I feel obliged to say something about the circumstances of this book and of the poor old man who wrote it, before you read. The person who wrote this testament was himself a casualty of time and torture. He spent almost half a century alone, shut in to a small shack way out in the woods. I remember growing up hearing stories of the man, they seemed almost rooted into the history of Fallbrook. The town, not just the children, but adults as well, treated him and referred to him like he was some sort of monster. The Boogeyman of the Woods, we called him.
But Thomas Merrick was not a monster. He was a beautiful, brilliant, passionate man who had his heart broken in such a way, it could never be pieced back together again. I found this out for myself when I was appointed to be his personal nurse, once he became subject to the state of Virginia. I spent the last three years visiting him twice a week. It took some time for him to open up to me and at first, I’ll admit, the man frightened me, I dreaded every visit. But when he did finally open up to me and I came to understand him and his predicaments, seeing the deep, unending pain and yearning in his ancient blue eyes, I became very fond of Thomas. He was like a grandfather, he was the old man you see sitting at the park alone, the one who had no family or friends left, only the memories; he was the old man everyone fears becoming, not a monster or the boogeyman, just a man, a man and my friend.
After all the time I spent with Mr. Merrick, I had come to know some of his personal history. I’d base most conversations around the clutter of his cabin, the trinkets and old antique possessions that entombed him in there, some of the things that were dearest in the world to him, each having their own sentiments. When I first entered his little crowded home, I first assumed he was some psychopath who had kept mementos from the dozens of women he’d killed. If you saw the place, you’d understand. You’d expect a woman lived there, everything he seemed to own was some sort of feminine thing: the platinum handheld mirror, the pink sun umbrella with a cherry blossom stitched on it, the wardrobe filled with women’s clothes of the Victorian age, the floral design to all his belongings, the blank leather notebook with the scent of perfume still stinking from it, the broken music box, the powder case and makeup collection still set up as though to pretty himself before the marvelous but broken mirror. I was terrified. I thought things of extremities, I thought perhaps he dressed like a woman and murdered, had some sort of split personality.
It’s easy to assume the worst once you’ve heard stories based on stories, based on stories, trickled down from someone’s initial, impassioned tirade. It wasn’t too inconceivable when you understand that he slept on a bed and that behind that bed was a massive, brilliant, perfect rendition of a beautiful woman sitting on a hill, the woods and cabin he lived in near the pond, in her background. Then you notice, after filling a dozen prescriptions for him, that the signature on the painting is his own. Then you understand, feel comforted, see through the nasty tall-tales and feel inspired to uncover the truth.
Thomas never spoke of her to me, of the woman with dark hair in his painting, the woman who has once owned all the possessions in his crypt of a cabin. He spoke to me mainly of all the places he’d been, where he’d gotten those belongings, some of the very places I’d visited or was stationed at during my tour of the Pacific Theater in World War II, some of the places I’ve always dreamed of seeing as well. He spoke to me of his health, of his prior wealth and his fortune and of his massive mansion that once towered somewhere beyond his cabin, he told me how the six-hundred acres surrounding his little hut were all his once. I did the research and he never lied. He was once very wealthy and it all was his.
So what happened? How did he end up becoming the shut-in he was? How did he regress from his fortunes and end up poor and alone? I tried puzzling it all together myself and there was always only one thing, one piece that was missing. Her. All I could surmise was that something terrible had happened, something horrifying that left him physically disfigured.
It is with great respect for this man that I present his story, that I was entrusted with it, meant to find it. And it is with great sadness that I must. I found Thomas lying in his bed the morning after he had passed in his sleep. In his hand was a pen, in his lap, the blank, perfumed leather notebook. It had been filled.
I read the first page of it and knew it was meant for me to find, to find and relay. He left it for me because he knew that I was the only one who would not judge him, who would take the story and know its truth, the truth I had seen buried in his blue eyes, the truth that surrounded him, the truth in the relics there: the wardrobe, the broken mirror, the makeup, the flowers, the music box…the truth he never told me, the truth about her.
It is the last piece to the puzzle. Now I understand. Thomas Merrick, the Boogeyman of the Woods, was never a monster. She was the monster all along.
Thomas wrote on the first page in big, mastered calligraphy, the title he felt right about calling his story, so from here forth I present to you, unaltered, unfiltered, unabridged, written entirely as it was left to me: Grim Sanctuary.