"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."—H. P. Lovecraft
Never have such episodes of dread haunted me before, as the horrible dreams of the hearse from the chthonic hell. Its unforgettable guise reflects the horripilation of the infaust clamor of the wailing of the stentorian voices. Its shrieking wheels rotate centrifugally and grind the solitary patch of road that leads, to the interminable gates of the infandous infinity.
The anonymous town by the river that I will expound bears no important relevance, except that you will know it as an insignificant town in the Midwest of America called Rock Island. Hence, what is of extreme importance is the devious man that collects the countless souls of the dead readily. If you inquire of the nature of this story, then let me introduce you to Mr. Jeremiah Baines. He is no ordinary man to be dismissed so lightly, as an august man of foolish propriety. He is an unscrupulous man, but there is one thing that you must be apprised, his subtle fondness for death that has not eluded his keen attention. Perhaps it is nothing more than a fanciful predilection, or an indefinite obsession boarding on acute madness.
There is one thing of my admission that you might think very peculiar, and that is the wicked affinity toward his daunting hearse. There is a pending secret about this uncommon hearse, but this mystery I mention is for you to unravel eventually. The familiar consuetude of persuasion is such a powerful and magnificent influence imposed willingly, upon the susceptible minds of the dreadful belief of a preternatural occurrence enveloping. It is frightening to imagine within the depth of the human soul that evil could exist so visibly and intrepidly, among the careless fools who think unwittingly.
There is an invaluable truth about death that we ignore unreasonably, and that is the day of reckoning has no governed limitations or boundaries. When it arrives suddenly, it does with a Machiavellian imposture and delight as seen. I will not propound that you befriend or entreat mercy from this duplicitous fiend—for the fiend has no compassion, and is insouciant in nature. Verily, all that is pertinent to the flagitious fiend in the end are the insurmountable souls that are therewith possessed and accounted. If you are, the unfortunate one selected, then know that the fiend will not be tarrying in his endeavor, when you see the hearse approaching near. It is more than a mere token of deception—it is a clear omen for an imminent death.
This chilling story began upon one imperturbable day of October, when an unknown stranger moved into Rock Island. His name was Mr. Jeremiah Baines as I aforementioned. The year was 1900, and the people of the town were disappearing gradually and mysteriously. No one knew the unpredictable circumstances involving the unusual disappearances. Supposititious hearsay began to manifest throughout Rock Island forthwith, and stir the residents in a profound trepidation. The local authorities had failed to acknowledge any constant involvement of criminal activity seen, and proclaimed that the scant evidence provided was not sufficient to determine the veritable origin of the multiple disappearances reported. The newspapers and media though restricted in resources had followed every lead attentively, but they too were unsuccessful in disclosing any crucial clues that could resolve the mystery. There were false accusations and sightings made, yet none were accurate or reliable.
Weeks and months had passed noticeably, until the disappearances were considered normal occurrences of the town. One person out of the week would go missing, then another and another. The cycle would repeat itself, with such ghastliness. The only viable allusion behind the disappearances, was a telephone call made by family members, who had reported the persons missing afterward. The mayor of Rock Island, Mr. Melvin Beauregard had promised that the disappearances would be solved soon. However, the bizarre disappearances had continued, and there was a new disappearance, and the person who disappeared was someone our main character Samuel knew quite well, his beloved sister Lizzy. He did not know with total certainty, the hour she had disappeared. All that he could remember was the day.
It was a Monday, but it would be no ordinary Monday it seemed. She was in her room, when she came down the stairs of their home. Her room was located upstairs, as was his. Lizzy was always mischievous and playful in her nature and seldom did she reflect the serious side that her brother demonstrated. Samuel on the contrary was diffident and sheltered, ever since his childhood. He was a child who had suffered and had grown up ostracized by society. Sadly, his parents were both dead, and since he was older, he was forced to be the lone guardian of his dearest sister. Her tutelage would be appointed to his solicitude. The only recollection that was recognizable was a cautious dark horse-drawn carriage that appeared to be a hearse passing through the street outside at every procession. At the time, he did not conclude any nexus of the hearse to the disappearance of Lizzy.
When she did not return, he immediately made the assumption that something wrong had happened. And he would be correct in his presupposition and immense preoccupation. Lizzy did not return and worse, he had presumed that she had disappeared like the others. He searched for her, from street to street, and from house to house that was in the vicinity. She was nowhere to be found, and desperation had overcome him. When he reported her disappearance, the police had told him that there was nothing they could do. He was feckless to achieve any meaningful cooperation of the authorities. All they offered was tentative help and had expressed their regret.
How could this occurrence have remained anonymous? Surely, there had to be a living witness, since no one disappears without notice. It could not be a mere manifested destiny, instead, a ruthless campaign of great terror produced Samuel had thought. There was terror in the eyes of the residents, and he would discover the shocking truth, behind the miscellaneous and inexplicable disappearances. The nights were becoming unbearable, and no one dared to be on the streets passed the evening. There was a curfew imposed, and rapid fear had spread like a wildfire, from neighbor to neighbor, until one day the disappearances ended. The missing persons were presumed dead, and funerals were made for them, without their bodies.
Shortly, the residents of Rock Island had forgotten the incidents. But Samuel did not, and he continued his search for Lizzy. It was one day, when he noticed the strange hearse had not passed by the street, as it usually did at the same hour. The hearse also passed the rest of the streets of the town. It was when he began to have phantasmagorias of the hearse, and an unidentified driver had abducted Lizzy. He saw in his terrible dream, how he grabbed her and put her into the hearse. But what had startled Samuel was the fact that his face was that of a demon. His face was elongated, and his nose was narrow. His thick eyebrows had overshadowed his piercing eyes. His chin was solid and his ears were pointed. The hideous nightmare would be brief and repeat itself in the sequence that evolved. Samuel would abraid with deep sweat and apprehension.
Afterward, the telephone would ring, and the mysterious voice of Lizzy would be heard gigling. And what she said would horrify Samuel and send a sudden chill down his spine, "The hour of death is near. The hour of death is near Samuel!"
He had heard of the words necromancer and spiritualist before, but he never met one in person, until he met a certain Mrs. Grange, who practiced this discipline. It was by mere coincidence that he met and found her. Her home was a few streets, from where Samuel lived. Subsequently, after time had passed, Mrs. Grange stood before his front door. He heard a knock and when he answered, she had an urgent need to speak to him. She wanted to talk about Lizzy, and what she had seen in her visions, concerning her strange disappearance. What she divulged to Samuel was absolutely incredible. According to her, Lizzy had perished and was killed. When he queried about whom was the murderer, she looked into his eyes and said with a cold stare, "Jeremiah Baines."
"Who is Jeremiah Baines?" He asked her.
Her reply was simply, "He is the undertaker of the town, who no one knows of his unique origin. He is an evil man!"
Samuel told her to enter, where the conversation shifted to where was the body of Lizzy, and where were the others? She could not answer that question in earnest, and instead, only could offer him a solemn truth, as a sober consolation. He knew then that there was someone in this town, who had envisioned the same thing that he was experimenting. Mrs. Grange then departed, but before she did, she told him that Jeremiah Baines would be coming for him, or to be precise, his horrific hearse. She gave him her address, and told him that they had to be secretive and extremely cautious of the intruding eyes and ears of Mr. Jeremiah Baines.
When she left, Samuel spent hours thinking and thinking, about what Mrs. Grange had disclosed. He wanted to believe her, but there was not total clarity with what truly happened to Lizzy. Thus, he continued to ponder her mysterious disappearance or her possible death. Jeremiah Baines was the embodiment of his terror and dread. His hearse would terrorize him, as he began to taunt Samuel, with his devilish play. Samuel had learned that the necromancer Mrs. Grange had died a couple days afterward. It was reported by the authorities that she was found dead in the front yard of her home. She had jumped off the roof of her two-story house. The fall had caused her to break her neck instantly, and once he learned about her untimely death, he was even more alone in his search for Lizzy and the others. If Mrs. Grange was silenced, then, he would be the next to vanish. This circumstance did not elude his attention and concern.
The disturbing nightmare had turned, into an inevitable obsession that had no foreseeable diminution, within an unstoppable delirium. It was predictable in nature and began to haunt Samuel, with an unyielding passion that was merciless. The direful consequences were uncertain, as the ambiguous whereabouts of Lizzy. As the months transpired, the nightmares increased in arrant fright and intensity. He could not eat, nor could he think rationally, and it felt like an opium dream to him. It was incomprehensible that the disappearances were still unsolved. Thus, he began to investigate the area more, from one part of the town to the other part. However, there were no concrete clues to proceed, and desperation had caused him to explore the possibility of her death.
The inducement to madness was tormenting Samuel, and the incicurable nightmares extended, as he discerned the ghastly faces of the dead in coffins. He could see clearly, among the plentiful coffins, the dead body of Lizzy within the advanced stage of putrid decomposition, as the casket was wide open. And beside her was the deceiving undertaker Jeremiah Baines, who was identical as the driver of the hearse. It was a vivid image to endure, yet it was only a calamitous nightmare it seemed. Therefore, it was extremely difficult to know, where he would find Lizzy, if she was still alive. The immediate thought of her being dead had become more of a strong probability.
The recurring nightmare led to a daunting place of the dead. He began to see in this nightmare, the façade of an eerie house at the corner of Jamison Street. It was until one gloomy day, when Samuel was walking in the street, he saw the house of his horrible dream before him. It was a drear white Victorian house of the most frightening aspect ever seen. The house had three wings, and what impressed him was the north wing in front of the porch. The gabled-roof was pitch-black, and the windows were narrow. They projected the vigilant eyes of the house. The wind began to blow, and the leaves heaved into piles by the sturdy oak trees. He started to hear the whispering voices of persons. The voices drew him into the haunting house, where he entered at his discretion. Inside he had discovered the house to be a funeral home. He had encountered a stranger, who was embalming a deceased person. He was the undertaker, Mr. Jeremiah Baines. His appearance was normal of a middle-aged man in his forties, but there was something of his guise that perplexed Samuel, and reminded him of the demon. It was his conniving smirk that exuded his persuasive aplomb and apocryphal mien that unsettled his heightened nerves.
"Good afternoon young man. Are you lost, or have you come to see me?"
At first, he was completely silent then he uttered, "See you?"
"Of course, you must have come to arrange a funeral for a loved one. Or is there something else you wanted to know Samuel?
"Why are you in my dreams? How do you know my name?" Samuel asked frettingly.
"In your dreams Samuel. Indeed, I have been told that before. But I wonder, do I spook you with my presence or can it be that it is all in the depth of your mind?" He responded.
"I am not crazy and you are Jeremiah Baines! Why did you come to Rock Island? What have you done with my sister Lizzy?"
He looked with a profound stare and said, "Yes I am Jeremiah Baines, but as for your sister. Oh, I believe you know where she is at Samuel."
"Where is she? Where do you have her?"
From the corner of his eyes, he saw a row of skulls aligned in a shelf. Samuel ran straightaway from the funeral home, and reached his house—never looking back. The awful image of the skulls had stirred absolute horror in him. In spite of the horrid episode experienced, he had to return to that dreaded abode anew. The nightmares persisted, and the funeral processions as well. He could hear the wheels of the hearse pass his home, as the hooves of the horses struck the road outside. Death had begun to take the lives of the residents, and the foul stench of death was circumjacent. No one knew nothing of the undertaker Jeremiah Baines—where did he come from, or who was his family? But soon everyone in Rock Island treated him with deference. Everyone except Samuel—for he could not forget Lizzy. He owed it to her memory to unravel the mystery, behind her unexplained disappearance. He struggled to understand these ineffable events that had occurred, and the alterations he had started to witness, between the residents of Rock Island.
There was not any reasonable conclusion or surmisal to be formulated, without evidence that could allow him to grasp to something of importance. He was finding himself more isolated and sejugated from the others, within his eloignment. Nothing could be easily elucidated, about the unnatural behavior of the townspeople. Was he imagining or exaggerating all of this? Was this phenomenon nothing more than the ill-effects of a sudden hysteria in him gone astray? He was becoming a corpse, and unable to sleep much. He had long passed the phase of the early stages of insomnia. He could feel the palpitations of his heart and sense the presence of death with anhelation.
Amid this daily torture, he began to succumb to the sublative control of Jeremiah Baines. Jeremiah Baines was a proficient master of beguilement and exacted fear with no reprieve. Samuel dreamed Jeremiah Baines, and he awoke to the reality of his epitonic consternation and the fantods. Rock Island had become his intolerable immurement. He could not escape the horrific image of the irresistible hearse, as it passed him by unhurriedly. Every day outside of the street, he espied at the insidious smile and piercing eyes of Jeremiah Baines. Mortification had started to cause his thoughts to vacillate, as he attempted to absorb the variation of the precarious situation that empowered the vile undertaker. His presence unruffled him, with an unpleasant coincidence he sensed consciously. This unavoidable premonition of death, he could not understand, without knowing the metaphysical metamorphosis of Jeremiah Baines. He had to know more about him and the immovable nature of his duplicity. Whenever Jeremiah Baines appeared with his shadowy hearse, Samuel looked defiantly at him. But the growing madness would not go away, nor would Jeremiah Baines.
There was a day that haunted miserably, as he envisioned being in the house of the undertaker. He could not further explain this ill-fated experience with simplistic words of reason and only could reveal the horror that it provoked afterward. The subliminal apperception of death was personified, by a vivification of the vivisepulture that brought an untimely frisson in him. Thus, Samuel returned a week later, after he gained enough courage. The nightmares were too much to bear, and his neighbors began to be unfriendly and intrusive toward him. He could not easily walk freely among them, along the silent streets of Rock Island. The townspeople stared at his every step and movement, as he was not completely vagile. They were spying eyes for Jeremiah Baines, who seemed to have the town bewitched, with his powerful incantation. Jeremiah Baines, as I kindly aforesaid is no ordinary man—for he is the reaper of souls. Samuel felt a sudden propensity to scream to the rest of the world that the adorable Mr. Jeremiah Baines was the horrendous scoundrel, behind the disappearances and deaths of the inhabitants of Rock Island.
It was nightfall, when he boldly left the house. He was mindful of the consequences and the watchful eyes of the neighbors. He attempted to act as they did imperviously to the danger of the undertaker and walked within the streets placidly, until he reached the house of Jeremiah Baines. The indelible Victorian house was staring at him and stood, as a reminder of the lethiferous appersonation of mortal expiry. It was cold and solemn, as Samuel began to climb the stairs of the porch leading into the Devil’s lair. The door had creaked opened, as if the nefarious undertaker was expecting a bidden visitor to appear. Sameul invoked the influential powers from above for divine protection, while he had entered the sacred ground of the dormant souls of yore. There in the main hall of the formidable house was a dead body of a person lying in an open casket ahead. He knew that it was a poor soul that had passed to the afterworld, but when he approached, he saw that the body was the corpse of his sister Lizzy, whose body had appeared to be perfectly embalmed.
However, when he reached her casket, her appearance had altered drastically, from being embalmed to the most abhorrent state of advanced decomposition. She was exactly the same, as how he dreamed her to be in his continuous nightmare. Was this a macabre hallucination he had espied in person—or worse, the actual corpse of his beloved sister Lizzy? The corpse of Lizzy, then rose from the casket slowly, as Samuel looked on with definite amazement.
A heavy lump in his throat he felt, and his body began to shiver and shiver, until he screamed out loud, “No, it cannot be! Lizzy is dead!”
He had reached the entrance door, where he was met by the undertaker Jeremiah Baines, who was smiling with his fiendish smirk, as Samuel stared into his reddish eyes of terror.
"I see you have returned Samuel!"
He was dressed in all black, from his distinctive suit, trousers, shoes and top hat. He had an urn in his hand of the cremated souls of the charnel house of doom that was in the back.
"What have you done to Lizzy? Why did you kill her? Did you kill the others too? Why?"
"Oh my boy, you will soon understand everything that is happening in this town."
"Understand what? What do you mean?" Samuel had inquired.
"The horrible nightmares, the strange disappearances, and above all, who am I and who you are!"
The walls of the house began to be engulfed with enormous flames of hell, and they spread to the corridor. Samuel felt the comburent flames reach his feet, as he stood watching the infernal fire burn uncontrollably throughout the house. The appearance of Jeremiah Baines had changed from man to the demon of Pandemonium.
He began to laugh at Samuel, within such a psychopathic manner and said, "You can run Samuel, but you cannot hide from the truth!"
Samuel ran out of the Victorian house, and toward the streets, where he noticed the throng of the people of Rock Island staring at him. They stood with phthartic eyes as well, and pointed their fingers at him. Jeremiah Baines then began to follow him down the streets, with his intimidating hearse. It was a horse-drawn carriage that was a wooden metal framework, which had a bier and supported the pall. The hearse had numerous spikes to hold the candles, as Samuel clearly saw the memorial epitaph that was attached. The heat of the burning wheels he felt and smoke came out from the nostrils of the horses, as their forelocks illumined. The hearse was covered in bursting flames. The words written were, “Burn in hell, or rot in hell.”
Those minatory words were a prescient warning for the mortals to heed caution. The crowd began to evolve into a mad frenzy as they ran after Samuel in a rumpus. He ran frantically, not knowing where to run or where to go. Thereafter, he ran to the cemetery that was ahead, and every place around him was confined, by the presence of the throng. He could hear the sound of the masses and the horses of the hearse. When he reached the cemetery, the front gate was closed, and there was no place he could hide. Growing desperation had devoured him, like a stirring whirlpool. The townspeople came toward him, with their penetrating red eyes of malevolence, and the hearse was approaching near and near. He could hear the laughter of Jeremiah Baines and see the top hat he wore. The winds of the night began to gust, as he saw a pair of black cats by the gate.
There were crows that were perched upon the tombstones of the dead and buried. He could see the dead rising from their graves, with their ghastly look of utter demise. He then saw ahead, the view of a church in the horizon, and immediately he ran toward it. When he reached the church, he pounded on the door, as the throng of the townspeople, were behind him with the sinister hearse as well. The door was then opened, and it was a lanky pastor who saved his soul. Samuel looked back for a final time and saw that the townspeople and the hearse were gone—so were the black cats and the crows. Soon, there was pure silence all around him. It was as if the incident never occurred, or the madness of the townspeople. But, he could not erase the harrowing thought of the inconceivable hearse.
Samuel was later explained by the pastor that fifteen years ago in the year of 1885, there was a terrible episode of disappearances and deaths reported that went unsolved. They say the victims were killed by a young apprentice who worked for an undertaker from the funeral home, who was a stranger who moved into Rock Island. When he inquired about the killer’s identity, he told Samuel a gruesome revelation. The name of the undertaker was Mr. Jeremiah Baines. Yes—the same Jeremiah Baines, who he had encountered recently, at the corner of Jamison Street, at that old Victorian house. Apparently, he had been the lone survivor of that horrific string of murders in the year of 1885. He was only a young adolescent, and the incident had scared him enough to be able to forget the grisly horror he witnessed. Lizzy had died at the hands of Jeremiah Baines, fifteen years ago. And now, Samuel is confined to the echoic walls of an asylum, where he remembers daily the hearse of brimstone and the dreadful guise of Mr. Jeremiah Baines.
If there is something we must learn about death, it is the serious nature of its existing complexity. It does not matter, where you come from, or who you are. The only thing that death seeks is the soul to whom it pertains. It will announce its coming, when you least expect it. Do not shun the temptation to know of its existence, and remember that fate is aligned to death. It is impossible to avoid then and intricate in nature. Therefore, allow me to say that it is death that has always been intrinsic to our fate, since our inception. Jeremiah Baines is no exception, for the philoxenic Mr. Baines has transcendence over those who have entered the realm of his illimitable domain. Perhaps, you will have the unfortunate fate to meet Jeremiah Baines in person, and when you do, know that generosity is feigned. There is no need to be formal and demonstrate decorum, when the narrative I have shared is the absolute truth. If I have not disclosed my name before to you, then let me offer a very cordial introduction of the being that I have become. My name is Mr. Jeremiah Baines, and he has forever existed, within the dark recesses of my brain.