This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the
products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious
manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual
events is purely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2017 C.M.
A title of LION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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It was very late in the
evening. Old Tanya Gillock was sitting in her rocking chair by the
parlor window, looking out into the treacherous darkness, watching
the way the thick, sticking snow whirled in dizzying circles through
was seventy years old. Her hair was blanched white from ordinary
suffering, but her skin was hardly wrinkled. Her limbs were still
fairly supple, and her eyes were still admirably bright. She wore her
hair in a tight bun behind her head, because it gave her a feeling of
control over the wild storm without. Her hair was even pulling a bit,
but she refused to let it down. She could have twisted it into a
braid; she could have put it up in a clip.
could have even worn it loose around her shoulders, no doubt the most
comfortable option at this time of night. But then, that would have
made her feel too vulnerable. There’s a strange hot feeling that
comes all round your face, when you wear your hair down at any time
– she preferred the bun. She preferred the slight pain it gave her,
reminding her that something else existed, apart from the wild storm
that was raging outside the window.
people might have called old Tanya Gillock beautiful. She was the
only Tanya in Westborough County. There were many Marys, and many
Alices, but she was an outlaw. She had Tanya Tucker’s name. She was
a sparrow in a hurricane.
a short while earlier, freezing rain had clattered down from the sky,
pelting the roof of the old farmhouse, hammering the tired body of
the ancient Volkswagen out in the drive.
an awful noise it had made! It was what Milton’s Pandemonium must
have sounded like. Old Tanya imagined Satan presiding at the Infernal
Council, and she shivered as with an invisible wind.
heard Chopin’s “Funeral March” floating on the same wind. It
was being played with crystal clarity. She knew that her ears weren’t
really hearing it – but the sound wasn’t lost to her mind.
she was a child, people had said that she was over-imaginative. She
saw princesses where there were none. She feared sorcerers where
there weren’t any.
then she went back to pitching hay with Daddy.
thought on the past for a few moments: of Mama’s warm gravy on the
Christmas goose; of Daddy’s tender hands tucking her into bed at
night, even when he was so tired after a day of farming. He’d left
the farm to Tanya, because all his other children were dead. Only two
more: one dead from an accident with a thresher, and one gone to
Jesus from too much drink. He drank and he drank, always thinking
that it would bring him peace.
it brought him to Jesus, in the end – and that was the same thing
kept her eyes glued to the window. It was a bad night for traveling,
but Betty had insisted on going out to fetch the order from Murray’s.
If she hadn’t, she and Tanya wouldn’t have been able to start on
their work the next morning.
had the farm, but shortly after she inherited it, the soil turned
barren, and there was no life left to wring from it. She’d cried on
Betty’s shoulder, countless times, wondering whether they would
no farmer,” she cried, as Betty held her in her arms. “I’ve let
my father down. Do you think God is punishing me for being weak? Do
you think He hates me, Betty?”
course He doesn’t,” Betty answered firmly. “God loves everyone
the same. If this has happened, it’s only because it was His will.
It’s only because He has other things in store for you.”
Tanya sat at the window, the nerves in her back pinched with anxiety,
her arthritic hands aching after another day of toil. The life of a
tailor wasn’t an easy one. Mama didn’t sew those blue jeans in
wished Betty would come back. She was starting to worry.
there was a knock at the door. The old woman’s head snapped up, and
she looked towards the doorway of the parlor.
could be calling at this time of night?
struggled up from her chair, putting a hand to the crick in her back,
and shuffling towards the doorway. She went out into the narrow
entryway, and turned to the right, where the wide front door stood.
There were two frosty panes of glass at the top of it.
thought she could decipher the outlines of a man’s face. A
young-looking man. A handsome man.
shuffled towards the door, and paused just in front of it, leaning
her head forward. “Who is it?” she called.
don’t know me,” a man’s voice answered politely. “But I’d
like to speak with you.”
old woman was confused.
sorry,” she said. “I don’t open the door to strangers.”
I’m not a stranger,” the voice returned. “You know my name. Or
at least – I’m sure you know some
horrible chill passed all up and down the old woman’s body.
are you?” she demanded.
may call me Damien,” the voice replied. “Many people associate me
with that name. It’s strange, though – because the only evil
people with that name are fictional. Do you remember Father Damien of
the lepers? He gave his life for those damned people. And have you
heard of the saints, Damian and Cosmas? They were brothers and
physicians. They accepted no payment for their services, and some
people saw them as heroes. But the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered
them to recant their Christian faith. They refused; and they were
crucified, stoned, shot through with arrows, and finally beheaded.”
man blew a breath through his lips, and whistled impressively.
“Whew!” he said. “What do you think of that? It’s strange
that they should call me Damien. Or, at least – strange that they
should give that name to my accomplice.”
Tanya held her breath. She thought she was hallucinating.
had been known, these past few years, to take far too much whiskey
after supper. No doubt that was the cause of all this.
wished Betty were here. Betty would set it right.
Gillock?” the man’s voice inquired. “Are you still there?”
wanted to slip away from the door, and hobble up the stairs to her
bed. Surely the man would go away. Surely he wouldn’t force his way
Gillock?” he repeated.
here,” she whispered.
knew that he wouldn’t go away. If she went upstairs, he would come
to her window, and go on talking.
yes,” he said, almost compassionately. “You are debating the
wisdom of speaking with me. I can understand your skepticism, but I
feel I should let you know – there are very few people who have
managed to slip away from me, when I did not wish it.”
swallowed thickly. “What do you want?” she demanded in a
the man replied. “It seems you’re not as bold as I thought you
were. It often happens that way. To put it simply, Miss Gillock –
what I want
swallowed again, and asked, “Why would you admit it?”
people are stupid,” the man replied. “And besides – you haven’t
let me finish. You haven’t let me tell you what you’ll get in
don’t care,” Tanya breathed.
would have been no conceivable way for any human being to perceive
these quiet words, through the thick wood of the front door. But this
man heard them well enough.
say that now,” he wheedled slowly. “But you haven’t let me
explain all the best parts.”
don’t want to hear,” Tanya said.
the man said, “the fact is that I have no pressing engagements at
the moment. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? But anyway – let’s
held her breath. She had no idea what was going to happen. Probably
nothing – but what if something did
into the parlor,” the man said. “See what I’ve brought you.”
didn’t want to go. She wished she could have made some sort of wish
– rubbed some sort of magic lamp – and made the man go away.
she supposed that wasn’t the way of things.
she took a deep breath, and passed back down the entryway corridor.
She turned left into the parlor, and looked around in the lamplight.
didn’t take her long to notice the sparkling piano in the corner of
the room. She sucked in her breath, and walked towards it slowly.
hadn’t seen a piano since she was twelve years old. She had spent
her entire childhood with that old black piano – and then her
father had sold it. Sold it because he drank too much that harvest,
and hadn’t been able to haul in all the corn. Most of it had rotted
in the fields.
piano was made all of gold, shining brilliantly in the lamplight,
like something Shahryar might have given Scheherazade. Before he got
tired of her stories, anyway.
walked up to the golden bench on trembling legs, and sat down slowly,
raising the lid of the piano with careful fingers. She struck a few
notes – and the sounds were like drops of whiskey to a man who’d
been lost in the desert.
began to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” The result was a
majestic one. She used to play for Mama, before Daddy sold the piano.
Mama said that she could be great someday.
ain’t never seen nothin’ like it,” she murmured to her young
daughter, blowing her nose in her spotted handkerchief. “You’re a
star, baby. You’re a star!”
then the piano was gone, and life was nothing but pitching hay.
it faster, girl, if you want to eat tonight!”
what Daddy had said. So Tanya had pitched fast as she could, till her
small shoulders ached, and there was no feeling left in her skinny
went on that way till she was grown. Then Jimmy got caught in the
thresher, and Tommy drank himself to death.
Daddy died. He got ill, all of a sudden, and couldn’t get out of
bed. His breathing was raspy, and his voice was hoarse. He couldn’t
eat, and his sleep was fitful.
cried out Jimmy’s name before he died. Maybe he blamed himself.
Maybe he was just a good daddy.
long afterwards, Mama disappeared. No one was ever quite sure where
she went. Old Timothy Buckland had always been fond of her, ever
since high school – and it was obvious he would have taken Mama in
after Daddy died.
went looking for Timothy, after Mama disappeared. But no one could
find him, either.
sweet notes spread through the long parlor, as Tanya’s fingers
pressed down on the keys. Soon, the whole house was filled with the
was a marvelous thing.
soon, she stopped playing, and stood up from the bench, looking down
at the golden piano as if it were an evil thing.
stopped playing, Miss Gillock,” the man observed from outside the
door. “Why have you stopped playing?”
didn’t answer. She stood in the middle of the parlor, still as a
statue, wondering all the time if this was just a terrible nightmare.
well,” the man said. “Go into the kitchen. Maybe you’ll find
something there that you like better.”
course, Tanya didn’t want to go into the kitchen. But the man’s
voice was like that of a snake-charmer. She didn’t know what to do.
into the kitchen,” the man’s voice commanded.
Tanya went. She moved in spite of herself, almost involuntarily.
she was standing in the big old kitchen, all dark except for a little
moonlight coming through the frosty window pane.
reached to flip the light switch. Dim, dirty-looking yellow light
flooded the room. Everything looked dusty and decayed.
for a tall, shining white refrigerator on the left-hand beside the
old brown refrigerator had stopped working in May. Ever since, Tanya
and Betty had been ordering bottles of milk from the creamery,
delivered in the morning by an old-fashioned dairyman. They kept them
in lunch sacks with ice packs from the old freezer in the barn.
stared at the white fridge in disbelief. She walked towards it,
tottering slightly on her tired legs.
opened the door of the fridge, and saw more food than she’d ever
seen at one time. Except in a grocery store.
was fresh white milk, gallons and gallons of it. There were dozens of
eggs. There were six different kinds of cheese.
the freezer, there were steaks, chops and roasts – enough to last
till spring. Maybe longer.
stared into the bright fridge for a long moment. But suddenly, she
was filled with a feeling of horror, and she slammed the door shut.
she cried. “I don’t want it!”
you sure?” the man’s voice asked.
right, then. Go upstairs.”
don’t want to,” Tanya murmured.
the voice commanded.
Tanya went. She climbed the stairs slowly, and the voice waited
patiently. It owner didn’t follow her, but there was a strange
feeling of oppression that came with her up the stairs. She got to
the landing, and stepped out into the moonlit darkness, creeping
forward towards the bedroom. The light was on in there, though she
knew very well that she
turned it on.
went into the room, and saw a wide down bed there in the center of
the floor. It was the biggest bed Tanya had ever seen, with an ornate
marble headboard, and a thick satin comforter.
many years, Tanya and Betty had slept on a lumpy old mattress with
springs poking out of it. Every morning, they woke with more aches
and pains than old-time Jews putting up Pharaoh’s pyramids. But
they kissed each other when they opened their eyes, and then got up
to start their work. Many people hated them, but the poorer people
appreciated them, unable as they were to afford new frocks and
dungarees. So they blessed the old lovers, who mended their old
clothes for a pittance.
this, this was a bed befitting a Roman emperor. Old Tanya doubted
that even someone as ill-tempered as Nero would have scoffed at it.
was so tired, she wanted more than anything to lie down on the bed.
She took a shaking step towards it, and came very close to it. But
then, she leapt back as if she’d been burned, and she cried out in
she hollered, tearing at her hair. “I don’t want it.”
you sure?” the man’s voice repeated. It no longer seemed to come
from downstairs. It was all around her now. It was almost as if it
were inside her head.
she said firmly.
a steady one, Miss Gillock, I’ll grant you that.”
paused for a moment, but then added, “I have one more thing to show
don’t want it!” Tanya cried. “I don’t want your pianos, or
your food, or your beds. You can keep ‘em!”
the man said, with a tinge of sadness in his voice. “This is rather
different from all that.”
spite of herself, Tanya was curious. She saw a strange shimmering
light off to the side of the room, where there was a large empty
space. The light grew brighter, and then turned into a picture,
almost like a movie screen.
Tanya could see her dear Betty, lying on the lumpy old bed, and
coughing horribly. Tanya sat beside her, and cooled her forehead with
a damp cloth. But then Betty sat up weakly, and began coughing more
violently. Dark red blood splashed from her mouth, and stained the
dingy white blanket.
picture shifted, and Tanya saw a plain pine box, being carried slowly
into Westborough Cemetery. Tanya walked on one side, Betty’s son on
the other. He cast a hateful glance towards Tanya, and walked on.
no,” Tanya moaned, sinking down to her weak old knees. She didn’t
know how she’d ever get up again, but she couldn’t help it. “Oh,
has cancer,” the voice said, in that same said voice. “She has
only six months to live, they told you.”
can take it away,” the man promised. “She’ll be well for the
rest of her days. And I can assure you, they will be long ones.”
image of the pine box lingered in the air. They were lowering it into
the ground, now.
old woman’s breath came shallowly. She could hardly see through the
tears in her eyes. She almost longed to say yes.
then she tore at her hair again, and with a strength she couldn’t
explain, she hurled herself to her feet. She sliced an angry arm
through the image of the coffin, and began to scream.
she cried. “I tell you no! Good Lord save me, and deliver me from
in an instant, the image of the coffin disappeared, along with the
oppressive feeling that had followed Tanya upstairs. The magnificent
bed was gone, and the lumpy one was back. The voice spoke no more.
Tanya knew in her heart that it had gone away.
her legs shaking worse than ever, she hobbled downstairs, and resumed
her place by the window to wait for Betty. She didn’t have to look
outside the door. She knew the man was gone.
few weeks ago, she and Betty had gotten the news from the hospital.
Betty had been feeling poorly for a while now. It was lung cancer,
they said. Only six months left.
somehow, Betty’s eyesight was better than Tanya’s, and she
insisted on doing the night driving. The order from old Murray had
come in late, and he’d called just after supper to let them know.
Betty wanted to fetch it before the storm got too bad.
Murray had a soft spot for the old women. He sold them their
materials for a song, and he refused to say anything, when people
came into his shop speaking ill of them. But he hadn’t driven a car
in more than fifteen years, on account of his wooden leg, and he
couldn’t make deliveries anymore. So Betty went to get the stuff
from his shop.
Tanya waited for her impatiently. Her small foot tapped sharply
against the floor, and her thin fingers gripped the arms of her
the old Volkswagen pulled into the drive. Tanya hauled herself to her
feet, and hobbled to the front door. She opened it for Betty, and
smiled at the sight of her, home and safe.
stood in the dim porch light, her head covered with a thick bonnet,
her shapely old face reddened from the chill air. Her deep blue eyes
shone warmly at the sight of Tanya, but she put on a show of huffing
out a great big sigh.
on now, Tan,” she said. “I told you to go to bed!”
know I don’t go to bed,” Tanya said lightly, “unless you’re
lying next to me. So just come on in the kitchen and have a glass of
took the parcels from Betty, and kissed her cold cheek. Betty looked
into her eyes for a moment, and laid a hand against the side of her
face. She shut the door behind her, and leaned forward to kiss
Tanya’s lips tenderly.
was your night?” she asked.
couldn’t help shivering. But she planned never to tell Betty what
was her own trial, and she’d borne it in her own way.
I just want to take a
moment to thank you for reading my story. So many people have so many
stories – so many people dream so many dreams – it makes me feel
very fortunate to think that another living person has dreamt this
dream with me.
If you’ve enjoyed my
writing, check out the first installment in my new novella series:
Tellier’s Lover. Filled
with passion and heartbreak, it’ll get your heart thrumming like
the motor of a Corvette! Best of all, it’s free. Click
to download it now.
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Killed Edie Montgomery? It’s
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