Demon in the Thicket: A Cautionary Tale

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The following message – the remnants of an old leather bound journal with the name “E. Harper” stamped on it – was found in a badly rusted metal container, uncovered as a field of blackberry thickets was being bulldozed on Maury Island. Few of the pages were legible, but this was pieced together with some effort.

Thursday, June the 4th, 1895
This morning, it was with great anticipation that my wife, Eliza, and I viewed the shores of Maury Island growing nearer. After a long and most tiresome journey by boat up the coast from California, we arrive at last at our new home. We are eternally grateful to my distant cousin, none other than the esteemed botanist Luther Burbank, who purchased property for us in this lush and verdant country on a visit he made last year. He remarked in his letters that he had gone so far as to plant a small stand of his recent triumph, the Himalayan Blackberry, at one corner of the acreage, so that we might enjoy its sweet fruit in our first year here. How thoughtful! How kind a man to go to such lengths! He further assured us of the beauty of our plot, and its excellent situation for small farming. But farming will be inconsequential in our plans, as I go to my new job at the shipyard in Dockton on the coming Monday. Nevertheless, once we have a house built, and are settled proper, we shall certainly invite him to stay, and Eliza can bake him a pie from the fruit of the very plants he supplied us with. Our hearts are near to burst with joy!

Friday, June the 5th
My dismay cannot be adequately described. Yesterday, we hired a wagon out of Dockton, and with our few possessions stacked upon it, made our way up the hill to the property. How shall I describe the scene that greeted us? A vast, sprawling mass of thick green vine, clad in thorns, a veritable sea of brambles, spread out before us like the unending waters of the Pacific Ocean. Only, on our land! The road into the clearing for the building site – Luther assured us it had been made – was utterly impassable. Indeed, we could not FIND the road, until I lowered myself flat on the ground, and peered into the depths of the vegetation. I could just thence perceive where the road bed was, but my gaze could penetrate no more than a yard or two. Inching forward on my belly, to see what else might reveal itself, I was rewarded with a lashing of thorny growth, and received several painful scratches on my face.

We returned to Dockton, and found a hospitable family that has allowed us to pitch our tent on their land, until I can forge a path into our site. I have spent the day – or what was left of it – collecting my wits, and sharpening my tools. Though the blackberry thicket is dense, I have no little experience in hard field work, and am confident that, by Sunday, we shall be well situated on our land. Monday shall find me at the shipyard, and Monday night, I will pen a note to Luther, and ask if he had any notion of just where he was planting his berries. The roadway is certainly no place for them. I can only imagine that, botanist though he may be, he is no forester nor farmer either, and thought to set them where we could pick them most easily. A silly fellow, for all his book learning.

Saturday, June the 6th
I have been working hard since daylight, and am confident I must be making good headway into this briar patch, but confess as well a feeling of unease, and some dispiritedness. The latter stems from my struggle to cut away the vines. Never have I toiled so, and still the clearing – which Luther aptly described in his letters – is nowhere in sight. For that matter, very little of anything save the tangle of blackberry vines is in sight, and indeed, I cannot be quite sure how far, exactly, I have come from the road. I am, for the moment, seated on my lunch pail, taking a small bit of food, for the morning’s exercise has been most arduous. But as I sit here, I can only see the brambles surrounding me and the sky above, a beautiful, serenely rich blue, ringed about by the hole which I cut upwards through the berry thicket. Back toward the main road there is merely a tunnel hacked through. Yes, a tunnel, for I had not the strength to clear away all the brush to the sides of the road, nor even a narrow path. Such is the vigorousness of the vines. I decided to settle on this sort of warren, with the thought that, once into the clearing, I could come back out, and make another pass on Sunday. The Lord will forgive me for working on the Sabbath, as I promised Eliza and myself that I would get us situated before work at the shipyard begins.

As for the sense of unease, its genesis was, in truth, yesterday, but I could not admit of it then.  Yet now, I would take an oath that, while peering into the green darkness yester morning, something… something made itself known. I heard no sound, I saw no movement, and yet felt distinctly and assuredly a presence, a presence that made the hairs on my neck stand up. There was – there is – herein an evil, a sinister force, unseen but real. I told myself it was fatigue, and over-excitement from the voyage, the landing and so forth. Thus I dismissed the occurrence entirely, and was not troubled. But, today… today, the feeling has returned, doubly so. Something unknown and dreadful is within this tangle, I feel it in my very bones! And most unsettling is that whatever “it” is, it seems not of tangible form, but nonetheless pervades these vines.

But, no! I will not allow such thoughts to overtake me. I will prove the master of myself, and hammer ahead. I am determined, and know I will make the clearing today. Eliza will not fret if I am late home. She has confidence in me, and I in the Lord.

Evening, June the 6th.
I am exhausted.  The day wore on, the hours crept by. I cut, and hacked, and hewed at this demonic brush with all I had and yet, still – still! – I cannot find the clearing.

Never have I encountered a less hospitable place, nor such vile vegetation. It is alive with a malignant consciousness, a ruthless desire to inflict punishment upon any who dare come upon it, who dare to challenge its supremacy over the land.  I am sore covered with scratches, some quite deep, my clothing has been torn as if by an angry animal, and several times I narrowly escaped being blinded in one eye or the other as an especially long and tough vine of thorns whipped my face.

Most worrisome is that it now grows dark, and I fear I have lost my way. For a time, when the sun was at its zenith, enough light penetrated this infernal gloom such that I could navigate roughly toward where the clearing must be. But the thicket has only grown more dense, more resistant to any effort to prise it apart and thus see the sun. These last hours have found me struggling to make way of any kind, and I no longer have a true bearing.
And, incredible though it may seem, the path I so laboriously carved to this spot – wherever this spot is – has disappeared. The growth has evilly closed in behind me and, without old Sol to reckon off of, I know not which direction is the road.

There is no alternative for me but to make a hard and cold bed here, in the midst of this hell-vine. In the morning, God willing, I shall make for the road. Foolishly, I have consumed all my food, and nearly all my water, and now I am desperately thirsty, but must forbear any more drinking tonight. I will need all, I fear, for the push to get out tomorrow, and once out, never return.

June the 7th.
Day’s end, and the only way I know it to be so is that the darkness under which I have striven for hours has deepened. I am utterly, completely lost. Lost, lost, lost! Despair and dread gnaw at the fringes of my thoughts, and I scarce can hold them at bay – but I must! I must! To give in means my doom.

Sometime today – I think it must have been in the morning – there were voices, faintly calling. Alas, shout as I might, I could not make myself heard, and upon the voices receding, I fell unconscious, as much from disappointment as from weakness. I know not for how long I lay, but upon waking – oh, God! what horror! – I saw my legs wrapped about with the accursed blackberry vine! I felt myself going mad, and only by summoning a supreme effort was I able to cut myself free, though what is left of my trousers are mere shreds, and I will bear a series of scars from the thorns, as well as several more where my hand scythe went astray.

The air has become dreadful hot, so thick it is a labour almost unbearable to simply draw breath. The vines press in on me, my thirst is a singular torture of itself… is there no respite, no relief from this mass of green death?

If I can but rest for a time, I intend to marshall my strength for an assault straight up through the tangle, into the light of day. Then I will take my bearings, and make for the road. Eliza! I will see you again, I vow. Oh, God, give me your guidance, your strength…

June… the 10th?
My dearest Eliza, I love you. I love you so, but I am defeated. It is only with the greatest effort that I write. For days I have struggled to find the way out, but it is useless now. I have not slept, and lack of water has sapped me of life. No torture devised by man, no ring of hell from Dante’s Inferno, could do justice to the suffering I have lately endured. If I cease hacking at the vines for even a few minutes, I must watch, horrified, as they maliciously, grotesquely, and painfully grow over my body, and I have no more strength – alas, none! – to fend them off. Even now, I feel them constricting me, binding my chest, suffocating me. Only my hands are still free… free to pen these last words. I leave this to any who might find it, as epitaph and warning. For the sake of your soul, and the love of God, stay away from the blackberry vine! Oh, Eliza, my love, would that we had never come here, and that Luther had never made such a planting…

Luther! LUTHER! What have you done? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!!