Et in Arcadia ego;
“I too was in Arcadia.”
In Arcadia Damian Dastagna consumed his breakfast in the breakfast-nook with a warm, congenial feel of a man sure of victory. He loved victories and though he was scarcely what one might call a hard-boiled chap by dint of habit, he saw himself as a master of fisticuffs against the evils of life. There were certainly evils enough in the world. Wickedness. Vice. Sin. He often bragged about how he could twist fickle Fate this way or that, all through marvelous cunning on his part. Just now, for example, Damian felt that he had brought about his hardest, no doubt his loftiest, struggle for a beneficial and economic future to a close. To have married Claudine Nicholas, “Creepy Claudine,” as her more intimate friends called her, in the howling storm of hostility that her family had flung up at him — all this in spite of her unaffected indifference to men — was indeed an accomplishment that had required more than a bit of pluck and daring-do on his part. He had pried his new wife away from the City, with its salons and speakeasies, away from all her “gay flapper” friends — odd girls and twilight lovers the lot of them, as far as Damian was concerned — and out to a remote farmhouse-estate called Arcadia.
It was more than just any farmhouse, however, it had been in the Nicholas dynasty as a summer residence for over a hundred years.
“… and you will never get Claudine to go anywhere but there,” old man Nicholas had said when his much despised son-in-law had inquired. “Arcadia’s roots grow deep inside her, even more than the City could ever hope for. One can understand what holds her to Arcadia, but the City?” the old man had simply shrugged his shoulders as if he knew nothing about Roaring Twenties, cocaine or flappers.
“Vice is nice,” Damian thought, but wisely he kept those thoughts to himself.
The truth of the matter was, however, that there was something about the farm and its rolling, heavily wooded hills that unnerved Damian. His grandmother would have said that there was a witching — a savage wildness — about Arcadia that would certainly not appeal to stuffy Nantucket tastes. Damian looked down upon what he called “the countryside” in the same manner that certain gentlemen-bachelor friends of his would romanticize golf courses: a great way to get out into ol’ Mother Nature now and then but thank the Pope and the Holy Ghost that there were gates to keep all the undesirables out. Of late he had grown bored with the City, a feeling he had never known before. Perhaps it was because Claudine was known everywhere the couple went, and many places he was not allowed to go. Despite her reputation of being a little … “funny,” as his grandmother would have also said, he had found himself growing a tad bit jealous over her notoriety. She knew Lucille Bogan, Gladys Bentley and Tallulah Bankhead. She had even been in attendance at the legendary Clam House Club when Ma Rainey sang:
“I went out last night
with a crowd of my friends;
They must’ve been women,
’cause I don’t like no men.
It’s true I wear a collar and a tie,
I like to watch the women as they pass by…”
How was a husband to compete against that? He had watched with satisfaction, then, at the gradual fading in his wife’s eyes of what he called the “Bulldagger Blues” hunger as the hills, the heather and the orchards that made up the Arcadia estate all closed in around them as they bounced along in her splendid old Tin Lizzie, a T-Model Ford, hitting every pot hole in the bumpy roads.
Now, peering out the breakfast-nook window, munching his blackberry jam and toast he peered at a low hedge of uncared for fire-brand fuchsia, beyond that were steep slopes of heather and clover. Everywhere one looked bracken cascaded down into the dark. The buildings were constructed upon a series of cavernous, stone catacombs, none knew how old, now all overgrown with oak and ivy. Just the other day Damian had started reading a book written by some mad fellow from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that seemed to declare that Nature’s open savagery against mankind was a direct result of Man’s inability to understand and know all the horrors of unseen that surrounded him. Damian had said “poppycock!” at that and chucked the book out the bouncing car’s window. But now as he gazed at the landscape he shuddered and did not know why.
“It is very wild,” he said to Claudine, who had joined him, “one could almost suppose you might turn a corner and run into some ancient nightmare you read about in books, like that horrible old Pan, dancing away across the glen.”
“I don’t think Pan spends much time in upstate New York,” his wife had said in her soft, monotone voice.
“O well, too bad for him. I’m sure all those poor, daffy gods must have a devil of time in this market, since no one believes in them anymore.”
There were times when it occurred to Damian that he had no idea who he had just married. Claudine Nicholas was at once emotionally removed from him and sexually adventurous, in equal measures. When they went out in public she wore her trademark tux and top hat and would lean in and touch his leg or arm as she talked to her friends, often sliding her hand right up his thigh and then across his crotch. Each time she did so, Damian’s misery and excitement deepened in equal measures. Sex with a woman was terrifying to him, but it was the sort of terror he never wanted to stop.
On the occasions when she talked directly at him she used terms like “sweet boy” and “my darling thing.” The first night they slept together she had him stand naked in front of her, while she, fully dressed, took long drags off her chrome and red hookah pipe and blew pink and blue opium clouds out from her nostrils, like a bullgod stamping his foot.
“You are rather embarrassed around me, aren’t you, my darling little thing?”
Damian could only look down at his semi-erect cock in shame. The good life had robbed him of much of his vitality. Fear, erotic excitement, shame and humiliation could be read in every line of his face.
As she had talked to him she reached out and stoked his naked cock, all seven and a half inches, feeling him harden at her touch while a crafty, small smile crossed her lips. Just once, a flash and then it was gone.
“You might be curious as to why I agreed to marry you,” she said. The opium in the air made everything feel like honey: sweet and slow. As a way of answering her own question, she said, “bow down.”
A moment later Damian found himself kneeling in front of his fiance. That night she had chosen to wear a slinky black sheath, a black feather headband and long pearl necklace. Damian was amazed at how easily she could transform herself, from a mysterious rogue to a gorgeous woman, all in a manner of minutes. Now her legs were slightly apart, her silk dress wide open. When Damian looked down his eyes grew wide at the sight of her splayed open cunt.
“Some do what?”
“Lilith, for example.”
“Lilith. The worship of Lilith never has died out,” Claudine said. “Perhaps newer gods get more attention, from time to time, but she is the One-Mother, the Ancient One, to whom all must come back to at last. What is Mother Mary but a celibate shadow of Lilith, dressed up in ugly robes?”
Damian was religious in that vaguely devotional kind of way; still, he did not like to hear his beliefs, or at least his friend’s beliefs, spoken about as being mere shadow puppets of something far bigger and darker.
“Say now, you don’t really believe in this Lilith person?” he asked, pettishly.
“Belief has very little to do with anything that happens in this world,” Claudine said, quietly, “but if you are a smart little boy you won’t ask too many silly questions while you reside in her domain.”
It was not a week later, when Damian had grown bored of the forest paths that made their way around Arcadia, he ventured out on a tour to inspect of the farm buildings. Farms suggested to his mind a scene of cheerful bumpkinly bustle, with milk churns and smiling busty dairymaids in low-cut dresses with ruffles and teams of Clydesdale horses pulling things and rustic yeomen looking like they had just stepped out of a Bruegel painting. Here, though, between the cadaverous buildings, there was nothing save the slatternly owls and the blowsy cobwebs. Nothing could be heard from behind the warped and stained doors. The shuttered windows appeared dead. The stables were empty of the restless stamping of horses. All the farmyard sounds were missing: no roosters preening themselves in the sun, no drifting falcon turning and turning in a widening gyre, no rasp of a saw, no muted hollo from some beast of burden.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” muttered Damian to himself, nervously.
The fact was, Damian was nervous. The world was full of small noises, weird songs and chatter and endless rustlings. He felt as if he were being watched, that same mocking hostility from unseen things that he felt lurking in the woods and the catacombs and the thickets. As he threaded his way past empty cowsheds and long blank walls, he started suddenly as a strange sound reached his ears. It was the echo of a girl’s laughter, sounding both golden and dark all at once. Damian paused, but he could neither figure out who or where the laughter, if indeed that was what it was, originated from. Later that evening when he asked Claudine about it she said that she knew of no other girls in the neighborhood, that it was probably some local rustic having fun at Damian’s expense. The memory of that echo, however, seemed to be one more indication that something queer and forbidding lurked in and about Arcadia.
During his days he was alone, for he saw very little of Claudine. She would go horse back riding with her friends when they came up from the City to visit. Whatever they did out in the woods seemed to swallow her up everyday from dawn until dusk. When she returned from her mysterious jaunts often she would be flushed and full of vigor. She would find her husband and then slide out of her riding trousers like a second skin.
“Pleasure me, my toy.”
That would be his cue to lean ever closer to the Y her legs formed, until she would take his head in her hands and guide him to her clit. Damian Dastagna might have been a wastrel in every sense of the word, but her knew his way around a girl’s nether regions. With tongue and fingers and nose and chin he would begin to lick and probe and taste and consume. Her cum would leave a shine across his chin. He delighted in her wetness and her scent, nibbling on her out-turned lips, tugging at her pink flesh gently.
“Take your time, boy of mine,” Claudine had said on their wedding night, “but makes sure you swallow all of my cum. I want you to beg for this. I want this to be your new craving.”
At times like these Damian was glad there were no servants in the house, for her moans and sighs, her screams and cries, shook the walls and once she got started they continued and continued, building from one orgasm up into another. At each her thighs and hands would grip Damian’s skull and then relax in a gush, only to tense up once more as the next orgasm washed over her.
One day, following the direction he had seen Claudine take earlier that morning, he came upon an open space in a lonely orchard, further shut in by huge oak trees that grew all around. In the center of this clearing stood a marble plinth on which sat a small, bronze figure of a naked woman. It appeared to have been modeled after the 19th century Decadence movement: one of her hands had dropped down past her hips to caress the top of her kinky patch of hair. Her legs were long, tapering away into goat hooves. The statue’s head was thrown back, eyes closed, her mouth frozen in an endless O of desire as she prepared for her flood-gates to burst just below the threshold of a god-like orgasm.
Studying it careful Damian could see that it was a beautiful piece of workmanship, but what it was doing in an abandoned orchard confused him so much that he almost didn’t notice the chalice and knife that had been placed as offerings at her feet. Was that … gold? Damian stepped up to the plinth and peered inside the large cup, staring for a long minute at what looked like congealed blood caked the concave rim. With a cry of disgust Damian knocked the offending item angrily from the pedestal. Even as his hand made contact with it a strange wind stirred itself up, rustling the trees overhead and he shuddered a second time and did not know why.
As he strolled slowly homeward he found himself on a lonely pathway he had never seen before, though, truth be told, all pathways in Arcadia were lonely. He did not know what had possessed him to touch the chalice. Still, the damage had been done. Suddenly he stopped; for, gazing out from a thick tangle of undergrowth, he saw that a girl’s face was scowling at him. It was a girl with an unearthly beauty: brown, exquisite, with mesmerizing black eyes. He stopped and stared. The girl’s angry expression did not change the longer he stood there.
“I say, hello?”
Damian felt his legs buckle a little. The girl opened her mouth as if to speak but at that moment, with a cry of dismay, he broke into a run and fled.
“I saw a girl in the wood today,” he told Claudine, later that evening, “brown-faced, rather beautiful, but an orphan, I think. An orphan or a gypsy, I suppose.”
“A gypsy?” Claudine echoed, “there aren’t any gypsies in upstate New York.”
“Then who is she?” asked Damian.
As Claudine appeared not to be interested in answering his question he shrugged his shoulders and began talking about his finding of the chalice and the statue.
“I suppose you know all about it,” he observed, “you and your bulldagger friends. It’s a harmless piece of tomfoolery, but what would people think if they knew of it?”
Instead of answering Claudine asked, “did you meddle with it in any way?”
“I, er, I knocked that cup away, sure,” Damian said, feebly, watching Claudine’s impassive face for a sign of annoyance. Then he added a second time, “it was simply disgusting. Blood? Whose blood was it?”
“I think you were very foolish to do that,” his wife simply said. “I’ve heard it said that the Mother of a Mixed Multitude is rather horrible to all those who molest her.”
“Molest?” cried Damian, a bit louder than he intended. “I did no such thing. Plus, all this talk about spooks and bugaboos is rot and stuff and nonsense!”
“All the same,” Claudine said in her soft, cold-eyed tone, “I would avoid the orchard if I were you.”
It was all rot and stuff and nonsense, of course, but in that lonely part of the world where unseen eyes were always watching and waiting, all Damian could feel was a gut-turning fear boiling away from deep inside of him.
“Er, Claudine,” Damian ventured, after a moment, “I think we will go back to the City … soon.”
His victory in separating her from her queer habits had not been as satisfying as he had so expected.
“We? I don’t think you will ever go back to the City,” Claudine said.
“O, just call it a feeling. Avoid the orchard from now on and I am sure nothing … bad will happen,” and she gave one of her unusual smiles, from which her got the nick-name of Creepy. It wasn’t so much a smile as rigamortis.
The next afternoon Damian walked upon a different path, following a clear, narrow track that faintly reflected the mottled sky; but wherever shadows fell from branches overhead he felt the world as dark and deserted. He felt blind. All around him nature was showing its secrets — silent meadows wide-spread, golden quiet flora, lofty kingdoms hidden among the leaves and hills — if only he knew how to read them. As he walked a change began slowly to declare itself. A bird cried suddenly, then was still. A light breeze sprang up and set the silver leaves and ivy to rustling.
Damian abruptly stopped, amazed, listening with an aroused intentness.
“What is it?” he wondered, his head turning this way and that. “So terrible and strange and new.”
He held his breath, unable to hear anything for several beats of his heart.
“No, is it passing overhead? It is fading, I shall lose it,” he moaned.
In silence Damian walked steadily on, breathless and transfixed, pushing through blossoms and scented undergrowth that led to where he did not know, until at last he stood in a little clearing of a improbable green. It was the orchard of the day before and as he stood there Damian felt suddenly a great fear fall upon him, a fear that turned his soul to sand, that bowed his head, that rooted his feet to the ground.
It was no panic terror, as his grandmother would say, but it was a fear nonetheless. A childish fear. A fear that all sexual creatures must face at the moment that they are transform from their vestal state into that of knowledge. Whatever was there, in front of him, had struck him and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some terrible presence was very near.
There was a rustle all around him, the vague sound of a body pushing its way through the bracken, the slip-slush of finger fucking and trembling, he looked up, flushed and holding his breath for fear of what he might see. He looked into the very eyes of the First Mother; saw the backward sweep of her curved horns gleaming in the noon-day sun; saw the Babylonian nose between the sensual eyes that were looking down on him mockingly, while the puffy, full lips broke into that same half-smile, half-leer that his wife used when he said something especially funny. He saw the tawny muscles on her legs and the naked large, milky breasts tipped with ruby nipples. He saw the long supple fingers still sticky from self-pleasure and suddenly there fell a terrible noise upon the orchard — a woman in labor, a woman in pleasure — a cry that was both heavy and fertile and absolutely loathed to be interrupted. A noise which closed in around Damian and consumed him, the way water consumes a drowning man.