Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Chimes of Death" by Ellen Lynn

Chimes of Death
Ellen Lynn

Brent Lockwood had no use for ghosts, hypnotists or the like. You see he was a scientist.

I was in love with Brent, but I could not make up my mind to marry him. Every time he pressed me to set the date for our wedding, I found new excuses to put it off. It wasn't entirely clear in my own mind why I experienced such conflict of emotions. Was I afraid that as the wife of a research scientist I would be alone a great deal; his absorption in his work would exclude me most of the time? Was I also resistant toward his strong will and forceful personality — fearing to be submerged by him?

Brent's family was anxious for us to get married. I know they liked me, but they felt he needed the influence of a wife and a home of his own to take his mind occasionally off his research problems.

"Why can't you set a date, Joan?" Brent's sister Alice asked me. "We're all so anxious to have you in the family—and Brent's been stuck in that laboratory of his so steadily we feel marriage will do a lot for him.

"I can't leave my job for the next two months," I answered, feeling a sense of guilt. "My boss, Mr. Arnold, is in Europe and I just can't walk out on him now."

Alice shrugged. "Well, you know best, dear. But don't forget to be at our house this evening—the whole family's coming and don't let Brent make any excuses."

I laughed. "I'll bring him if I have to kidnap him from his lab."

That evening, Brent and I were driving to Alice's house. As usual he had protested going. "I'm in the midst of something important—I can't leave it for a mere party."

"You're not leaving it for a 'mere party,'" I retorted. "We're supposed to be engaged, remember? It's customary to spend an evening occasionally with your fiance—and occasionally take her to parties."

That made Brent give in and we started off for Alice's house—almost an hour's drive into Westchester.

"What's the occasion for Alice's party? D'you know?" Brent asked.

"Yes. The famous British telepathist, Dr. Abner Graham, is coming to her house. The Nelsons are bringing him and your whole family is quite excited about meeting him."

Brent was frowning. He stared at me intently. "Are you serious?" he asked. "My family—excited about meeting a telepathist—a thought transmitter—! Why the man's a charlatan! Since when have the folks gone over to such superstitious nonsense? Tell me, Joan!"

The intensity of Brent's reaction surprised me. True, a scientist would be expected to deride mental telepathy, the reading of the mind, but why should Brent take it so personally.

I answered Brent somewhat cautiously, hoping to calm him down. "Oh, I don't know, Brent. Your family isn't particularly superstitious. This Dr. Graham has performed some amazing feats of what looks like telepathy. No one has been able to explain them."

"Don't tell me that you, too, believe in mental telepathy!" Brent asked me incredulously. "That would be—too much!"

"Too much—for what?" I retorted. "Too much for you to take—even from me?" I paused. Then, "Really, Brent, you're getting excited over nothing. Not everyone has your scientific mind. Some of us are awed by the unknown. I can't say I believe in mental telepathy, but some telepathists have read the minds of strangers—and I can't help wondering how it was done. Is that so shocking to you?"

Brent was still angry. He grew sarcastic: "I expected more intelligence from the girl who is to be my wife."

This intolerant attitude on Brent's part, this unwillingness to take anything on faith, seemed more than I could stand. Perhaps this was why I had been stalling about our wedding date.

"I'm not your wife, yet, Brent," I reminded him. "You've been saved just in time from marrying a girl of such low intelligence. You are free to look elsewhere."

The car pulled over to the side of the dark road and Brent turned off the ignition. His voice quivered as he made his excuses. He put his arms around me, explaining that his nerves were under a strain from working so steadily at the lab. We kissed and made up, and continued on our way to Alice's party. But I had misgivings. Brent was not one to give up his opinions easily.

It was at Alice's gay, lively party, with everyone enjoying drinks and exchanging amusing talk that I realized how somber, almost sullen, Brent had become. If I laughed at a humorous story, I caught Brent's intent gaze riveted on me. At one point, Alice's husband, Jim, whirled me into a dance, a good record was on, and to my amazement Brent, who never danced, cut in. He led me outdoors and dropped his arm, facing me sternly.

"You're still angry with me," he announced. "You're trying to make me jealous."

"Brent—don't be silly," I answered. "If I laugh, if I'm friendly to the guests, you accuse me of ulterior motives. What is the matter with you?"

We heard a loud humming of voices through the open door and Jim poked his head out: "Come on in, you two. Dr. Graham just arrived. He's really amazing."

Brent tried to control himself, but he could not suppress a sneer. He took my arm, "Come on, let's meet your great thought transmitter, and get our thoughts read." I drew my arm away and walked inside.

Dr. Graham was an attractive man of about thirty-six. He was standing in the midst of a group of guests who were expressing gasps of amazement as the telepathist demonstrated, on a parlor-game level, some examples of his skill. As I stood well back at the other side of the room, watching Dr Graham, his eyes caught mine and for several minutes our gazes held. Then, to my surprise, Brent spoke in a low, tense voice: "So, you're quite intrigued with this charlatan! A handsome face and a well-cut suit—and people are ready to believe anything. I'll prove to you what a fraud is this Dr. Abner Graham."

Before I knew what Brent was doing, he grabbed my arm and approached the group around Dr. Graham. In a cutting voice that rang out, Brent said, "Dr. Graham, I am a scientist and as such I wish to declare that I consider your practice of telepathy a fraud."

I wanted to sink through the floor. And when Dr. Graham answered with a quiet dignity I was embarrassed to realize that Brent was still holding tightly to my arm.

"Everyone, even a scientist, is entitled to his opinion. However, you make an accusation based on no evidence," was Dr. Graham's answer.

"My evidence is about to be revealed to all your admirers present," said Brent. "I would like you to tell us all what is written on the tomb of—Brent Lockwood, III."

There was an exchange of glances all around the room. Brent's sisters and brothers looked embarrassed.

Dr. Graham lowered his eyes and was silent. Brent turned to look at me, a triumphant sneer on his lips. I turned away. It was quite tricky of Brent to have thought up that one, but his whole attitude made me uneasy. I didn't like it. Of course, Dr. Graham couldn't know his mocker was Brent Lockwood—and there was no tomb. Just then Dr. Graham's voice was heard—I turned back quickly.

"Yes...," he said, "I can tell you. It is a very simple inscription. It reads: 'Brent Lockwood, Born Dec. 10, 1920; Died June 16, 1951.'"

Brent's laughter rang out in the quiet room. "Now, dear family and friends, you can see what a fake this man is. Dr. Graham, it seems I have to inform you who I am: Brent Lockwood, III." Brent laughed loud again. "And since today is June 16th, 1951, and it is almost midnight, and since I am a healthy young man of thirty-one, your reading of my tombstone is—well—invented, to put it gently."

A silence fell over the room. Somehow Brent's victory seemed an empty one. His sisters and brothers looked glum and the party began to break up. Dr. Graham shook hands with Alice and Jim and asked to be excused. He threw one glance at me and with an almost imperceptible nod left the room. Everyone else made their goodnights brief and Brent and I escaped with the rest. We sat in the car without a word. Finally he broke the silence between us: "Well, Joan, I hope you and the rest are cured of this telepathy nonsense. And I want you to make up your mind about us and give me your final answer. When are we getting married?"

"I have made up my mind," I answered quietly. "We're not suited to each other at all, Brent. You're the intelligent scientist, I, just an average, unenlightened person."

"You mean you won't accept the fact that Graham is a fraud—as I showed him up?" Brent asked incredulously.

It was hard to answer him, but I said, "You caught Dr. Graham with a trick. But there is something about him—something sincere and genuine ..."

Suddenly I felt afraid of the angry gleam in Brent's eyes, as again he turned his gaze from the road and looked full at me. We were near a cemetery. It was almost a relief when we heard the roaring sound of a speeding car coming closer and closer to us. As it came alongside, it veered so close to our car, Brent had to pull over and come to a stop. Four men, wearing slouch hats, jumped out and we found ourselves being held up by gunmen! I shrieked when I saw Brent start to grapple with one of the men. "Stop, Brent," I shouted. "Don't struggle, there're too many! Please, please, Brent."

While one man pointed a gun at me, the other three beat up Brent. I heard a terrible moan and saw blood gushing from the side of his head. They were dragging us both somewhere when I felt a blow on my head and fell unconscious.

When I came to, Brent was dragging himself over the ground. I pulled myself up to a sitting position and saw the horror that we were in a graveyard. Then I heard Brent calling me in a guttural voice that sent shivers up my spine. His eyes looked full of terror and he was pointing with rigid finger at a tombstone. I staggered over and red: "Brent Lockwood, Born Dec. 10, 1920; Died June 16, 1951."

As the midnight chimes rang out, with a wild cry, Brent called out: "It can't be, it can't be!" and fell over—dead!

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