Mudman, Part One

– January 06, 1940 –

Dearest Mary —

     I have not heard from you in weeks, now. Have my last three letters not found their mark? Should we consider these as further additions to the transcontinental gorilla-courier tax?
     I jest. I realize how busy you are; do not overly trouble yourself on my mere account. I only hope that it is you and not some lower primate who is the eventual target of my affection. I have enough nightmares as it is.
     Is Janet faring any more well? I hope this silence does not have the sinister overtone I might be persuaded to imagine.
     If you have been following me, you should know of the progress I have been making in my studies. It is not the easiest task to track down those vases. For such a small region as Sumeria, you would think that there would be only so many places to bury pottery. Oh, these crafty ancients. I am beginning to suspect that they left those few shards in plain sight merely to bedevil me. Regardless, Scott and I have made tremendous use of what fragments have been allowed us. I am convinced that this is proof that I have been right all along about the linguistic roots so often you hear me describe. Gilgamesh, nothing.
     If this Utu-Etanaa fellow is as trustworthy as he sounds, we have barely even begun our search! Goodness knows what lost knowledge could be uncovered if we could merely break from this Mesopotamian mire. But enough of my grousing; you know the drill more well than even I, it would be safe to assume. There is no reason to blame the nearsighted for their occlusion.
     This reminds me of an odd call I received the other day. As I was scrambling to prepare for the Meswick lecture, my phone began to rattle with the fury of a serpent. Although I did not initially intend to answer, as my time was quite limited, its peal did not abate and I was eventually forced to lift the receiver. Annoyance, more than any other sentiment, guided my hand.
     I was unsure what to make of the result of this decision, and I was already halfway gone when it came through. It was only earlier today that the incident returned to my attention, when I received a telegram — oh, but wait. First, the phone.
     I picked up the phone in a haste, as mentioned. I intended merely to report my situation and to escape as quickly as possible, but the opportunity did not come. The moment the cup was to my ear, a booming voice resounded forth:
     “Professor Astrid.” It was more a proclamation than a question.
     “Yes?” I replied. My body suddenly felt like a wooden doll, and I could do little but respond. In retrospect, I feel somewhat silly for how easily I was surprised — but again, I had many things on my mind.
     “My name is Doctor Stephan Haustus.” The voice continued with a flat, deliberate, oddly uninflected tone. Yes, he used the prefix “Doctor” in reference to himself. At the time, however, it did not nearly seem as inappropriate as it might sound on paper. “I work at the Bloomingdale asylum, and have become familiar with your work through a colleague of mine. We are in need of some assistance.”
     I was unsure how to respond. I stood silently for a moment, before pulling myself out of my frozen stupor. “Assistance? Of what nature?”
     “It would be best to discuss in person. I will be in town next week; perhaps we could speak in more detail then?”
     Although I should have been more bothered, the sheer degree of his audacity had its effect on me. I replied that yes, I will be around for at least the next month. The Doctor said that he would contact me later, with more information — and then came what, at the time, seemed the most unnerving part of the entire strange conversation: he wished me luck with the lecture, before leaving his farewell and hanging up.
     For a moment, I stood with the receiver frozen to my ear. Of course I see now that there are many ways Doctor Haustus could have heard of this lecture. It is even possible that knowledge of my presentation was responsible for this colleague of Haustus to have known to mention me at all. It certainly is amusing how the world works, at times.
     Further, the Doctor’s tone might be explained in the same way — having unexpectedly caught me before the lecture, he felt in a hurry to make his business known as directly and in as short a time as possible. Although he was certainly rude, he made his point.
     After having thought this through. I am now quite tempted to be amused by the whole business. As I said, I received a telegram earlier today. As with the phone call (and indeed as with telegrams in general) it was short and pointed — as well as flat, yellow, and flexible. It simply read as follows:

     IN TOWN THURSDAY EIGHT AM STOP
     PLEASE MEET RAMBURY MUSEUM AT NOON
     OR SOON THEREAFTER STOP
     DOCTOR STEPHAN HAUSTUS

     I must say that it is lucky I have nothing scheduled for Thursday… Or perhaps I am not as fortunate as I think?
     Oh, now I am being facetious. It will doubtfully do great harm to meet with the gentleman. Beyond this, I am curious about the whole mess. As finely as I sift my imagination, I can seem to come up with little reason outside the fanciful why a dusty old linguist such as I would have much to do with a psychiatrist from — come to think of it, where is Bloomingdale asylum? It sounds slightly familiar, but that could well just be my imagination, continuing on its rounds now that I have set it free for other tasks. Perhaps he is working on some new theory of language?
     Time draws short, and yet I draw on — which reminds me: I saw one of your paintings in the gallery here, which I had never noticed in the past. It was a small piece, placed uncomfortably between a Degas sketch and some awful geometric disaster, in a lonely corner of the East wing. A boy was weeping over a pigeon which he had evidentially just shot with some kind of a pellet gun. It might just have been me, as I admit I was behind in my sleep when I came across the piece, but the pigeon seemed to have an expression I could only characterize as demonic. I am tempted to believe this is intentional, seeing the source of the painting, but I fear doing so might give me no end of grief — so I will maintain until otherwise notified that I am merely in need of psychiatric help.
     Oh, what a coincidence! Now I surely must see the good Doctor. Why, this was your plan all along — was it not?
     I pray that you find the time to respond. If not, I fear I will be forced to bore you with such lavish emotional inanity as only I can produce. You have been forewarned. I hope everything is well.

Yours in captivation,

James

Author: Azure

It's me!

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