Nest: Letter Fifteen
Eliah Bramwell McDonough
26 Church Road
Dear Mrs Ryder,
It shames me to admit this is only the second attempt I have made at getting in touch with you since your letter confirming you received the cheque in November last year. Whoever chronicles what has happened in Cornwall in the last few months will surely lay blame on me for my reticence. Of this I am at fault, Mrs Ryder, but I am writing this letter now to assist where I could not before. Too late this will come, I know, and I will carry that burden until my last days.
For now, if you haven’t torn this letter apart, let me put my theatricals aside and reach out to you firstly to offer what I owe: my condolences and an explanation. I am frightfully sorry for what has befallen your husband, your nephews and your neighbours. Had I known that anything from my father’s aviaries could cause such harm, I would have destroyed it and those haunted places long before. Perhaps I should have known – you know now that something like this happened before – but I never thought– I held on to a fantasy of my childhood and hid from myself the dreadful parts. Are we all guilty of this? They should teach us to grow out of it sooner. I hear from Dr Pennlan, a dear friend, what is happening now. She is very hopeful for your nephews, which lightens my heart, but nothing is yet known for those like Mr Flynn Ryder, already stone before we reached this new advancement. We must wait, she says. So in this wait, let me accompany you with my second offering. An explanation.
I had indeed written one and sent it on to Penzance, but it failed to reach you. When the letter returned to me with the information that you had taken yourself and your daughter out of England, I breathed a sigh of relief and immediately burnt the letter. It was incomplete and obscure, so perhaps it is a good thing that now I can make things clearer. The trough is what anchored us together before, Mrs Ryder, but it now must be this: the story of my father and the creature who bore the eggs.
My father was a peculiar, brilliant man. A young heir to a small fortune, and curious to a fault, he was known for indulging in any project that took his fancy. The aviaries, now dust, were his long-standing fascination and people from across England would come to see the rarities of his collection. This wouldn’t be permitted any more, I should think, as you rightly hinted on one of your letters. For you see, Mrs Ryder, many of his treasures were indeed illegally traded. Father had friends and lived in another time; this is what we say when we explain how he got away with it.
Family lore has it that in one of his journeys with mother, on the same year I was sent to boarding school, their sailboat beached on an uninhabited island in the middle of the Atlantic. Some aunts say it was in the North Sea. I’ve also heard it was in the Adriatic. It has been found and secured, wherever it is. In any case, on this trip, as they waited rescue, father took himself to explore the flora and fauna on the island. Mother, it is said, was fascinated by the island’s springs and swore all her life that her youthful looks and unblemished skin were due to the many baths she took as they waited. Ten days they were stranded on the island – and ten days it took my father to discover fauna and flora of such particularity that he spent the rest of his life writing journals about it. These journals now belong to one of father’s friends, a Professor Prendick, and thus are lost to me.
The most remarkable thing father found, I am sure you can now guess, was the creature. Some say it once inhabited Cornwall but that it sought refuge far away when the mining started. Did it live in the belly of the caves? A bird of sorts is all I can remember, but with armoured skin on its body instead of feathers, hard and grey like stone, almost the size of an adult man – however father managed to bring one from the island remains a mystery. I spent my youth thinking I must have imagined this thing, dreamed it. I don’t trust my memory of it. Dr Pennlan must know what it looks like, for she has now seen it, but whenever I asked, she swallowed and mumbled that it was best not to bring back a nightmare. I trust her with this and with my life.
What connects us all, Mrs Ryder, was the creature’s first victim – if we must call her so. I can only think of her as little Rose, Rose Petra Hayworth, a childhood friend, the daughter of Dr Hayworth, one of Dr Elizabeth Pennlan’s mentors. There, full circle. But let me tell you how this came to be. Rose came with her family to the unveiling. A routine in our household, for as I have said, father’s aviaries were an attraction, these parties gave both my parents a chance to show their wealth and eccentricities. I remember this one as crystal chandeliers, large vases brimming with white peonies – the scent of which permeated house and garden – and clutters of well-dressed, nonsensical adults. My friends and I took ourselves to father’s studio, only accessible to me during those parties, and from there to the aviaries. Every day since then I regret this.
My friends knew there was a new creature there, Mrs Ryder, and stupid and conceited as I was, I promised to show them. There were many a treasure there, brilliantly feathered or smooth and slippery in the darkness, but they insisted on seeing the creature first and we all ran to the oldest aviary, almost a ruin then. Upon seeing the creature nervously circling its cage, my friends thinking themselves powerful, got closer. It flapped and clawed at their taunts, but they kept themselves away from the bars of the cage, all well enough except Rose. She adored animals, Mrs Ryder, and even though she was the youngest, she didn’t fear this thing. She had found an opening where the rusty bars met the ground and slid herself into the cage whilst I was trying to distract the others away from the creature.
The most remarkable thing was, Mrs Ryder, that the creature didn’t fear her. Instead, once Rose was at the centre of the cage, the creature wrapped itself around her and started a soothing, muted tapping. Elizabeth tells me it is now used, along with my mother’s remote island tonic, as part of the treatment to undo petrification. Tap… tap tap… tap… tap tap… tap, over and over again, like a mother singing a lullaby to a child. Rose passed so quickly that mother assured me she knew no pain. She stands since then, next to my father, on the state’s ancient stone circle. I wonder if those stones had once been like us, too, like them. I’ve attached a photo of her. I don’t know why. It brings me comfort to visit her.
I’ve rambled on enough, Mrs Ryder – Olya, can I call you that? Write to me again if you would like. I would want to know about Flynn and the boys. Know though, that I’ve spent my story in this letter and now have little else to say about the past, father or little Rose. The aviaries are now destroyed, as I’ve said. What I know that might be helpful to you is this: Dr Pennlan has been granted the funds to lead an independent review on the government’s involvement in all of this – I imagine you would want to know what she finds. The island, one of the circles of hell I am sure, is on the hands of the Danish, I am told, who claimed it after a few Viking maps seem to describe it. May they keep it. Read not the news, dearest Mrs Ryder, for the spin doctors are at work. A Bertram Wilson has come out of the woodwork and managed to get himself named head of the new Ministry for the Strange. Father’s journals, the ones I have left in my possession, name a B. Wilson as an associate of Professor Prendick. Perhaps my imagination runs away with me, but I do not trust the man.
One final note: Please give my best to your daughter, the bright and persistent Sara, a great credit to you and your husband. Without her, Dr Pennlan might not have found me nor mother’s miracle tonic. I was so grateful to be able to assist her with that and my emotions betray me when I think of dear mother helping to undo what father unwittingly started. Had we known then. Please keep well, Mrs Ryder.
With every respect and best wishes,
Eliah Bramwell McDonough
P.S. I hope one day you can forgive me. With this letter, I send another trough. Dr Pennlan assures me it is eggless.
by Sherezade Garcia Rangel
Nest is our epistolary project, written collaboratively by students and staff and published every fortnight right here on Falwriting. You can find out more about Nest here, and read Letter Fourteen here.
If you just arrived to this series or want to reread the letters, you can find Letter Thirteen, Letter Twelve, Letter Eleven, Letter Ten, Letter Nine, Letter Eight, Letter Seven, Letter Six, Letter Five, Letter Four, Letter Three, Letter Two and Letter One here.
You can also listen to the letters and the writers discussing their inspiration in our Nest podcast here.