[Editor’s note- This manuscript, from which only the last few pages are legible, was found recently in the pocket of a skeleton resting against a tree deep in San Miguel State Park. Though the clothing and artifacts found with the remains indicate that they are indeed from the mid-nineteenth century, they are in puzzlingly good condition. Analysis is ongoing to determine the authenticity of the find.]
JUNE 15, 1850
I rest tonight in the hospitality of a trapper and prospector called Joe Clark, who claims some second- or third-hand knowledge of the mound by means of a local tale of misfortune. The beginning of the story concerned mostly the immoral ways of a certain braggart of the area, who sought to increase his luck by a boon from the Fair Folk.
“An’ he went out there on Midsummer Eve to look for ‘em, the fool.” My odiferous companion took another long swig of rotgut from the bottle and dragged the back of his hand across his mouth. “Three days later, we found ‘im in a ditch, hair white as snow. Still can’t string two words together. Sounds like a baby learnin’ to talk.” He expelled a stream of saliva into the sawdust beneath the lantern. “Poor pathetic fool. The brothers up at the mission took ‘im in. God has mercy on imbeciles and lunatics, I reckon.”
“Indeed,” I replied. I must investigate the mission soon. “And this was how long ago?”
“Five year. Was the summer before Wall-eye Joe got caught in that avalanche, wasn’ it?”
The third member of our party, a solemn [African-American man –Ed.] possessing the curious name of Knucklebone Charlie, asserted that it was.
“I thought so. Hey, you sure you don’t want Charlie to cast your lots? I ain’t superstitious, but d—ned if he ain’t been right more often than not.”
“Thank you, but I am not superstitious either. I do appreciate your hospitality, Mr. Clark, and the information you have given me.”
My host brayed with laughter. “Mister Clark, is it! Ain’t that fine, Charlie? Lissen here, city boy. Nobody with any sense goes near that place. Ask the brothers at the mission, write your story, but you best be headin’ back to Boston by Midsummer Eve.”
“Philadelphia,” I corrected him mildly. “Thank you again for your help.”
JUNE 18, 1850
The brothers of San Miguel have been kind and hospitable, but dishearteningly unhelpful in my quest. They lodged me and fed me, but any mention of the mound was met only by signs of the cross and muttered prayers. The alleged lunatic died the previous winter, and the brothers flatly refused to show me his resting place. Indeed, the only person who seemed willing to speak to me at all was Fray Domingo, confined largely to a chair in the scriptorium because of a deformity of the legs.
“It is a place of wickedness. The Prince of the power of the air holds sway there. This place is called after San Miguel the Archangel for good reason.” Here he made the sign of the cross, and recited a prayer imploring the saint as a guard against evil. I asked him to repeat it that I might record it here-
[Editor’s note- Here the manuscript seems burnt, and the prayer is completely illegible.]
Though he implored me not to seek out the mound, I cannot abandon my quest so lightly. He seemed truly concerned for me, and gifted me with a blessed saint’s medal before I left. I accepted it so as not to offend him, but as a man of science I would feel a fool wearing it. It will stay with this journal in my pack.
JUNE 20, 1850
I resupplied at the shantytown called, ironically, Gospel Gulch. Considering that the small general store there shares a building with the brothel, the name seems terribly optimistic. Despite its unprepossessing appearance, I made an interesting discovery. When the storekeeper learned that I sought the mound, he referred me to a man by the colloquial appellation of Gotch-eye Hoolihan, who was most easily to be found in the saloon. Hoolihan was easy to find by virtue of the dramatic scar across his left cheek that disappeared under a bandanna tied across the presumably vacant eye socket. I told him of my quest, and by certain signs he indicated that I should buy him a drink in recompense. I did so, and he was persuaded to tell me his tale.
“Yeah, all them stories about it? I didn’t believe ‘em neither. Got me a prospect up near Hangtown, though, few years ago. Me an’ a friend was workin’ it pretty steady, findin’ enough dust to keep us in supplies, likker, ‘n whores. We took turns goin’ huntin’ for fresh meat, ‘n this time he was s’posed to go. Shoot a good-size pronghorn, that’s meat for a week.” He finished the drink in a single draught, and regarded me expectantly until I signaled for another.
“Thank’ee. As I said, he was comin’ back, or s’posed to, ‘n by th’ third night I was gettin’ edgy. Decided if’n he wasn’ back before noon, I’d step out an’ hunt for him. Shouldn’t’a taken ‘im that long less’n somethin’ untoward happened to ‘im. ‘Course, he didn’t get back, so I took my gun ‘n headed out the direction he was gonna go. After a couple hours, I smelled somethin’ like I ain’t never before. Sick-sweet, like rot, but somethin’ else all in it. Well, I been out here long enough to know that there’s more’n one way to get killed, so I follered the smell ‘n before long, I wished I hadn’t.” He paused, taking another long drink.
“I found ‘im all right, but I don’t think ‘is own mother’d’a knowed ‘im. Bite marks all over, ‘n his face was torn straight off. Might’a been wolves, but I never seen any wolf that size.” He held up his hands some inches apart. “This wide. I swear to you. An’ hoofprints. Come out’a nowhere, ‘n vanished into nowhere. Well, I couldn’ just leave ‘im there for th’ real wolves to eat, assumin’ they’d touch anything after the Hunt, so I started diggin’. By the time I finished, it was gettin’ dark ‘n I couldn’t make it back t’ th’ claim, so I decided t’ shin up a tree.” Here he waited for another drink, which I reluctantly provided.
“Long about midnight, all th’ other noises stopped. No crickets, no nothin’. I swear even th’ wind quit blowin’. Then I heard the howlin’. You never heard nothin’ like that. Made my blood run cold, but I hung on t’my branch ‘n waited. Sure enough, they come thunderin’ through the trees like they ain’t even there, all glowin’ and dressed like th’ kings ‘n queens of England, ‘n I just know they’re gonna look up ‘n see me. Sure enough, they see the grave, ‘n the… hellhounds start bayin’ up my tree. Them things is five feet at the shoulder, I swear. Pour me another, I can’t tell this story sober.
“So I decide I ain’t nearly high enough up in that tree, and I start tryin’ to climb higher with them things tryin’ to grab my ankle. The riders is sittin’ there watchin’, ‘n when it looks like I’m gonna get away from their pets, one of ‘em pulls a bow and arrow and aims at me. Well, I ain’t too much of a fool as to sit there ‘n let ‘im shoot me, so I duck down real quick ‘n I think that arrow misses me, but then I feel somethin’ rip into my face ‘n I can’t see a thing, everything’s just black and pain. After that I can’t tell you much, but somehow I didn’t fall outta that tree, ‘n at dawn when I start rememberin’ again, they was gone. Somehow I got back t’ our claim ‘n didn’t die of nothin’, but ever since, my luck ain’t been worth a d—n.” Here he spat on the floor, and the barkeeper reproached him with a curse. “That’s what I know. I ain’t never goin’ back that way again, ‘n if you do, you’re a d—n fool who deserves what y’get.”
I allowed that I had been told as much, and asked if he might tell me the direction of the mound from here. He did, after an additional drink, and so armed with this information, I sally forward.
JUNE 21, 1850
The directions were quite accurate, to my mild surprise. I write this encamped in the clearing of the mound, to the east of it. The mound is not as large as some that I have heard of, but the grass is green and lush, far more so than in the rest of the clearing. Perhaps the elevation allows it to catch more sunlight? Yet there seems to be no appreciable difference in the south side, which should catch the most sunlight. I am no botanist. I shall consult a colleague when I return to Philadelphia.
The sun is nearly gone by now, and I am completely overshadowed by the mound. Though I have a fire, its light seems oddly insufficient, despite night not having fallen completely. I am sure it is merely a trick of the mind. There is a difference between reading of a thing in a library and sitting beside it in the wilderness as night falls! The wind has just shifted, and I catch a strange sweet scent just as Hoolihan mentioned. Perhaps some sort of flowering plant grows nearby. In the morning, I shall have to look. And now—a grinding sort of noise from within the mound. That is quite impossible. I must put my journal away and clear my mind. These superstitious tales are beginning to influence me. But no—there it is again—what could possibly be caus
[Editor’s note- Here the manuscript ends abruptly, with a jagged line of ink trailing from the s. A few drops of ink blot the rest of the page, and the few blank pages left are spotted with mildew but untouched by ink.]