Warlock’s Eye

In the spring of 1864 I, along with many of the men of the Massachusetts 28th, was taken prisoner by the Confederates at Cold Harbor. We were held within the hellish walls of Andersonville during the last year of the War, and by the time word came of the South’s surrender, most of my Irish brothers were dead- and I myself was barely alive anymore.

The route by which I returned to my home-town of Salem after the War was a circuitous one, which took months to tread. It encompassed a dozen other misadventures with which I will not encumber the reader herein- say only that my days were filled with toil and misery, and my nights were haunted by memories of the horrors I had witnessed. But when- at the end of October, 1865- my eyes once more beheld the sunlight dancing off the water in Salem Harbor, when I walked the wormed wood boards of the old Wharf and trod the cobbles of the wide squares and narrow alleys and then passed by the old Custom House on Derby Street, I knew I had finally returned home.

Upon arriving at my ancestral family house on Essex Street, however, I was to find but more tragedy. My dear Aunt Bethany, the only family I’d ever known, had been taken by the Scarlet Fever outbreak that ravaged the town in the final months of the war. The house now stood vacant and crumbling from neglect. I was devastated, both by the loss of beloved family and by the dissolution of my hopes- for imaginings of the warm welcome I’d receive when I walked in the door of the cheery old manse had been one of the things which had kept me buoyed and breathing through the dark years of the war, imprisonment, and my arduous northward trek. Now all that greeted me were empty rooms with peeling walls and sagging grey floorboards- a deserted domicile populated only by broken furniture, tattered drapes and shredded horsehair cushions. I stood in the center of the parlor staring at the decay surrounding me, and there resolved to restore it as best I could to some semblance of the home I remembered from more innocent days. That night I slept on the bare slats of my childhood bed, listening to the creak of the rafters above me in the wind. It was the most comfortable night’s sleep I’d had in years.

I was forced to spend almost the entire first day after my return at the Magistrate’s office, proving I was 1) not a casualty of war (as had been supposed) and 2) the rightful heir of the family property. That laborious legal exercise complete, I could get to work.



The Essex street house was a large brick affair, which occupied a three-quarter acre lot, circumnavigated by a low wall. It was a full two-storeys tall, not including an attic and basement. The ceilings were high and had been elaborately plastered, the walls papered in delicate-but-not-feminine-patterns. There was a dependable water pump in the kitchen and one in the back garden as well, where a huge elm grew- the branches of which I remember clambering about as a child. The grand old place had fallen on disrepair of late, though- even before my aunt’s passing. The shingling on the roof was in sore need of replacing, and had allowed rainwater to drain into the attic and down between the walls, rotting the wood from within. Repairing damage this significant was going to take some degree of skill, which I did not possess in abundance. It would also require a significant amount of time: which, luckily, I did. So this became my daily chore for the next few weeks.

It was during the early days of these renovations that I first became acquainted with two local residents: one was a Mr. Endicott- an investment broker of some kind who had purchased the house next door when the fever epidemic had forced Old Man Sway to move to the hot springs in Hancock. Desmond Endicott was a portly, sallow-faced bachelor of late middle-age who leaned heavily upon a cane. He wore his suits tailored several sizes too small for his bulk, and he seemed to harbor a fiery animosity for every living creature he encountered, man or beast. Upon our first truncated meeting one morning, I immediately found him to be unpleasant, cantankerous and vile, and vowed to steer well clear of the man.

My second new acquaintance was in the form of a large neighborhood cat- as black as a coal cellar floor, with golden eyes and a crooked tail. I first spotted him sitting on the low wall surrounding the property, studying me cautiously with an inscrutable golden gaze as I replaced rotted boards on the porch. I continued working and, apparently convinced this new resident was no threat, he lay down and commenced grooming himself with a bright pink tongue. While the wary animal kept his distance at first, I soon found that he was helplessly drawn to the aroma of cooked bacon, and when I finally put a few crumbs on the rail for him, he rapidly leapt up and commenced gobbling them down- in doing so allowing me to gently stroke the ebony fur of his back. It was soft as sable. I christened the cat ‘Warlock’, in honor of both his hometown and also his ability to seemingly appear or disappear at will, and he became my frequent supervisor as I renovated the decrepit old house, coming and going as he pleased. My recent life had been so filled with incredible hardship and grief, the quiet companionship of this new friend filled me with a joy difficult to describe.

Thus it went for about a week following that first bacon breakfast- my newfound familiar would disappear for hours and then I would glance up from whatever task I was doing to find him close-by, dispassionately monitoring the work from a distance. I’d leave scraps from my meals on an old plate for him and always find them licked clean. On the day after our first contact, I opened the back door to find he’d left me the corpse of a small mouse as a token of our newfound friendship. The next day it was some kind of mole or shrew. Two days later I caught him clambering in through the window with a still-tweeting bird in his jaws, and with some difficulty managed to convince the little predator to drop it so I could set it free. It was obvious to me that Warlock was attempting to contribute to our larder with his own catches, so I made attempts to explain to him that neither rodent nor sparrow were dishes I was interested in sampling.

I’d settled into a peaceful routine existence during these days. A simple life of wood and nails, pry bars, plaster and paints. I would rise early, have some coffee and a bit of dry bread, work for a few hours and then sit down to a cold lunch on the porch, watching the colorful fallen leaves blow along Essex Street. After that I’d work until dusk and sometimes a bit later by lamplight, then cook myself a simple dinner and- following that- recline on the old couch in the living room, reading one of the mouldering books which stood on the bowing shelves, or sometimes writing in my journal. Warlock would stretch himself out on the floorboards nearby, occasionally toying with a twig or bit of twine.

The only disruption to this peace was when, from next door, I would hear Endicott’s frequent bellowing at his servant (who’s name, I learned from his curses and threats, was Thomas). During the day, Endicott would holler at any random salesmen unwise enough to visit his doorstep, and quite regularly he would accost unlucky passerby simply walking on the sidewalk. There was definitely something unhinged about the man.



I’d been working on the house for a little more than a week when I awoke late one night to hear my neighbor yelling and cursing as usual- but this time I also heard another cry, one which shrank my skin- a terrible shrill wail that sounded definitively feline. Warlock was nowhere to be seen in the house, and I barely rested the remainder of the night, rising frequently throughout the wee hours to call for him and offer his favorite porcine treat- but my efforts were without success.

It was not until the following afternoon that Warlock reappeared. He was timid, and it took some effort and patience to get him to take food. One of his eyes was swollen and he wouldn’t let me touch it. A hot fury surged through me such as I had not felt since my days of bloody combat on the fields of Pennsylvania and Virginia. I had no doubt the scoundrel Endicott was to blame for this- I had heard the conjoined cries both human and animal the night before. Without stopping to put on vest or coat I marched next door to confront the coward, only to be rebuffed at the vestibule by Thomas. The man explained politely but firmly that Desmond Endicott was not seeing visitors this afternoon. I further demanded entrance to see that cur of a man, and from somewhere inside the dark dwelling I could hear crude epithets being hurled my way. I informed Thomas (in a voice loud enough for the homeowner to hear clearly) that the cat was under MY protection, and any further violence visited upon it would be doled out in like kind upon its perpetrator. I had seen my compatriots fall on the fields of battle. I had held them as they lay dying from the senselessness of human violence, and I was not prepared to allow the same thing to happen to my small friend.

Incensed, I returned to my home, where Warlock was resting by the fireplace- his sides rising up and down with some effort. He allowed me to slip an old folded blanket underneath him, licking my hand in appreciation as I did so. I leaned down, touching my nose to the soft spot between his ears, and quietly vowed that I would allow no more harm to come to him. I closed the windows and doors, determined to keep the cat safe inside for the near future as much as was possible.

I was having difficulty quelling the anger that smoldered within myself… Endicott was a fiend- anyone who would hurt such a defenseless animal was capable of almost anything, I found myself repeating over and over again under my breath. I had seen men do violence upon one another in battle, yes. But my time in the Confederate prison camp had taught me that while there were men who killed because they were compelled, there also were men who had a perverse taste for hurting others. This type of viciousness does not arise in later life— no, it is nurtured at a young age… I asked myself how many others, human or otherwise, have been victim to this man’s cruelty? Three? A dozen? More?


My mind occupied with such thoughts, I was pacing around the upstairs like a feral beast entrapped in a cage. Looking down, I found I was clutching the wooden handle of an old hand auger so fiercely that pain shot up the nerves of my arm. Catching myself with alarm, I laid the sharp screw tool down and set about making some dinner for Warlock and myself.

We spent a quiet evening together thusly, and I slept on the downstairs couch near him, watching his small furry shape by the dying embers of the fire until I drifted off. That night, for the first time since I’d returned to Salem, the spectral faces of those men I’d killed in the war danced before my sleeping eyes, whispering to me words of disquiet and foretelling sinister futures. I awoke with a jolt to find myself still on the couch, sweating and breathing laboriously. I must have shuddered or made some exclamation in my sleep, for I found Warlock had made his way over to the couch and climbed atop my chest, purring and kneading my blouse in an effort to comfort me, staring at me with one good eye and one which was swollen near-shut. I cradled his small form in my calloused hands and wept tears that had been years in coming. Slowly we both fell back into slumber.



The next day was Hallows’ Eve. Most of the day passed without incident. It had begun to rain in the morning and by noontime there was a torrent coming down from the heavens. The roof, which I still had not finished, leaked water down and it dripped from the ceilings in many of the rooms. I spread out pots and pans to catch it as much as I could, and Warlock seemed to find this a novel game. He spent the day going from one to the other, taking small drinks from each. The night’s sleep had obviously left him feeling restored. I busied myself with smaller, quieter tasks around the house.

I’d managed to banish the thought of Endicott from my mind for several hours, when a fresh slew of profanity erupted from next door. Warlock immediately sought the security of his fireside blanket. I glanced outside through the threadbare curtains to see Thomas leaving the Endicott house, walking rapidly with his head bowed against the rain and pursued by vociferous threats from his employer. The man paused in front of my house, as if struggling to decide something. I crossed to the door and emerged onto the porch.

Thomas informed me that his employment had been terminated. He would be back in the morning when tempers had cooled, as this sacking was not an unprecedented occurrence. He asked two favors of me: 1) if I learned of anyone seeking a trustworthy servant could I please refer him to them (to which I naturally agreed), and 2) should I hear any calls for help during the night, could I check on his employer? To this second I agreed in speech, at least. The unlucky man thanked me and went on his way. As he marched up the block and rounded the corner and disappeared, I continued to stare at his master’s house for a long while. The banked embers of the fire stirring inside me now sparked again. What good was this man to the world? What did he bring to those around him but misery? How many more years was I to live with this wretched soul adjacent? What creature, man or beast, was safe while this person lived?

A soft mew brought me back to awareness. I’d left the front door open when I’d stepped out to speak to Thomas, and Warlock had followed me and now circled around and in-between my ankles, rubbing his sides on my trousers. The gesture had an immediate calming effect on my soul, and I picked up the little cat and went back inside.

Who was I to judge this man’s right to live? Endicott had been a son to a mother at one point, and whatever had led him to be the misanthrope he was today, that was not my dominion to render verdict. I had seen much of human suffering since becoming a man, and after the War I had committed myself to the forswearing of violence for the rest of my life. Time and Fate have their own ways of dealing with wretchedness like this, I told myself… leave Endicott to their mercies.

Finally the light faded on that day. I could hear Hallowe’en revelers making merry on the Common several blocks away, but I sought no such social interaction. I lit a fire in the hearth and made a dinner of some mutton and carrots. I chose to leave the house lamps dark tonight, and ate by the light of the flames instead. Warlock enjoyed a special helping of the meat, which I’d cut into tiny bites and lathered in gravy for him. Afterwards we sat and I told him stories of my experiences, while he went about fastidiously cleaning himself before finally curling up and falling into slumber.



It was a few hours before dawn when I woke to a new clamor from next door: a short cry and a terrible racket. I rose and to my worry found Warlock gone from his makeshift bed. I searched throughout the house for him, with no luck. I scoured the exterior property with a lantern to no avail, then re-checked inside. It was then I heard a new sound: a piteous human call for aid coming from next door. It was clearly Endicott’s voice. I snatched up the lantern once more and went to his front door, knocking and then trying the handle- but found it bolted fast. More low cries came from inside now, so I went back through my house, out the back door via the kitchen, and to the brick wall which separated our two properties. Lamp handle clamped between my teeth, I managed to clamber over it with some effort.

Endicott’s backyard was a tangled mess of vegetation, and his rear porch was in even worse repair than my own. I carefully negotiated the broken steps to the back-door, and found it to be open a crack. All was darkness inside. I called out Endicott’s name, and was greeted with a harsh reply from the man. I entered cautiously, using my lamp not only for light, but also as a shield between myself, and whatever surprise might be awaiting me. In this manner I made my way cautiously down the creaking slats of his hallway. There were no lamps lit in the downstairs, and the place had a close, musty sour smell like that of fruit gone bad or damp linen left bundled to mildew. All the while the mixture of pleas and profanity grew closer and louder.

I came upon him at the base of his staircase. The man’s squat, bulky frame lay across several of the bottommost stairs, head pointing downward and turned at a grotesque angle on its neck. One of his ankles was similarly twisted. From the sideways position of his head but one of his eyes glared up at me.

“What has happened to you, Endicott?” I asked, though the answer was obvious.

His reply was unprintable: a slew of vulgarity erupted from his mouth, amongst which I could just piece together a narrative of what had transpired: he had earlier dismissed the useless Thomas after the man had forgotten (for the second time in a year) to purchase the particular salts Endicott required for his bath. In lieu of his preference, he had retired to bed early, going through several documents relating to a sale he was brokering- when he’d heard the unmistakable sound of the damned cat moving about his upstairs. He had a spitting hatred for the creature, he told me—calling it everything from vermin to monster to terms I choose not to repeat.

As he said these things I could feel the fire inside me glowing brighter and hotter.

Endicott told me how he had risen quickly, seizing his cane to strike the beast as he had done two nights before, to teach it not to trespass within his domain. He told me he’d hoped to knock it senseless so he could tie it in a sack and drown it in his bath. But as he pursued it towards the landing, the creature had made a sudden and unexpected movement in its flight, and Endicott had tripped upon it at the top of the staircase and tumbled, head first, all the way down. He declared he had heard his own neck snap as he fell. And now he found himself completely unable to move anything below his neck. He was aware of a dull throbbing pain, but any sense of touch in his extremities was wholly gone. I’d noticed a rank smell about the man and now realized it was because his bladder had released and he’d had no ability to stop it.

As the man related the tale of his fall to me, I glanced up the stairs and there, at the top, Warlock stood staring down at us- a midnight-hued silhouette in the dim, adorned with two glittering golden eyes. I called to him by name, but he did not approach. Nor did he take flight, but merely sat down and- as was his custom- began cleaning himself.

I am not an unsympathetic man, but I could not help but smile at the irony of Endicott’s fate.

Endicott, for his part, unslung a string of blasphemy in my direction, as well as the cat’s. He promised me horrible retribution for my callousness at his misfortune, as well as for what he saw as my complicity in siccing my animal on him for revenge- he would see me jailed, my house seized, and he swore he’d see the animal skinned alive for its misdeed. I crouched there and listened to the banality coursing from the man’s mouth for a space, waiting for the inevitable. I’d seen enough men similarly injured on the battlefield to know what was soon to come. Gradually, Endicott’s cruel words became slurred into a low, inarticulate mumble. A foul liquid began seeping out of his mouth and nose and he gave a rasping choke or two- and then Endicott died.

My eyes returned to the top of the stairs. Warlock had vanished. I called to him a few times, but he had obviously quit the stage of his revenge. So I, too, left the scene- this time by the front door. It would be light in an hour, and Thomas would be coming ‘round before long to see if his boss wanted to re-hire him, as he so often had. I brewed some coffee and sat down on my front porch to await him. I kept an eye out for Warlock, but was not surprised that he had hidden himself away somewhere, laying low after his crime.



When I spotted Thomas coming down the street I halted him and explained what had happened- carefully omitting Warlock’s culpability in the matter. The man absorbed the news with an odd mixture of relief as well as sorrow, as he clutched the mug of coffee I’d offered him- not drinking a drop. Finally he hurried off to fetch an ambulance for his former master, and soon I heard the clattering of hooves as the hearse arrived to take Endicott away forever. I had no more part in this affair, so I went back inside and commenced preparing some cold meat for breakfast, when a shouted exclamation from the interior of the house next-door gave me pause. I opened the back door in order to hear better what was going on adjacent, and there Warlock came trotting happily through the portal.

As he entered, I caught a glimpse of something in his mouth. It was impossible to determine what manner of creature he’d brought me this time, and he led me on quite a merry chase before I managed to get him to drop it. As he followed his nose into the kitchen to inspect what I was preparing for our meal, I investigated what it was he’d been carrying.

I’ve had experience with many things grim and grisly in my life, but I confess that upon examining the object I drew back a bit.


For the cat had brought me one of Endicott’s eyes.


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