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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2244771-The-Cornerstone
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Dark · #2244771
An old church cornerstone is unearthed. Many strange things start happening.

THE CORNERSTONE

Neither the school nor the town would want any help with the find. It belonged to them, and publicity would bring the big boys down from State University who would be quick to steal limelight and credit. It was a small find and rightfully theirs. The local paper agreed not to publish anything until a full study of its contents was completed.
Professor Gunther Waldenberg shivered with nervous anticipation. Those around him, they noticed, would assume his rigid stance to be a defense against the biting November wind. He was unaware of the temperature. Twelve years of obscurity as head of the Anthropology department at a small secular college had been less than demanding. He had dreamed the lives of the Leakeys,' discovering links and making connections between man's past and present. To date, his only contribution to science was a quickly forgotten treatise on simian jaw development. Even he couldn't remember much of the paper's details.
The construction crew had dug under and secured it with chain. In less than two hours from discovery, he had left campus, looked at the site, and was now watching it being lifted. A minute more, and it was at his feet, a cornerstone. The site foreman offered to have it taken to the college in a company pickup. Waldenberg thanked him, spoke briefly to the reporter, and left. The local paper that evening would only report demolition of the old church was complete. Work would start immediately on a three-story apartment complex.
Waldenberg had the cornerstone placed in his cluttered office. Seeing it again, he was disappointed at its small size. He measured and found it no larger than an overnight suitcase with an estimated weight of 400 pounds. It couldn't hold much, he thought; it must be almost solid mortar. He hurried down the hall and posted a notice canceling his afternoon lecture then returned and left a "Prof. is Out" sign on the office door, which he locked from the inside.
The cornerstone was in excellent condition. It had been placed some six feet below the church altar where, for almost three-hundred years, it was protected from the elements. The outside was of crude masonry, easily chipped. It was in the form of a box with a loose fitting lid of iron. The date 1696 and a symbol, NOTE appeared on the top. There were no other marks.
Waldenberg had been a teacher too long. He had not been on a dig since graduate school and spent his summers with family. Excitement made him hurry; his lack of discipline clearly evident as he rushed to open the treasure. The professional would have precisely measured, photographed, and X-rayed.
There would have been inter-disciplinary witnesses and a controlled laboratory atmosphere lest fragile papers deteriorate too quickly for analysis. But Waldenberg was not a scientist; he was a small teacher at a small college in a small town.
The iron lid yielded. The musty, but not unpleasant, aroma of old leather and parchment gave clues to the stone's contents. Waldenberg took quick stock. His excitement began to wane. His conscious noted first, the negative. There were no bones, no carvings or ornaments. Instead, to his disappointment, there were only four items.
He removed them and examined the interior, finding it bare of marks.
The four items were a Bible, a ledger of names, a leather-bound journal, and an urn about eight inches tall. Losing interest, Waldenberg passed off the Bible; he would give it to the theology department. The ledger and journal he would look at later. That left only the urn as a possible source of interest. He took the articles to his desk and examined the urn closely. It was fired clay with a stopper of the same material. The usual adornments of the period were absent. Only the stopper was decorated, having a stamp, NOTE the same as that on the iron lid. Waldenberg twisted the top. A wax seal where the stopper met the urn neck broke, and it was open. As air entered for the first time in three centuries, it forced out a noxious vapor. The room's atmosphere became rancid and heavy. Waldenberg reeled, knocking the urn onto its side spilling its gray-green contents. He felt hot, nauseated. He lunged for a wastebasket and was violently ill. Groggy but able to rise, he peered transfixed at the desktop. Scattered there, the ash sparkled and jumped like iron filings thrown into a flame. The movement seemed random at first but, as the reaction slowed, a pattern emerged. Through a sulfurous haze, Waldengerg could define another symbol, NOTE. It was not the same as that on the urn stopper and outer lid. It had a more complex shape which gasping anthropologist hastened to copy.
Suddenly, the urn emitted a cloud of thick smoke, a mustard color that seemed to glow with dull luminescence. The mixture rose slightly, then settled.
Waldenberg's exposed skin burned. His hands felt on fire and began to blister. In agony, he grabbed the ledger and journal books and staggered out. The key used to re-lock the office felt cool. He went into the men's room to wash. The cold water revived him, and his wildly beating heart began to slow. A mirror revealed his face to be covered with small blisters, as were his hands.
Driving home, he remembered with relief that his wife was visiting relatives. He would be alone for several days, time to think, to heal. He called the college and, pleading illness, took the following three days off.
The first evening was devoted to the ledger. The examination was difficult as entries had faded while the parchment was yellowed and brittle. Also, his hands ached though the blisters had dissipated.
He transcribed what was legible. The pages listed names and birth and death dates of village members. The cover sheet gave only a founding date, 1671, and a church name, New Queets Calvary. Its pastor was the Reverend Mr. Silas Templeton.
Waldenberg noticed a small cross had been placed beside a number of names. Looking for an explanation, he found each of those with the holy symbol had died between 1685 and 1687 and were all unmarried women in their middle to late teens.
Further study revealed no male children born during those years. The last entry was unusual in two ways. It was the name of a single man. Settlements such as New Queets were started by families. There were only about thirty different last names in the ledger, yet over 150 families. The last entry didn't fit. There was only one name, Toshtunk. It was obviously Native American, but why, Waldenberg wondered, had it been included in the ledger? The other thing was a heavy black circle around the name. The professor could find no explanation. Exhausted, he went to bed. He slept fitfully and got up several times during the night to shake off wild dreams.
By midmorning, he was again in the study. Picking up the second leather-bound book, he noticed the soreness in his hands had gone. In fact, he felt rested and in good spirits despite his poor sleep. The journal pages were in better condition, the writing all of the same character and shade. It was in narrative form and appeared to have been written in one or two sittings rather than over many years, as had the ledger. The writing was elaborate, though without the neatness seen in the ledger. Waldenberg compared style and concluded both had been penned by the same hand, Reverend Templeton.
Reading went slow and it was early evening before the professor finished. As he read, each word needing close study, he made notes. At the end, he was too tired to go over the notes, thereby arranging the journal into a logical, modern English, narrative.
Again, sleep was difficult. He would wake and pace. Some urge seemed to pull then push. He noticed lights on in the house next door, unusual at such a late hour.
Just after dawn, he returned to the study but within minutes was interrupted by a siren. It came closer and just when it should have passed by, suddenly stopped. Waldenberg went to a window. The ambulance was in the next-door driveway, the house lit up during the night.
Someone was being removed by litter. Concerned, the professor donned an overcoat and crossed over. Marylin Coombs, a bright, pretty, high school junior whom Waldenberg had known since birth, looked gravely ill. Her anxious parents could only stammer that she had been well before bed-time, yet spiked an unexplained fever during the night. By morning she was comatose. Waldenberg offered sympathy and assistance, was thanked, and returned to his work. He learned three hours later, Marilin had died. The diagnosis was FUO, fever of unknown origin.
Though saddened by the girl's unexplained death, Waldenberg felt well. Two days of hard work and two nights of fitful sleep should have taken a toll on the sedate 57 year-old. He felt rested, though, and began writing a narrative summary of the old journal based on his notes. It took only two hours. When finished, he took the account to a more comfortable chair and began to read. It was the first time he was totally aware of the story as before it had come in fragments. He read with a growing interest, which ended in heart-stopping horror.
May God find us in our sorrow and forgive, for we are an abomination in His eyes.
In peace, we came to these wild shores. In love, did we erect this house of worship in 1671. With His grace, we prospered and grew; food was plentiful, and the savages remained friendly though unwilling to accept the one God as their savior.
Thus, did we live for fourteen years. A mild winter gave in to spring's warm urging and filled us with joyful confidence in the unfolding year 1685.
Could we have known, Satan had found our colony and entered here the hearts of our men. Four members, God-fearing and fathers all, went in unto the wilderness in search of game. There, Satan sought them and blackened their hearts through rum. Three young heathen females were there made to submit. The hunters had their devil's pleasure. In time, they returned with venison for al, and sin kept to themselves.
In the night, a savage crept to this holy house. Dawn's light revealed Satan's work, for on our sacred door was a rune, NOTE, drawn in blood. The people were sore afraid. I counseled prayer but was overruled by the elder. Their Deacon also the hunt leader.
I agreed evil was among us, for surely the black angel had come into those poor savage's hearts.
Our men took arms and smote the natives unto death, each and all, then cleansed their dwellings with fire. God approved this service to Him for the village suffered not.
At summer's height, a stranger of rough and able texture begged live with us and worship our God. He was a hunter and, though white, asked leave that we call him Toshtunk, a forest name. He provided meat in quantity, a boon to our men; they were free for the fields.
An early frost foretold a bitter winter, and we rejoiced in the abundant harvest stored. Joy turned to sorrow as a killing fever swept our homes. My ledger book began to fill with blessed crosses beside the names of those who had joined Him in paradise. God's hand moved strange for, of the nine deaths, all save two were girl children of an age to take husbands in a year.
Our awe of His ways and wisdom continued through our Lord's year 1686. No male offspring were born alive, nor did a girl child exceed her 17th year. Prayers and vigils had no effect. My flock looked to me, I looked to my savior, I fear He saw me not.
Toshtunk brought meat as before. He never came from the hunt without game for all, a success the Deacon saw with growing wonder. The Lord's year 1687 began with death. Our Deacon's oldest daughter was taken by the fever and perished, as did my own infant son. Our cries were unheard, our anguish unending.
One spring afternoon, Toshtunk prepared to leave the village. We had no need of meat. The Deacon knew not why Toshtunk would hunt and set to follow him his foray. It was not difficult. The trail marks were well worn. Nightfall found the Deacon on a high bank looking down into a wide clearing. There were people around a fire and Toshtunk commanding all. By dress, it was a gathering of heathen women, many with infants. As the hunter built the fire larger, the air warmed, and mothers unwrapped their babes.
All were man-children. The greater fire made more light, and in unbelieving terror, the Deacon recognized his beloved Sarah so soon gone to God. Wild eyes cast about the circle, and there was Anne, his brother's girl dead these seven months. He saw and knew five more before fear and rage compelled his flight here, to me.

We, the Deacon and I, did conspire and did only what in God's service had to be done. Toshtunk was captured outside the village. The Deacon tied and set him upon wood fuel. As I prayed, beseeching God to deliver us from this evil, the hunter was burned unto ashes which we have placed in this urn and sealed. May God grant the evil spirit that was Toshtunk be ever contained herein. We start anew, the urn and ledger in this vault. My account of our sin and sorrow enclose in the sure and Christian belief that it will be heeded should a faithful descendant chance upon this crypt.
AMEN and AMEN

Vicar Silas Templeton, Extant

The New Queets Calvary Church

Waldenberg reread the account. He went back to the original, hoping to find error in his transcription. A call to the hospital confirmed the neighbor's death. All that afternoon, he paced and thought. In the evening, he drove back to the campus and his office.
The urn was on its side as left, but there was no ash nor mark where it had been. The air was normal. That night was worse than the previous two; his restlessness sent him out to walk the neighborhood.
His wife returned; neither she nor anyone else were told anything. He went back to work. Two months passed routinely except for the late-night walks. He would retire and arise beside his wife but didn't sleep and never felt tired.
In February, a newspaper story caused the professor to re-open the cornerstone. He gathered the items and drove to a resort lake fifty miles away. There, he rented a cabin and, clutching the two books, burned it and himself to ashes. Police found a very old Bible and a newspaper clipping in his car. The Bible was given to the college's theology department; the news article, judged of no importance, was discarded.
__________________________________________________________________
'Queen county health officials today announced the arrival of Dr. James McWestin from the Atlanta Center for Disease Control.
McWestin, 43, is a specialist in rare diseases where high fever is the only symptom. The noted researcher declined comment when asked about the cause of twenty-two recent deaths, all women between sixteen and twenty years of age.'
In another story, though not related, New Queets Community Hospital recorded the 18th consecutive girl baby birth. No male has been born at the facility since November 9th. Hospital spokesmen claim it may be a record and are contacting Guinness's for confirmation.







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