Mysterious circumstances surround Meg Powler, a disenfranchised young woman. Supernatural tensions culminate around Meg and her four, spinster protectors when a famous witch-hunter arrives in town…and promptly disappears. Are the stories about the Corpsebone woods and these five women true? Are they really witches? And did they have anything to do with the unbelievable and ghastly things that happened in the woods that night?
FIRM: LORREY, LUGOSI, & RUSSELL, ATTORNEYS AT LAW
CLIENT: MEG POWLER
ATTORNEY: RONALD LORREY
DATE OF MEETING: [REDACTED]
SESSION TEXT (CONTINUED)
LORREY: You could potentially be in some serious trouble here, Meg. You haven't said a whole lot in our meeting. I want to help you, but if I'm going to be able to do that I need at least your version of things.
POWLER: So, the truth?
LORREY: Of course, Meg. Now, before we get to the heart of this thing, do you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of Rusalka Balmont?
POWLER: Leave her alone.
LORREY: Meg, look this is serious stuff. A half acre of forest explodes in green flame. Green flame! And there are people who say you're involved, that you're a dangerous young lady. Now if you're protecting Miss Balmont...ok calm down, Meg. It's all right. I just want to help. Please, is there anything you can tell me about Sadie Greenteeth? About Eleonora Grindylow? All right, how about Viola Blackwood?
POWLER: She's like a mother to me. You leave her alone too. You leave them all alone!
LORREY: Ok. Ok. You don't have to shout, ok? Look, if I'm going to be your attorney, you have to help me with some things I still don't understand. Like, the severed hand that was found in your room.
POWLER: The hand of glory.
LORREY: Do you really believe in that stuff, Meg? In black magic and ghosts and monsters?
POWLER: Of course. It's all true.
LORREY: You have to help me here. How can I believe it? Help me understand....
What in God's name? How did you do that?
POWLER: That's nothing. But that's how it starts. Small. Are you sure you're ready, Mr. Lorrey?
Corning has always been a haunted place, situated, it would seem, right over a fault line where our world meets another one in violent and gruesome phantasmal collisions. It runs down from Lake Ontario, right from the Chimney Bluffs, snaking down around the Finger Lakes, and meandering through the Southern Tier before continuing South into Pennsylvania.
There are hot spots where it leaks out particularly strongly. Kingsbury Manor lies right on top of one–surely you've heard the stories about that family? Another one is deep in Sugar Hill Forest. When we were kids we all called that spot "Corpsebone" because you couldn't hardly walk ten feet without stepping on a bone from an unmarked grave.
LORREY: What do your parents think of all this?
POWLER: My parents don't much pay any attention to me. They never have. I've spent most of my formative years with Miss Blackwood. People always talked about her and called her names for her eccentricities and the odd things she sold in her curio shop on Pulteney Street. When that awful man, Matthew Hopkins came to town, her shop was the first place he stopped. I was there that day. He started "interviewing" Miss Blackwood. He asked a lot of questions about why she never married, what she did during Sundays, and if she ever went up into the hills and woods. He scared me. But he didn't scare her.
LORREY: Matthew Hopkins is actually missing, along with his assistant. He told the authorities he was the "Witchfinder General." Hard to believe there are still witch hunters in this day and age. But did he think Miss Blackwood was a witch?
POWLER: He's an opportunist. A sadistic, self-righteous, evil man.
LORREY: Perhaps. But if you know what happened to him, you're obligated to tell, Meg.
POWLER: He came to my home looking for me. My parents didn't even question him or his motives. They just figured I'd gotten myself into trouble again and was going to get what I deserved. He was alone with me in my room and made me very uncomfortable. He asked questions about Miss Balmont mostly, but also about Miss Greenteeth and Miss Grindylow and Miss Blackwood. And he asked questions about me. He wanted me to show him my body, to see if there were "marks." I didn't know what to do but his assistant came in very hurriedly and said there was activity in the woods. They cut out of there immediately.
I ran crying to Miss Blackwood's house and told her everything. She comforted me, but she left in quite a hurry. I stayed in her house for a bit and then I walked over to Market Street where I saw Hopkins and his man rip-roaring through town headed North. They had lots of strange tools and ropes and rifles and things.
LORREY: And then what?
POWLER: Well. You know. Bad things happened in the woods that night. I didn't see Miss Blackwood for a week or so, and I was terrified about what happened. But when I did finally see her she presented me with the Hand of Glory and said it would protect me from now on. If I needed help I just had to light it and hold it. All of them have one now.
LORREY: All of them? You mean, those women? All of them have one of those hands? A Hand of Glory?
POWLER: Matthew Hopkins and his assistant are hanging from a tree deep in the woods, up in Corpsebone. I doubt you'll ever find it. All four of their hands would be missing even if you did. I'm sure you can guess why.
LORREY: Meg. This is really serious. Is there anything else?
POWLER: As for Sadie Greenteeth, and Eleonora Grindylow...well, I see them now and then. Now that I'm of age Miss Blackwood promised she'd formerly introduce me to all of them, even old Miss Balmont. I can't wait.
LORREY: I'm...I don't even know what to say.
POWLER: I've already seen how this will end, Mr. Lorrey. After this meeting you're going to send me over to see Dr. Keller for evaluation. He's going to drug me and lock me up. But I will be freed, and none of you will ever see me again. At least, not and be able to tell.
LORREY: Freed? Meg, what are you talking about?
POWLER: Thirteen. That's my lucky number. They'll send help for me.
In the wake of assorted family calamities, the younger brother of the current Kingsbury generation takes on more responsibilities. In this capacity he journeys to old Blackiron Forge, an engineering plant and smithy purchased by his grandfather, the mighty Jonathan Kingsbury, to inspect the old derelict. Unfortunately, the place is NOT a derelict, but rather a mechanized charnel house where steampunk horrors are undead and well…and looking for new raw material!
The road out to old Blackiron was in a horrible state. It was difficult to picture that it was ever a formal road, cratered now with potholes, slick with mud, uneven and rocky. I had resolved to see the place and explore it and I definitely would, even if I had to walk the last couple of miles if the auto broke down.
Blackiron and the property it's on has been in the family for over seventy years now. My grandfather purchased the old foundry up in Gang Mills after the original owner passed away. Using his sizable fortune, grandfather purchased Blackiron Forge and then restored it to working order. He made sure it was outfitted with the newest and most cutting-edge equipment possible, intending it as both a means to keep his own farm equipment in working order as well as provide another long-term income stream for the Kingsbury dynasty.
My older brother, Robert, rightfully runs Kingsbury Manor now, attending to the family legacy. However, with my nephew's sudden illness to which Robert has applied most of his attentions of late, he has turned much more responsibility over to me. One of these is old Blackiron, resting again as it was when Jonathan Kingsbury bought it: abandoned and quiet.
As with all things involving my grandfather, even this venture was tainted with a sinister lining. Stories have been told in dark taverns by inebriated lunatics of the goings on there. Children have dared each other to penetrate inside its stony facade and have spent years well into adulthood plagued with hysterical night terrors. Deacons walking in the dusky twilight have cocked their heads at the distant tolling of the bell in the forge's clock tower only to make the sign of the cross and shudder.
Blackiron Forge is known amongst the old timers of the area for its design, too. A great clock tower crowned the facade demonstrating the smiths' skill not only in casting the mammoth cogs and levers and wheels that formed the clockwork machinery, but also in assembling the complex showpiece. It was a testament that Blackiron was about engineering as much as fabricating. I had seen engravings when I was a boy, but I'd never actually seen it for real until now.
Sadly, upon my approach, I finally saw that the once impressive clock tower was now a monument of disrepair. The great arms had stopped moving and pieces of the stone casing had broken away revealing the gears inside, mottled with rust. Curling vines of ivy reached up the stone facade. The wooden doors were pitted and cracked. But here, as dusk had become night, the trees behind the foundry reflected a flickering orange glow. I approached, curious and as I did there were two things that set me to alarm: one, every step closer brought with it an increase in temperature until a sweat broke; and two, I could hear work going on inside. And as I came around the side and approached the rear I could see that there was activity. Light from several lit furnaces poured out from intact windows and open doors, illuminating the trees.
Fascinated, I walked to the rear where massive bay doors were open and heat rolled out of the smithy in waves, distorting the air. I stood frozen, dumbstruck and mouth agape, as my brain struggled to accept the uncanny horrors within.
Bodies were rising from some subterranean storage, elevated by an array of rails and gears, and were placed on great anvils that moved on tracks. Machines worked at the somewhat intact specimens as crucibles poured glowing liquids into casts and smaller ladles nearby. Mists from the furnaces writhed and twisted, moving like...like they were alive, caressing the pieces being made and the bodies on the anvils with smoky fingers.
And the workers? The smiths and engineers overseeing this desecration? Grotesque perversions of the natural order. Human-shaped vessels designed out of pieces of flesh and brass and bone and steel. The process before me seemed to be creating more of the same, machining parts to be grafted to the rubbery corpses, infusing them with the consciousness of souls harvested in the crucible.
What was even worse was the ghastly diversity, the nauseating variations that were designed. Appendages were added at awkward angles to facilitate unimaginable tasks. Hands and feet were replaced with tools and levered, clockwork imitations. Where the shape of a man or a woman wasn't enough, every aberration of freakish birth was then realized in horrifying collages of skin and metal. Conjoined bodies ambled about like spiders on a web of steam pipes. Bulbous protrusions sported vacuum tubes and hoses, and all manner of industrial accoutrements. Any inherent beauty in the design of the human body gave way to chaotic and tortured forms.
They laughed and chittered back and forth through awful rictus grins. The sounds of their demonic gaiety amongst the backdrop of this macabre, mechanized charnel-house shook me. The most terrifying aspect, then, was the realization that the objects of these hellish procedures were willing participants. Enthusiastic hedonists incapable of distinguishing joy from torment, willingly partaking in unholy experiments.
I was noticed after a time, still rooted to the spot, taking in more than my mind could bear. They dragged me before the Blacksmith, tall and imposing, his face obscured by a protective mask and large, darkened welding goggles. A great leather apron emblazoned with an ornate “K”—the family crest—covered him to his knees. His white hair swayed in the heatwaves pouring out from the nearby fires. Like a lunatic I shouted that the world would not let such unnatural things stand. The Blacksmith pointed to a nearby work station where mechanical body parts hung from racks above the anvil table. A bellows started working, stoking a fire to the intensity of a small star. I was being dragged over there.
It was then that I realized...oh God how it became so awfully clear...not every soul in the Forge was a willing subject.