Hafwen paced on the deck in the midday sun, absently playing with the braid in her dark hair. She had been hunting in the forest when the messenger from Celestaon summoned her. She had never actually spoken to the eldest of the village—few did—but fewer still were summoned personally.
The still night’s chill pushed a young couple into the embrace of their tribal elders. Arrayed in all corners of the large log building, the bodies of men and women were gathered. Smoke from incense and pipes spilled up and circled within the roofing. Cloaked in robes of reeds and scales, six women circled a small pedestal at the center of the group. The eldest of the village took the wrapped child from its mother and shuffled back to the circle. Then, with the silence of stars, the elder placed the bundled child on the stone marker, ready to start the Illumination.
Every summer for the past three years my sister Macey and I have stayed with our Aunt Penelope in Scotland. It started because Macey was having a princess phase and found out that the reason we never saw Aunt Pen was because she was restoring a castle. I hadn’t really wanted to go back then (Scotland was a long way from Virginia and I was pretty sure castles were for girls anyway), but Dad wasn’t about to send one of us and not the other, so I was overruled on the matter. So when I was ten and Macey was twelve, we flew to Glasgow and saw Aunt Pen for the first time since she’d left the US.
“Macey! Dillon! Oh, look how big you’ve gotten!”
Aunt Pen started fussing over us immediately, ruffling my hair and fawning over Macey’s princess dress. She was an eccentric lady, too. Every move she made was accompanied by the clinking of her bright gold bangles, and her dress was maroon with long dragging sleeves. Her nails were long and painted red, and her hair was pulled back by a flowered headband. Before we got to the castle we stopped in a nearby village, and she bought us each a cinnamon bun before going to the butcher and getting a bag of scraps. It smelled awful, and when Macey asked what they were there for, Aunt Pen just smiled at her, which put us both on edge.
Aunt Pen’s castle was about five miles from the village. The road curved through the woods, and the trees were so tall that we couldn’t see the castle until we were right in front of it. It was a large building made of stone, built at the bottom of a hill and overlooking a big lake. It was old, but it looked well taken care of, and I could feel Macey’s excitement finally rubbing off on me. As soon as the car was parked we jumped out, racing to the doors, Aunt Pen trailing behind.
“Just a moment, kids!” Aunt Pen called after us. “I want to show you something.”
We followed Aunt Pen around the side of the castle, towards the treeline. There was a wooden fence separating the castle grounds from the forest, which was dark and made me uneasy. Aunt Pen whistled. For a moment nothing happened, and then suddenly crows started lining up on the fence, cawing as they landed and eyeing us curiously. Aunt Pen started pulling the scrap meat out of her bag and feeding them one by one.
“This is Macey and Dillon, my niece and nephew. They’ll be spending the summer here.”
“Er, Aunt Pen? Are you talking to the crows?” Macey looked mildly terrified, and I couldn’t help but feel the same. One of the larger crows cawed at us, and Macey took a step back.
“Yes dear, crows are very clever and very loyal. One never needs to fear if they’ve befriended the crows. Would you like to feed them?”
Macey was horrified, but I was curious. The crows were a little bit creepy, but Aunt Pen seemed so at ease with them that I couldn’t help but feel more at ease too. So I nodded, and I reached into her bag of scraps.
“Hold it by the very edge, and reach out carefully,” Aunt Pen instructed, guiding me towards the large crow. “This is Baron; he’s the largest crow in the murder.”
“Murder?” Macey asked.
“Yes, that’s what a flock of crows is called, dear,” Aunt Pen said. “Now say hello and introduce yourself. Then give him the meat.”
“Hi Baron,” I said, only feeling a little bit silly talking to a crow. “I’m Dillon. It’s nice to meet you.”
Baron cawed at me, then snatched the meat out of my hand and scarfed it down in seconds. Baron cawed some more, and I smiled at him in return.
“Well done, Dillon! I think he likes you. Would you like to try, Macey?”
“She’s too scared to try,” I said, grinning smugly. Macey glared back at me.
“I’m not scared! If you can do it, I can too!” Then Macey marched forward and grabbed a piece of meat, only looking slightly disgusted by the feeling of it.
Aunt Pen led her to a smaller crow and had her hold her hand out. “This is Nixie. Go ahead and say hello, dear.”
“Hi Nixie, I’m Macey! Your name is really pretty,” Macey said, holding out the scrap meat. Nixie cawed softly, then grabbed the meat. Macey jumped a bit when she did, and Nixie cawed at her again.
“Well done, Macey! You two are going to be very popular; I can already tell,” Aunt Pen said, turning to look at the sunset and frowning. “It’s getting a bit late, so we’ll have to head inside now. While we’re out here though, I need to tell you the most important rule of staying here with me.
“See this fence? It goes all the way around the castle grounds. It is very important that you don’t cross it without me. The woods are tricky to navigate, and as you might have noticed during the drive up, the castle isn’t visible if you get too far away. So stay out of the trees, alright?”
“Sure thing Aunt Pen!” Macey said, smiling.
“Good,” Aunt Pen said, returning her smile. “Now let’s head inside and get washed up for dinner.”
We followed after her, and I quickly forgot about crows and forests and rules. For that night, all that mattered was me and my sister and our joint effort to keep Aunt Pen from making haggis for dinner. It was the first simple night we had at the castle, and, though we didn’t know it then, the last simple night.
The dim yellow glow of a simple flashlight illuminates the barely-there path. Black dirt, littered with the thick roots of trees hidden by fallen leaves, gives way to unruly vines scattered with orange gourds. The old house looms above the pumpkin patch, its sloping rooftop dropping shingles every time the wind picks up. The cold breeze could cut through any coat, and my hoodie offers little warmth. As I carefully move towards the house, vines crack underfoot, and the flashlight’s beam jerks with the unexpected noise. Dark wings flutter into the night as I try in vain to get my rapid breathing under control. I finally reach the house, and hesitantly knock. There’s no reply, and the windows are so stained with grime that I cannot see inside. But the wind starts again, and the cold pushes me to try the door’s handle. The old door creaks loudly as it swings open, and I tentatively call out a greeting as I step inside. The musty air is heavy with dust when I breathe it in, and I wonder if I was wrong. The rotting floorboards moan as I tread upon them, and the intricately patterned wallpaper is stained brown and peeling off the walls. This place seems abandoned, but I was so certain I’d seen a light come this way. I hesitate in the entryway. Should I leave? I’m not certain I could find the road again so late at night, and I know the battery in my flashlight won’t last forever. My mind is made up for me when the door slams behind me with a resounding bang.
I spin around and rush to open it again, but the door is stuck fast, and it won’t budge no matter how hard I pull. I pull too hard, as it turns out, because the handle pops off and I end up falling. The floorboards creak and a cloud of dust rises all around me, tickling my nose and setting off a fit of coughing. I twirl the handle in my hand; it’s old enough to have been worn smooth, but the faded brass still shines when the light hits it. I sigh and pick myself up off the ground. It’s time to find another exit. I make my way out of the foyer and into the parlor. There is furniture in this room, but it’s old and dilapidated, and the floral couch looks like it would fall apart if I so much as brushed by it. There’s a rug, but it’s too clouded in dirt to distinguish a pattern, and every step I take on it sends up little puffs of dust. There’s another doorway to my right, and based on the rancid smell of rotting food, it leads to the kitchen. I decide to save that room for last. I cross over to the windows. The grime is just as impenetrable on this side of the glass as it was outside, and I feel along the edges of the window pane for the latch. In the end, finding it doesn’t matter, because it’s rusted shut and I nearly cut my hand trying to pry it open. I sigh once more and move back into the foyer. To my left is the front door, still shut tight; to the right there’s a staircase, and across from me is the dining room. My flashlight passes over the room quickly. There are a table and chairs that have been covered by grey cloth that may once have been white, curtains that have long since faded from pink to brown and now hang limp and rotting from iron curtain rods that look as though they’re one strong breeze away from falling, and a crystal chandelier that somehow still manages to sparkle through the dust and cobwebs that cling to it. I turn from the dining room, The kitchen is my last hope of escape, unless I want to try jumping out of a window on one of the upper floors. I do not.
I turn around and steel myself to breathe the smell of rot once more, but then I hear a thud from above me. I pause, looking at the cracked ceiling as though it holds all the answers. Then I hear something roll across the floor, and a trail of dust shakes loose above to mark its path. My heart stops for a moment, but then the noise stops too, and my heart kicks into overdrive.
There is no answer, and I try to come up with an explanation for the noise. Perhaps a raccoon got into the house somehow? And it knocked something over while looking for food? That’s a plausible enough explanation to slow my heartbeat, at least until I hear the soft laughter of a child. Raccoons are crafty creatures, but they cannot mimic small children. I panic for a moment; what if some poor child is trapped in this house too? I’m moving to the stairs before I even finish the thought, rounding the corner of the landing and making my way to the second floor in record time. The floor opens up to a drawing room, but as my flashlight scans across the space, the seemingly ancient furniture isn’t what catches my eye. The room is empty of life, and it doesn’t look like anyone has been here for decades, except for the shiny metal cylinder lying on the floor by the staircase on the other side of the room. I walk towards it before I have a chance to think about it, and when I pick it up I realize that it’s a kaleidoscope. I can’t help but play with it for a bit, watching as the colors shift into each other and create new patterns. There’s no telling how long I may have stood there, but then I catch movement out of the corner of my eye, and I hear the giggle again, much closer this time. I look up, and for half a second I swear that there’s a shadow on the stairs, but it’s gone so quickly that I’m sure my eyes must just be playing tricks on me. I carefully make my way up the steps to the third floor, cringing every time they creak.
When I reach the top of the stairs I find myself in the attic, but it’s been renovated into a nursery. There are toys scattered around the room, and the faded wallpaper looks as though it would have been colorful when it was first put up. Moonlight shines into the room from a large circular window, and I click off my flashlight as I take a few steps forward. I can’t see anyone, but I know that I heard someone laughing.
“I know you’re here.” Silence greets my declaration, and I take a few more cautious steps into the light. “Just come out, okay? I’m not going to hurt you.”
The giggle sounds again behind me, but when I turn there’s no one there. My heartbeat picks up again, but I do my best to keep my voice steady as I turn back to the empty nursery. “Please come out. This isn’t funny.”
The room is silent, and for a moment I think that I’m going to be ignored, but then the air shifts around me. I stiffen as I feel someone’s breath against my ear, and his whisper is barely more than a breath. “Boo.”
Lucifer was keeping his distance, knowing Aria was still very confused about her life in
general. He had her set up in one of his homes with money to live out the rest of her life. It was this place on earth where they’d had their first date when they were angels. There were moments that
Lucifer saw his angel Aria shining through. Her love for reading and helping things was growing. Sadly,
he also saw the demon Aria when she would get frustrated and short tempered with the helpers
around the house.
But he would see her mortal side. This side was frail and broken before she
even figured out who she was. When he visited at night he could make out the red streaks from tears
and her puffy eyes. How he wished he could help her or even understand what caused her
such pain that she cried herself to sleep each night. The next morning though, all his questions were
answered when one of the maids, Esme, had the same concern.
“My dear girl, why do you cry so much?”
“I feel my heart is empty, like someone has created a hole where love is supposed to be.”
Aria went on to speak of how she spent her days keeping her mind away from the tall, dark
haired man that haunted her mind at night. Esme knew Aria’s love for Lucifer would never be
taken away, no matter what Aria became for him. Esme knew she would have to speak with
Lucifer, and that his distance would no longer be helpful to Aria’s growth as a mortal.
I laid awake that night unable to sleep. My mind kept drifting to the kiss with Zach. How had I even allowed that to happen and why did I let it start in the first place? I looked at the clock that sat in my room and saw it was five in the morning. I sighed and got up, pulled on my bathrobe and walked out of my room. I walked quietly down the stairs and to the back door.
I stepped outside into the early morning, walked down the path that led to a small pond that was set in the garden among all the flowers and trees. In my time here, I had come to love this garden. I once got lost in it and had never felt so alive, but it wasn’t mine to love and live in. I sighed and sat on the bench near the pond and watched as the fish swam around. I rubbed my arms, not realizing it was so cold outside this early in the morning.
I suddenly felt a coat wrap around my shoulders and looked up to see Rogue with a sleepy look on his face. “I was getting ready for the day and I heard the door close. You okay, kid?”
I just shook my head and pulled my knees to my chest. “No, Rouge, I’m not okay. I don’t know how to feel about what’s going on right now.”
He sat down next to me and slid his hands into his pockets.
“You mean with the kiss?” I looked at him, sort of surprised that he knew. “Philip saw while going to clean the study, that, and Zach was mumbling to himself after you ran to your room.”
I looked down and messed with my necklace some.
“Zach’s a good guy, Cassie; your running away is worrying him.”
I shook my head. “He knows why I ran.”
I heard Rouge scoff and get up and start pacing. “Cassie, he doesn’t understand why you don’t show emotion. He thinks you were abused and that’s why.”
I looked at him, confused. How could Zach not know about servants not showing emotions? I figured Zach knew with how I snapped at him and quickly walked away. But I also remember the look of complete shock on his face as well.
I got up. “Do you know if he’s awake yet?”
“He’ll be up in another hour to go out to work this morning, why?”
I nodded my head and started back for the house. He needed to understand and I had to tell him.
I walked back inside and walked upstairs to his room. I stood outside his door, and I could hear him moving around, probably getting ready for work. I bit my lip and went to knock on the door, but I quickly pulled my hand back. What would telling him change? I thought as I stood there. Nothing, it would change nothing. I would still be a servant and he would still be my owner and I would have no free will to do as I please. But just as I was about to walk away, Zach’s door swung open to reveal him standing with his button up wide open. “Cassie? What’s wrong?”
I couldn’t say anything but I noticed the light scar that ran from his stomach to his waist. I figured it came from either missing a hit from the end of his father’s belt or from a knife fight in his youth.
“Cassandra, is there something wrong?”
I looked up at his face to see worry and shook my head. “Uh, no, I just wanted to talk with you about last night.”
He looked down and cleared his throat before looking back up at me with his piercing green eyes. “I’m sorry about that, Cassie. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I hope you wish to stay here.”
I looked at him, a little shocked, “No, that’s not it, Zach.” I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “I should be sorry though; I should not have kissed you without your…”
I quickly kissed him, my hands settling against his cheeks. I could tell he was shocked at first, but he soon started kissing me back and pulling me closer by the waist. He deepened the kiss, asking for permission, and I granted him just that. I wasn’t exactly an expert at kissing so I gave him control and I quickly picked up the tricks he used.
I pulled away, needing air, but he just started lightly kissing my neck up and down. I closed my eyes and lightly tangled my fingers in his hair.
“Zach.” I lightly pushed him away, not wanting anything more to happen.
He looked at me slightly confused. “What’s wrong?”
I smiled lightly and ran my hand over his cheek. “Let’s just leave it at kissing for right now.”
He nodded his head and hugged me close to him. I had never felt this way with someone. I felt safe and loved and cared for here; I didn’t think I ever wanted to leave the Addison house. I stepped away from him. “You should finish getting ready for work.”
He nodded his head and kissed my forehead before returning to his room and closing the door. I smiled lightly when I got back to my room to get ready for the day.
“No, follow my lead, Cassandra.”
I nodded my head and looked down at my feet. Zach was teaching me how to dance since I had forgotten how to in the last nine years. In the last hour I had stepped on his foot eight times, tripped over my own feet ten times, and caused Zach to trip three times. I knew I used to always be a klutz, especially while growing up, but I never thought it would come back to haunt me. I was counting in my head as Zach and I danced around the room, making sure not to trip or step on him. Phillip and Rogue had decided watching us was more fun than spending time outside on their day off.
I looked at him, finally getting the simplest of all dance steps down.
“Okay, I’m going to spin you out, then pull you back in, okay?”
I nodded my head just as he spun me out then pulled me back in so my back was to his chest. His arms were lying over mine, and our hands were at my waist. I could hear him hum as he swayed us from side to side, turning in circles. He twirled me till I was facing him again, setting us in the beginning position.
Zach looked into my eyes while he slowly leaned in. I closed my eyes and waited for whatever he would do. I felt him move away, causing me to open my eyes to see him looking conflicted.
“Um, that’s good for today Cassie. Why don’t you go enjoy the rest of your day off?”
I nodded my head and walked out, leaving him there confused by what had just happened.
I sat outside on the garden swing that sat among dozens of flowers. The place made me feel like I was in another world. I kept thinking about how Zach seemed to have almost kissed me. I had been kissed before but it was because another servant was going to be requested for a night’s activity and needed help learning to kiss. I messed with my heart locket while thinking of why in the world he would want to kiss me.
I sighed and simply swung while watching the clouds. I closed my eyes as a breeze picked up, blowing my hair away from my face. I heard the click of a camera going off and looked over to see Zach holding a camera.
“Sorry, you just reminded me of…” He shook his head, throwing the thought away. “Never mind.”
I nodded my head and looked back down at my feet. I had decided to change into shorts and a loose tank top after practicing with Zach for Wednesday’s event.
I noticed Zach had also changed into something more comfortable to be outside in. “So, how did you learn so much about photography, Miss Richards?” Zach asked as he sat down next to me, looking over the photos he had taken.
“Um, at my last house, I didn’t finish school even though I was so bright, so as a gift they sent me to finish off my senior year of high school. Then they paid for me to do some classes at the community college a few miles from the house they lived in.”
He nodded his head and set his camera down on the ground carefully. “I went all the way to Virginia for my classes. My father sent me away saying it was for my own good.”
I could see the emotion flash across his face; he hadn’t wanted to leave New York to take classes that he could easily take here. From the stories John and Philip had told me, I’d learned that Mr. Addison wasn’t a kind man, even to his wife and children. Philip had told me the Addisons had five children including Zach. I took Zach’s hand to show him he should keep going on.
He looked at my hand then back at me. “He really sent me away because I was attached to my youngest sister and he was worried I would care more about her than taking over the family business. See, she was sick. She had a heart defect, and the doctors couldn’t even figure out what was wrong. For the first three years of her life, I was the one that sat with her at night to make sure everything was alright. I was the big brother.” He sighed and shook his head. “My father sent me away and the first month I was gone and no one was watching her closely enough. Her heart failed.”
I looked down, almost worried about showing the pain and sadness I felt for him. I couldn’t do that, so all I said was, “I’m sorry.”
I looked up and noticed he just shrugged. “It was five years ago and you have no reason to say sorry. You didn’t even know her.”
I decided it was time I left and headed back in for the day. I got up and turned to him. “I think I’ll go back…” I could see the pain in his eyes, like no one had listened to how losing his baby sister had made him feel, as if he was forced to not feel, just like me. So I sat back down.
“Why don’t you tell me what she was like?” I smiled lightly, hoping it showed I really did want to know. In return, he smiled back and started telling me about how energetic she was, even with her condition.
I was curled up in Zach’s lap, by his request, while he read me Greek Myths, something I usually read to myself. But after talking with Zach about his little sister – who I found out was named Lizzie – I realized how much he missed reading to someone. It was our time in his study anyway, so I didn’t mind. In a way, it actually felt good to have him read to me.
“… So as the seasons changed, the Greeks knew Persephone was home safe away from Hades and his evil of the underworld, and so spring was given and the harvest could continue once again…”
I curled up to Zach more. Of all the myths, the ‘Rape of Persephone,’ as it was called, made me feel even more lost because I didn’t have a mother to help me out of trouble. Mine had left me on the front steps of an orphanage to fight for my life. I felt his free arm wrap around me more and hold me against his chest. I looked up at him and met his green eyes. The fire next to us lit his dark eyes only slightly but it was enough to make them seem almost as magical as the garden outside.
“Cassie…” He slowly leaned in more. I watched him before feeling his lips cover mine. I closed my eyes and slowly leaned into him more, pressing my lips against his.
I could hear the book fall as he tangled his fingers into my hair, holding me close against him. The feeling that came over me was one I’d never felt before, and it felt incredible. Till I realized something and pulled away. I looked at him as my heart began to speed up and his hands laid lightly over my cheeks. I quickly got up and went up to my room, ignoring the feeling in the pit of my stomach that what I just did was wrong. And I don’t mean the kiss, but running away from him after.
July 21st 12:40 am – I took Rocky for a walk late tonight to clear my head. He was whining at the door, so I had to take him out before it made me angry. Yesterday, all I could write about was how lonely and misanthropic I felt. What a dichotomy, huh? Hating people but feeling lonely…It’s a catch-22 if I’ve ever seen one. My luck may be turning around. I saw a girl tonight out with her friends. I couldn’t help but notice her. The way her dress sparkled, hips swaying with confidence as she walked…her poise and grace outshone every member of her group. She saw Rocky and asked to pet him. Of course I said yes. How could I deny a woman like her? I asked for her number, but I think she was playing hard to get. I followed her home, keeping my distance to make sure she got there safely. She only lives 10 minutes away from me. Maybe I’ll go check on her tomorrow night, and make sure she hasn’t changed her mind about us.
July 21st 3:00 p.m. — My psychologist told me this bullshit would help. What kind of grown man keeps a record of his every move? Whatever. Maybe if she reads what I write she can kill this monster inside my brain. I can’t stop thinking about that girl yesterday. She was so perfect. Small but not sickly, long straight blonde hair – my perfect type. I just can’t stop thinking about her. I think I’ll go visit her tonight.
July 22nd 1:00 a.m. – I tried to go to her house and knock on her door, but no one was home. I guess I’ll try tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see her around town since she is so close. I guess then it’ll be fate. I just can’t stop thinking about her. I think we’re in love.
July 23rd Midnight – I saw her again tonight while I was at my favorite bar. What is she doing out on a Sunday night drinking? I’m sitting in my car outside Admiral’s Arms on Spencer Street, the usual. I’ve never seen her here before. She must have come here to see me…. I’ll follow her home to make sure she gets there safe. You never know what could happen at night in a place like this.
July 23rd 10:00 a.m. – I don’t remember a lot from last night. I remember following the pretty woman home from the bar. I was only trying to make sure she got home safe since her friends ditched her. She started running, like she was afraid of something. I didn’t want her to get hurt so I just grabbed her and put her in my car. The rest is a blur. Fuck, why can’t I remember? What if she gave me her number? What if she agreed to go on a date with me? I keep fucking up. I have a psychologist appointment at 4 today; maybe she can help me make sense of this.
July 23rd 12 p.m. – She’s downstairs. I don’t know what happened tonight, but I CAN’T go back to the hospital again. They’ll take my dog away from me.
Pros: I have my dream girl. I have my dog. I have a sound proof basement. I have friends willing to help me when I need them. I am starting to have more feelings than a few months ago.
Cons: The girl I am in love with is in my basement. I have a lot of blood to clean up.
My psychologist told me, whenever I feel myself panicking, take my medication and make a list of pros and cons. If the pros outweigh the cons, I have nothing to worry about. I’ll wash up before my appointment and explain everything. Hopefully they’ll understand.
Life at Mr. Addison’s is conventional. Having been here for almost a month now, I am learning the daily goings-on of the house. For the past week, I have looked through the kitchen and noted everything I will get today on my trip to the market. Zach only eats organic foods, and they have to be farmed within a 300-mile radius of our home. The intricacies of his diet do not bother me; I think of it as exciting. I always loved going to the marketplace with Mother Ester, whenever she decided to take children with her. My treks to buy groceries remind me of those times.
Zach had told me, “My servants always have the best,” as his tailor measured my chest a few weeks ago. I leave the house on my way to the marketplace in my new purple knee-high sundress, with a sweetheart neckline. I feel so out of place, almost like I do not own it. The more I ponder, the more I realize I don’t.
Getting to know my fellow servants over these few weeks has been interesting. Philip, the butler, has worked at the Addison residence the longest, a few years before Zach was born. Rouge oversees cleaning the dishes and washing clothes for the residents. John is the mastermind behind the upkeep of the home, and he organizes everything Zach plans. Philip mentioned once that there were only male servants, which is nothing particularly unusual. It seems the late Mr. Logan Addison slept with the female servants when his wife was attending business elsewhere. Mrs. Malinda Addison never minded his infidelity; rather she minded his choice location, in the room to the left of Zach’s.
Philip spoke of Mrs. Addison’s hospitality, how she extended it to anyone who strolled into her castle. His voice trailed off while an unmistakable gleam shined in his brown pupils. He articulated more with his eyes than I have ever heard from any mouth. He would marry her if he could.
John pulls out an old bike to take to the market. I enjoy bikes far more than any stuffy car. With the beautiful weather and three-mile journey, the fresh air will be lovely. List gripped between my fingers, I leave eagerly for the market. Shopping combines relaxation and work. I always see people I grew up with, peculiar only because of the distance.
The smell of fresh bread and strawberry tarts replace the unmistakable stench of the roadside when I arrive at the marketplace. Walking around, looking at the fish and fruits and deciding on their quality, I can’t shake my mind from those strawberry tarts. I think I’ll buy some before I leave. I find myself surrounded by the separated booths of small businesses and bored, single women with riches to spare. Regardless of the disproportion in wealth, I’ve never noticed a difference in taste.
I keep to myself, showing my status as a servant. Mama Ester told me that you should never show any human emotion – wealthy owners know each other, and it’s dangerous if you upset the wrong person.
I’m unenthusiastic about going back to the Addison home after my charming day at the market. The open space is a breathtaking contrast to the jail cell feel of a home.
After setting the bike in the storage unit, I carry the groceries into the door closest to the kitchen. The bags are heavy, but I don’t mind labor; I’m used to it. Usually, when my hair gets into my face or I slam my head into the door frame, I just keep walking.
Walking into the house, I hear laughing from the sitting room. I know quickly it is Zach’s, in harmony with the laughter of a woman. I fear that I will not be working for a bachelor much longer. At 25, he is probably enjoying his evening with a woman he will marry and have too many children with. Then he will bombard the home with more servants like me. I’ll continue to hide in this lonely castle, or perhaps he will sell me before that happens. Don’t feel, don’t react, and don’t get attached to the stories told to me as a young servant. I sigh lightly and put my groceries in cabinets, remembering this mantra.
I’ve never experienced an attachment to anyone, except Mother Ester. You will always be attached to the woman who raised you. I know Zach is trying to make this a home for me, but this is not my home. My life is not a fairy tale. So lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed Zach standing next to me. He startles me when he says, “So, when did you get back?”
Looking over to him and placing a tomato on the counter, I reply, “A few minutes ago, sir. Not too long though.”
He nods his head and takes a seat on the counter, next to my groceries. He looks like a teenager waiting for advice from his mother.
In the unexpected silence, I continue to put away the food, his eyes following me as I travel along the spacious kitchen.
“You seem too comfortable doing this?” he says, breaking the silence with his curiosity.
I’m guessing by the sound of his voice he is confused why someone my age could be so comfortable shopping for a stranger, particularly after receiving nothing in return.
I retort with, “Well, I should. I’ve been doing this since I turned 15.” I don’t bother to look at his face; I already know it is one of absolute shock.
“But you were just a kid then, you couldn’t have possibly enjoyed your work?” Zach says.
I sigh and finish putting away the last of the groceries. One as affluent as Zach could never understand what I went through, just to end up someone’s servant. Taking this into consideration, I turn to Zach and say, “Look, I recognize you don’t understand. With no mom or dad to care for me, I was never a child. My life doesn’t seem perfect, because it’s not.” I place the grocery bags in a crate to be washed and used for the next market run.
“Please excuse me, Mr. Addison. I have much work to do,” I say to him and walk quickly to my room.
I collapse on my bed, realizing I had broken one of the rules.
She has a personal, destructive beauty, one not many can fall for. He is the only one to see it. With her red eyes and ebony wings, Aria holds Lucifer’s heart. Her love for the devil is only outweighed by the corruption inside her.
Lucifer ignores it, for a time. He understands she wants the same sensation he felt when he fell from grace. Only until she became his personal Pandora’s box did he take notice. Heartbreak, disease, famine, death. Aria has control of them, and much worse.
“My love, you must stop this,” Lucifer tenderly whispers, grasping her by the biceps with pleading eyes.
Aria growls and shoves him away. “You don’t tell me what to do!” Eyes like rubies in sunlight, her anger stems from his need to control her.
Lucifer knows he can fix her, but only by using the hope lying at the bottom of the box. He grabs her arm with a jerk and takes her to her fallen meadow. Lucifer holds Aria close until their skin seems like it will fuse together.
He speaks the only words that will free Aria. “I free you from my hold and the hold of God.”
Aria is left limp in his embrace, eyes fluttered shut. All that is left of her wings is a handful of feathers at his feet. A blush returns to her cheeks, and her slate-colored nails are replaced with clean, uncolored ones. Aria’s hair turns to a light chestnut as Lucifer holds her in his lap. She is mortal, human. He strokes her cheek as her eyes open, revealing two eyes of sea green. The only words to have broken the devil were her first mortal words of freedom.
“Do I know you?”
The night was alive with crackling light and shifting shadows. In the dead of the night, the brilliant flames were alive with a seemingly insatiable hunger for fuel and fodder, eating through the wood and the walls. The people outside on the ground stood in silent awe of the gold and orange flames that danced in the windows of what was once their home. They could do little else. They had been roused from the depths of sleep by the heat and the smoke, going from groggy to completely awake and alert in a second, only to have the adrenaline disappear from their bodies as they made it to the safety of the street. No one had seemed to be hurt much, and the fire had only just begun to roar in full force. As if it had waited for the last resident to leave before it feasted.
Free of any human chains to slow it down, the fire seemed to start anew, growing and blazing with a strange ferocity. It burned brightly and quickly, tearing and clawing its way through the apartment building. The entire building would be gone in seconds, but for the residents on the street, it seemed to take an eternity. Every flame slowed to a crawl, creeping up through the windows and along the walls. The flames seemed to gently brush against their prey before slipping into the wood to consume it from the inside out. Black spots of destruction blossomed forward, spreading out in a slow wave like a drop of ink in water. It would spread and spread, becoming wider and greater while it weakened itself, until it began to crumble away from its center to its very edge, the ash falling through the air like snowflakes and dancing in front of the viewer on the street.
She never meant for anything to happen, for anyone to get hurt. Freedom was all she searched for, but she traded one master for another.
Aria’s usual dusty pink feathers are now laced with black coal. Her nails, once a familiar bright red, are stained with a dull, senseless gray. Her heart is beating for the evil that has taken over her body instead of for the compassion and honesty that used to devour her.
“My dear Aria, you should have listened to Gabriel when he warned you of the fall,” Lucifer whispers deviously as Aria changes from the angel of love to something… else.
As Aria sees Lucifer’s smirk, her vibrant green eyes turn to a fiery red, her bright blond hair to tresses of dark curls. Lucifer kneels and holds her head in his rough hands.
“My beautiful girl, you’ve come back for me, haven’t you?” Lucifer says with certainty.
Aria replies with a grin so devious her canines appear. “Of course my love, who would not want such a man at their side?”
Pulling her close to his body, he strokes her changed, pale cheek. He remembers the softness of her skin, even though it had been a millennium. Staring into Aria’s eyes for only a second before making up his mind, Lucifer takes his prize back down to hell with him. His first love has finally returned.
The demons inside her would never rest, forever cursing their love. The second time, no one would be safe from the fires of hell.
“Remember, Cassie, don’t say anything out of line and keep your head up or you may just be pushed down.” I listened to Mother Esther as she packed up my new clothes in my suitcase. I don’t remember ever doing anything on my own until I turned thirteen and was taught how to serve the wealthy. I was sent to my first house at fifteen. They were a nice, old couple. They needed help with little things. They treated me well, somewhat like a daughter. Mother Esther told me this was not so unusual with older couples.
“Now tell me the five rules.”
I took a deep breath and messed with my heart locket. “One: Never talk back or when not spoken to. Two: always smile but never laugh; make yourself look gentle. Three: Always be prepared for anything, even if it’s a beating. Four: Do not allow the men to touch you like you’re a pay girl, not until twenty-one. And five is um…”
I nodded my head.
These are rules I’ve had to follow for the last seven years. I’m once again being sent to a new home in New York. Rule four will no longer apply and I will not be safe from men with wandering hands and lustful eyes. I must serve every need of my new ‘owner’ and tend to his every wish.
Watching as a tree goes by my car window, I remember reading about the trees constantly being cut down to make room for new housing. Most of the deforestation was for people who didn’t have homes. Everyone has a home now, but not everyone is free. I, like many others, must serve the wealthy and elegant. I eat two meals a day, if not less. We all evolve and adjust to survive.
Most servants are girls and are met with disrespect. The few boys who end up with a job like mine are treated as nothing but trash. We are treated this way because we are orphans, unloved and unwanted. Either our parents were rich people who didn’t want a child, or we were a mistake between two lonely servants, forbidden. I’ve learned the only children raised wealthy are those who have one or more affluent parents wanting a child. Otherwise, you end up… like me.
We were taught no differently than wealthy kids, with only a few extra things to learn. About twenty percent of servant girls end up as wives to the men that ‘own’ them, so it’s not that bad.
“Miss Richards, we’re here.” The driver speaks as I look up at the towering house. Climbing out of the car to grab my bag from the trunk, the driver removes my hand and says, “Allow me, miss.” I nod and admire the area around the house. Mr. Addison seems to enjoy all types of roses; I don’t think I’ve seen so many in one place. I grab my backpack and start walking, pulling my suitcase behind me.
Zachary Addison’s would be my third home in the last seven years, although he is my first young bachelor. As I shake, I remember to keep my head up and my feelings locked away, as always. I walk up to the door and ring the bell. The outside gives an impression that the home could hold a hundred or more people, all at once.
The door opens slowly. Eyes wide, I look at a man probably in his late 50’s. He has graying hair but gentle eyes. It’s normal for butlers to open doors when I arrive at new places.
“Miss Richards, I presume?”
Nodding my head, I step in when he moves out of the way. The enunciation of his vowels gave away his accent, almost Yorkshire-like. He is a foreigner, and that relaxes me. “Mr. Addison is away on business until later this evening, but he has requested for you to have dinner with him when he returns.”
“Of course,” I reply.
This is usual. Employers want to look over their new servants, confirm they are healthy and fit.
“May I know your name?” I direct my attention towards the butler.
The three servants of the home talk to each other. We all find ways to talk, release our anger, or help hide each other’s sadness. Showing either emotion is not okay.
“I am Philip, Miss. Now let me show you to your room.”
I follow him up the staircase, trailing my suitcase behind me. The house was clearly made for many servants or a big family. From what I see and hear, there are only three male servants; two were cleaning the house. “Now, you will be the cook and waitress when Mr. Addison has parties. How old are you?” Phillip inquires.
“I’m twenty-one,” I look away, careful to use only my eyes.
His eyes speak more than his mouth ever could. I will have more work than he mentioned if Mr. Addison wants to have his needs fulfilled. He opens a door but doesn’t step inside. The room looks designed for a wealthy daughter, not a servant. “This will be your room till Mr. Addison says otherwise.”
I nod, place my suitcase on the silk sheets, and look around the room.
With cream carpets and little designs running along the floor, up the wall to the edge of the ceiling, I feel out of place. One window sits opposite of the bed, to the right of the door. Looking back to ask Philip where Mr. Addison’s room is, I see I am all alone.
Closing the door, I sit on a small seat at the end of the bed. “New home, different rules.” Gripping my heart locket a little tighter, I close my eyes and breathe. I will be safe as I always am. I will not fall or break. I will not be human.
I sit on my grandmother’s porch and pray for a breeze.
She complains about the heat from behind her fourth glass of sweet tea in as many hours.
The distant, unending buzz of cicadas stretch every lapse in half-hearted conversation.
She eventually disappears behind the screech of a flimsy screen door,
But I hardly notice her absence.
As I lean heavily into one of the wooden beams keeping the home relatively upright,
I pick absentmindedly at the chipping brown paint.
She returns from the pitch-dark house
Clutching a thick photo album in her shaking grip,
Pulled from wherever it lurked,
Locked tight in some cabinet I wasn’t allowed to touch.
She motions me to sit next to her
And I wordlessly oblige.
Grainy instant photographs labeled with fading ink,
Smiling family members I’ll never meet.
Wistful recollections of long past memories.
My grandmother pours decades of family history into a single, sweltering afternoon.
I couldn’t tell you what time the lights inside finally flicker back to life;
Neither of us notice when it happens.
*** This is a short story that will be published in this years Exit 109. The arts and literary magazine will be up for grabs at The Octopus Garden Premier on April 18 at Heth Plaza from 4:00-6:00pm! Come see us and grab your own copy to read this short story and view many other pieces! ***
Bethany clicked “Send” and her message posted to the forum. She had been sending messages back and forth with Matt for a little less than three months now. When she had first been contacted by Matt’s screen name, “USNavalstud”, she figured that he was some loser. She had him pegged as a sad, bored, married man in his early thirties who resented his family, career, and life; and, for the most, she was right. He was a frightened little man who only flirted with a sexual identity online.
He was fun to flirt with. They would chat about risque subject matters; various sexual scenarios they dreamed of, fantasies which he never dared share with his wife. One night, she snapped a photo of herself in just her bra and panties; he fell silent for a few minutes, and then asked if she wanted a picture of him in return. Playing the part of a good tease, she said that she could wait as she had to go to bed.
Bethany had not been lying on that account, she was a freshman in the local community college and she had Intro to Statistics at 8am. She knew that Matt would be practically chewing on his keyboard until he could send her a picture of what would most likely be his erect penis. He would have to wait. After Intro to Statistics, Bethany was meeting her best friend and partner in crime, Emma, for lunch and a study date. After which, she had Composition at 2pm and then US History at 4pm.
Emma gabbed at her about the new Hollywood Undead album on iTunes around mouthfuls of a flat-bread salad wrap. Bethany couldn’t help but think about Matt. She had all but figured out exactly how she would seduce, and then have, this new guy. Emma had to throw a ring of sliced onion at her to get her attention.
“You’re playing with fire,” Emma said, “Meeting guys for sex on the Internet? Are you stupid or just tired of life on this planet?”
“Whatever. They’re all alike – they think with their dicks.” Bethany waved off Emma’s chiding by pointing out that in the past two years she had become quite the man eater. It was true. From her first encounter at 16 to her recent foray into BDSM; men were but playthings to her and they all thought with their dicks. She always came out satisfied, glutted, and repleted. Only one had ever escaped her, Jason; a 36 year old welder. Jason was an odd one. Aside from having a strange obsession about salt in his food, he had a knack for avoiding messy situations and a kind of luck that was just uncanny.
“Ever see that movie, ‘Strange Land?’” asked Emma around a half-chewed mouthful of what seemed to be chicken salad. “Where Dee Snyder plays a psycho and meets girls online and then tortures them?”
Bethany laughed. “No one is going to want to torture me when they see tits like this.” She grabbed her bosoms and squeezed for emphasis. “Besides, all of that stuff about serial killers online is urban legend.”
“So, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and New Orleans John were all legend? Try reading a book sometime.”
Before she was able to offer up any more on the subject, she was cut off loudly by Bethany. “Tits!” Not only was she squeezing her breasts, but now she had hopped up and was trying to hit Emma in the head with them. Emma did her best to glower as she almost lost the last of her salad but quickly gave in and laughed with her best friend.
He looked at the pegboard on the wall of his workshop. Refusing to become a creature of habit, he perused the selection before him. One must not grow stagnant and remain with the same instrument for too long, after all. Systematically he went over every tool which hung before him. After several long moments, he selected the three-pound sledge hammer, lifted it from its pegs on the board and placed it into a brown leather duffel bag.
Bethany had been driving for over three hours now and was beginning to merge onto I-40 W when the psychic i-Pod began playing “Still Remains” by The Stone Temple Pilots. This was her most recent “favorite” song, having discovered it about two months ago on the local classic rock radio station. She adjusted the volume slightly inside of her white Escort and began to sing along with Scott Weiland. She hoped that she and Matt would be able to make love while this song played.
Slightly annoyed that Emma had bowed out of acting as safety net and travel companion, Bethany cracked open a Red Bull with one hand and sipped tentatively. As the song ended, she grunted her disapproval in her choice of energy drinks. “This lone wolf shit is for the birds. How any guy does it is beyond me.” Emma’s alleged excuse for bailing on her this weekend was studying. More likely that Emma was jonesing for some Black Ops and the PlayStation Network was hosting a double experience point weekend.
Bethany refused to allow the lack of Emma to turn the weekend into a total wash. However, if Matt was a no show or even worse — a sissy, a troll, ten years older than his pictures suggested or some gimp – she would simply excuse herself outside of his hotel room because she forgot her bag of toys in the car. Then, she would run like hell.
Of course, once freed of the undesirable, she had a weekend to kill in Nashville. Jason had once mentioned a place called Jack’s World Famous Barbecue. With a guy like Jason, this place was most likely worth checking out. Saturday would be leisurely sightseeing. If she was in no rush to come home early on Sunday, the Titans were hosting the Carolina Panthers.
First things first, she decided; don’t put the cart before the horse. She would first find out if she was getting laid tonight. Then, she would have a bite to eat.
It was just slightly past 8 when she finally arrived at the hotel. The sun had fully set, and the sounds of a Nashville night were beginning to stir. Even before she set foot out of her white Escort, she had made up her mind that she loved this city. She sent a text to Emma letting her know that she had arrived. Three minutes later, with no answer from Emma, Bethany checked her makeup in the rear view, grabbed her overnight bag and got out of the car.
After the final set of texts with Matt confirming the room number, Bethany knocked on door 214. As she watched the shadows move across the small peep hole, she immediately snapped herself into something that most would consider to be good posture. The door slowly opened, revealing a tall man with short cropped brown hair, large brown eyes, and a spattering of freckles. He was of an average build wearing a green and black rugby polo and khakis. He smiled shyly at her. If this was indeed “Matt”, then he was even more of a loser than she had imagined.
Awkward, she noticed a slight twinge in her stomach. Not butterflies or the anticipation of a new lover’s first kiss. Something different.
“Why do these guys always look better in their pictures,” she wondered to herself. “Matt?” she said, giving a beaming smile.
He smiled a little more widely. “Yeah…”
“Oh. My. God! It is so good to meet you!” She hopped up and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him on the cheek.
A whiff of the fragrance he was wearing made her frown slightly against his neck. It was light, not too overpowering, Notes of sugar, vanilla and something fruity.
She drew back and looked up at him, fluttering her eyelashes and then breathlessly whispered “Are you going to invite me in, baby?”
He blushed despite himself and smiled. It was quite genuine, and she was suddenly glad for her smoldering display. He stepped back and to the left and allowed her to come inside. As he was closing the door, he slipped the “Do Not Disturb” sign onto the outer handle.
She sat down on the edge of the bed, crossing her legs at the knees and smiled at him. He regarded her briefly and looked down at his lap in which his hands were folded. “How was your drive?”
Bethany was now beginning to lose her patience and decided to take the bull by the horns right there and then. She slipped off her sandals, and stood up, stretching as she did so.
“Well, I have been on the road for the better part of six hours…” she began as she pulled her top off over her head and dropped it on the floor. She reached behind herself, unclasping her bra and sliding it off of her shoulders and down her arms allowing her breasts to spill out. “… and I am all sorts of tense”. She walked slowly towards him and without waiting for any nod of approval, sat down in his lap and kissed him fully on the mouth. “Do you know where a girl like me can relieve some tension?”
It was not long at all before he had her tied to the bed. In fact, Bethany could have sworn that Matt broke some sort of speed record for getting a woman’s hands secured to a headboard. Her hands had been tied with nylon cord that went around the back of the headboard and hung across the bed knobs which adorned the corners. Her legs were spread eagle by means of nylon cord around her ankles which ran down and between the mattress and box springs. He had allowed her a few moments to get her panties off before he tied her in place, but aside from removing his shirt, he remained dressed. He had placed a brown leather duffel bag on the dresser and was rummaging through it, probably for toys.
Growing slightly bored, she closed her eyes and concentrated on the sultriest voice she could muster. “Come on baby, get out of those pants and show me what you have for me.” She became aware of his heavy breathing and that he must be standing near her now. She smiled, opened her eyes and looked up at him.
Over his head was a sort of sack, a pillowcase perhaps . . . his eyes shining at her through two holes which had been encircled by black streaks of what was perhaps shoe polish. A horizontal line which must have been there to represent a mouth was several inches below the eyes. The sack was off white, dirty with sweat stains, dark smears and fingerprints of sienna, onyx, and viscera. She also became very aware of the large hammer which he held in his right hand over his head.
She had enough time to blurt out a rather surprised “Oh shit,”. Then the hammer plummeted towards her face.
He washed himself in the shower. The cold water sprayed over his body, and he felt calm. Lathering, rinsing, and repeating would have to wait until he got home. He did not want to leave them too much evidence, after all. As for the body, he would be taking it with him and disposing of it somewhere far away from this hotel.
He turned off the shower, stepped out and toweled himself dry. He began to dress and smugly looked at his reflection in the mirror. It was at that moment that he noticed something was terribly wrong. The mirror also held the bed in its reflection. The bed, with its gore-soaked pillow and stains; the nylon cords were still looped around the bed knobs and across the mattress. However, there was no girl. The girl, whose face was obliterated, smashed into nothingness, was not on the bed where he left her.
He took four deliberate, bold strides out of the bathroom and into the main room, stopping just before the foot of the bed. That was when something heavy, most likely his hammer, struck him in the back of the head.
He first became aware of the pain in his head and neck. Not only from the blow which had incapacitated him, but also in which the way he was sitting. He was tied to the bed, but in an upright position with his back against the headboard. He then became aware of the dryness in his mouth as well as the particular aroma of the gag in his mouth. Viewing himself in the mirror which was on the wall, it appeared that whoever had restrained him had used the girl’s panties to fashion a makeshift gag. His eyes then settled on the woman sitting in the chair by the door. Only the nude lower half of her body was visible in the low light of the room.
“A gentleman would make sure that a lady was satisfied before he finished up, you know. . . .” This was the girl’s voice, but the woman in the chair could not be her. Her legs were much longer, more muscular, and had not been shaved in weeks. The hands and forearms which rested upon the arm rests were far more rugged than the girl’s, but that was her voice, soft, sweet and mocking. The person in the chair leaned forward, her breasts considerably shrunken against the muscles of her chest and two rows of nipples running down her abdomen. “And to top it off, you just had to cum in my eye, didn’t you?” The face looking at him was hamburger. “That stings worse than anything, you know.” The face, pulling itself together resembled Bethany’s, but it was flattened, hairy, and fierce. She stood up out of the chair and walked- padded- towards the bed. What should be a five-foot-one girl was now a hunched-over Amazon of nearly eight feet. “Is this what guys like you are into?” Her voice was becoming deep, raspy, and guttural; almost as if she were beginning to growl her words rather than speak them. “I mean, is hurting a little girl what it takes to make you happy?” Her ears, pointed and broad, began to poke out of the mane of hair that was completely covering her face. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth for a long moment. “You’ve really cramped my plans for the weekend.” She looked at him one more time and then her blue eyes faded to complete black. “On the plus side, though. . .” The werewolf began to salivate. ”I won’t need to call out for dinner tonight.”
The men on the lawn looked like aliens as Michelle watched them pulling the industrial vacuuming equipment out of their van. She kicked her car door shut behind her as she looked them over- white uniforms all tucked in at the ankles and wrists like they were going into a quarantine zone or a surgery. They had parked in her driveway, behind the black sedan, and she had to park on the road. Wrangling her groceries, she tried not to look too irritated as the workers in white uniforms waved at her despite the fact that, with her arms full of bags, she obviously couldn’t wave back.
The house was one of the only ones situated on their street, small and pale with vinyl siding. It faced north and had three azaleas, two boxwood shrubs that still had the new topsoil piled around their roots near the living room windows, and the two tiny sage plant cuttings from Michelle’s mother that sat next to the sidewalk. All were bordered with diatomaceous earth.
These details, which Michelle hadn’t cared about (or even known) before, were known only to her now because of the problem that her new house had come with a few months ago. She fumbled with her keys for a moment before the door opened in front of her.
“You look angry, Mitch,” Nicole, her girlfriend, informed her as Michelle handed a few of the plastic bags to her. Michelle sighed.
“Yeah, well, the bug guys parked in my spot.”
“Don’t take it personally. We can take your car into town.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just on principle, you know? I just wish people wouldn’t do that.”
As grouchy as she felt, the gentleness in Nicole’s voice made it impossible to get too snippy. They walked into the kitchen together.
“How was the store?”
Michelle shrugged a little. “Some good, some bad. There was a pretty good bread sale, but when I was leaving, some asshole in the parking lot called me a Mexican and told me to go back where I came from.”
“It’s whatever. You know, considering most of Texas was annexed anyway, it wouldn’t even make any sense even if it was true. Besides, he had one of those Ron Paul bumper stickers, so I don’t think any important friendship was lost there.”
She heard Nicole laugh softly at her quips as she pulled out the eggs and margarine from the bag and set them on the counter. Against her better judgment, she found her eyes drawn up to the crawling, shadowy shapes on the window that faced the front yard and the bug men beyond it.
“They’re just ladybugs, baby.”
She looked back at Nicole. She was a dark-skinned, beautiful woman with almond-shaped eyes that always seemed thoughtful and kind, even when she was pissed off. Privately, Michelle thought she was probably way out of her league, if everything was evaluated by what Nicole, in her studious, teacherly way, would call mainstream cultural standards. She was hourglass-shaped and naturally toned, whereas Michelle herself was, as Nicole put it lovingly, “reubenesque.” Sometimes straight men liked to try to hit on her and scoot Michelle off like she was some kind of token fat friend, but Nicole always found a way to shut them down that made her feel a lot less irritated. It happened less since Nicole had cut her hair short, but now there was a wretched minority that tried to get her attention by talking to her about sports. It didn’t matter how much Nicole insisted she was a lesbian, most people selectively ignored it.
“I saw the bug guys outside. How long is it supposed to take?”
“I’m not sure. They said a few hours because of how bad it is. They said they’d be done by tonight.”
“Good. Hopefully this’ll finally get rid of them.”
The ladybugs had been on them like a biblical plague since they had moved into the house. They were on the walls, the floor, in the bed, in the dishes and the pantry. They had put the diatomaceous earth around the house, burned lemon candles, sprayed mint oil, vacuumed up as many as they could, but it never seemed to have an impact. They had moved in over the winter, and at first they had assured themselves that they would leave sooner or later, but now it was getting to be summer and nothing seemed to have changed. They had fussed about it and eventually decided that professional help was the only recourse they had left. The bugs were too much, and their efforts were futile.
“I bet if your mom had heard that guy in the store, she would have flew off the handle.”
“Yeah, and make me look like a freak for being with her. The only time anyone here cares about Shoshone people is for five minutes in seventh grade when they talk about Lewis and Clark.”
Nicole snorted into her coffee.
“Don’t laugh, it’s true!”
“I know, that’s why I’m laughing. I’m sorry.”
She wasn’t really angry. Michelle’s tongue in cheek attitude served her well enough and kept her temper in check (for the most part). Even if the weird racist had genuinely gotten to her, she was too relieved at the prospect of finally getting rid of the bugs to let it spoil her mood. One of her cousins managed the company, and she trusted her employees, as far as bug companies went.
Michelle and Nicole had planned to spend the evening doing something fun together, and to some extent, they succeeded- the early summer weather was very mild, and they went out to dinner and ate outside in a restaurant blessedly free of ladybugs. Michelle told a story about one of the classes she was teaching, how one of her students that played the clarinet was already offered a scholarship despite only being a sophomore. They expected the workers to be done (and gone) by the time they returned, but some hours later, the men were still around, loading the vacuums into the van. When they approached, there was only one worker left outside, a tall man who was sheepishly milling around it. Michelle assumed this must be the manager, since the other two seemed to have taken the chance to avoid conversation.
“What’s up? I thought you were going to be done a while ago,” Nicole asked him as he avoided eye contact.
“Well, I mean, we are done.”
“Are the bugs gone?”
“Honey, I thought you said you were done?”
“Yeah, I’m- I’m sorry. We sucked up the ones we could, but we had some trouble. We could come back again and try it, maybe half off-”
“No, no, nope. If it didn’t work the first time, why would it work the second?” Michelle demanded, and the man’s cheeks turned red. She was embarrassed for him. She knew he was just trying to do his job, but clearly, he wasn’t very good at it.
“Listen,” she began, more compassionately. “I know you boys did the best you could, but really, I think we’re going to keep trying to handle it from here. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right, ma’am. Sorry we couldn’t do more for you.”
“It’s okay,” she said, patting him on the arm. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” he said, and pulled out of the driveway, heading down the road.
Nicole shook her head. They headed back inside.
“This is some shit,” Michelle sighed as they shut the door. Nicole kissed her on the cheek.
“Don’t take it too hard. I’m sure they did their best.”
Michelle shrugged. To her, it seemed like some nerve to screw up what was supposed to be your job and then ask for more money to fuck it up again. That night, while watching TV, they chatted back and forth and pretended like it ‘really did seem a little better,’ and tried to convince themselves that maybe there had been an impact, although they both knew it wasn’t the case. The following morning their conversation was sparse and marked by disheartened silence, and they went back and forth debating solutions, although there wasn’t much that they hadn’t already considered.
As Michelle styled her hair, she heard Nicole from the other room.
“You should call your mom.”
She stared into her reflection’s annoyed dark eyes.
“I don’t really… I’m not sure I feel up to that,” she called back.
“I’m not trying to push you, I’m just saying-”
Michelle turned her head without thinking. She jerked the hair curler away from her jaw as she felt the sudden shock of the heat, and let it clatter into the sink as she examined the cylindrical mark as they darkened on her face. From the bedroom, she heard Nicole talking over her yelp of pain.
“I just think she’d really appreciate it-”
“Christ, Mitch, I fucking burned myself! Can you just cut me some slack for five seconds!?” She yelled, and her girlfriend fell silent.
For a moment, she did too, partially regretting her reaction but knowing, deep down, it was probably justified. She unplugged the curler and put it on the counter to cool off. She heard the sound of Nicole’s shoes on the wood floor and the door shutting behind her, and sighed. She wasn’t sure whether to be angry at her partner or herself. Sure, Nicole could have rushed in and tried to console her, but she could have also not have snapped at her.
From the hallway, she saw Nicole sitting in the loveseat in the living room. She lay out across it with her head craned off the other arm, staring up at the ceiling, her arms crossed across her chest.
“Nicky?” Michelle called, gently.
“There are a hundred bugs on this ceiling,” she responded flatly.
Michelle glanced up at the tiny red shapes ambling across the uneven white plaster and looked away in disgust. She’d never seen ladybugs stick to the ceiling, and it made her think of roaches.
“Nicky, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off on you like that.”
Nicole uncrossed her arms and sighed, running a hand over her short hair.
“It’s all right. I’m sorry you got burned.”
“It was my fault. I’m okay,” Michelle assured her. Nicole sat up and turned to face forward on the loveseat as Michelle joined her.
“I’d really like to see her, Nicky.”
“I know, it’s just- you know it’s complicated with my family. I don’t always want to hear about where I came from,” she sighed, running her hand over Nicole’s knee. Nicole scoffed.
“Yeah, well, at least you get the chance.”
(Beach Photo by Joyce Saviak)
Avery cranked the window down in her 1994 jeep wrangler. She could hardly contain her excitement as she drove onto the Refaire Bridge. Now this is what summer is supposed to be, she thought to herself. She had a very strong opinion that summer was to be filled with boys, beaches, and tans, yet so far her summer had been anything but that.
Now she was headed down to her grandparent’s old beach house, where she would help out with anything they needed- mainly grocery store trips and repainting the house. They had gotten so old that there was only so much that they could really do by themselves. Normally her aunt took care of her grandparents, but this summer it was her turn. To others in her family this trip seemed like a chore, but not to Avery. She adored her grandparents, and thought that this summer could be one of the last chances she had to spend time with them before heading off to college next summer.
Cruising down Bonneroute Boulevard, she stuck her arm out the open window to feel the breeze. This is perfect, she thought. The sky was the most beautiful blue; however, off to the right on the horizon, a huge storm was brewing. It wasn’t uncommon for storms to brew over Mobile, AL and never make it to the island, but this one looked as if it may.
When she finally reached her grandparents house at the west end of the island, she stepped out of the jeep and stretched. The trip here from Tennessee was long, and loud inside her jeep. Her mom had offered for her to borrow the corolla, but Avery refused. The trip may have permanently hurt her eardrums, but she would never have given up the chance to drive her jeep around on the dunes behind her grandparent’s house. It was something she had been dreaming of doing for years, even before she had bought her jeep.
“Avery? Is that you?”
Both of Avery’s grandparents were standing on their porch, far above her head, screaming her name. Her grandparent’s house was on stilts, like most beach houses, which was one of the main reasons that her grandparents never left it. The stairs were too much of a hassle for their aging hips.
“Yeah! I’m here!” Avery called back up to them, and proceeded to drag her enormous duffle bag across the center console and out the driver’s side door. Although the sun felt great on her back, the humidity was already making Avery sweat bullets. By the time she had lugged her duffle bag all the way up the stairs, she was drenched.
“Come inside, its nice and cold in here. Would you like a coke, honey? We have a few in the fridge already,” Avery’s grandma put her arm around her and hugged her close. She picked up her suitcase while her grandpa held the door open, cold air wafting out of it.
Down at the beach, the water was calm and the sand was deliciously warm. Avery spread out her arms, wanting to feel the warmth on as much of her body as possible. Now this is what she thought summer should be. Thinking of all the possibilities for the rest of her summer made Avery smile, and she sat up to enjoy her view. A group of attractive guys about her age were playing beach volleyball a dozen yards away. They seemed to sense her staring and began playing even more aggressively, each guy trying to outdo the other.
Avery giggled. Boys will be boys, she thought. It made her happy that someone, especially a few someones, wanted her attention. Pulling her beach bag closer to her, Avery searched for her sunscreen. Frustrated, she found nothing. In all of her excitement to head down to the beach, she had forgotten to put it in her pack. Her fair skin would surely burn if she didn’t use sunscreen out here. Huffing, she picked up her beach bag and towel, and turned to head back to the house.
She walked fast, wanting to get back as soon as possible in the hope that the boys would still be playing when she returned. Her flip-flops slung sand against her calves as she made her way out of the sand and onto the street. Although her grandparents’ house wasn’t right on the beach, it was only a street away.
Finally reaching the stairs to the house, Avery took the steps two at a time and dropped her bag and towel right outside the door. “Hey Grandma, I’m just grabbing my sunscreen!” She yelled, searching the kitchen table for the lotion. Out of the corner of her eye, Avery saw her grandma walk inside from the back porch.
“Avery, do you think you could be a doll and head into town to get a few things? I’m afraid we are out of most of the food we’ll need for the next week. Jenny was supposed to go to the market for me, but she had to stay late at work.” Avery’s grandma looked up at her, her knit eyebrows leaving deep creases in her forehead. Even though she wanted nothing more than to return to the beach ASAP, she could never say no to her grandma. After all, it was grocery trips like this one that were the reason that she even had the chance to be down on the island at all.
As her grandma made a list of things that she needed from the grocery store, Avery slipped out of her bathing suit and back into her shorts and t-shirt. Grabbing her purse off of the dresser as she headed back into the kitchen, Avery looked for her flip-flops along the wall next to the front door.
Shuffling toward her, Avery’s grandma thrust out a piece of paper and several twenty- dollar bills along with a set of car keys. “Oh, no grandma, I brought my jeep. I don’t need to borrow a car.” Avery tried to hand back the keys, but her grandma shook her head. “Nonsense. It’s about to storm and your jeep doesn’t even have a roof. I don’t want you to get soaked on the drive back inland. You’d catch a cold.”
It did make more sense to take her grandma’s car, but Avery was still hesitant. Rain or not, she loved driving the jeep. It was pure freedom to have nothing other than a roll cage in between you and the sky; almost as if you could spontaneously lift off of the tarmac and fly up to the heavens. “Okay, Grandma. I’ll take your car.”
The rain was pouring by the time Avery got down to the Oldsmobile. She unlocked the door with her key, and slid onto the old leather seat. She pushed her wet hair off of her forehead and turned the key in the ignition. The world looks so much different when it rains. All of the colors dim and run; nothing seems as well defined as it did before the storm. Avery turned on her headlights in order to see more clearly.
What is it that makes a human being a person? Is it their eyes? Their smile? Their laugh? At what point are they no longer considered a person? Doctor Carter Reynolds pensively watched Avery Walden’s chest rise and fall, rise and fall. He was a friend of the Walden family and had witnessed that girl grow up. He had given her her first stitches. He understood that medically, it seemed less and less likely that Avery would recover.
Doctor Reynolds reviewed Avery Walden’s patient file sheet for the fifth time that day. Doctor Cooper, a doctor new to the hospital, walked into room 229 behind him. “Doctor Reynolds, I think it would be wise to ask the family if they would consider discontinuing life support. Avery has been in a vegetative state for three months now. It doesn’t seem likely that she will ever regain consciousness.” Doctor Carter Reynolds’ dark, heavily lined eyes looked up from his coffee.
“She’s not gone yet. I can feel it.”
Avery cranked the window down in her 1994 jeep wrangler. The movement seemed so familiar, as if she had done it a million times.
The eyes won’t shut up! They’re stupid, I hate them! Why won’t they go away? They look at me through the black night, they pierce me and they speak. I can’t tell what they are saying, but I know they have a message. I hear no words, but I feel their bitter language drip down onto me like a broken facet dripping blood. I beg to walk faster through the dark. The eyes match me step for step. Why won’t they shut up? Continue reading The eyes