Photograph of the Shawneetown Courthouse (taken in 1937) by Russell Lee uploaded by Zeamays. This image is a work of an employee of the United States Farm Security Administration or Office of War Information domestic photographic units, taken as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain in the United States.
THE ADVENTURES OF PROFESSOR SIMON WORTHY, CHRONOLOGIST
Most people know me only as a Professor of English at Southeastern Illinois University, an expert in folklore and oral history, a teacher of classes. But ever since I have come into contact with the Journals of Dexter Vann, my life has changed. I have changed. So although you may view me as a pedant, I view myself as Doctor Strange. Because my life has become inordinately strange.
Let me tell you the story of how it became that way.
I first became acquainted with the Polychronic Mysteries (as they have become to referred to) when a student of mine from White county acquainted me with a rumor he had heard about the Devonshire Mysteries Society, a small group of amateur sleuths who used to meet regularly in Carmi. I arranged to attend one of their meetings, which was quite entertaining and informative, but the most tantalizing tidbit of information I came away with was the discovery of a number of curious transcriptions in rural Saline, Gallatin, Hardin, and Pope Counties. A small group had split off from the Devonshire Mysteries Society and formed their own group, which has come to be called the Polychronic Mysteries Cult, although they call themselves simply the Shawneetown Enthusiasts.
After some investigation I tracked down one of these “Enthusiasts,” who was named Archer Lantham, a wealthy landowner from Marion who owns several valuable properties in Harrisburg. He acquainted me with a collection of journal transcripts he had acquired from a farmer by the name of Gilette Vorhees. They were apparently contained in a metal box of rather odd construction. I asked to see some of these transcriptions since they reportedly originated from taped oral histories. I was curious about what I would find in a current oral history of the region.
What I discovered was a fantastic story of time travel, war, crime and a holocaust of epic proportions against a backdrop bigger than the entire universe. At first I thought I’d discovered a trove of contemporary tall tales, but the more transcriptions I read, the more convinced I was of their truth. I began to collect as many of these transcriptions as I could find, and I discovered I am not the only collector, nor is Archer Lantham and Gilette Vorhees. There is a whole group of almost a dozen collectors, most of them belonging to the “Shawneetown Enthusiasts.”
I have attended several of the meetings of the Shawneetown Enthusiasts in Harrisburg now, and I have acquired hundreds of journal entries, but I am told there are hundreds more still. Cain has many of them. The others are scattered all over the four counties.
The Shawneetown Enthusiasts
The meeting of the Shawneetown Enthusiasts took place at Archer Lantham’s mansion on the outskirts of Harrisburg, Illinois. I had a little trouble finding it , so I was the last to arrive. Or maybe they all came early.
Archer met me at the door, a man of ordinary height in his late forties or early fifties, younger than me. His hair was mostly gray and so were his eyes. He had a well trimmed beard and was wearing a sports coat and ascot.
“Ah, our professor,” he said. He ushered me into the Great Room, a broad, high-ceilinged hall furnished with brown leather sofas and arm chairs. A rocker sat in the corner next to a roaring fireplace below a huge mantle, and there was a bar at the far end of the room. On the walls were hunting trophies: the head of a boar, a bear, and an elk with massive antlers.
“Your trophies?” I asked him as he led me forward.
“I own them,” he answered, not glancing at me. We came to a halt where we could see the other members, seated in their chairs. Seven faces studied me. No one spoke.
“Everyone,” Archer said, “let me introduce Professor Simon Worthy of Southeastern Illinois University. He will be joining our little group.”
Faces jerked from regarding me to staring at him. Mouths gaped. There was a gasp.
“Joining us!” Elizabeth Warwick cried. An attractive woman about forty, she wore a gray suit and had dark hair and keen eyes. “What are you trying to pull, Archer?”
“This group has gotten big enough,” Gilette Vorhees growled. He was the farmer, a wide man with a double chin, sloppily dressed in an untucked shirt and jeans, and dirty boots. His light blond hair receded in the front.
“Nonsense,” Archer said to him. “The professor is intensely interested in the Chrono Files. He is going to help us unlock their mysteries.”
All eyes turned to stare at me again. I was beginning to feel a little self-conscious. I was dressed in my tan sports coat with the patches on the elbows, a white oxford shirt and a light brown sweater. I was beginning to wish I’d dressed more formally.
“How do we know he’s really a professor?” Gilette demanded, facing Archer. “I don’t like him horning in.”
“He isn’t ‘horning in,’” Archer replied. “The professor is going to study the Chrono Files and share his conclusions with us.” He turned to smile at me. “Aren’t you, professor?”
All eyes were on me again.
“I intend to do research, as all academics. I’m told these Chrono Files were originally recordings. That makes them oral histories, legends, mythologies. I regard them as a modern exemplar of the tall tale.”
Gilette Vorhees squinted at me. “He’s a professor, all righty.”
“Of course he is,” Harmon Siebert declared. “Archer wouldn’t bring him here without a good reason.” Harmon was the insturance salesman of the group, a short man with glasses in his forties, dressed in a brown suit and tie as if he’d just come from work.
Archer took a seat in a wing-backed chair and indicated for me to sit in an armchair nearby, where everyone could see me.
“We may as well give him a try,” Elizabeth Warwick said. “Lord knows we haven’t been making progress on our own recently.” She turned to give me a welcoming smile.
“I agree,” Archer declared. “We need fresh eyes. That’s why I suggest we share our Files with him.”
“Share our Files!” Gilette cried. “I aint sharin’ my files with him. They’re valuable, and they’re mine.”
The other members turned to frown at him.
“Come on, Gil,” Elizabeth Warwick cajoled. “We’ve banded together to cooperate. We can make more progress that way.”
“Yeah, Gil,” said Lucy Greer. “Get on board.” Dressed in jeans and an immaculately ironed white top, she was the housewife of the group.
Giletted looked sideways as he shifted in his chair.
I cleared my throat. “I’d be happy to share the profits if there are any from this endeavor. There usually aren’t in academic work. But I’d be happy to give you all a share of the royalties.”
Giletted frowned. “The what?”
“The royalties,” I said. “The profits on sales of my book.”
Gilette’s head bobbed as he gaped at me. “You’re going to publish the Chrono Files?”
“Of course,” I said. “And my research on them.”
Gilette was speechless for a moment. Then he stared at Archer. “Are you kidding me? Every fortune hunter in the country will converge on us. It will be like the Time Machine Gold Rush again—“
Archer cut him off with a gesture. “Nonsense. His readers will be mainly academics like him. Right, professor?”
I nodded. “Of course, it all depends on how the publisher decides to handle it, what audience the editors think it can reach.”
Gilette Vorhees looked at the floor and shook his head. “If we let him in on this, we’re screwed.”
“Oh, don’t be so gloomy,” Elizabeth Warwick snapped. “What do you care what the Bystanders think? They’ll see the Chrono Files as tall tales.”
“No one’s gonna believe they’re real,” Lucy Greer agreed.
Gilette Vorhees paused and rubbed the sides of his eyes. “How’s he going to be any help anyway. Unless—“ He glanced over at Archer and then at me. “When are you from?” he asked.
I guess I must have frowned because Archer clarified the question for me. “It’s dialectal,” he said. “What he means is where are you from?”
“Oh. I was born in St. Louis, but I’ve lived in Illinois most of my life.”
“Whereabouts?” Gilette asked me. “Cahokia?”
Everyone started giving him sidelong glances again.
“No,” I told him. “Vandalia at first. Then my family moved down to Mount Vernon.”
“Ever been to Shawneetown?” Gilette asked casually. He inspected me closely.
“I’ve been through there a couple times, but I never stopped for a visit.”
Gilette rubbed his chin. “How about Nauvoo?” he asked. “Or Kaskaskia? Have you ever lived there?”
Jaws dropped. Everyone became quiet. People were literally holding their breath.
“I can’t believe you asked him that,” Lucy Greer declared.
I looked around from face to face, but everyone kept trying to evade scrutiny.
“We had to find out sooner or later,” Gilette answered her. “How about it, Worthy? You know these places? Are you a Shawneetowner?”
I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but the answer was pretty clear. “I am not,” I told him.
“Am not!” he cried. “Am not! He aint a Shawneetowner. He aint anybody we’re looking for. This is a waste of time.” He stood up. “I’m getting’ outa here.”
“Calm down, Gil,” Archer said to him. “We need to take a new direction. We should give him a chance. Some publicity might help us flush them out. We’ve got to start beating the bushes.”
“He gets part of your share, not mine,” Gilette said, heading for the door. We heard it open then slam shut.
Archer gave me a weak smile. “I apologize for Gilette. He’s a bit—temperamental.”
“He’s a greedy, no-good pig f—er is what he is,” Lucy Greer declared. No one challenged her assessment. Everyone was silent for a while.
“I’d be glad to share my transciptions with you,” Henrietta Sharpe said to me. She was the only African American in the group, the only person of color. She was a small woman, who sat with her hands in the lap of her lacy dress.
“I’ve got copies of Gilette’s transcriptions of the first 24 journals,” Archer declared. “And I’ll get them to you.” He smiled again. “He found them in his barn in an odd metal box that has mysteriously disappeared.”
“Cain must have it,” Elizabeth Warwick declared.
“Cain?” I said.
Archer looked at me reluctantly. “A former member of this group. He founded it.”
“Former!” Elizabeth cried. “I’d like to see you say that to his face.”
Archer ignored her. “He moved away. We never hear from him. I’m in charge of the group now.”
“Hah! Cain’s going to hear of this. He always does.”
Archer narrowed his eyes and glanced down.
“What’s he going to do?” Harmon Siebert chided. “Come all the way down from Fort Dearborn just to bawl Archer out?”
“Watch you language,” Lucy Greer sniped at him. “No one calls it that anymore.”
“Well, what do they call it in this Season?”
“Just shut up.”
Gilette changed the subject by asking for everyone’s drink orders. They all chimed in eagerly. They were a thirsty bunch. So Archer headed for the kitchen, and Lucy Greer stood to accompany him. Polly Parker just kept staring at me. She never said a word the entire evening.
The conversation turned to chit chat after that, but I caught Archer Lantham in a low conversation with Elizabeth Warwick in the kitchen on my way to the bathroom. They quit speaking the moment they heard me approach and turned away from each other. All I could overhead were the words “the Guardians,” but I have no idea what they meant. It’s just another mystery—like the Chrono Files themselves.
SIMON WORTHY’S BLOG
The Shawneetown Enthusiasts Revisited
Archer Lantham let me in the front door per my last visit, but this time I was wearing a coat and tie. I’m not sure he noticed. He was a light-haired balding man, wearing khaki’s, a white shirt and a tan jacket that made his ensemble resemble a leisure suit.
“Professor!” he said jovially, “please—come in.” But he didn’t pay much attention to me. He seemed preoccupied. I suspected a discussion had preceded me.
We walked into the Great Room where everyone was seated as before. That made me wonder how long these get-togethers have been happening. This group seemed more like a cabal than a social club. The only difference this time was Elizabeth Warwick and Polly Parker already had drinks they were nursing.
Gilette Voorhees gave me a sour look. A stout man, he was wearing mud-crusted boots, a dirty t-shirt and jeans. “I don’t like this. He’s city, Archer. He ain’t country like us. The Chrono Files belong to the rural folks, not horners like him.”
“The Chrono Files don’t belong to anyone, Gil.” Archer took a seat and gestured for me to sit, too.
“I don’t like him comin’ here and putting on airs. You’re too city, Archer. Marion Harrisburg. You’re not really one of us.”
Archer’s face grew tight. “My daddy was a farmer just like yours. I’m every bit as country as you.”
Gilette became quiet, but his eyes still seethed.
“Why don’t you tell us what you’ve found out, Professor?” Archer Lanthan suggested. “About the Chrono Files since last time we met.”
There was an uneasy silence in the room, but I didn’t want to contribute to it. So I explained how I put the journal entries in chronological order and labeled them by Reality and Season according to hints from the journals themselves.
“There are a few gaps,” I admitted. “But this first batch tells a compelling story.”
They all stared at me blandly. Nothing I’d said seemed to matter to them, except maybe Gilette, who gave me looks like I’d let all the skeletons out of his family’s closet.
“I still don’t like him publishing the Files, “Gilette declared. “What if the—“
“Let it go, Gil,” Elizabeth Warwick growled. She was wearing a cocktail dress, as before.
‘If anyone comes forward to claim them,” Archer asserted, “then they’ll be out in the open, where we want them.”
“Exactly.” Elizabeth Warwick took a big swallow of her drink, and we could hear the ice clinking against her glass. Then they all started going to the bar across the room by ones and twos.
“You’ve been goin’ around askin’ folks a lot of questions,” Gilette accused me.
I took it as a statement rather than an indictment. “That’s how oral histories are constructed.”
Gilette frowned, looked aside, and took a sip out of his bottle of beer. “Well, has anybody mentioned any technology they’ve found?” He leaned forward.
I frowned. “Technology?”
Everybody stopped what they were doing to watch the two of us from the bar. Archer Lantham froze in the middle of the room, his drink in hand on his way back to his chair.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Gilette said. “A subvocalizer maybe. Or a beeper.” He paused. “Or a Time Machine?”
The silence in the room grew deafening. No one breathed.
“No, nothing like that,” I said. “But there was one odd thing. Someone claimed they found something called a Remington Rapid Fire, a machine pistol with four barrels.” The Enthusiasts exchanged glances. Gilette looked stunned.
I continued. “Well, I checked with the Remington Company, and they said they’ve never manufactured a machine pistol and nothing with four barrels, not even a prototype. So it’s a tall tale, of course. Someone has started elaborating on the legend. That’s how folklore starts—“
Gilette’s jaw was hanging open. “An RF? Someone’s got an RF?” He jumped to his feet. “It could be one of the Vanns! We’ve got to—“
“Shut up, Gil,” Archer barked at him as he returned to his seat. “Just shut up.” He stared at Gilette in fury until Gil sat down. Then he turned back toward me with a smile.
“We’d love to hear about your findings, Professor. All of the details. Don’t leave anything out.”
They all regarded me eagerly.
So I started explaining about orthography and its relation to oral history. That seemed to be making a few heads nod, so I changed to discussing ethnography and its connections to anthropology.
Someone yawned. Eyelids closed. Harmon Siebert actually began to snore, and Archer had to kick him to wake him up. They actually seemed bored, which was surprising to me because they’d asked for my findings. They’d all looked quite interested.
“Maybe you should skip the outline, Professor,” Archer Lantham suggested to me. “And get straight to the details. I’m afraid you’re covering territory everyone’s already familiar with.”
People shifted in their seats, stretched, and rubbed their eyes. Harmon Siebert massaged his sore shin.
I looked around the room. Lucy Greer, the housewife, smiled at me and nodded.
“You mean textual detail?” I asked.
“No, no,” Archer replied as if backpedaling. “Details about your discoveries, about what people have found.” His eyes gleamed. Everyone leaned forward.
“Discoveries?” I said. They seemed to think this was a treasure hunt. “I haven’t any yet. I just got started. I’m going to a gun show next week and find out if anyone else has heard of the Remington Rapid Fire. Then I’ll begin making a Venn Diagram, see if I can trace the spread of this story across the counties.” As I continued on, people leaned back, broke eye contact, and slumped in their chairs. This was not a group interested in oral history.
So what were they interested in?
“Maybe if you all told me your specific interests,” I said, “I could take this discussion in a direction more amenable to you.”
Archer Lantham stood and quickly gestured to me. “No, no,” he said. “That won’t be necessary. We’re interested in what you have to tell us.” He looked around the room with a darting glance. “Aren’t we?” he said. When no one answered him, he growled. “Aren’t we?”
Gilette stood up. “This is getting nowhere. This guy’s a waste of time.” He went out the door and slammed it behind himself. The rest of them sat unmoving and blinked at me. Then someone suggested another round of drinks.
“Just what is the purpose of this group?” I asked as several of them fled for the bar.
“We’re interested in the Chrono Files,” Harmon Siebert asserted in passing. “Just like you.”
“But you’re not scholars,” I said.
“We’re avid amateurs,” Archer Lantham assured me. He gave me a smile. “We’re still learning.” He handed me a whiskey sour he’d mixed for me, and I took a sip out of politeness. It was very strong.
I announced my hopes to publish another volume of the Chrono Files, but that didn’t seem to elicit much interest. They all seemed more interested in artifacts than culture, in archaeology rather than anthropology. But other than the Chrono Files themselves, there were no artifacts that I knew about.
“You don't take the Chrono Files seriously, do you?” I inquired. “You’re not actually looking for—“
Archer Lantham laughed, but no one else seemed to get the joke.
“Of course we don’t believe the Files. We’re just having fun pretending,” he said. “Time Travel is a fantasy of ours.”
“We’re a fan group,” Elizabeth Warwick declared. “We’re fans of the Chrono Files.”
I still couldn’t see where that put me. I took a few more sips of my drink but stopped when I began to feel it affect me. So I excused myself, and Archer saw me to the door.
“Let us know,” he said, “if you hear of any other fan groups interested in the Files. We would very much like to contact them.”
I nodded, feeling a little woozy. “I’ll see you next month,” I said.
I felt I knew even less now than when I had arrived at the meeting. When I stepped out into the cold night, I felt the mental residue of the last hour sticking with me like a hangover. It seemed odd to unlock my car, open the door, and slide into the driver’s seat. It was somehow unreal. The experience of driving my car no longer resembled a habit but instead something I was doing for the first time. I pulled over after a couple of miles to reflect. Mine was the only vehicle in sight. I sighed and shook my head to clear it. Clarity evaded me.
They’re lying, a voice declared in my mind.
Yeah, but so what? said another voice.
I didn’t have any answer to that. So I started my car and put it in gear and headed down the highway. I decided to just try to forget the whole thing.
At least, until next month.
NED HUSTON'S CHRONOVERSE
The Adventures of Professor Simon Worthy, Chronologist