On the opposite side of the church from the aspen grove lay an expansive cemetery. No fence encircled it, and lampposts flanked a central walk.
“I didn’t see this before,” he said. “I didn’t come this far. When I left the church, I was so…spooked, I guess, I just wanted to get back to the hotel. I thought I’d been poisoned.”
This statement seemed to strike Cathy Sienna as more peculiar than anything else that he had revealed. As they walked past the cemetery toward the corner, she was first silent, but then said, “Poisoned?”
“Poisoned or drugged with hallucinogenics. It’s a long story.”
“No matter how long it is, seems to me poisoned-and-drugged is a bigger leap than some other explanation.”
“What other explanation?”
She shrugged. “Whatever other explanation you didn’t want to consider.”
Her answer disturbed Ryan, and suddenly so did the graveyard.
“I’ll bet she’s buried here,” he said.
“You mean Ismay Clemm?”
“You want to look for her?”
Grimacing at the gravestones in the snow, Ryan said, “No. Not in the dark.”
On the first block of the next cross street, houses stood on only one side, facing the cemetery.
The sixth house, a Victorian place with elaborate cornices and window-surround moldings, belonged to Ismena Moon. The porch light welcomed them.
Lace curtains on the mullioned windows and a brass door knocker in the form of a wreathed cherub holding a diadem in both hands suggested the interior style.
A slim handsome woman in her mid-sixties answered the door. She had white hair, a light café-au-lait complexion, and large clear brown eyes. Her sensible black dress shoes with block heels, blue rayon dress with high round neckline and narrow white collar, white cuffs, and gathered sleeves suggested she had recently returned from vespers or another service.
“Good evening, ma’am. I’m Ryan Perry, and this is my associate, Cathy Sienna. We have an appointment to see Ismena Moon.”
“That would be me,” the woman said. “So pleased to meet you. Come in, come in, you’re dressed to catch pneumonia in this weather.”
Ismena and Ismay were not identical twins, or twins of any kind.
The parlor was high Victorian: floral wallpaper; deep maroon velvet drapes, trimmed and tasseled; lace curtains serving as sheers between the velvet panels; a cast-iron fireplace complete with kettle stand, with a black-and-gold marble surround and mantel; an étagère filled with collectible glass, two Chesterfield sofas, plant stands with ferns, sculpture on pedestals; a side table draped with a maroon cloth covered by a crocheted overlay; and everywhere a fabulous and precisely arranged clutter of porcelain busts, porcelain birds, groupings of ornately framed photographs, and knickknacks of all kinds.
Ismena Moon prepared coffee, which she poured from a Victorian-silver pot, and with which she served a generous selection of exotic cookies that she called biscuits.
While Ryan had been expecting a fifteen-minute meeting in which he might get to the truth of events on the day Dr. Gupta performed a myocardial biopsy, Ismena imagined their visit to be an occasion for socializing, with one of her favorite subjects-her sister, Ismay-as the inspiration for the get-together. She was such a charming woman, and so gracious, that Ryan could not disappoint her.
Besides, his identical-twin theory had deflated as completely as a hot-air balloon lanced by a church steeple. He needed a rational explanation for how a woman dead twenty-one months could have spoken with him on that day. For a moment, when he discovered there was a third sister, Ismana, his hope revived that she was Ismay’s twin, but she was the oldest of the three, and had died before Ismay.
“I can see how the similarity of the names would lead you to think twins,” Ismena said. “But they’re all just forms of Amy, you see, which was quite a popular name in the Victorian era, with many derivatives. Amia, Amice, Esmee, on and on.”
Victoriana, Ismena explained, had fascinated the Moon family going back to their grandfather, Dr. Willard Moon, who had been one of the first black dentists west of the Mississippi, with a patient list of mostly white folks. Ismay had been somewhat less infatuated with all things Victorian than was Ismena, but like everyone in the Moon family, she had been a great reader, and her favorite books and writers were mostly from the nineteenth century, primarily from the Victorian part of it.
Ismena indicated a book-lined alcove off the parlor, which featured two leather armchairs and reading lamps. “She was never happier than when she was in one of those chairs with a book.”
As Ismena had been talking, Ryan had stepped to the alcove to look over the titles on the bookshelves, which included complete collections of Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
Moving along the shelves, he stepped around a white marble bust displayed on a pedestal.
Ismena said, “That was a favorite thing of hers. Of course, she had to have it fixed above the parlor door, exactly as in the poem, but I am definitely not comfortable with a thing that heavy hanging over my head.”
“Like in what poem?” Cathy asked.
“‘The Raven,’” Ismena said. “Poe was her very favorite, though the poetry more than the stories.”
While she spoke, Ryan came to the Poe collection.
Ismena recited the verse from memory: “‘And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting / On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door.’”
The meter of the verse, the compelling repetitions, the rhymes, the alliteration conspired to catch Ryan’s breath for a moment, not because the poem was new to him-it wasn’t-and not only because it was lyrical and brilliant, but also because the unmistakable style of Poe, his essential voice, seemed of a piece with the strange events of the past sixteen months.
As he withdrew a volume of Poe’s collected poetry from a shelf, a yet more powerful sense of the uncanny overtook Ryan when he heard Cathy, in the spirit of the moment, recite: “‘Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-’”
“‘-While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,’” Ismena continued with delight, “‘As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.’”
“Not sure I remember,” Cathy said, “but maybe…’ “‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-/ Only this and nothing more.”‘”
“But it wouldn’t be only a visitor, would it?” Ismena asked. “Not in one of Mr. Poe’s creations.”
Ismay had known about the rapping.
After the biopsy, as he dozed in the prep room, she had said to Ryan, You hear him, don’t you, child? Yes, you hear him.
He didn’t understand how she could have known about the rapping, but of course that was not as much of a stumper as how she could have been there almost two years after dying.
You must not listen, child.
Now he opened the volume of verse to a random page-and saw a poem titled “The City in the Sea.”
“Ismay knew all of Mr. Poe’s verses by heart-except for ‘Al Aaraaf.’ She just couldn’t make herself like that one.”
Ryan scanned the early lines of “The City in the Sea,” and found something that he felt compelled to read aloud: “‘But light from out the lurid sea / Streams up the turrets silently / Gleams up the pinnacles far and free / Up domes, up spires, up kingly halls / Up fanes, up Babylon-like walls…’”
His voice must have trembled or otherwise betrayed his fear, for Ismena Moon said, “Are you all right, Mr. Perry?”
“I had a dream like this,” he said. “More than once.”
After scanning more lines, he looked up, realizing that the two women were waiting for him to explain himself.
Rather than elucidate, he said, “Ms. Moon, I see that you have half a dozen copies of Poe’s collected poetry.”
“Ismay bought it over and over again every time she found a new edition with different illustrations.”
“May I pay you for one of them? I’d like it as a…as a memento of Ismay.”
“I wouldn’t think of accepting a dime,” she said. “You take whichever one you like. But you still haven’t told me what kindness she did for you that impressed you so much.”
Carrying the book, he returned to the Chesterfield on which Cathy sat, and settled there to spin a story peppered with a little of the truth. He set the date of this tale before Ismay’s death, did not mention a heart transplant, but instead gave himself a multiple bypass. He told of how afraid he’d been that he was going to die, of how Ismay counseled him so wisely for an hour in the hospital one night, two hours the next night, and how she stayed in touch with him after his release, keeping his spirits up at a time when he would otherwise have fallen into depression.
He must have told the story well, because Ismena was moved to tears. “That’s her, all right, that’s how Ismay was, always giving.”
Cathy Sienna watched him dry-eyed.
Ismena pulled on calf-high boots and a coat, and walked with Ryan and Cathy across the street to the cemetery. She led them to Ismay’s grave and focused her flashlight on the headstone.
Ryan thought about how things would have been different from the way they were now if he had found this cemetery and this grave on his previous visit to Denver, before his transplant.
In the Escalade, Ryan was neither in a mood to talk nor capable of thinking of anything to say. Cathy remained professional and uninquisitive.
Painted with reflected city light, mottled black and chrome-yellow, the low sky seemed to be smouldering. Like drifting ashes, snow flurries fluttered across the windshield.
At the hotel, her room was four floors below his. Getting off the elevator, she said, “Dream well,” as the doors slid shut between them.
Because he had only an overnight bag, Ryan had not wanted the assistance of a bellman. When Cathy left him alone in the elevator, his stomach turned over, and he felt as if the cab would plunge to the bottom of the shaft.
Instead, it took him to his floor, and he found his suite.
Beyond the windows, Denver rose in a lurid light, as if Ryan had brought the city in the sea with him out of a dream.
Sitting at a desk, he took his medications with a bottle of beer from the honor bar.
When he swallowed the last of two tablets and five capsules, he opened the book of poetry and paged through it from the beginning.
He found a poem titled “The Lake,” and it was the wild lake of his dream, lovely in its loneliness, bound all around with black rocks and tall pines.
When he came again upon “The City in the Sea,” he read it silently twice, and the final four lines a third time, aloud: “‘And when, amid no earthly moans, / Down, down that town shall settle hence, / Hell, rising from a thousand thrones, / Shall do it reverence.’”
Farther into the volume, he found his third dream in a poem titled “The Haunted Palace.”
He could think of no chain of sound reasoning that would explain Ismay Clemm or those dreams that had been inspired by the work of her favorite writer.
As for diving into unreason and conjuring some supernatural explanation, Ryan had no practice swimming in seas of superstition. This seemed to be a dangerous time to take the plunge.
He did not believe in ghosts, but if Ismay had been a ghost with a message to impart, he could not puzzle out her meaning.
He almost put the book down without paging to the end, but he remembered how he had put aside the ring binder in Barghest’s study after finding Teresa’s photo-delaying for sixteen months the discovery of Ismay Clemm’s photo, twelve sleeves later.
The next-to-last poem in the book, titled “The Bells,” called to mind something else Ismay had said to him. He heard her admonition now almost as clearly as if she had been here in the hotel room with him.
If you hear the iron bells, you come to me.
Poe’s “The Bells” had four sections, and Ryan read them with growing disquiet. The first celebrated the merry bells on Christmas sleighs. The second dealt with the harmony of wedding bells. The third part took a dark turn, describing fire-alarm bells and the human tragedy they could foretell.
The fourth part spoke of iron bells rung by ghouls high in a church, the melancholy menace of their tone.
“‘For every sound that floats,’” he read aloud, “‘From the rust within their throats / Is a groan.’”
Hearing the words spoken disturbed him more than reading them from the page, and he fell silent.
The extraordinary rhythms, rhymes, and repetitions of the rest of the poem brought back to him the cacophony and the chaos of the ringing bells that had awakened him in the hospital bed on the night before his transplant.
He could see, he could smell, he could hear the room again, Wally at the window, looking down, down, down, into waves of rising sound, a gloss on every surface, even shadows with a shine, and the shiver of the bells in his bones, in his blood, ringing thickly in his blood, and the smell of rust, a red and bitter dust, washing wave after wave, after heavy warning wave.
Finally he put the book aside.
He did not know what to make of any of this. He did not want to know what to make of it.
He knew that he would not sleep. Not in his current condition.
But he was desperate for sleep, for dreamless sleep. He could not tolerate being awake.
He did something then of which Dr. Hobb would not have approved, not for him or for any heart-transplant recipient. He raided the honor bar and hammered himself into sleep with a series of gin-and-tonics.
In the Learjet, Ryan at first sat apart from Cathy Sienna. Because he had awakened with a hangover and had needed time to chase off his headache, to settle his stomach with bland food, and to pull himself together, they were late leaving Denver. The runway rush, the lift-off, and the big banking turn across the Rockies had the potential to bring up his breakfast, and he preferred to ride out the start of the trip by himself.
Safely airborne, he went to her. The jet had conference-style seating. He sat facing her, and after concluding a paragraph, she looked up from a magazine.
“You have exceptional self-control,” he said.
“Why? Just because I made you wait ten seconds while I finished reading?”
“No. You’re self-controlled in every sense. Your pretense of being without curiosity is particularly impressive.”