Jonas Markham has heard all of the stories. Small towns have their scandals, and the Babcocks are one of Byron’s most prominent families. Four generations of Babcocks have tilled the fields and split the logs of Byron since 1833. And had the Great War not left Elizabeth brotherless, the Babcock name might have gone on for generations untold.
Elizabeth’s great-grandfather, Walter Babcock supposedly suffered a debilitating breakdown in the early hours of May 1, 1855. He was found babbling incoherently upon the threshold of the family farm after being gone for several days on a logging expedition. While the truth would never be known (Walter Babcock was admitted to a Portland asylum and never spoke again), townsfolk speculated that Walter Babcock met the Devil in the woods of Oxford County.
Until Jonas Markham found the strange statue in the fields of the Babcock farm, he had laughed off the townsfolk’s speculation as the stuff of legends. Now, he was not so sure.
The statue made Jonas feel uneasy. It was unnatural – what he could make out of the broken figure was both ovine and worm-like in nature – a hoof and tentacle could be discerned, but little else. It made Jonas feel as if an unnatural and unholy marriage had brought forth a hideous spawn. He would wager his farm and livelihood that it was evil.
Jonas woke up nightly in cold sweats. He felt a constant foreboding that he could not articulate. It was as if his faith was shaken to the core, and only by finding the origin of the statue would he know the truth.
The Maine May came on fine but chill, and it was nearly a month before logging season would begin. The fall potato crop yielded more than expected, and a pig or two could be sold to slaughter if money was needed, so Jonas left his son, Jeremiah, in charge of the farm and ventured out to seek the truth about the statue.
Inquiries at University of Maine, University of Southern Maine, Bangor Theological Seminary, and Bates College turned up nothing but confused stares. It was at Colby College that Jonas caught his first break.
After countless inquiries of the faculty, Jonas is introduced to Dr. Hathaway in the Anthropology Department. Taking the statue from Jonas and examining it, Hathaway says, “I cannot be sure due to the debilitated state of the find, but the fertility god Cernunnos tends to take on the shape of a goat, stag, or snake in Celtic mythology. What a statue of a Celtic fertility god might be doing on the grounds of a Maine potato farm, I cannot say. Dr. Josiah Stave, an old colleague of mine and a professor in the Antiquities Department of New York University might be able to provide a more expert opinion. If you would like, I can let him know to expect you.”
Jonas arrives at the NYU campus in the late afternoon of June 4, 1926, and is shown to the Antiquities Department. As Jonas enters the office, Dr. Stave is straightening his desk drawers, as a Negro custodian is emptying the garbage cans. After a brief, courteous introduction, he hands the statue to Dr. Stave.
“Well, old Hathaway meant well, but I regret that his assessment was off the mark. It is true that Cernunnos has been depicted as a goat, stag, or snake in Celtic mythology, but never as more than one in the same statue. The detail work, as primitive as it is, is also too expert for the Celts. If I had to venture a guess, I would say it was Sumerian, but I can’t fathom how this statue would end up in Maine.”
Noticing the look of despair on Jonas’s face, Dr. Stave motions for the custodian to leave. “I can see that you won’t be satisfied until you have some answers. If the statue is Sumerian, as I believe, then you’ll want to seek Dr. Francis Morgan or Dr. Henry Armitage at Miskatonic University. Morgan is in the Archaeology Department, and Armitage is the director of Orne Library. Both are well versed in Middle-Eastern history and culture. Perhaps they could be of further assistance. Now, if you don’t mind, a visiting professor from King’s College is giving a lecture on Beowulf that I must attend. Good day.”
Jonas follows Dr. Stave from his office and stops for a moment to ponder the statue. Feeling as if he is being watched, Jonas turns to find the Negro custodian standing in front of him. After years of share-cropping in Georgia, Jonas quickly discerns the accent as being Creole.
“I doan mean to speak outta turn, but I seen a statue like dat before, and I tell you it be Hoodoo if it be any-ting. You wan know what dat be, you go see Madam Tesheka in Harlem to-marra. She on da corner of 140th and Lenox. She set you straight.”
It’s getting late, and Jonas hasn’t found a place to stay the night. He hasn’t talked to Elizabeth in three days, and wants to get a message to her before she goes to bed. Jonas finds a transient hotel near the University that can accommodate his needs, and spends the night thinking about whether he should heed the advice of the custodian and visit Harlem the following day, or drive to Massachusetts to visit Miskatonic University.
The following morning, Jonas wakes up early, finds some breakfast, and decides to head to Harlem. The shop on 140th and Lenox is closed. A collection of chicken feet, charms, and various powders in the window confirm the location, but Madam Tesheka is nowhere in sight. Resigned to finding out what she might know, Jonas comes back several times during the day to no avail. At about 8:00 pm, Jonas notices a short, stocky woman approaching the shop. He exits his vehicle, approaches the woman, and introduces himself. Madam Tesheka is leery at first, but when Jonas explains the situation, she makes sure that no one is watching, and leads him in to the shop.
After examining the statue for several minutes, Madam Tesheka looks up. “Dis is not any charm I know,” she says. “It not be nothin’ that I sell in my shop, and not be nothin’ that I use to cast my spells. I be sorry, but this is not hoodoo…” She begins to recount stories she heard as a girl about devil worship in the swamps of Louisiana, but Jonas is no longer interested.
Disappointed, Jonas nods to Madam Tesheka and exits the shop. He is pondering his trip to Massachusetts, and how he will make Elizabeth understand the need for it, when Jonas notices a dark figure rummaging through the trunk of his Packard.
The day’s failure wearing heavily upon him, Jonas shouts at the figure and begins to run towards it. A teenage negro bolts down the street – he is fast – nearly too fast for Jonas. As Jonas begins to catch up, the negro suddenly ducks down an alley. Jonas follows, turns a corner, and finds himself facing a long line of gussied-up white folk. The negro is nowhere to be found – though Jonas thinks he saw him dart into the building everyone is waiting to enter. Determined to take out his failures on the would-be thief, Jonas waits in line to enter the building. The sign on the door reads, Blue Heaven Ballroom.