1860s in upstate New York, which just happen to be in near mint condition?" Edwin grinned his inappropriately crazy grin. "Very improbable."
"But possible, right?" asked Pete.
"I'm afraid not," said Edwin. "If you look closely you can see a few specks of zinc where the coat of copper stretched too thin when this coin was re-stamped."
"What does that mean?" asked Pete.
"American pennies manufactured before 1982 had a much higher copper content. These were made more recently, and have only a thin coating of copper over top of a zinc alloy. The technology to coat a coin like this simply did not exist in 1865." Edwin frowned a bit. "I'm sorry to disappoint you."
"No, not at all," said Sarah. "We came here seeking answers. That is helpful to know."
"Ok . . ." said Pete. "What about this this?" He handed Edwin his phone with a picture of the amulet.
"Is that blood?" asked Edwin.
"Yes. Well, we think so . . ." said Sarah. "It's being tested. We think . . ."
"Why?" said Edwin.
"It's a missing persons case," said Pete, as if it weren't that big of a deal. The fact that he said it so casually clearly didn't sit well with Edwin.
"And you've contacted the proper authorities?" said Edwin.
"Oh yes, of course," said Sarah. "It's just that, well . . . They haven't been all that helpful."
"I see..." said Edwin. "And who is the missing person?" he asked.
"We don't know," said Sarah. "The detective wouldn't tell us."
"I have so many more questions," said Edwin, grinning in an obviously uncomfortable fashion.
"It's a complicated story, but here's what happened . . ." Sarah began the whole story from the beginning. Pete jumped in here and there, mostly for dramatic effect. At one point Pete even did a pantomime of the black dog-like creature that they’d seen at the Narrows, which would have been completely comical in a different context. As they relayed all of the harrowing events of the past several days, Edwin sought clarification at every turn, fixating on every detail. The telling of it all took more than an hour, and Sarah could see that it was nearing complete darkness outside. At the end of it, Edwin asked the obvious question.
"The witch . . . What exactly do you think she wants?"
"Well, she definitely wants that amulet back," said Pete, opening his eyes wide. "She was super clear about that."
"You two definitely interrupted some sort of ritual out there in the forest. She had a purpose, a mission," said Edwin. "But to what end?"
"We have no idea," said Sarah. "Our best guess, based on the not-so-genuine Confederate coins, is that it has something to do with the murder on Maple Island. It's the only obvious connection to the Civil War in this area."
"And there's something else . . ." said Sarah, nodding at Pete.
"I almost forgot." Pete flipped through his phone, and again handed it to Edwin. "Here's a picture of that symbol that we found on the rock. And then we found them again underneath the beds at the cottage."
"Oh my..." said Edwin. He looked upset.
"What is it?" asked Sarah. "What does it mean?"
"Well, I believe it's a symbol to aid in the process of conjuring a malicious spirit," said Edwin.
"Why would someone want to do that?" ask Pete.
"For revenge." Edwin took off his glasses and wiped them on the bottom of his shirt. He looked a bit flustered.
"Why do you think that?" asked Sarah.
"Well, mostly because that's what it is. Its origin is Mesopotamian, but it's been handed down over the ages to various cultures, always with the same nefarious purpose."
"What did you say your background is again?" asked Pete.
"I have a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Oxford, and my area of focus in Ancient Religions," said Edwin.
"Good enough for me," said Pete, raising his eyebrows.
"Edwin, what was she doing out there?" asked Sarah.
"Well, I hate to speculate, but based on the information that you've provided, I'd say she was trying to raise the murdered Confederate to carry out a revenge plot on her behalf." Edwin smiled his crazy smile again, and then glanced away. "But that's just an educated guess..."
"But we . . . Well, Sarah . . . took the amulet, so she can't do that. Right?" asked Pete.
"The nature of the amulet is not clear to me," said Edwin. "It must have some essential purpose in her mission. But there are other ways."
"Like what?" said Sarah.
"Well," said Edwin. "I don't mean to be morbid, but do you happen to know where the Confederate is interred?"
"No," said Pete. "Why?"
"A relic would be a powerful component in facilitating her process," said Edwin. "The skull would be ideal."
"Alas poor Yoric, please go hurt the person I'm mad at?" asked Sarah.
"Yes, precisely!" said Edwin, grinning maniacally again, and as if in that famous play, he pretended to hold a skull in front of his face. "Will Shakespeare would appreciate your deference."
"I don't think anyone knows where he's buried," said Pete.
"There must be a catalog of the grave stones in the various towns in the region" said Edwin.
"Sarah, maybe you can call the Thousand Islands Museum in the morning and see what they know?" Pete suggested.
"The stone that I am looking for . . ." said Sarah thoughtfully. She slumped back in her seat and appeared to be deep in thought for a moment.
"I would assume the logical place to look would be one of the graveyards near Clayton," said Edwin.
"No, I doubt it," said Sarah abruptly. "I think I have a pretty good idea of where he is."
Pete and Edwin gave each other a puzzled glance, but Sarah didn't say anything more. A few moments passed before Edwin stood up and smiled.
"It seems that another day has bid us farewell, so I will make arrangements for you two to stay the night," he said. "I do so enjoy having company in this dreary old castle!" He seemed genuinely pleased.
"I guess being the caretaker is a lonely job," said Sarah.
"Oh, I'm not the caretaker," said Edwin. "I am, well . . . Let's just say I am standing in for an old friend." He grinned maniacally yet again, and then was suddenly gone. Pete and Sarah stared at one another in dismay. They waited until the sound of Edwin's shoes clicking on hallway's marble floors faded before they spoke.
"Not the caretaker?" said Pete in exasperation. "Where is the caretaker?"
"And who is the caretaker?" asked Sarah.
"Help! Help!" squawked the parrot. Pete jumped at the sound of Ichabod's voice. He had completely forgotten that the bright green bird was in the room. Pete twisted his body around to look at the cage, where it sat on a table top behind him.
Ichabod blinked his eyes and shuffled nervously on his perch.
"I'm a . . ."
"Human trapped in a parrot's body," interrupted Sarah. "You mentioned that before."
The bird seemed to resent her tone. He ruffled his feathers and cocked his head sideways. Sarah could see his pupil dilating as he stared her dead in the eye.
"The worst thing is," said Pete, "I'm starting to believe him."
By Patrick Metcalf [All rights reserved ©2020]
Patrick Metcalf began vacationing in the Thousand Islands, more than 20 years ago, when his grandmother and her two sisters rented three houses for a week, each summer in Fine View on Wellesley Island, she invited their families from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida. Patrick spends as much time as he can each summer, on the River, near Clayton, NY. He began writing to entertain his son Lee, who is now nine years old. Patrick resides in Shippensburg, PA, holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration, and is a Marine Corps veteran. See all of Patrick Metcalf's TI Life works here..
Illustration for The Witch of Wellesley Island: Chapter 8, "Edwin;s Insights" is by Marie-Anne Erki ©2021, Kingston, ON.
Chapter 1: The Scream
Chapter 2: A Brush with Evil
Chapter 3: A Narrow Escape
Chapter 4: What Pete Forgot
Chapter 5: Unlucky Penny
Chapter 6: No Turning Back
Chapter 7: What Lies Within
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