The Moonlit Road – Intermediate Level
1. Statement of Joel Hetman, Jr.
I am the most unfortunate of men. I am rich, respected, well educated, and healthy. I also have many other advantages that those who have them value highly and those who don’t have them usually wish for. However, I sometimes think that I would be happier if I did not have any of these. If I was very poor, and needed to work hard to make my way in the world, I might sometimes forget the dark secret and terrible thoughts it brings to my mind.
I am the only child of Joel and Julia Hetman. Joel was a wealthy farmer. Julia was a beautiful and well brought up woman who Joel loved greatly in what I now know to have been a jealous and demanding way. The family home was a few miles from Nashville, Tennessee. It was large and located a little way off the road in a park of trees and bushes.
At the time of which I write, I was a nineteen year old student at Yale University. One day I received a message from my father, saying that I must come home at once. I was met at Nashville railway station by a distant relative who told me of the reason that my father had called me back home. My mother had been violently murdered. Nobody knew why and by whom she had been killed, but this is what we do know.
My father had gone to Nashville, planning to return the next afternoon. He was unable to complete the business he went for, so he returned late the same night, arriving in the early hours of the morning. In his statement to the police he explained that he had left his key to the front door at home. He did not want to wake the sleeping servants and so, for no special reason, went round to the back of the house. As he came around the side of the building, he heard a sound like a door being gently closed. He then saw in the darkness the figure of a man disappearing among the trees. He ran after the man but could not find him anywhere on the grounds. At first he thought it must have been someone secretly visiting one of the servants. He entered the house through the unlocked door and climbed the stairs to my mother’s bedroom. The door was open and, stepping into black darkness, he fell over a heavy object on the floor. I will not go into details; it was the strangled body of my poor mother!
Nothing had been taken from the house. The servants had heard no sound. Other than those terrible finger marks around my mother’s throat — dear God! that I might forget them! — no information about the killer was ever found.
I gave up my studies and remained with my father, who, naturally, was greatly changed. He had always been a calm, quiet man. However, after my mother’s death, he fell into so deep a depression that nothing in our normal lives could hold his attention. But anything unexpected — the sound of someone walking outside, the sudden closing of a door — caused him to stop what he was doing. He would listen carefully for a short time and sometimes turn white. One might have thought that he was waiting for something that he greatly feared. Then he would go back into an even more depressed state than before. I suppose he was what is called a ‘nervous wreck.’
As for me, I was younger then — there is much in that. In youth there is something which can help ease any kind of pain. Ah, that I might again live in that magic land! I had never had a close family member die before, and did not know what to think of my mother’s death. I could not rightly understand what it meant to me.
One night, a few months after the terrible event, my father and I walked home from the city. There was a full moon high in the sky. All around us was the deep stillness of a summer night. Our footsteps and the song of the night insects were the only sounds, yet even these seemed a long way off. There were trees lining both sides of the road, and their black shadows lay across it. The small spaces between the shadows were ghostly white in the moonlight. As we approached the gate to our home, which was in total darkness, my father suddenly stopped and held my arm, saying:
‘God! God! what is that?’
‘I hear nothing,’ I replied.
‘But see — see!’ he said, pointing along the road, directly ahead.
‘Nothing is there,’ I said. ‘Come, father, let us go inside — you are ill.’
He had let go of my arm and was standing straight and still in the centre of the moonlit road. He looked like someone who had lost his senses. The expression on his face, which had lost all color, worried me greatly. I pulled gently at his arm, but it was as if I was not there. Then he began to walk backwards, step by step, never for a moment taking his eyes off what he saw, or thought he saw. I turned half round to follow, but stopped because I was not sure of what to do. I do not remember any feeling of fear, unless it came in the form of a sudden coldness that seemed to wrap itself around my body from head to foot. I could feel the movement of it in my hair.
At that moment my attention was drawn to a light that suddenly streamed from an upper window of the house. One of the servants, possibly woken by a mysterious sense of coming evil, and without knowing why, had lit a lamp. When I turned to look for my father, he was gone. In all the years that have passed, no word has come to me of what became of him.
2. Statement of Caspar Grattan.
Today I am said to live. Tomorrow, here in this room, will lie a senseless shape that all too long was I. If anyone lifts the cloth from the face of that unpleasant thing, it will simply be because that they are curious. But someone will certainly go further and ask, ‘Who was he?’
In this writing, I supply the only answer that I am able to give — Caspar Grattan. Surely, that should be enough. The name has served my small need for more than twenty years of a life of unknown length. True, I gave it to myself. However, as I did not have another, I had the right. In this world one must have a name. It makes life easier, even when it does not establish who you really are.
Some, though, are known by numbers. These do not seem good enough to separate men. One day, for example, I was passing along a street of a city far from here. I met two men in uniform. One of them, seeing me, said to the other, ‘That man looks like 767.’ Something in that number seemed both familiar and horrible to me. I can’t explain why, but I turned into a side street and ran until I fell, too tired to run any further, beside a country road. I have never forgotten that number. And whenever I think of it, it comes to mind along with meaningless but hurtful words, shouts of joyless laughter, and the closing of iron doors. So I say a name, even if given by yourself, is better than a number. In the books of the graveyard for the poor, I shall soon have both. What wealth!
Of whoever shall find this paper, I must ask a little understanding. It is not the story of my life. I do not know enough to write that. This is only a record of broken and apparently unrelated memories. Some of them are as clear and ordered as a string of brilliant beads. Others seem far off and strange, having the character of dreams between which there are empty spaces.
Standing upon the shore of eternity, I turn for a last look over my life. I can clearly see the marks left by bleeding feet over the last twenty years. They lead through poverty and pain, unsure and not in a straight line, as of one carrying a great load.
Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow.
Ah, the poet’s description of Me — how wonderful, how terribly wonderful!
Backward before the beginning of this painful journey — this lifetime of suffering in which there were times that I did done wrong — I see nothing clearly. It comes out of a cloud. I know that the journey covers only twenty years, yet I am an old man.
One does not remember one’s birth — one has to be told. But with me it was different. Life came to me as a fully grown man and with all the normal mental powers. Of a previous life I know no more than others, for all have cloudy images in their minds that may be memories or may be dreams. I know only that the first thing I was aware of was that my body and mind were fully developed… something I accepted without surprise.
I found myself walking, half dressed in a forest. I had sore feet, and was terribly tired and hungry. Seeing a farmhouse, I approached and asked for food. This was given to me by a man who asked my name. I did not know my name, yet knew that everyone had names. I felt very strange about this and left. With night coming on, I lay down in the forest and slept.
The next day I entered a large town which I shall not name. I also shall not talk about other things that happened in the life that is now to end. It was a life of traveling, always and everywhere troubled by a powerful sense of a crime to punish a wrong and of terror to punish the crime. Let me see if I can put my memories of that earlier life in writing.
I seem once to have lived near a great city, a rich farmer, married to a woman whom I loved but did not trust. We had, it sometimes seems, one child, a clever boy who showed a lot of promise. He is at all times a cloudy figure, never clearly drawn, frequently totally out of the picture.
One luckless evening it occurred to me to test my wife’s faithfulness in a way familiar to everyone who reads newspapers and magazines. I went to the city, telling my wife that I should be away until the following afternoon. But I returned that night and went to the back of the house. Before I left I had secretly done something to the door so that even when locked from the inside, it could still be opened from the outside. As I approached the door, I heard it gently open and close, and saw a man move quietly away into the darkness. I ran after him with murder in my heart, but he had disappeared. I was not able to see who it was, and sometimes now find it hard to make myself believe that it was a human being.
Mad with jealousy and anger, I entered the house. Like a wild animal, and with all the powerful emotions of hurt manhood, I ran up the stairs to the door of my wife’s bedroom. It was closed, but having changed its lock also, I easily entered. Although it was completely dark, I was soon by the side of her bed. I could tell from touching the blankets that, although the bed had been slept in, it was empty.
‘She is downstairs,’ I thought. ‘Scared by my entrance, she must have run past me in the darkness of the hall.’ I turned to leave the room and look for her but took a wrong direction — the right one! My foot struck her, hiding in a corner of the room. Immediately my hands were around her throat, stopping her from screaming. My knees were upon her body as she tried to stop me. There in the darkness, and without saying a word to her, I strangled her till she died!
This ends the dream. I have related it in the past tense, but the present would be the better form, for again and again I live through that terrible night in my mind. Over and over I make the plan, I find that I was right, I correct the wrong. After that there is nothing. The rains beat against dirty windows. The snows fall upon my torn clothes. I hear the noise of people going by in the filthy streets where I live in poverty and mean employment. If there is ever sunshine, I do not remember it. If there are birds, they do not sing.
There is another dream, images of another night. I stand among the shadows on a moonlit road. There is someone else with me, but who I cannot rightly say. In the shadow of a great house, I see the shine of white clothes. Then the figure of a woman is on the road in front of me — my murdered wife! There is death in the face, and marks upon the throat. The eyes are looking into mine with a serious look. I don’t see hate or anger in them, only that she knows me. I run away from this awful ghostly figure in terror — a terror that is upon me as I write. I can no longer rightly think of the words. See! they…
Now I am calm, but truly there is no more to tell. The dream ends where it began — in darkness and in doubt.
Yes, I am again in control of myself. I am ‘the captain of my soul.’ But that is not the end of it… it is another step in making up for a wrong. My never ending self-punishment can be changed. One way of doing this leads to peace. After all, it is only a life sentence. ‘To go to Hell for life’ — that is a foolish penalty. The criminal can choose the length of his punishment. Today my term will end.
I wish each and all, the peace that was not mine.
3. Statement of the ghost of the late Julia Hetman, through the Medium Bayrolles.
I had gone to bed early and fallen into a peaceful sleep almost immediately. I woke up sometime late at night with a feeling of danger. This is, I think, a common but hard to explain experience in that other, earlier life. At first I told myself that it must be my imagination. But I did not put it completely out of my mind.
My husband, Joel Hetman, was away from home and the servants slept in another part of the house. These were familiar conditions, and they had never worried me before. This night, the strange feeling grew so unbearable that I sat up and lit the lamp next to my bed. I had expected that this would make me feel safer, but it had the opposite effect.
I saw that the light would shine out under the door. This would tell any evil thing that might be outside that there was someone in the room. You are still in the living world, subject to horrors of the imagination. Think what a monstrous fear I must have felt in deciding to wait for and if necessary fight the unseen enemy in darkness. I blew out the lamp and pulled the blankets over my head. I lay in the bed shaking and silent, unable to scream, forgetful to pray. I must have lain in this miserable state for what you call hours. With us there are no hours, there is no time.
At last it came — a soft sound of footsteps on the stairs! They were slow, careful, uncertain, as of something that did not see its way. This made me all the more scared. It seemed like the approach of some blind and mindless evil force which would show me no mercy. I thought that I must have left the hall lamp burning, and that the uncertainty of this creature proved that it a monster of the night. This was a silly idea and totally against my earlier thought that it was better to have no light showing. But what would you have? Fear has no brains; it is foolish. The frightening thoughts it brings to mind and the cowardly advice that it gives are unrelated.
We know this well, we who have passed into the Kingdom of Terror. We hide in ever lasting night among the scenes of our former lives. No one can see us, not even ourselves. We wait alone in sadness, wishing to speak with our loved ones yet unable to speak. And we are as fearful of them as they are of us. Sometimes they can see and hear us, the law is broken for a short period of time. By the power of love or hate we can break the spell and be seen by those that we wish to warn, comfort, or punish. We do not know what we look like to them, but we do know that often we frighten them… even those that we love the most.
Forgive this talk about things that have nothing to do with the time that I was once a woman. You who try to talk to us through a Medium do not understand. You ask foolish questions about things we don’t know and things we are not allowed to talk about. Much that we know and could say in our words would mean nothing to you. We must speak in broken words through this person, using that small part of our language that you can speak. You think that we are from another world. No, we know of no world but yours. However, for us it holds no sunlight, no warmth, no music, no laughter, no song of birds, no friendship. Oh God! What a thing it is to be a ghost, hiding and scared in a changed world, having lost all hope!
No, I did not die of fright. The thing outside my room turned and went away. I heard it go down the stairs. It went quickly, I thought, as if itself in sudden fear. Then I got out of bed to call for help. Hardly had my shaking hand found the door when I heard the the thing returning. Its footsteps as it came up the stairs were fast, heavy and loud. They shook the house. I ran to a corner of the room and sat upon the floor. I tried to pray. I tried to call the name of my dear husband. Then I heard the door thrown open. The few moments after this are not clear in my mind. My next memory is of feeling a strangling hold upon my throat. Then I felt my arms weakly beating against something that pushed me backward, and my tongue pushing itself from between my teeth! And after that I passed into this life.
No, I have no knowledge of what it was. All that we know after death is what we know of went before. Of this life we know many things, but no new light falls upon any page of our old lives. We can only read what is written in our memory. In death we learn nothing new about the uncertain world of our past. We live in lonely hiding places in the Valley of the Shadow, looking out at the world. How can this give us new knowledge of our past?
What I am about to tell you happened at night. We know when it is night, for then you go back to your houses and we can come out from our hiding places. We can then move about our old homes without fear, look in at the windows, even enter and look upon your faces as you sleep. I had stayed a long time near the house where I had been so cruelly changed to what I am, as we do while anyone that we love or hate remains.
I had tried for some time to make my husband and son aware of my new life and my great love and how sorry I felt for them. Always if they slept they would wake. But then, if I was brave enough to come near to them, they would turn the terrible eyes of the living toward me. I wanted so much to look into those eyes, but what I saw in them would always frighten me away.
On this night I had searched for them without success, fearing to find them. They were nowhere in the house, or about the moonlit grounds. Although the sun is lost to us for ever, the moon, fully round or thin, remains to us. Sometimes it shines by night, sometimes by day, but always it rises and sets, as in that other life. I left the house and moved in the white light and silence along the road, aimless and sad.
Suddenly I heard the voice of my poor husband in cries of amazement, then the voice of my son telling him that nothing was there and to come inside. They stood by the shadow of a group of trees — near, so near! Their faces were toward me, the eyes of my husband fixed upon mine. He saw me — at last, at last, he saw me! Knowing this, my fear disappeared like a cruel dream. The spell of death was broken. Love had won out over Law! I was so happy that I shouted — I must have shouted, ‘He sees, he sees: he will understand!’ Then, controlling myself, I moved forward, smiling and trying to look as beautiful as I could. I wanted to fall into his arms, to comfort him with kind words. I wanted to hold my son’s hand in mine and tell them things that would bring the living and the dead together once more.
Sadly, my husband’s face went white with fear. His eyes were as those of a hunted animal. He backed away from me as I advanced, and at last turned and ran away into the woods. Where he went is not given to me to know.
I have never been able to make myself known to my poor boy, then left doubly lonely. Soon he, too, must pass to this invisible life and will be lost to me for ever.