Ewan’s Bloody Shirt


Ewan looked in befuddled amazement as the old washerwoman held up a stick with a wet tangle of bloody tunics dripping from it.

“Here, lots of shirts from strapping young men, what’s been killed in the battle. My, look at this one! Why, isn’t this one yours?”

Ewan felt his blood go icy in his veins. He knew this, suddenly, to be a “Woman of the Night,” a ghost or Shee, bringing an omen of impending doom to himself.

Suddenly, the old woman came forward, her face squinting into a cruel mask.

“If thy darling wife should offer thee bread and cheese from her own hand, thou shalt avert thine own terrible doom. Otherwise, I shall be washing the blood from thy clothes…”
***

“Ewan of the Little Head” was the son of the Fifth Laird of Lochbuie (Iain Og), and was prompted by his termagant wife, known to history as the “Black Swan” (But, the reader will ask him or herself, “What is in a name?”) to press his father for his rightful portion as a Chief of the MacLaines. (As you might have guessed, we’re in Scotland.)

This was premature, and Lain Og refused him, enraging his son and causing him to erupt in a tirade of petty vengeance. Lain Og, to his credit, was having none of it, and told his insolent, petty brat that if he should like to meet his own army on the field of battle, well, then, by all means…

The whole thing started as a result of the dissatisfaction of the Swan to her husband’s paltry, uncomfortable estate. Where it would end was destruction and bloodshed.

To wit:

The morning of the battle, Ewan MacLaine arose before dawn, going out to the court where he was met by a strange washerwoman.

A bent-over old crone, with a warty nose and green complexion, we might imagine. She was washing bloody clothes. He then recognized his own shirt in the tub. He felt his blood go icy, for he now knew this to be an omen of impending doom. He was told by the Shee, the supernatural washerwoman, that, should his young wife, the “Swan,” offer him bread and cheese by her own hand, he might live. Otherwise–

Returning home, he was dismayed to find that he was offered no such morning repast.
***

His horse galloped past the great outcropping of rock. Ewan, despite the dire vision of hours earlier, was elated that his men seemed to be winning the battle. He brought his horse to halt for a moment, letting the animal catch its breath. It was then he heard a scuffling above him.

“Aieee!” came a terrible cry, as the shadow of a headsman’s axe fell across Ewan’s forehead. He reached instinctively for his sword, but it was too late.
His head was carried home by victorious soldiers atop a pike.
***
A black mare gallops past the doomed, crumbling walls of Duart castle. The peasant gardener feels his blood grow chill to see it, as it disappears into a roiling, mysterious cloud of foggy haze. Tall and lean, dressed entirely in black, the phantom rider bodes ill, he knows, for the Chief of the MacLaines–as it always has. It is “Ewan of the Little Head”; or, rather his ghost, come round to haunt the grounds of this ancient dwelling, and foretell of an impending doom come to the family, as a curse. But, the peasant reflects, this name of the “Little Head” was intriguing–maybe even comical. For, you see, the phantom rider hadn’t any head at all!

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The Cat’s Meow

There’s no accounting for taste, apparently. Not to a hungry four-year-old boy, such as young Robert Radu of Comanesti, Romania.

When the tender tyke took ill, it didn’t take long for Mama to figure out what, precisely, had left him with a bellyache. Note to readers: you won’t like the mental image.

Of the family feline she frankly found fur, and finally a few funny femurs. (Do cats have femurs? Not certain, but we wanted so very, very badly to continue our alliteration. Alas, no dice. We make no bones about our literary shortcomings.)

She found some kitty remains, to put it succinctly.

The doctors didn’t believe her until they pumped the nauseated lad’s little tummy. Yes, indeed, they agreed, he had swallowed the family pet in an orgy of cruel and sadistic bloodletting. (We must assume most other children would have been sated with peanut butter and jelly.)

He left behind only the fur and bones.

Addendum: We were tempted, for the sake of humor, to name this little snippet after a common vulgarity involving the double entendre of a soft, furry kitty being eaten, and a particular sexual practice. In short, we almost titled it: “Eating a Little…”

Oh, nevermind.

(Source: “True Vampires” by Sondra London)

The Moloch Caper

One of the watershed moments for me in life was when I realized I had dreamed the exact images of a movie before I had ever actually seen it. Say what you want about that, but it always stuck with me through the years. I fell asleep one night, and witnessed what I can only describe as a scene of horror, hundreds of people screaming in a hell-like agony, and marching into the mouth of some hideous metal demon. The last I remember was an onlooker below them crying out in terror, just before seeing his back disappear through a set of heavy iron double doors. Later, while visiting relatives, an uncle brought a videotape of an old silent film for my other uncle, because he was an enthusiast for the Roaring Twenties. This was maybe 1988 or 89, so VHS cassettes were in use. As I was watching it, it was then that I realized that the thing I had dreamed was, in po0int of fact, the EXACT visual images from the “Moloch” machine explosion scene from the beginning of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927).

The Metropolis Moloch Scene

Fox Met Cromwell

George Fox, the esteemed Quaker visionary, once met Cromwell while out riding. In a burst of vision, he exclaimed that, “I smell the stench of death about you!” As bizarre as this seemed to Cromwell, it turned out to be prescient, as Cromwell died a few weeks later, on Sept 3, 1658.

Certain death portents include the stopping of clocks, raps on the door whe no one is there, pictures falling mysteriously from the wall, and raps on the headboard.

Stead’s Folly

WT Stead

Socialist reformer W.T. Stead was fascinated by spiritualism and psychic phenomena, so much so that when a medium told him he must not, under any circumstances, travel by sea, he went and booked passage aboard an ocean liner for her maiden voyage.

He died aboard the Titanic, April 15, 1912.

The Erdington Murders (Revised)

(Note: I have nervous little fingers and an impetuous personality. I always revise when I catch the typos.)

Two individuals can agree on a phenomena, and be at complete variance as to its ultimate cause and interpretation.

(This rather pathetic observation troubled me all day yesterday, from the moment I awoke until I finally relented and wrote it down. As to what it was referring to, and why it was implanted in my psyche, who can say?)

The Wheel of Time

Life can be seen to have its eddies and currents, time its waves and ripples. Sometimes events leave their resonances in the greater stream of existence, echoing down through the years like some sort of macabre curse, playing out in the Here and Now lives of ordinary people.

(We recently have re-read the story of Poe called “William Wilson,” which concerns the seeming doppleganger of an unfortunate, or dissolute young man–a being that seems to haunt his steps through life from school until, finally, he succumbs to the fury of his terror and stabs out at the phantasm, only to find he HAS KILLED HIMSELF IN THE PROCESS. In other words, he was his own worst enemy all along.

Of course, stories of such dopplegangers exist in reality. Or, at the very least, are said to exist, or have so existed. Goethe is said to have met his doppleganger or even future self while traveling a country road. Even more perplexing is the story of a Victorian teacher who is said to have exhibited a doppleganger while occupied in the classroom. The mysterious figure appeared before astounded students, who testified that this double imitated every action and mannerism of their teacher before disappearing. Apparently, the weird manifestation happened more than once.)

All arguments to the contrary, there is nothing new under the sun. Life sends forth its echoes, the Law of Averages dictates that certain outcomes are a given, taking into account certain correlates that, failing any great deviation, will manifest themselves, scientifically, as thus-and-thus, so on and so forth…

But over a century and a half? Can great and painful incidents, we must ask, repeat themselves in the lives of subjects separated by great gulfs of history, as if the same occurrences, widely separated by time, are still, nonetheless, fated to play on in a sort of sick autopilot of the world of real and tangible events? What are we to make of the uncanny coincidences and odd twists of fate that bespeak a larger intelligence? (Albeit, it is an intelligence that, because of the vast distances of time involved, must remain to us wholey inscrutable.)

So it must be with an obscure subset of happenings known as the Erdingtom Murders.

The facts as they stand.

On May 27th, 1817, the day after Whit Monday, the body of popular, pretty local girl named Mary Ashford was found in a flooded sandpit in Erdington, a small town outside of Birmingham, England. The girl had apparently been raped and strangled before being unceremoniously deposited, sometime after four in the morning, which was the last time she had been seen. She had apparently been in the company of young Abraham Thornton, a local bricklayer who had accompanied her from the dance to the house of a friend, so she could change her dress at the ungodly hour of three in the morning. According to Thornton, she had not emerged no matter how long he waited; exhausted, he decided to return home chastened.

(He also later claimed the couple had had sexual intercourse, although it had not been rape.)

Several witnesses attested to having seen the girl walking country lanes in the wee hours of the morning. She was last seen, alone, in Bell Lane, about 4:15 AM, by a Mr. Broadhurst. Another witness confirmed this.

It was at 6:30 that a local laborer discovered a set of bloody clothing, and alerted the police. Following the footprints of a man and woman, the police soon found the body–the girl had been sxually violated, then strangled.

Of course, the immediate suspect was Abraham Thornton, who in no wise did not initially suspect he was the main suspect. He willingly confessed his shock and outrage at the news of the death, confessed readily to having accompanied her to her friend’s house to change the dress. Then claimed to have simply gone home.

(The confession ot sexual congress did not come about until later, we are given to understand.)

Quickly arrested, Mr. Thornton was just as quickly tried. his version of events must seem idyllic and tragic in light of the later murder. (His stirring statement, “I cannot believe she is murdered, I was with her until four am.” is rather perplexing in light of later revelations.)

The couple walked, hand in hand, to the top of Bell Lane stile, crossing an open field under the stars. Their passionate ardor apparently spent, perhaps there was regret or shame, or deeply naive love, of a sort. Whatever the case, after four that morning, the life of Mary Ashford would end in brutal, ugly tragedy, at the age of twenty.

Mr. Thornton spoke briefly that morning with a gamekeeper of his acquaintance. He was alone. Within the house of Hannah Cox, Mary Ashford was trying on a dress, telling her friend with a mounting trepidation that she felt this week, especially, held some terrible tragedy for her.

Outside, her errant beau began to feel that his new love was jilting him. Perhaps he waited for the vanished star amidst the bushes and shrubs, a tear falling from the corner of his eye as his heart sank within his breast. But could he wait out there all night? Hardly.

Finally, shivering, he headed home. Independent witnesses, such as the gamekeeper, confirmed this account later.
***

It took six minutes for a jury to acquit Mr. Thornton. Which should have been t he end of the matter. However, the legal wrangling of 1817 permitted Miss Ashford’s brother William to appeal the acquittal (!), thus ensuring that a new trial would be held at the Court of the King’s Bench that 17th of November. Making an unprecedented move, Mr. Thornton quite literally stood, and casting down a leather gauntlet, proclaimed, “I am not guilty. And I am ready to defend the same with my life.”

In effect, Thornton had invoked the ancient English law of “Trial by Battel.” Which Lord Ellenborough declared to still be binding.

Thus, William Ashford and Abraham Thornton would duel. If Mr. Ashford won, Mr. Thornton would face summary execution. However, if Mr. Thornton won, he would, indeed, go free with no strings attached. If this challenge was not met by April 21st of 1818, Mr. Thornton would go free, no questions asked.

Mr. William Ashford, for whatever reason, declined the challenge. Mr. Thornton, ruined by the huge publicity and the hundreds itching to see him hang, immigrated to America, and leaves history forever.

Flash forward to 1975. May 27th. A young woman, Barbara Forrest, was found dead in a ditch in Erdington–around 300 yards from where the body of Mary Ashford had been found, in 1817. One hundred and fifty-eight years before, Btw. keep that in mind.

Both women had been raped, then strangled.

Both shared the same birthday.

Both had an eerie resemblance to each other.

Both had been to a dance on the eve of Whit Monday the day they were killed. Both had been to a friend’s house to try on a new dress.

Both had expressed deep, premonition-like misgivings about the coming week. Mary Ashford old Hannah Cox she had “bad feelings about the week to come,” although she could not specify why. Barbara Forrest was quoted as saying “This is going to be my unlucky month. Don’t ask me why. I just feel it.”

Death waited for them, like a mysterious kiss from a lover in the dark, down the long winding trail of their fast-disappearing dreams.

But (and this is the real kicker) BOTH women were twenty years old, and BOTH women were, allegedly, killed by men with that last name: THORNTON.

Abraham Thornton allegedly killed Mary Ashford by strangulation before depositing her body in a flooded sand pit, in 1817. MICHAEL Thornton allegedly killed Barbara Forrest, also age 20, by strangulation before depositing her body in a ditch only three hundred years from where the body of Mary Ashford had been found, over a century earlier.

(And, of course, Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln. Booth shot Lincoln in a theater, ran to a barn; Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse, and ran to a theater–if, in fact, you believe Oswald shot anyone at all that fateful November of 1963. But we think you rather get the point of this little aside.)

Echoes, Ripples, and Oz the Great and Terrible

What can be said for the nature of reality, based on such coincidences When a car with a man named Ted Gershuftyegg runs into another car with a man named Ted Gershuftyegg…what are the odds? How do we explain the ripples on the still, placid surface of the seemingly otherwise logical lake of our reasonings? perhaps God could be likened to Narcisse, who becomes entranced staring at an image of himself int he rippling water, until, finally, he transforms into a flower.

The opening petals of the flower…so many variant pieces of reality, all reflecting eachother perfectly. The same, yet different. each, in its own way, a part of the greater whole, yet each individuated piece unique and solitary.

New Age philosopher David Icke reminds us that every hologram is made up of smaller holograms, each a perfect representation of the larger whole. DNA encodes the patterns of the human form, so that even a mammal can be cloned like a common toad. Patterns of life and force reflect the larger whole.

As Above, So Below…

Icke claims that, after tripping on ayhauasca in the Amazon, he received a vision of the “Time Loop”: the vast Wheel of Eternal return, in which history, like the Ouroborous snake eating its own tail, repeats and reloops in an endless cycle, merely updating itself as an illusion, but fundamentally, always reflecting the same pattern back at the laser-point of consciousness.

(We’ve traveled far afield of our original story, I suppose.)

Is Oz the Great and Terrible manipulating events behind the smoking curtain of another reality? Are we merely stick-figure suppositions, experiencing our uniqueness only inasmuch as we are simply window dressing for events fated to happen, again and again, like a sort of macabre clockwork of the spirit? How much of Free Will exists, and what is fated, determined, predestination? And why?

And what does this mean in regards to the larger framework of our lives?

Why is so much coincidence merely absurd and eerie?

When, for instance, they were making the original 1933 version of The Wizard of Oz, the costume designers, when looking for a coat for their Professor Marvell character, purchased one from a thrift store that had been previously owned. When they looked in the collar of the coat, they found a tag of the former owner. The tag read: “L. Frank Baum.”

The wardrobe person, thinking it an unsettling coincidence, took some photographs of the coat and sent them to Baum’s widow. She confirmed the coat as one that had formerly belonged to her husband. Who, of course, was the author of…The Wizard of Oz.

We suppose we can finish there.

Addendum: We finished this piece yesterday. Unbeknownst to us, yesterday, coincidentally, happened to be the birthday of L. Frank Baum. Coincidentally.