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The Murderous Wood

by Thomas J. Belton

About the Author: Thomas J. Belton is an author, journalist and environmental scientist with extensive publications in fiction, non-fiction, magazine feature writing, and journalism. His professional memoir, “Protecting New Jersey’s Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State,” was named a 2010 Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.


… And sang within the bloody wood

When Agamemnon cried aloud,

And let their liquid siftings fall

To stain the stiff dishonored shroud.

—From ‘Sweeney Among the Nightingales’ T.S. Eliot

Sir James George Frazer looked up from his escritoire and glanced in the mirror, the flickering light from the fireplace softening his features with shadow, adding a chiaroscuro patina to his high Scottish forehead and prognatic jaw. Like Merlin in his cave, Frazer looked about his domain and smiled with contentment. Every bit of floor space was filled with volumes of leather-bound books stacked helter-skelter in an avalanche of documented oddities from across the globe; words and more words, the realm of cultural synthesis that Sir James excelled in. And above his head the walls were filled with artifacts from his annual anthropological expeditions; Polynesian spears still tipped with dried human blood; Mayan funerary urns whose squat geometric shapes still held the ashes of dead heroes; Japanese Noh masks frozen in attitudes of timeless dramatic anger; and of course his prized possession, the wide-mouthed Calyx drinking cup from his excavation at Mycenae, its shimmering black surface etched red with the heroic battle of Hector and Achilles before the Gates of Troy. Three thousand years hence, he thought, and still the combatants fight, their small limbs and bronze weapons grappling with the chalk-mark of oblivion, all against the slim hope that deathless fame will redeem their consuming hatred.

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