Daimôn, part 1 of 3
Dove Svenson, the grand-niece of Martje Svenson - whose name you perhaps have heard - lived by herself in the old farmhouse. The land that had fallen to her was no longer a working farm; the ponies and two goats and five chickens she kept were merely pets. The barn was dilapidated and pines were encroaching on the orchard. The caretaker's cottage no longer stood: only a piled of rotted boards marked its place. Years ago people had come in a steady stream and knocked on the door - tourists, sight-seers - but no one came anymore. For years it had been quiet.
"Don't waste any good apples on the horses," her mother used to say.
Dove always laughed and tossed the fruit in the air.
"I'm not, ma; they're wrinkly," she said to the empty house, and caught them. She had delicate hands, and a sensitive face: many older people said she looked like her great-aunt, except that Dove had short, silky, dark hair.
The twenty-five-year old girl ran out of the house and skipped down the front steps of the porch into the darkness. It was a snowless December night. In the distance the pines creaked like masts, hovering on the edge of a deep and silent woods. The moon hung above, casting tangled shadows across the farmyard. She walked toward the barn. Its doors were wide open.
As she neared the barn, to put the horses in their stalls, she heard a low and quiet thump, as if something were already in the stall.
She probably had left the door unlatched and that Loki had gotten into his hay.
"The greedy devil," she laughed, but felt uneasy.
As did the creature at hearing her footsteps draw near, for as she stepped into the barn, suddenly something great and large burst out of the open door of the stall - it was neither a horse nor a goat, but looked like a man covered in fur, and went thundering past her, its gait close to that of a gorilla's.
She did not know where her apples went - they left her hands - and she found herself half-way across the yard and into her house. Whatever it was disappeared into the woods.
She slammed her front door and locked it, then went to each window and locked them, and then took the heavy iron poker in her hand and, shaking like a translucent leaf, withdrew into the kitchen, wherein a newfangled telephone sat in all its brassy splendor on a sideboard, next to the basket of apples, a new cheese, and the cookie platter for the infirm Mrs. Cobb. She almost felt like she was not in her body as she grasped the shiny receiver and lifted it.
"Operator?" she said, her words coming out short and clipped, the sounds surprising her. "Call Mr. Svenson. For me. Please."
"Alright, ma'am. Please hold." She could tell it was the sawmill owner's daughter, smacking bubblegum.
"Sorry, ma'am? His line keeps ringing."
Dove tightened her hand on the receiver.
"Please try again."
She listened to the crackling of the line.
"...No, ma'am. I can't reach him. He isn't there."
Now she was desperate.
"Please... please try again. Please!"
"...Is everything alright, ma'am?"
"No. I mean yes. I mean, I think so. Just - try him. You must try. Please."
"Alright. Alright. Maybe he's just outside."
A moment later:
"I've got him. Connecting you now."
"Dove. What's wrong?"
"Dag, you have to come so fast - fast - come now - you must come -"
"Okay, okay okay. I'm coming. What's happened?"
"Something bad. Something's here. Something's in here."
"In the house?"
"No, in the woods - but nearby. Oh, come as fast as you can!"
"Are the doors locked?"
"Sit tight - I'll be there in a few minutes."
"Ten at most. I'm coming, okay?"
"Bye. You'll be alright. Just watch at a window."
He was gone. Dove was loathe to put the receiver back in its shining cradle. She held onto it for a few moments longer.
Then she returned it - quickly. The clank seemed to wake her up. She needed to move. She checked all of the window locks again. She locked the cellar. She shoved a chair under the knob of the front door.
She wished she had looked at the clock; she had no idea how long it had been since he had hung up. It felt like an hour. Why wouldn't he move? He had always been poky, even as a child. She always had to hustle him. Oh, why wouldn't he come!
Just when she thought she would faint, her nerves were so frayed to the end, a loud knock sounded. She ran to the door.
Dagmar called, "Dove! It's me!"
and relief flooded her even before she opened it. She knew now she was safe. No matter what happened, now she was safe.
* * *
"Talk me out of this, Dagmar," said Dove, as the two sat at the table. Her hands were around a hot ceramic mug of chamomile tea. "Tell me I'm crazy. Tell me that wasn't real."
He leaned back, putting his hands in his pockets.
"Well, now, I don't know."
"You aren't suggesting... I mean, it couldn't have been real. It must have been fake. Something must have happened."
He shrugged. "You tell me."
"Can't...I mean, hallucinations...I'm not sick or anything. But - I've heard - certain types of bread mold can make you see crazy things."
"You don't look sick."
"And were you experiencing strange things before you went out?"
"No, I wasn't." She paused. "No, I really wasn't... I got my tea... I ate my pie... I wrote down a list of Christmas gifts to get people. So, here. Here's my list." She pulled it out from under her plate. "It makes sense. My words are legible. I'm not... I'm not crazy, am I?"
"Let me see that," he said, leaning forward. He slid the paper towards himself, but she kept her hand on the bottom half of the paper.
"No, you can't see what I'm getting you," she laughed.
His eyes bored through the top half of the list.
Miss Perry - a tea cozy
Mr. Cohen - a pipe
Mr. and Mrs. Taylor - a book and scarf
He looked up at her. "No, Dove. You're not crazy."
Her shoulders exhaled. "I can't tell you...how relieving that is. You have a lot of power over me."
"As you have over me," he said.
The two sat in silence.
"Funny," she said. "I'd rather have truly seen a monster than be insane. You'd think I should prefer to be insane!"
"No, I understand. Nothing worse than ending up in a mental institution."
"Not even..." Then she realized she couldn't make a joke about running into what she had seen. "Oh." She covered her face.
"I'd like to go out there and take a look."
"At least check on the animals."
"Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh! The animals."
"Okay." He stood up.
He put on his coat.
"If you are, then I'm coming with you."
He did not protest, and they fetched a lantern.
"Oh, gosh; oh, gosh," she kept saying, as she clung onto his leather sleeve and moved her leaden feet with deliberate effort. Dagmar seemed cautious but fearless. In the barn, he shone the light into every crevice. The animals were all accounted for: some even were sleeping peacefully. The ponies, who had been huddled in a corner of their paddock, now trotted over to see their owners, as if eager to be protected. Freya went right into her stall, but Loki refused to go into his. He pawed the ground, swung his neck, and shook his mane.
"Yup, something's wrong," said Dagmar, running his hand down Loki's furry flank and soft, firm belly. "He won't go in. Obviously he smells something."
"Then it must be a well-known predator!" said Dove.
"Or something unknown," he said, "and therefore just as threatening. Animals have a good sense about these things."
"Let's go in," she shuddered. "Or should we stay out here with the animals?"
"Maybe it was as scared of you as you were of it," suggested Dagmar. "I doubt it'll be back tonight."
"How do you know?"
"I don't know; I'm just guessing."
"You don't think...I mean, do you think..."
"It was trying to eat them?" He locked the stall.
"Who knows. Neither of us can say."
"I guess so."
They walked back slowly into the house; this time she did not hold his arm.
* * *
In the kitchen, Dagmar took off his coat. "Glad I installed that 'phone for you." He began banking the fire.
"Me, too," said Dove. "Now let's go back to your house. I think that's safest."
"No, let's just stay here tonight."
"In the morning I want to put a lock on the barn door. It's just easier to stay."
"If you saw the thing, you wouldn't say so."
"We're fine. We've got the doors locked."
"Oh, my gosh. It could probably break in a window."
"But I'm here, so you're fine. - I can sleep on the parlor sofa."
"But we should probably tell the sheriff in the morning. Yeah?"
"Yeah, sure. Do what you want." He rested the tongs against the stones. "But if you do, you'd have to phrase it like you saw a man - a big, hulking man."
"You don't think it was a man, do you?"
"It might have been."
"Yes, it might have been..."
"At least phrase it like that, okay? Because if it starts to get around that we think a big gorilla living in the woods is haunting our barn, you will be locked up."
"Okay." He put his hand on her shoulder, a gesture he rarely made. "Just watch yourself, okay? I don't want...anything to happen to you."
He shouldered a couple blankets and began to walk into the parlor.
"...You believe me, though, right?"
He came back. "You know I do. You've never lied before... I've known you my whole life."
"I just don't see how this could be real."
He shrugged. "Sometimes the strangest things are the most real," he said, and walked away.
She had heard that sentence before. Where?
* * *
He was up early, securing the barn. Dove carried him out a cinnamon bun and a steaming cup of coffee. She leaned against the fence post.
"Maybe it was someone dressed up," she said. "I mean, it did have very animal-like movements, and was huge... but if a very big man, and a good actor... I mean, I don't know who would play a prank like that. It'd be awful to think of in other circumstances, but in this one, it'd be relieving. Oh, my goodness, can you imagine! So relieving. In fact, I don't know why I didn't fully consider it at first!"
"But why do you think he didn't try to attack you? I mean, it doesn't make sense, dressing up, just to shuffle around and then run off. Thanks -" He took the coffee, took a sip, and then balanced it on a rock.
"Maybe he just wanted to scare me."
"...Maybe. But you'd think there'd be more to it." He stuck two nails in his mouth and began tapping on one.
"No: sometimes scaring someone is all a person wants to do. They want to do it for no other reason than... well, I don't know. I mean, we can never understand others' craziness."
"Isn't that one of the points of life?" he said, out of the corner of his mouth.
"To try to understand others' craziness, and see in their craziness, our own."
"I'd rather not deal with anyone's craziness."
"Not even your own?"
"...You know you can only come up with the terrorizing hypothesis because you have wanted to do it to someone else before. That idea at one point has come into your mind. It wouldn't occur to you, now, otherwise."
"You're insulting my creativity."
"No." He smiled. "Just reminding you of your humanity."
"Oh, stop. Philosophy sits badly on you."
"Only because you disagree. - There. A kid could've done it, but it works. And you can have the key."
"No, no. You've always been good with these things. It's fine work," said Dove, "as long as keeping the monster out of the barn is our aim. But what if it came out of the barn?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, if it came from - inside."
"How is that even possible? Like a trap-door and a tunnel from the woods?"
"I don't know. I'm willing to believe anything at this point. I mean, look what I'm saying I saw last night."
A twinkled leaped into his eye. "Next time, try attacking it."
"You should've hit it with your apples. If you thought it was a costumed person, would you have?"
"No," she laughed. "I would've run just the same."
He curled his fingers and leaped at her with a growl. She shrieked and hopped backwards.
"It's not funny. We're going to die and it's not funny," she laughed. "But really, we should check the barn all over. Just in case."
"We will," he said. They began walking back to the house together. "Don't you have the Taylors' Christmas party to go to?"
"Oh, yeah. This morning. Are you coming?"
He made a face.
"Yeah. You and social events. People have been wondering where you are these days, you know."
"Those poor people. Deprived of my presence. What a loss."
"They miss you!"
"It takes too much effort. And almost no one is worth calling on."
"What an awful thing to say. Am I included in that group?"
"I don't answer any questions that have to do with reassuring the ego."
She fell silent as he held the door open for her.
"...Oh, fine. You know you're in your own group altogether," he said.
She brightened. "So what excuse should I give the Taylors for you?"
"Tell them I'm busy."
"On your plays?"
"How are those coming these days, by the way?"
"Fine enough." He always became reticent when speaking about his craft, and Dove never pressed him. His work disturbed her, but she privately believed it was the craft of a genius.
* * *
Up in her room, she combed her sleek bob, donned a festive dress, and spritzed herself with a Christmas perfume - rose and sandalwood: a gift from Dagmar.
He stood at the bottom of the stairs, leaning against the railing, his hands in his pockets.
"...Think you'll be alright this morning?"
She tripped down the steps. "I'm just going to focus on enjoying myself. What are you doing today?"
"Just moving stuff."
"From your apartment? - Moving into here?"
"For a bit. I'd bring you to town but you have the animals here."
"Good luck with that. Don't gander around outside, and lock the doors when you're in." She snatched up a gift bag. "Well, I'm off! Joy to the world, Dove Svenson is mad, she saw a monster last night!"
He joined in: "She probably won't survive, and neither will Dagmar, but that is alright..."
"But that is alright," she chorused.
"But that...that...that is alright," they finished together.
"We really should have formed a choir long ago," said Dove, "and toured Europe. Why didn't we?"
"Because we're...awful. That was the worst singing I've ever heard."
"And the worst lyrics." She opened the door but then swung around on the handle. "What do you think will happen if I run into the beast again?"
"Oh, you'll probably be killed," he said. "It will catch you. It will claw you. And it'll eat you."
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it."
She had no idea why she was laughing. He just had that affect on her. She felt delirious and tipsy with happiness.
"No," she said. "No, we're in trouble."
"Yup. Give my love to the socialites."
"I will! Goodbye!"
* * *
"Lovebug!" cooed Betty Taylor, taking off her friend's coat.
Dove kissed her.
"What! Is Dagmar not here?"
"No, sorry - he had to move his things today."
"Oh? Where is he moving?"
"Back to the farm for a bit."
"Oh! Why's that?"
"Oh, well..." Dove searched for words. "You know. It's rough with a roommate. He needs more space and quiet to work on his play right now."
"How's that going?"
"Splendidly. I think."
"Well, all the best to him! You like eggnog, don't you?"
She didn't, had a tall glass of it deposited into her hand, and was summarily abandoned. She wandered around the farmhouse, which looked like an indoor forest, so trimmed was it with holly and pine and wintergreen and mistletoe.
She tucked herself into a corner, but was at once pounced upon.
"Dove! Where's Dagmar?"
"Oh, you know...his plays," she said. She was beginning to feel claustrophobic.
"And how are you?"
"That makes me glad to hear," said one, patting her arm.
Dove hesitated. "- Thank you. And how are you?"
"Plugging on, as usual!"
As they moved on, she heard one whisper,
"Why poor girl?"
"No, come this way -"
Dove was highly alarmed. Inconspicuously, she followed them: she slowly moved towards the dessert table set up against the wall by the Christmas tree. It was a luxuriously corpulent tree, cut from the Taylor's backwoods, and thickly bedecked. The girls were on the other side of the pine. She casually reached for a lemon square. She could hear them clearly, though they whispered: for their voices were concerned and excited and eager.
"...well, to have a brother like that. Didn't you hear what Thackery said?
"No! What did Thackery say?"
Dove began to feel sick, even before they spoke.
"Said Dagmar was getting linen, cotton, and ink and this strange machine. Keeping it in his room."
"How would Thackery know that? But Will Shard said it was maybe for counterfeiting money."
"Counterfeiting money! Is that possible?"
"Come on. This is Dagmar."
A hot wave pounded through Dove's head.
"He's a plain-out loafer. So you write a few bad plays - and then you have to print money!"
"Maybe it's for something else."
"Naw, I wouldn't put it past him. You know the things he's done."
Her chest could not be filled with more fury, and the room began to spin slightly.
"But we can't just jump to conclusions."
"Look, girls. I have a feeling about these things, and I swear, that man is no good, and I've known it from childhood. Underhanded. Deceiving. Thinks he's above common law."
"The town would be better off without him. Just having him here again ruins the peace. He makes me so uncomfortable. Brr!"
"...I feel badly for his sister."
"He'll come to a disastrous end, that's for sure. We'll just have to make sure we're there for her when it happens. - Oh, look, gals, there's Amos! Let's go and push Patty under the mistletoe."
As they rustled off, Dove turned her back and crammed the whole lemon square into her mouth, feigning interest in a cardinal out the window.
When they had passed, she swallowed and walked away - floated, rather, for her feet felt like they were not touching the ground.
She took her coat and hat with icy hands. Was her skin even touching the rough wool? She could not feel anything: if someone had asked where her neck, her shoulders, her elbows were, she could not have located them.
"Oh! Where are you going, Dove?" squawked Betty, presiding over the door.
"Oh - just to get air really quick."
"Oh, yes, jellybean, you look flushed."
Dove burst into the winter air but even the brutal chill did not cool her body, which was flowing with fire. She could have killed something. She stalked across the yard - yes, she could tar and feather those girls - she could skin them - who did they think they were? How could they judge her brother like that? - without evidence? How could they crucify him so? Why did they see him like that? They were evil! They were wretched! They were - were dirt -
She got behind the barn and kicked and struck the walls. Then she broke down sobbing.
The tears eventually worked their effect and calmed the flame inside of her. She sat there, in the frozen dirt, her legs straight out in front of her, like a rag doll or a child. How bleak the field stretching before her looked: a shorn corn field and gray woods around the ring.
"They don't know," she said aloud. "They don't know how he came home from a promising career when I lost the rest of my family. How he left the theater in the city to live here with me. To protect and care for me, though he's the younger one. They never see him talking with me over tea...amphibian life and astronomy and medicine...for hours. Or the time when I broke my ankle and he carried me for a mile. They never saw him waking me from night terrors and coaxing me out of them. He put two years into making me stable on the farm by myself. And even now he - he 'loafs' around...just for me...to watch over me...and they don't know that - they don't even know!"
She buried her head into the crook of her arm and cried again.
* * *