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Irene Day 3

Okay, so even though I got up about an hour early, I'm running about an hour late, and I blame you, Johnathan Strahan, and you, Gary K. Wolfe. And this Coode Street Podcast, which will have me smiling for days to come. And, of course, now I'm dying to see Gary's Locus review of Two Worlds and In Between: The Best of Me (Volume One). I was especially pleased with their suspicion that Volume Two is going to be so much better than Volume One (because it will be).

Comments today, kittens! I need them.


Yesterday, after I attended to email (Michael Zulli and I seem to have become regular correspondents, which is just too cool), we left Providence, about 3 p.m.. And drove south to Exeter, in the southwestern quadrant of Rhode Island. Throughout Blood Oranges I've been doing something I never do with novels: I haven't spent much time scouting locales. To keep with the fast-pace of the book, I've relied on my memories. But the climactic scene occurs in Exeter, where I've spent very little time. Now, if you're into the weird of New England, or vampire lore, you know all about the Mercy Brown incident (and the related cases of New England "vampires"). I've read Michael E. Bell's superb book on the subject, Food for the Dead, and used the case in several stories. Yet, I'd never visited the grave. Nor had Spooky, which is even odder. So, yesterday we set out to remedy this.

It could hardly have been a less appropriate day, if you're the sort who wants some appropriately eldritch atmosphere for such an outing. The sun was blazing, and there's virtually no shade in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery. The temperature must have been in the mid-eighties Fahrenheit, with heat indexes close to ninety. But I think Spooky and I were both happy that we weren't making some cliché goth pilgrimage. We followed Ten Rod Road (Route 102) to Exeter and the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church (behind which the cemetery is located). Mercy's grave is a simple marble marker, unassuming, and unlike that of Nellie Vaughn – another tuberculosis victim that superstitious locals feared was an undead, life-draining revenant (oh look, LJ can't spell revenant) – there's no inscription that could be taken the wrong way. Vaughn's grave, in Greenwich (Gren-itch), reads: "I am waiting and watching you." Anyway, there is at least a large cedar that shades Mercy's stone. As with HPL's marker, people had left tokens on the headstone. I left a small black pebble. There are photos behind the cut.

After Exeter, and all the notes carefully recorded in my Moleskine, we headed over to Newbury Comics in Warwick (War-ick) to kill some time until it was cool enough to make the drive down to Moonstone Beach. And we were Bad Kids, and each bought two CDs. Not being utterly destitute after the long monetary drought, these things happen. And they were all used CDs. I got Death Cab For Cutie's Plans and Placebo's Once More With Feeling: Singles 1996-2004. Spooky got Einstürzende Neubauten's Strategies Against Architecture, Volume 4 and the Swans' Children of God. We were not utterly awful, though; we only looked at the amazing new Depeche Mode boxed set.

After Warwick, we headed south to Moonstone. And, of this beach's many moods, here was another one. One perched at the edge of a tremendous chaos. Already, the waves were dangerously high, at least 3-5' high, and a big yellow sign had been posted forbidding people from walking on even the lower part of the beach. Walking over the dunes, past Trustom Pond, where a few bird watchers were set up (the birds were all in a lather, as the storm approaches), we spotted a beautiful Green Heron (Butorides virescens), a new species for both of us. It was perfectly still at the edge of the pond, fishing. A tiny Piping Plover kept creeping near it, then dashing away again. But no cormorants anywhere, no gulls in the sky. Flocks of pigeons heading inland. A squawking catbird. A strange and ominous ornithology.

On the beach proper, well...I can't do it justice in words. A painter could have done it justice. I'll post photos over the next few days (assuming we don't lose power). There were a few people. We walked a long way (maybe .40 miles, so .80 altogether) as the sun was setting. The wind was chilly, very wet and misty, quite a change from Exeter. We saw all manner of flotsam and jetsam. We spotted the leathery remains of a skate (Family Rajidae, maybe a Thorny Skate), and another beachcomber told us that a Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) was stranded at Moonstone on the 9th of the month. Oh, the wonders I miss by not being nearer the shore! Fuck you, motor boats; the turtle likely died from gash in a front flipper, from a propeller. As the sun was giving way to night, beneath a Maxfield Parish sky, we reluctantly headed back to the van. I wanted to spend the night in the dunes, just feeling the storm coming on.

Back in Providence, we stopped by Eastside Market to grab a last minute pile of supplies, readying to sit out what Irene throws our way (I've heard we're getting 18 hours of continuous tropical storm conditions), and we remain under a Hurricane Warning. Anyway, there was a package from an incredibly kind anonymous individual – a first edition (!!!) of Shirley Jackson's The Sundial, sent from The Strand in Manhattan. Whoever did this, a million thanks.


Good RP in Insilico, and some of The Stand last night, as Trashcan reached Las Vegas.


So, we're watching little but the progress of Irene up the Eastern Seaboard. Terrifying, this storm, and, as I have said, I am honestly more worried about Manhattan than I am about Providence. Regardless, stay safe. Don't laugh this one off. Not since Katrina has America faced such a threat from a hurricane. We've got mandatory evacuations in coastal and low lying areas here in Rhode Island. But regardless of my fear (and I am afraid of this storm), gods, what a splendid expression of sky and sea, this child of Panthalassa. The sea stands up and walks across the land. This has been happening for billions of years, and we're the ones in the way. This doesn't mean I am without concern. It only means I see both sides.

Concerned and Awed,
Aunt Beast

Anyway, here are the Exeter photos:

At the northern edge of Chestnut Hill Cemetery is this crypt where Mercy Brown's body was kept (January 1892) prior to performing the "vampire ritual" (March 17, 1892). The ground was too hard, frozen, to dig a grave in January.

The gravestone of Mercy L. Brown, purported vampire, actual tuberculosis victim.

This is how you stop a vampire's headstone from being stolen by idiots.

One of many tokens on the grave.

Many other tokens atop the headstone (mine at far left).


Aunt Beast by the marker; not at her most glamorous. It was fucking hot.

Spooky got this amazing photo of a dragonfly, perched on the seedpod of a Spanish bayonet (a plant that just doesn't belong in New England).

Closeup of Spanish bayonet seed pod, open.

View to the southeast, from Mercy's grave, towards the church and grange hall.

So no necking and heavy petting with the dead folks!

Chestnut Hill Baptist Church (ca. 1838)

Exeter Grange Hall.

All photographs Copyright © 2011 by Caitlín R. Kiernan and Kathryn A. Pollnac

Addendum: This entry took over two and a half hours to compose.


( 31 comments — Have your say! )
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Aug. 27th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
I'm hoping it's one of those hurricanes that throws cows at the house. All I have provisioned is mustard and the cat.
Aug. 27th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC)

I'm hoping it's one of those hurricanes that throws cows at the house. All I have provisioned is mustard and the cat.

Well, now. That is placing your faith in fortune.
(no subject) - joshrupp - Aug. 27th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 27th, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)

The day feels charged and waiting.

That was moonstone yesterday.
Aug. 27th, 2011 08:26 pm (UTC)
Here's a little ditty for Mercy Brown and stormy weather;

Aug. 27th, 2011 08:49 pm (UTC)

Thank you, very much.
(no subject) - sovay - Aug. 27th, 2011 11:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 27th, 2011 08:31 pm (UTC)
Interesting, I've heard of the New England vampire legends, but I didn't know there was a book on the subject. *adds to wish list*

Be careful with the hurricane, and with the crazy that storms tend to inspire in crowds.
Aug. 27th, 2011 08:49 pm (UTC)

Interesting, I've heard of the New England vampire legends, but I didn't know there was a book on the subject. *adds to wish list*

It may or may not be out of print, but I'm sure you can find it online.
(no subject) - vulpine137 - Aug. 27th, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - greygirlbeast - Aug. 27th, 2011 09:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 27th, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
Luckily here things were not as bad as everyone had predicted. There was damage done to the sewer system here, so parts of it are now shut down. I'm concerned for New York, however, as no part of that city is built to withstand a hurricane.
Aug. 27th, 2011 08:50 pm (UTC)

I'm concerned for New York, however, as no part of that city is built to withstand a hurricane.

Exactly. And the repercussions of severe damage to NYC would ripple all around the world.
Aug. 27th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
I need to stop watching the local news. All this talk of 80mph winds and flooding is making me twitchier than usual. Time to fill another pot with water.

You're correct regarding NYC. Thinking of the city flooding is too much like a sci-fi film. It feels impossible.
Aug. 27th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)

You're correct regarding NYC. Thinking of the city flooding is too much like a sci-fi film. It feels impossible.

As did the flooding of New Orleans.

But this is the New Normal.
Aug. 27th, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
I love it when you post beautiful photo collections like this. That dragonfly is incredible!
Aug. 27th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC)

That dragonfly is incredible!

Thank you. That's one of Spooky's gems. She's the queen of macro.
Aug. 27th, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
Excellent photos, I esp like the dragonfly and seedpod.

The Mercy Brown incident is interesting to read and also to see the gravestone. Which book includes your story "So Runs the World Away."

The sea stands up and walks across the land.


Be well.
Aug. 27th, 2011 10:02 pm (UTC)

Which book includes your story "So Runs the World Away."

At this point....hmmm. It was originally published in candlewick Press' Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, and then collected in my subpress volume, To Charles Fort, With Love (2005).

Edited at 2011-08-27 10:02 pm (UTC)
Aug. 27th, 2011 11:22 pm (UTC)
Closeup of Spanish bayonet seed pod, open.

That and the dragonfly are just beautiful.

I hadn't realized that people leave offerings at Mercy Brown's grave; I think that's wonderful.

Keep safe.
Aug. 28th, 2011 12:32 am (UTC)
Please allow me to introduce myself...
Hello! *waving* Please bear with me; this is kind of a thing for me because I have been "psyching" myself up to directly contact you for some time. Disclaimer: I PROMISE I am not a crazy stalker, really! My name is Jaime (I also do go by Lilith) and I am an English professor at a NYC college. I am a long-time lurker on your blog and an even longer-time reader of your works and am generally in awe of you and your writing, which is why it took me so long to post here. (I realize this does not make me sound like less of a stalker but I am REALLY not one!) I have used your short story "Bela's Plot" in a course I created and taught on women and gothic fiction. I am also finishing up my Ph.D. in literature and I discuss your work in one of my chapters. (I'll be happy to send you that section for your review if you want but it is entirely complimentary; you could distill my discussion by saying "Caitlin Kiernan is teh win.")

Incidentally, PLEASE don't read my LJ blog; I have not posted in over five years. I was re-reading it tonight and I realize I was a much more shallow, self-absorbed, and whiny person five years ago than I hope I am now. Please don't judge me by my immature rantings!

I just wanted to say thank you for your concern about Manhattan; I too am worried about the storm but I am not really worried about New Yorkers. I was in the city until late last night and people are mostly being safe and reasonable about the hurricane threat. New Yorkers know how to take care of themselves and each other. Most of what is being broadcast on the national news (i.e., evacuations, flooding, ConEd shutdowns, etc.) applies exclusively to lower Manhattan. I personally am located in the Bronx and we (my partner and I) are not even in a threat zone! We have stocked up on food and water and our biggest problem at the moment is that our cats (Lenore, Annabel Lee, and Ligeia) are getting a bit crazy due to the storm!

I am actually a wee bit more worried for you and your partner in Rhode Island as that is more coastal. I lived in Massachusetts during hurricane Bob; please stay safe! :)

My partner has had the local news on since this morning; a big part of me is very mad at all the people in coastal areas who refuse to evacuate (mostly because if conditions get really bad, people from the Coast Guard, National Guard, and/or NYC employees will have to risk their LIVES to rescue the hold-outs!) However, by the same token, an atavistic part of me wishes I could be on the water to see Irene arrive. I am TOTALLY with you when you speak about the sublime nature of this storm. As Roethke said (and yes, I am showing off here because I want you to like me):

The Storm by Theodore Roethke

Against the stone breakwater,
Only an ominous lapping,
While the wind whines overhead,
Coming down from the mountain,
Whistling between the arbors, the winding terraces;
A thin whine of wires, a rattling and flapping of leaves,
And the small street-lamp swinging and slamming against
the lamp pole.

Where have the people gone?
There is one light on the mountain.


Along the sea-wall, a steady sloshing of the swell,
The waves not yet high, but even,
Coming closer and closer upon each other;
A fine fume of rain driving in from the sea,
Riddling the sand, like a wide spray of buckshot,
The wind from the sea and the wind from the mountain contending,
Flicking the foam from the whitecaps straight upward into the darkness.

A time to go home!...


We creep to our bed, and its straw mattress.
We wait; we listen.
The storm lulls off, then redoubles,
Bending the trees half-way down to the ground,
Shaking loose the last wizened oranges in the orchard,
Flattening the limber carnations.

A spider eases himself down from a swaying light-bulb,
Running over the coverlet, down under the iron bedstead.
Water roars into the cistern.

We lie closer on the gritty pillow,
Breathing heavily, hoping--
For the great last leap of the wave over the breakwater,
The flat boom on the beach of the towering sea-swell,
The sudden shudder as the jutting sea-cliff collapses,
And the hurricane drives the dead straw into the living pine-tree.

Please be safe and well, everyone!

Aug. 28th, 2011 12:34 am (UTC)
and the weather...
The sea stands up and walks across the land.

Such an amazing rush of words.

Hope all is stable and you are safe.
Aug. 28th, 2011 01:56 am (UTC)
I'm usually an avid sea-and-storm lover as well. This is the first time in my life I've ever been scared of a NYC storm; it marks the second time I've tracked a hurricane so closely. My heart hurts remembering Katrina, but I'm grateful at the different manner in which Irene is being addressed.

I'm hoping you, Spooky, and the dear cats remain safe and protected, and that there is nothing damaged anywhere.

Finally, I LOVE that someone left an offering of tat wax on Mercy Brown's grave. Very playful.
Aug. 28th, 2011 03:19 am (UTC)
"The sea stands up and walks across the land."

Such a beautiful and awe-inspiring description of the storm. I quoted and attributed it on my facebook page, I hope you don't mind.
Aug. 28th, 2011 03:21 am (UTC)
Oh! And keep safe.
Aug. 28th, 2011 06:26 am (UTC)
My favourite Goffix Picnix cemetery is one of only two in the world that is home to a vampire (as opposed to where a former vampire is buried). I'm proud to say I've been to both.

Now if I can just manage a shag in both, I will be Queen of the Goffix.

Most spooky people know about the Highgate vampire, and some people (including supposed vampire lore scholars) even believe he's the only "confirmed" vampire (where a vampire has allegedly been found but the finder/s ran away instead of destroying it). They are SO wrong. There are TWO.

Actually, if there is only one, it's Lily. That Seán Manchester gobshite is not to be believed, and if he *is* to be believed, there's no Highgate Vampire any more.

Lily the vampire resides in Toowong cemetery in Brisbane. This shithole town doesn't have much else going for it, in truth, but Toowong cemetery wins a few points for being consistently ranked as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world, and having Lily.

Anyway, she was exhumed about a century ago, after being buried 20 years, and was found fresh and lovely. This in a wet subtropical zone, so it's not like she was frozen or mummified by the local conditions. Hell, I used to live a couple of blocks away from the cemetery and fresh bread rots--not just moulders, rots--in the bag in as little as a day. I practically had to keep tinned food in the fridge.

So they were exhuming her, supposedly to establish her cause of death, and the ground was soft and loose. They found the coffin after digging 12 feet down, and the lid was loose with the nails poking out. Coffins were nailed shut in those days.

Checking inside they found her, as I say, not looking twenty years dead, but pretty and fresh. Then she opened her mouth, and she had a double row of shark teeth. We are a coastal city, on the Pacific, with river sharks. So she opens her mouth and they see all these teeth, and then out pours all this gore.

No one staked or burned her, or anything clever like that. They just slammed her coffin shut and reburied her in a panic, and ran the fuck away. If they'd gone looking for a vampire they probably would have done for her, but I imagine it was a bit of a shock, finding a vampire by accident.

Though she has been seen many times since, and her precise location is known, she has never been destroyed. I suppose because no one really believes any more, she's safe from that sort of bullshit.
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( 31 comments — Have your say! )