The sun hung tantalizingly close to the horizon by the time Dirk got out of his car. The house of Emily Esclava was impressive in its size and majesty. Built in the Victorian style, it stood out amongst the tall trees that surrounded it. The trees were typical of this part of Oregon, large and ancient, each one could probably tell its own story if man were capable of understanding. Esclava Manor was hidden away between the town of Otis and the Pacific coast, and like the house, Emily Esclava remained hidden away, somewhere between citizen and hermit.
While ascending the steps to the windowless front door, Dirk recalled the difficulty with which he had been granted this interview. The local people had scoffed when he had mentioned his desire to speak with the reclusive old woman. No one could recall what she looked like or how old she really was. Apparently Ms. Esclava never left the home, accepted no callers and hadn’t even made the transition to electricity. Dirk had spent two weeks finding what information he could on the mysterious old woman and the fearful stories that surrounded her. He was a journalist (although his peers might call him a fictionalist), and he was determined that if he could not meet the woman, that he would at least have enough information to write a story that would add to the mystery of Emily Esclava.
It was only this morning that Dirk had received the letter with his room service breakfast. He had opened it, read it, and read it again just to make sure that he was not imagining the paper in his hands:
October 7, 1921
It has come to my attention that you wish to talk with me. While I cherish my privacy and do not care to contribute to the gossip surrounding my solitary existence, I think that the time has come for me to share a secret of mine with the world. If you come to my house this very day, I will give you a story of a sort which you will not soon forget, although you may wish you had.
While Dirk has always been wary of those who would mock his investigations into the supernatural, he could not help but be drawn to this woman’s house. If the shaky script used in the letter were any indication, Emily Esclava must be very old indeed, and with age came life during a time when superstition and the supernatural were more a part of the world.
Dirk wrapped on the door three times and the door opened almost before his knuckles had left the wood from their third strike. “Mr. Bilcher, please come in.” Dirk was amazed by a voice that exhumed command much in the way of an army drill sergeant, but even more amazing was that the voice did not feel like it could come from the woman standing before him. Ms. Esclava was no taller than five feet, wrinkled and bent with age. At first glance she seemed withered, scarred and trapped in a body that had long ago given up any pretense of beauty and wealth. What made Dirk pause before any cohesive response could made was the slight point of her perfectly white teeth and the dark flame that burned deep in her eyes.
“Yes…Thank you Ms. Esclava.” Dirk entered the house and felt a slight chill run up his back when the door closed behind him.
“It is getting cold outside. It will get worse before our conversation is over I fear.” Gone was the powerful voice, replaced by one of awkward and embarrassed weakness. Dirk smiled, sure that the earlier voice had just been his nerves.
“You’re probably right. I’ve been to the west coast often enough, but I don’t think I can ever get used to the weather up here in the northwest.” Emily took Dirk’s jacket, hung it on the coat rack with care and motioned for Dirk to sit in an old chair in a nearby room.
“So why is it that you wanted to talk with me Mr. Bilcher,” Emily asked as she sat in a nearly identical chair across a coffee table from Dirk.
“Well you’re a bit of a legend in this area Ms. Esclava.”
“I was married once Mr. Bilcher, a long time ago. My husband passed away long before you were even born.”
“I apologize. Everyone told me that you had never married.” Dirk pulled out a small notepad and pencil. Scribbling furiously he continued, “like I was saying, you’re a bit of legend. People have created quite a bit of mystery about you.”
“I’m sure they have Mr. Bilcher. The people in this area are a superstitious lot and tend to fear what they can’t understand.” She paused, looked down and studied her wrinkled hands and the simple band on her hand. She seemed to come to some conclusion and looked up at Dirk. “Mr. Bilcher, I’m going to tell you the real mystery of my life, this house and the river that runs just north of here. Before I do so, you must grant me a promise and a favor without hesitation. Will you do this?”
With those final words the hairs on Dirk’s neck rose. The voice that Dirk had heard in the doorway had returned and the frail old woman’s eyes burned with a dark fire that ate at his soul. Unintentionally, Dirk answered yes, that he would make her a promise and grant her a favor. Having agreed, Emily stood quickly and circled to the back of her chair.
“Good,” the shaky voice had returned. “First the promise. You must stay until the whole story is told, and may not leave this building a moment before it is complete. Do you swear that you will stay?” Perhaps it was in his own mind, but Dirk could swear that the old woman grew in height as he spoke his promise.
“Excellent. We must retire to my meditation room. It is more comfortable and safer there to be certain.” Without a backward glance Emily walked out of the room, confident that Dirk would follow. Dirk felt that she knew she had him hooked. Something deep inside him cried out that this was a mistake, but Dirk was a professional. He would get his story.
Dirk followed Emily into a dark room that was lit only by candlelight. Once they were both inside, Emily pulled a heavy velvet curtain across the doorway. The room was small, circular and every inch of the walls and ceiling was covered in the same black velvet that now covered the doors. Only the flames of a dozen candles held at bay the seemingly endless black void of the room.
“This…this is your meditation room?” Dirk tried to wet his lips, but found that his mouth had gone dry. He had been to many a room where séances were held, had seen all manner of props designed to intimidate the guest, but the stark simplicity and overwhelming darkness of the room emitted a sense of forbidding that Dirk could not shake.
“I find solace in the darkness Mr. Bilcher.” Emily sat in a hard, straight-backed chair and offered one to Dirk. “Light, and the things revealed by it, are a distraction and we should be shielded from it as much as possible, especially when speaking of the dead.”
“The dead you say? I had always been led to believe that the living were safer in the light.” Dirk tried to focus on the face of Emily, but the dancing light of the candles made it impossible to do so. Instead he focused on the empty yellow bowl in the middle of the table they sat around.
“Those who have said as much have undoubtedly little contact with the dead. I, on the other hand, have been very intimate with the dead. More specifically I’ve had intimate contact with the spirit of one dead man in particular.”
At first Emily’s words came out slow and uncertain, but as she continued her voice became stronger, sure of itself and even relieved as she purged from her soul a story that she had longed to share for so long. Dirk was not sure if it was his imagination or the reflection of the candles, but the dark fire in Emily’s eyes seemed to burn brightly as she spoke.
I’m sure you’ve hear the legend of the great Negro giant who came to this part of the world before it was settled. There are many stories, and no once is certain which one is true, but in all of them he came on a great sailed ship, lived for a time with the Salmon River Indians and died. All of the legends have some truth to them, but I can say honestly that I am the only person who has any real knowledge of what happened.” Emily leaned back against the chair and her glimmering eyes took on a look of distance, as if she could really see into the past 200 years.
“The Islander, as he was called by the Spaniards who held him as slave, was indeed a giant of a man, standing nearly eight feet tall. He was a proud, defiant man of incredible strength and power. He never spoke to his captors and was often kept in chains as a safety precaution. He hated the white men who held him and silently cursed them, calling great waves and storms to dash their lives upon the rocks of some shore. In time his curses were answered.
“It was off of the coast of Oregon when a storm struck and drove the mighty Spanish ship towards the rocks where it was shattered and torn apart. The Islander managed to free himself from their chains as the ship sank and he made his way to the shore. In the morning, when the storm had lifted, the Islander found that he was not the only man from the ship to survive. There were nearly a dozen other survivors, but it was not the Indians hiding amongst the trees who killed them, it was the Islander himself.
“He swung a length of his heavy chain and killed man after man. The Salmon River Indians knew of war and death and in the Islander they saw both. Their chief, Kquilla took his people back to the village silently. The next day he brought a salmon from their river to the great giant and offered it to him in friendship. The Islander ate the fish and returned with the Indians to their village.
“In time the Islander grew to know their ways and speak some of their language. The Indians named him, Neeakpatoo, which meant battle spear, for no man could match the Islander with the spear when hunting or at war. In time the Islander rose in status amongst the tribe members, until his power nearly rivaled that of the chief. But there was something dark about the Islander and many of the Indians could feel it.
“The Islander had an insatiable lust for blood, at first it was only animals that fell to his ferocity, but in time it was the men and women of other tribes. The Islander could not be stopped by any man. Those who had tried had been killed without so much as a scratch being made against the giant who lived amongst them.
“One night, in the fall, as the rain was falling, the shaman poisoned the meat of the Islander. The giant screamed in his lodge as the poison worked through his body and killed him from the inside. The shouts were so terrible that none could sleep that night. As dawn came the screams stopped. The Islander’s body was dragged from his lodge and thrown from the rocks into the ocean. The natives were pleased to finally be rid of the terror that had overtaken them.
“What the Indians had not known was that the body of the Islander had not washed out to sea but had been carried up the Salmon River by a strong tide and deposited along the shore. In those days the bears were plentiful and were more than willing to consume the corpse of a dead man. In time the Islander was devoured and little evidence of his existence remained.
Emily stopped to sit up straight and look into the eyes of Dirk. “I can see in your eyes sir that you find my story interesting, but long for me to get to my mystery. I will oblige, be certain of that, but it is important that you know the history behind the mystery so that everything will make sense to you.”
Dirk nodded, “I understand. Please continue Mrs. Esclava.”
“Very well. I was born in Oregon, on this very day in 1820. My parents were some of the first pioneers in this area, although it would be more accurate to say they were runaways rather than pioneers. My father’s debts in England had increased steadily for five years and there was no relief in site. So he and my mother fled in England for America. Chance brought them here. My father bought our transportation on the first ship he could find, and this is where it brought them. By the time I was born my father had built up a small fortune in trading with the natives and early settlers.
“One day when I was five, I wandered away from the house and discovered an old cave. Inside the cave I found many bones, but for some unknown reason I gravitated towards a single human skull in the corner. I can still picture it in my minds eye. The skull was huge and the grinning mouth was full of sharp pointed teeth, much like that of a shark. I picked it up and something invaded me, pushed my consciousness to the side. I felt something wicked inside me, it looked at my hands through my eyes and laughed. The laugh was unnatural Mr. Bilcher, it was something from altogether unfamiliar and unforgiving. With the suddenness that it had started it was done. I was back in control, but I could feel whatever it was lurking just below the surface of my mind.
“I tried to explain what had happened to my father when I got home, but I was five and unable to formulate the words that could explain what had happened to me. I am one-hundred years old tonight and I still am not fully capable of explaining or believing in what happened to me that day.
“As I grew older I would dreams of the past and see things as if I had lived through them. Much of the dreams dealt with blood and anger. It was through these dreams that I came to understand what it was that I was seeing and by the time I was twenty I knew what had happened to me.
“It was about the time I knew of what had happened that the spirit resurfaced while I was awake. When he took control I could do nothing but watch. I killed with a strength that I should not have had. Men, women and children fell to me. I dragged them to the cave where I had found the skull and consumed them.
“You see, it was the spirit of the Islander that had entered me through the skull. He had been a great cannibal witchdoctor in his native Africa. With each person he consumed he grew in power until he had been drugged and sold to slavery. He bided his time and waited for his chance at freedom. While his body was consumed by the Indian’s poison he worked one final spell. A spell that would see his life continued after his mortal body had perished.
“In touching the skull I gave him access to the physical world again. With each person I ate while under his control, he grew in power. His spirit suppressed my ability to tell others. My life seemed normal during the day, but at night he would wish to feed. In time I married, but the spirit of the Islander was jealous and it was on our honeymoon that my husband was killed and eaten.
“The horror of it gave me back some measure of control for a time. It was during that time that I built this room and vowed to remain secluded. For some time now I have managed to maintain control. Only occasionally does the monster gain control and force me to feed. My greatest shame is that I have been unable to stop him. I fear that soon I will no longer be able to keep him in check, and that is why I made you promise me a favor.
“You see Dirk, it was not wholly of my own volition that I brought you here. The Islander needs a new body, and he thinks that yours will do nicely.” Dirk jumped up from the table and felt for the door frantically.
“SIT!” Dirk was thrown back into his chair by the old woman who was now standing by his side. Her dark eyes clearly burned with an unholy light, and her lips drew back in a half smile to reveal slightly pointed teeth.
“No,” she said while shaking her head. “You can’t have him yet!” Emily’s face contorted painfully. “Mr. Bilcher, I need you to remain strong and perform your promised favor. I cannot maintain control for much longer, so you must hurry. You must set fire to this house. Perhaps through cleansing fire this demon inside me can be halted, but you must act fast.”
As Emily sat back in her chair, Dirk stared at her in terror for only a moment before he knocked all of the candles from the table. The musty velvet caught fire quickly and Dirk ran from the room. On his way to the door he smashed kerosene lanterns on the hardwood floors and lit the spilled oil with matches from his pocket. The fire spread quickly, lighting old furniture alight with ease.
As the fire began to rage, Dirk ran outside and from a safe distance watched as the house burned. The fire burned brightly, causing thick, black smoke to blot the stars from the sky. Suddenly the front door flung open. Standing at the top of the stairs appeared the largest man Dirk had ever seen. Even though he was surrounded by brilliant flames, the eyes of the man shone with the crimson fire of hell itself. The man made as if to throw himself from the stairs at Dirk, when the upper stories of the house collapsed and fell on top of him. The man howled in pain and anger so loudly that the sound of the collapsing house was drowned out. In terror Dirk got in his car and fled as fast as he could.
The next day, when Dirk awoke on the side of the road, asleep at the wheel of his car he realized that he had left his notes in the house. It mattered little really. Dirk knew he could recite the tale clearly from memory. Deep inside he knew that he never would though. No one would really believe him, and there were some things better left alone. Dirk hoped that the old woman’s body had been incinerated in the house and that would be the end of the Islander, but Dirk figured on never returning to the Salmon River just in case.