The November Papers
Documenting an incident that took place either over a single month or over more than a century, The November Papers offer an insight into the horrors of occult parasites.
In the Winter of 1964, researchers from Brown University came into possession of an abandoned suburban house and, along with it, a number of journals written by a woman from Providence, Rhode Island. Documenting a period of over one hundred years, the oldest journal is a fairly benign account of a typical family - a provincial and unremarkable married couple and their son - until the night a little girl knocked at the door. Claiming to be lost, shivering from the cold and soaked through by the rain, they brought her inside, offering shelter with the intention of helping her find her family the following morning. It was a kindness that would come to destroy them. The girl was something other than human, something for which we have no name and against which we have no defence.
Akin to a cuckoo, or perhaps some more grotesque and insidious parasite, whatever ability the girl had to insinuate herself into the family was exerted immediately. In the journals’ next entry, which marked the date as the first of November, her presence is entirely normal and utterly mundane. She is mentioned, without fanfare or ceremony, as a daughter and a sister; a natural and expected part of the family. The unshakeable certainty that she belonged was the fundamental and foundational change onto which lifetimes’ worth of fictions were built. The next few weeks seem to have passed peacefully, perhaps to give the lie time to bed in. It is not until the end of the month that the extent of the danger begins to become apparent, when the journal entries continue and the last day of November is followed by a return to its first.
Not a slip of the pen, not a clerical nor a typographical error, within that house and that household November began to repeat itself over again. Unaware of the cycle - and mercifully ignorant as to how long they would come to be trapped therein - the journals describe the same month playing out all over again, albeit with minor details changing within the broad strokes of the repetition. As November leads into November after November it becomes clear that the girl was, to some extent, both aware of and immune to the constraints of what was happening. The changes within the journal entries are mostly reactions to her behaviour, differences in whatever cruelties and kindnesses she decided to show to her assumed family as she, unlike them, continued to grow (and age) at something similar to a normal human pace.
Certain tensions and incongruities seemed to strain even the induced credulity of the family: In the first few Novembers where the children were seemingly the same age the son’s twelfth birthday became a day of celebration for “the twins”. Something about the term clearly sat uneasy, both with the son (who was, for several repetitions, uncharacteristically selfish and spoilt in his behaviour) and with the diarist herself. Her writing seems to stumble over the idea, both conceptually and physically, coming close to unconscious clarity before being subsumed back into the fiction. By the fourth or fifth of these Novembers they had adjusted - or had been adjusted - to this version of their history; biography reshaped around the surety that their children must have, can only ever have, shared the same birthday.
The girl eventually became too old to be her brother’s twin but, clearly having enjoyed the attention and gifts, decides to keep the birthday for herself. The family’s history is rewritten again, with her birthday falling in November thereafter and her younger brother’s relegated to some month that would never come around again. This was the first real indicator that the girl could exercise conscious control over the details of what the family would remember, a petty display of psychic violence more overt than that which had originally allowed her to infiltrate the household. It was also a precedent, marking the onset of her using this power both punitively and for her own amusement; a tool wielded sadistically to cause arguments and sow discord as she tested the limits of what she could do.
Many Novembers were given over to these experiments, months filled with horrific nightmares and sudden bouts of acute depression and worse, all instigated through various manipulations of memory. While there is no evidence that the girl could affect the physical environment, she could - and did - create the illusion of spectres and poltergeists. The appearance of these hauntings made by playing with people’s perceptions in real time, by making different members of the household see and hear different and conflicting things: Voices crying out from empty rooms, a door being slammed in an attic no-one could remember having seen before. As years passed outside, the girl grew to adulthood with her curiosity sated and her boredom kept at bay by the malicious games she played with the fears of her adoptive family.
It is unclear whether she intended to cause the death of the man who thought himself her father, particularly since her more violent excesses seemed to have cooled with age, or if she was simply powerless to prevent or undo it. The journals detail a period of relatively peaceful routine in the Novembers before the incident, potentially just an accident, which ended with him lying at the bottom of the cellar stairs. Neck broken, cold as the grave by the time his body was discovered, the journals are understandably light on details. The family’s grief was allowed to stay their own for a week, but as that November rolled into its replacement the girl remade it into something less keen. She became a sister to her grieving mother, an aunt to her brother, and had moved in only a few months prior; coming to stay after her brother-in-law’s death.
The next few decades passed relatively uneventfully, with the attendant journals reflecting the quiet sadness of mourning that is not so recent as to be debilitating, but not so distant that it has become part of the everyday. The girl could move on, and had recast herself in a role where she could be less deeply and directly affected than her former mother and former brother, but they never had the time for their grief to lessen. Their pain was refreshed every thirty days, and if it ever occurred to the girl to spare them that, there is no sign that she acted upon the impulse. She got older, but time could neither hurt nor heal the rest of her family as they kept playing out the same days and weeks over and over again, November after November.
At this point, the journals settle into such neat repetition that each could almost be the duplicate of the one that came before it and, if the girl had not continued to get older, it is possible that their patterns would have continued forever. Instead, she went through one more metamorphosis, going from maiden aunt to matriarch. Now a mother herself, and grandmother to a boy she had once been a sister to, she became increasingly stern and severe. Over the course of only a few months, to whose continued passage only she was privy, the journals go from recording her as a welcomed guest to an oppressive and temperamental presence. Whatever the cause of this change, it coincides with the beginning of the family’s end: The son contracts an acute fever on the nineteenth and, though his death isn’t written about, the next November begins without him.
His sudden and unmourned absence wasn’t the only change. The girl, ancient and wizened and waited on by her now-daughter, had remade their shared history almost entirely. There had never been a husband, never been a son, there was only an ailing, aged mother and a devoted, spinster daughter who had eschewed other attachments in favour of thankless, endless service. Perhaps it was easier to sustain the lie - and the control - with only one victim? Even that was waning though, and the girl was confined to her bed as her daughter waited on her night and day. In the moments she was able to steal for sleep, echoes of other, happier Novembers came in fragments of half-remembered dreams. She described her mother, trapped in an increasingly broken body, as barely human. It was a more astute observation than she could know.
The thought terrified and sickened her. It filled her with a dread that is evident in the pages of her journals and that, somehow, lingered from one November to the next. It grew deeper and darker, but the day that she finally broke must - from her perspective - have seemed to have come almost without warning. She stopped feeding her mother, stopped tending to her, and tried her best to ignore the monstrous howling coming from her room. Too weak to fend for herself but too full of rage to die, it took more than a year for the girl to stop screaming altogether, her cries shifting from anger to disbelief and to despair as the strength behind them ebbed away. The last journal entry is brief and barely coherent and desperately grateful for the silence of solitude. It was written on the first of December.