New London, Connecticut
“Well, luv, what do you think? Shall we tell him tomorrow?” Crispin enjoyed the rabbit stew. Sucking the delicate bones of the dead rabbit, he watched the woman as she finished cleaning the bar top. It was late, past midnight on a Monday. The “Dancing Stag” was empty, save for the barmaid, her new suitor and Bernie, the suitor’s small son, who was sleeping peacefully under a corner table, a knitted blanket keeping him warm. Several carvings of
Crispin’s, including an impressive Stag’s head, hung above a shelf behind the bar. The sales had afforded him and Bernie a room in a nearby boarding house. He regretted the fact that they would soon be leaving. He had enjoyed the bed and the occasional baths. Bernie said it must be tomorrow.
Crispin glanced at the corner where Bernie slept. Was he really sleeping? Doubtful. Willie said the boy made her uncomfortable. Crispin had reassured her. “He needs the love of a mother; it’s been hard on the boy.” She folded her apron, creasing the folds. Her brown eyes had the look of a dying fawn. He reached up and stroked her hair. Good to feel a woman again, he thought. He’d been too long without. Not a girl, though. She was older than the thirty-two she professed. More like forty-two and a bit too large for his taste, but still overripe for the plucking.
“Let’s go in the back,” he whispered, “just for a while . . . ”
She took a quick look in the corner. The boy seemed asleep. Crispin saw her shudder.
“Such a little boy, I don’t know why I . . . ”
“What, luv?” he asked, knowing exactly what.
She shrugged. “Okay Crispin, but just for a few minutes.”
“That’s my girl.” He nuzzled her neck, then reached around and cupped her breast.
“A few minutes is all, then we must stop.”
“Of course dear girl, after the wedding there will be time. ”
Much later, when he thought about it, he was glad she came. It startled him. He was just finishing himself, when she let out a stream of moaning, like a cow wanting milking, he laughed to himself. They had but a few minutes in the crowded closet. “He might wake.” She was nervous.
“Don’t worry dear heart, he’ll be fine.” In a rare spirit of generosity, (he admitted it was rare) he saw it was fitting that she had a small bit of pleasure, considering what happened and all.
He puzzled over what happened that night for weeks, trying to make sense of it. Did they open a door? Is that what happened? “They’ll know it was us,” he worried. He had no objections to anything; however, he didn’t like the thought of hanging.
“Do what I tell you and you’ll be rewarded.” The child’s eyes threatened.
Crispin nodded enthusiastically. Hanging was preferable to what Bernie might inflict. “Of course, lad, whatever you say, I’m completely on board.”
Tuesday night, her house smelled of onions and bread. Crispin sat on the settee, its rose velvet freshly brushed and looking crimson in the shadow of an ornate lamp. A few eventful moments in their brief courtship told him that there was nothing of value in the tidy white house. Still, he approved of her excellent housekeeping. Aunt Meg could have learned a thing or two. He was surprised to see Bernie eat everything, including the tapioca pudding. Unusual. He knew the boy was selective, despite their periods of hunger. Candles—how many were there? He had hidden them in the pull wagon near the house. Bernie had been collecting candles, taking them while Crispin distracted their owners with his wooden carvings. Won’t they see you? Bernie assured him they would not. He wondered what purpose they served. That night he saw what happened when the candles burned.
He struck her with a wooden club he had carved the day before. Crispin made a show of announcing their “engagement” to his “son.” Willie sat at his right, her eyes downcast, unable to look at the boy. “Not too hard,” Bernie had warned, “she must wake before we finish.” Bernie spilled a glass of milk. As she reached to retrieve it, Crispin struck an expert blow. She was unconscious for an hour. When she woke, the satisfaction in Bernie’s yellow eyes made Crispin feel proud.
The star drawn in blood, whose blood was it? They were all naked. In the candlelight, pools of blood were like puddles after a cloudburst. Bernie’s hands dripped, adding to the puddles. Smears and streaks covered most of his frail child’s body. Did Bernie draw the star using his own blood? Bits of that night were a blank. He remembered the awful smell, wondering if he had soiled himself and fearing the consequences. Bernie seemed indifferent to it.
Bernie cut his palm, smearing the blood on the woman before she woke. He was afraid Bernie would want to cut him too, but Bernie turned his attention to the barmaid. When she woke, Willie screamed, and the boy grabbed her tongue, slicing it off. The screams soon became moans. Not as loud now, Crispin thought approvingly.
The moaning reminded him of when she came. Interesting, how similar the cries were, one of pleasure and the other . . . She was tied down (securely, Crispin was careful) and the candles were all around . . . and eyes, he saw eyes coming through a tunnel, watching. Why did he think of a door? He remembered a ripping sound, like fabric being torn and then a boom like a cannon that rattled the house. Crispin would have ducked for cover if he hadn’t been startled by the sight of black wings and the clicking sound from wings slapping or breaking through, what?
Bernie knelt near the woman . . . his little body rocking back and forth. Willie’s fawn eyes followed the sway. The child was whispering, while she kept trying to say (plead?), “Kill me.” She had no tongue, but he was sure that’s what she meant to say. He held her tethered hands to keep her steady as Bernie continued to slice her. Tears ran down the barmaid’s cheek and fell into the thick red puddles.
As he pressed his palms firmly down on her wrists, Crispin allowed himself to wonder what came next. He decided it was best to keep quiet, do as you’re told. Bernie’s hands, clots of the barmaid’s blood clinging to his fingers, rose abruptly as the light from the candles floated free, the flames dancing and spinning.
Fear clutched at Crispin’s throat. What if those flames, what if they mean to . . . Then there was a sudden sensation, indescribable, oh the pleasure! His “reward,” he thought with delight and wonder. It poured into him as if he were a wine glass, filling him to the brim. Overwhelmed, he gazed at Willie. She looked back with supreme indifference.
As if she had found it all incredibly tiresome, her eyes turned away from him, her face relaxed and tilting her head slowly to her shoulder, she died. The boy cooed as he stroked her hand, his strange face content. The candles dimmed. The floating eyes were gone. “We leave now,” the boy commanded. They cleaned the blood from their bodies and took the ropes from the dead woman. Crispin carried her to her bed. After dressing, they set fire to Willie, her bed, and her small neat house.
“Won’t they know it was us?” He was afraid.
“Stupid Crispin, I told you not to worry. They’ll think she killed herself because you left her. I suggested it already when the bar was full of people.” Bernie was losing patience with him. Crispin decided to keep his doubts to himself. They were on the road a few hours before the pleasure began to fade. He was depressed. He hated the cold.
Too bad that Willie person wasn’t wise to Bernie. I woulda warned her, but I wasn’t around. He looked like a little kid but he was a giant rat.
Things are okay now. I understand a lot more than I did before, about how everything works—Creation-wise, the worlds and universes. What’s good and bad is because of chaos, whatever that is. Gram tried to explain it. I have been looking at the Time Ribbon and the parts about Bernie. Some of it happened before I came here and some after I was here. Some of it glows on the Ribbon because it’s going to happen and the glow makes it hard to see. Gram said it was okay to look as long as I was careful and didn’t try to butt in. If I do, I won’t tell Gram.
I found out there’s only one Bernie story, but it has different pieces, and they’re mixed up on the Ribbon. If I put them together like a puzzle, I can see some of what happened, which includes a monster sticking its big fat claw where it doesn’t belong.
Also, I want to make it clear: cowards always get what they deserve. Bernie was a coward when he was a creepy kid in his first life, and also a coward and a creep when he became a high-toned senator using the life he stole.
There is no time where I am. Not the “no time” grownups say when they’re too busy to do stuff. I mean “time” does not exist here. I can sleep as long as I want in a bed I don’t have to share, and there’s no one who makes me get up. NO ONE orders me around anymore.
Russ and Gram are here. We have fun at the zoo and go to the lake and eat saltwater taffy. We can have any kind of boat we want and everything’s pretty. I kinda miss time passing the way it did before; especially, I miss birthdays. I’ll be twelve forever, I guess. On the other hand, there’s lots of cake—all I can eat.
Everything’s nice here, but what about Bernie and all the bad stuff he did, the people he hurt? What about the ones who fought back? I know there were some women who stood up to his meanness. They had the allie’s help, but they called it the “Pearl.” I especially want to see all the “fight back” parts. I already know some of it. Bernie had help from the monster in the dark universe. He never fights fair because he’s a dirty coward with rat’s teeth. Here are some pieces of Bernie’s life and pieces of other lives that became part of his.
This part turns out to be from the last Bernie day I could find, but it is the first one I found on the Ribbon. I met some other kids here, and we’re playing marbles. Bernie stole the life from some guy he double-crossed and pretended to be him so in this part, Bernie is a rich old man. People don’t know he’s Bernie and he’s still a louse with rat teeth.
The End and the Beginning
Residence of Senator John Arnold
Redhill, Ohio, December 24, 2004,
Bernie stood naked before the floor length mirror. Soon, this aging body would be gone. He would miss its appetites, but not the discomforts of age. The wood floor beneath his feet was cold, aggravating the throbbing pain in both knees that had swelled from hours of kneeling in the rituals required for the next Great Offering. The Others had applied compresses to lessen the swelling, but they would have to re-administer them within the hour.
All was ready. His white shirt and Armani suit hung waiting, his expensive black shoes carefully polished. He wrapped himself in his plush robe and stepped into warm slippers. Moving to the Moroccan table, he began to eat his last meal as John Arnold. Arnold would die a hero, saving his beloved granddaughter, Madonna, who would emerge tearfully from the tragedy of the terrible mall fire where many hundreds perished.
The Senator smiled, remembering the screams and the phantom building that gave such pleasure, and just as fondly, the delicious agony of the prison. Mourning the death of her brother and subsequent suicide of her alcoholic mother, the story of Madonna’s plight will move the hearts of the wealthy and influential. Ah, little Stella. How he looked forward to seeing her bewildered and heartbroken over the loss of her son then savoring her terror, as the one whom she thought was her little girl inflicts prolonged suffering and painful death.
He looked forward to collecting debts. Cabrizzi, for example, he had plans for him. The loose ends, the brother, Alec and the security guard, he would give to the Others as toys. Bernie wondered what it was going to be like—being a woman. The Others appeared to the world as beautiful young women, but they were much more, objects of desire and instruments of death. Delicately, he had probed for signs of what would follow in the aftermath of the coming sacrifice, but nothing was revealed or even implied.
Whatever it was, it would be wonderful. No hint came forth of where the next vessel might be found. The clairvoyance of Madonna would be helpful in divining such important information. Perhaps the next vessel, yet to be born, will have access to even greater power than the Senator’s influence and the girl’s psychic gifts. The girl’s gifts were marvelous, but sadly underdeveloped. Wasted for now, but soon—oh—soon—a magnificent reward. As Bernie contemplated his years of sacrifices and rewards, he ate dessert—hokey pokey with blue sprinkles.
This is what happened to Bernie’s ma before he was born. I wanted to know how he got to be so mean. There was some stupid rich people and they let the bad thing come in. His ma was stupid too and his pa also.
“His Office is to discover the Virtues of the Birds and precious stones” (The Book of the Goetia of Solomon the King)
The Moroccan Table
“He’s a lecherous old one, mind you. What we done, he’d do to you if he could.” Matthew’s handsome face was full of concern. His caring was a lie, but she enjoyed the pretense.
“You sound just like Mum,” she sighed. She stroked the wisps of blond whiskers on his face. He was nineteen, but could pass for younger and not much taller than she, Linda, was at fourteen. “I’ll be careful, as careful as can be.” Linda gave him a lingering kiss.
“So what do you think they do?” He asked. He was getting excited.
“Sex orgies,” she whispered, her eyes wide with feigned horror, “with them running about all naked . . . ”
“What a sight,” he said, and he did a dance, miming a lot of flopping skin, “some of them old ones, bouncing about!”
Her auburn hair in disarray, the girl threw her head back and laughed. The sound of her shrill giggle carried throughout the stable and a horse began to kick its stall. Matthew sat up and looked to see if anyone heard. They were alone. Sighing, she collapsed into the fresh hay. In a nearby stall, a horse whinnied. Matthew put his finger to his lips. “Careful; we don’t want anyone to hear, do we?” He fell down beside her and slipped his hand under her starched white apron.
Linda removed his hand and buttoned her blouse. She stood up, straightened her apron and frowned as she looked for telltale straw. While she made a careful inspection, the boy reached up and pulled her skirt. He was not ready for her to leave, just yet.
“That’s enough,” she said, “got work to do and so do you.”
“Tomorrow,” he demanded, tugging on her skirt, “you’ll tell me, spill all of it. Promise!”
“I’ll let you know tomorrow.” Mischief filled her brown eyes. “Or not!” His curiosity was her hold on him. His place being in the stables, he rarely came to the house. Something else, she was sure. Matthew Oldman, something else will soon hold you. Looking down at his pleading face, she enjoyed the moment then freed her skirt from his grasp.
Walking briskly across the grounds, she smiled and slipped through the back entrance, pausing behind a closed door to hear her mother Rebecca complaining to Betty, “ . . . and I don’t know what to do. The girl won’t listen. If only her dad hadn’t died . . . ”
After adjusting her cap, she checked the clock. Almost two. Good. She’d spent less than half an hour in the stables. Opening a closet, she slid out the stack of embroidered robes and hurried into the laundry room. Seeing Mrs. Hamilton, she gave her a bright smile.
“All finished, Mrs. H., shall I put them in the library?” Linda glanced at her mother. Rebecca gave her a suspicious look.
I don’t care, thought Linda, whose exotic name came from her mother’s own dreams of a holiday in Spain. She’s almost thirty-one, Linda had decided, and past it all. She has no idea of what it is to be young.
Mrs. Hamilton’s clipped speech showed her low opinion of her young subordinate. “What do you think, girl? Use your brain. Of course, the library.”
Lord Towning’s annual gathering of selected members of “The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” (Cook called it the Heretic Order of the Golden Dawn) always put Mrs. Hamilton in a sour mood. The task of tending to over twenty weekend guests, their varied whims and special requirements taxed her limited patience.
Linda carried the ceremonial robes up the narrow stairs and onto the ground floor. She had spent the early morning ironing the flowing gowns, taking care not to snag the intricate embroidery. Down the marbled hallway, she could see that the tall doors of the library were ajar. Inside, several men were moving a massive table, recently delivered, especially for the coming event. “From Morocco, found it last year,” Linda heard Lord Towning boast. Linda wished he’d lost it after he found it. It was an eyesore and with all the curves, carvings and crevices (Matthew laughed when she described it), a nightmare to dust and polish.
The library itself was an inviting place, where many windows let in the afternoon light. The graceful Oriental drapes pulled back, allowing light to fill the room. While perched on a ladder, swiping her duster across the innumerable books that lined the walls, or carefully rubbing the endless pieces of exotic art and treasure gathered from Lord Towning’s trips, Linda would often lay her duster down and descend the ladder. After checking both sides of the long hall and listening for footsteps, she’d close the door. Selecting a book from a lower shelf, the maid crawled into one of the plush chairs. She could barely read, but felt it only proper to have an open book in her lap.
Nestled in the soft cushions, she pretended she was a lady. Only for a minute or two, she’d tell herself. Often, she imagined the family portraits hanging throughout the room glared with disapproval at her liberties.
“Buggers,” she answered, glaring back at the generations of wealth and privilege. She was better off than any of them. They were all dead. While she polished the Moroccan table, an idea had come to her. She would hide and find out just what went on during the “special event.”
The Demon’s Dance
“May I see it?” Voices startled her awake. A sliver of light reminded her of where she was. She huddled within the lower shelf of one of his lordship’s acquisitions, an ornate monstrosity. She chose it because it sat near the fireplace, and the lower half was large enough to contain a girl of fourteen years if she were willing to hug her knees to her chest. Her left foot was asleep, and her legs ached from being folded for over an hour.
Curious about what there was to see, she sincerely hoped that it wasn’t the part of Sir Charles he decided to show her one late afternoon in the hallway, before the appearance of Mrs. Hamilton prevented whatever his Lordship had in mind. Matthew went breathless with laughter when she described Mrs. Hamilton’s face. “Her bulging eyes popped out even more, and her mouth hung like it came loose from its hinges.”
“In time, dear lady, in time . . . ” said Sir Charles. The master of the house was a corpulent man in his early sixties with thinning white hair. A bald man with a curled mustache chuckled when someone made light of “Crowley’s obsession.” Another claimed to be offended and suggested that the topic be changed. There were “ladies” to consider.
While one servant collected emptied champagne glasses, another served full ones. How many guests? Matthew would ask. Peering out as much as she dared, she counted eighteen. She couldn’t see the entire room unless she risked discovery. Unthinkable. Though there were unfamiliar faces, many were frequent visitors. There were several foreign accents. French, she decided, and Polish, or . . . not important.
She was exhausted. Eighteen hours of ironing, dusting, folding and cleaning weighed in on her decision to hide. A woman ordered the servants to leave. Except for three beautiful women, the younger wives of wealthy men, the guests were impossibly old.
Linda wanted to leave with the other servants. Hiding in this cramped cabinet, for what? Why would she want to watch foolish old rich people prance around naked, the men with their wrinkled willies and the women with swaying, saggy breasts? She would make up a story, perhaps devil worship with human sacrifice.
As they enjoyed refreshments and speculated on what Lord Towning had planned for the evening’s secret event, the guests wore the robes she had spent hours ironing. Mrs. Hamilton had given her strict orders. “Lord Towning is very concerned that his instructions be followed. All of the embroidery, especially the images of trees and birds in flight must be free of any creases,” said Mrs. H., looking quite the witch with her widow’s peak. The housekeeper wore her light brown hair in a narrow roll at her nape, allowing no stray hair to escape. The hairline framed a high forehead. Linda, who followed current fashion, wondered why the older woman didn’t try to soften it with a fringe of curls.
Threads in the embroidery glinted as the robes passed through the light. Candles placed throughout the room caused a trick of the eye. The images seemed to move, the birds’ wings flapping. She was surprised to see the pattern on the creamy Oriental drapes matched that of the robes.
Drapes were drawn shut. Whatever happened in the candlelight would remain secret.
The brass on the tall doors clanked as they opened and shut. The locks slid. “Now,” Sir Charles announced, pride heavy in his tremulous voice, “The Key of Solomon!” As if it were a newborn and he its proud mother, he held up a large book, laced with thick gold threads. An excited murmur arose.
“Silence!” He thundered. “We SUMMON Him. We CALL His dreaded army from Planes of Power. We summon—HE who grants new life! We summon—HE who devours the weak!” Chanting began as he moved through the room. “Place your offerings. Pledge your faith. Pay tribute,” he droned.
A curious “ping” caused Linda to open the door another inch. Each participant placed a small stone in a silver dish that lay on the table. A woman presented a large sack and pulled out a black rooster that protested, flapping its wings. Wielding a ceremonial knife, Sir Charles decapitated it and plopped the severed head into the silver dish. The woman caught the spewing blood in a silver bucket, causing several to turn away as the hissing gush struck the smooth surface.
The barrier undulated and shimmered as the blood flowed. Too small a death, the tribute was dismissed. They waited, hissing at the man and his droning praise. Praise, tribute and promise called it, but all was in order and there would be no rift.
Their eyes burning, demons clawed the thinning wall, a barrier that separated two different universes. Like pearls on a string, each universe was unique. One was home to the darkest of energies and the endless chaos of destruction. The other was a teetering mass of creation, springing from a blend of order and chaos. Within the dark universe, life of a different sort fashioned its own world. It was already old when, peering though the shifting folds of the barrier, it had glimpsed our world. For eons, it observed Earth’s smoldering beginning, then its parade of life and the rise of Man. Then it entered our dreams, whispering, cajoling, and hissing promises of glory and power.
As the women whimpered, Sir Charles demanded those in the room be quiet. Men trembled, mopping their brows, hiding their fear under embroidered linen. Fear seeped into the barrier, which began to soften. Dots of light stippled the murky surface. Soon, there was a tear.
A squeal of rage sounded as a talon failed to widen the rift, hoping to make it large enough for some of them to pass through. But the rift failed to grow and they knew the tear was fleeting and would soon disappear. Though rage burned through layers, the tear kept mending and disappearing fast until . . . THERE WAS ANOTHER!!
A new rift appeared, the result of the one who was hidden. Uninvited, though Linda cowered behind a wooden door, her fear revealed her presence.
Wafting deliciously through the room, the girl’s terror and its promise of a feast tore through the wall. As it seeped through the barrier, eager tongues lapped Linda’s fear like mother’s milk. Soon, her fear would explode, ripping and widening the opening. Ah, the girl had offered no tribute. Words offered no protection now, only the elixir of pain. Now, there was death. The legions howled.
In an instant, flames escaped from the confining hearth. Some in the room laughed nervously and moved away. There were sighs as the flames died. Without warning, the blaze detached itself from the hearth. An older woman whimpered as flames like glowing tongues, freed themselves from their source and floated through the room. Another began to shrink back and moved to the doors. With shaking hands she pulled on the bolt, trying to slide it. The lock refused. She removed her rings. Perhaps they were preventing her from getting an adequate grip. It made no difference. As the woman began to cry, a man reached over, grasped the knob firmly and pulled. It wouldn’t release.
A parade of flames danced, moving to a wall of books, illuminating their titles, crawling from volume to volume. A few jumped to the portraits, moving up and down, licking the proud faces.
Satisfied with the success of his magic, Sir Charles began to cry: “We call you! Ehieh, Iod, TetragrammatonElohim, El, Elohim Gibor, Eloah Va-Daath, El Adonai Tzabaoth, ElohimTzabaoth, Shaddai. Ningiszida”! Again he cried, “Ehieh, Iod, Tetragrammaton Elohim, El, ElohimGibor, Eloah Va-Daath, El Adonai Tzabaoth, ElohimTzabaoth, Shaddai. Ningiszida!”
The room became cold, and the terrified guests shivered. Someone called for an end to the ceremony. Many crowded the doors while others moved to the windows that were covered by heavy drapes. Seeming to come from the fireplace, a hiss became a low, steady groan, before giving way to a shrill laugh.
There was a moment of silence. Several guests began to try to open the doors then pounded on them, demanding that they be opened. A nibbling, crunching sound began. Angry squeals came from the walls, as if an army of mice were gnawing on bits of crackers, then turning on each other in rage.
A crow appeared in the shadows. With a shrieking CAW, it dropped down to the table, perched on the edge of the silver dish and pecked at the stones. Its eyes glowing red, the bird waved its head back and forth as it regarded the guests.
Someone shouted, “Break the glass, damn you!” A man struggled to open the windows. He pounded on the glass with a brass candlestick, but the glass remained inviolate. Women were crying. The crow cocked its head to one side and letting out another CAW, it began to circle the room.
The Moroccan table trembled, causing the pebbles to rattle in the silver dish. Someone was chuckling, someone with a deep rich voice and terribly amused. Pebbles floated out of the bowl and struck foreheads, bouncing playfully, striking one and springing to another. Popping sounds like gunfire caused a man to duck. An odor, rich with decay, seeped into the room.
Discovery became the least of Linda’s fears. She felt an awful dread. Of what she wished for, the most urgent was to run, to burst from her hiding place, cross the room, hurry out the tall doors and into the safety of her mother’s arms. Making an effort to flee, she discovered she was paralyzed, her muscles frozen. She stared at the horror before her. The cabinet door flew off its hinges. As the door hurtled across the room, it struck a woman and her head slammed down and was crushed, the blood spilling on the polished floor.
Linda’s eyes watered and tears spilled down her cheeks. The guests, those who were still alive, screamed in pain. A man tripped on the edge of his robe, knocking another man down and onto the edge of a table. There was a loud snap as the second man’s neck broke.
One of the young wives struggled to remove her robe, shrieking, “It’s stuck, it’s stuck; someone help me!” Tears trailed down Linda’s face as she watched the woman’s graceful fingers claw her melting ceremonial robe. Before she was blinded, Linda saw flames bouncing throughout the room.
There were eyes . . . A mist appeared and took the shape of a yawning mouth. Sir Charles was lifted up, his fat white body exposed; the robe hiked up and covering his face. He bellowed like an old bull led to the slaughter before the fog-mouth swallowed him whole.
Dark. She was floating, not far. She could still hear the faint cries of the guests. Something, something, a being within her, searched . . . for what? Yes, the baby, yes, of course. She considered her child, the thing that made her scheme, to punish Matthew, make him pay, as she would pay, and now . . . It didn’t matter.
Snaking through the rift they discover the treasure in the girl’s womb. The baby’s umbilical cord shakes and invisible whiskers erupt along the placenta, which begins to undulate like a gentle tide. As if welcoming a guest, the baby nods and the tendrils of energy become colored threads. The threads become like yarn around a kitten, but instead it is the yarn that plays. It winds around the child and a stinger pierces the tiny heart and brain. Like a needle, it stitches and weaves in and out, binding the child to another world.
There is a port now; an outstation exists and now a spy. The port secured, it lies snug within the child, a secret base in a foreign land. They reveled in the pain and blood, but the carnage at hand was but a taste. As the feeding ended, questions buzzed along the healing breach. The next rift, when would it be? How many times would the rift disappear before it stayed? Much was revealed in the wall’s timeline, but not the most important question. When would they feast forever? In the meantime, there was the child; there was a saboteur.
Linda followed the sinewy being, its long fingers outstretched and groping as it found the tiny human curled within her. The yellow flames in its eyes detached and clung to red claws, as they trailed wisps like maypole ribbons.
The creature began to dance. The baby’s eyes followed the swirl of ribbons. The creature was whispering something in her child’s unformed ear. Nodding its head, the baby waved its stubby arms and legs. She struggled to get closer. What was it saying that stirred her child? She knew the baby wanted to detach and leave her. Linda wished it could leave; she would let it go.
But her baby stayed, for a while.
November 6, 1885
The train lurched and hissed as Rebecca watched for the tavern. She would see it soon, the sign, “Ram’s Head.” Though it was early in the day, there would be comings and goings of men through the pub’s door. Those without work, their shoulders rounded and hands stuffed deep into pockets, crept in and later emerged unchanged, hours later. Clouds of steam rising in the cold air obscured everything but the dark movement of scattered figures, people waiting to greet the train from London. She saw the shake of a horse’s head before she saw the wagon.
Where was the Ram’s Head? It was her only memory from the day she left. Pints, singing, darts, an occasional fight, the Ram’s Head was where her brothers spent so many hours, hours not in the mine. It wasn’t a place for a young girl, they said. Go home now or we’ll tell. The mine took them when the cage fell, and she swore she’d never come back. There was nowhere to go now, but Aberdare.
Early in their journey, Linda’s whispered pleas, “N-n-n-ooo . . . ” had resulted in the migration of fellow passengers to other cars. Mother and daughter rode alone, the rows of empty seats rattling as Rebecca traveled the path she vowed to leave behind. As the train pulled in, her mother peered through the window and Linda lay stretched across her mother’s lap.
Clouds threatened a storm, as Rebecca searched for the Ram’s Head and found her father instead. His cap was pulled down hiding his face, but she knew the faded coat; she had mended it countless times. There were two older men; she recognized them, acquaintances of her father’s. They were certainly not friends; her father tolerated little that would pass for friendship. The men nodded as they boarded the train and found the women alone. One carried Linda and the other, luggage to her father’s wagon. She trembled as she followed them. It had been fifteen years. Her father, his tall frame bent from years of shoeing horses, stood quietly. His eyes were distant. He loaded their belongings next to his limp granddaughter. “Your hair, it’s white,” she said. His brows still showed red as they hung low over his brown eyes.
He climbed onto the wagon and in his high-pitched, graveled voice, a voice grim and cold with disappointment, he said, “Let’s get her home, while there’s no rain.”
He drove the wagon to the house where she was born, and she looked for familiar faces. A few appeared; a playmate she barely recognized, waved shyly. Most avoided her glance or stared, hoping for a glimpse of Linda. The wagon swayed and bumped along the uneven road, but Linda remained unaware, caught deep in whatever dream held her. As the horse drew them near the small cottage, Rebecca’s only thought was that it needed paint; the white peeling, the wood underneath revealed.
Her father never looked in her direction, nor did he glance at Linda. Her dead mother had been the only link between them. Rebecca and her blacksmith father were strangers, but she had no one else nor did Linda.
He carried the sleeping girl into the dingy bedroom of Rebecca’s childhood. Placing her on the narrow bed, the blankets thick with dust and neglect, he told her, “There’s soup for the both of you. I expect you to earn your keep.” With those words, he left.
Even in Aberdare, people had heard. Twenty people, including Lord Towning, died that night; all but Sir Charles had burned, their robes melted onto their charred bodies. Sir Charles had bled to death, and his body discovered on the Moroccan table, a silver bowl was wedged between his legs. When the resistant doors suddenly opened for the bewildered servants, other than the charred corpses, they revealed no evidence of fire or intruders.
While her father sheltered his widowed daughter and her child, Rebecca earned their keep by taking in laundry. It wasn’t long before Linda’s pregnancy was obvious. Wincing at his scorn, she was relieved when he didn’t turn them out.
Months passed, uneventful but for the girl’s changing body.
At times, Rebecca thought Linda was coming back. The girl’s dark eyes would dart back and forth, her expression frantic. It was the whispered word repeated—No—no-no-no-no-no-no . . . that frightened Rebecca.
As she awaited the birth of her grandchild, she bathed and fed Linda, who was helpless as a newborn. “Do you think she can hear me?” Rebecca was hopeful.
“I don’t have any idea, perhaps,” the midwife answered. She leaned over and studied her patient’s placid face. “Linda, dear, Linda. Listen to me, the baby’s coming. Do you hear me, girl? Your baby, it’s coming soon.” The midwife put her ear near the girl’s slack mouth.
The figure in the bed lay unmoving, her eyes closed. The hair that grew between the scars on Linda’s scalp was still a glorious auburn. It hung in thin patches. On Linda’s face were few scars, but her complexion had a grayish cast. Rebecca comforted herself by thinking it was better than the charred black it had been.
“Oh dear, oh my dear . . . ” The midwife frowned as she listened to Linda’s heart. She tucked clean rags and towels under her patient, replacing those that were blood soaked. She sighed, “Your girl is dying.”
Staring at the bloodstained rags, Rebecca felt nothing. Is this how it is? Is this how you get through the loss of a child?
The baby slipped out and into the midwife’s gnarled hands. Linda’s eyes sprang open and rolled back. The woman wrapped the new baby boy in a blanket as Rebecca stroked her daughter’s face. Holding her daughter’s dead hand, she sang a lullaby.
The midwife tapped Rebecca’s shoulder. “You have a grandson; hold him now.”
Taking the small bundle, Rebecca slid her index finger between the soft folds of the blanket, uncovering the baby’s face. Revulsion overwhelmed her as the infant’s eyes, yellow and cold, stared back.
She named the baby Bernard, after her stern father. Three days later, Rebecca found an old woman willing to take her grandson to a London orphanage. She hoped he would die there, but she doubted he would. The child had a way of insisting that his needs be met. She wanted him far away, while he was small and weak, while her mind still belonged to her.
Nine years passed. Linda rested in the ground, next to the two uncles she never met. Rebecca lived in the cottage alone, her father dead from a cancer that took his dignity along with his life. The post had arrived the day before. As she sat rocking, her body aching from scrubbing and ironing the laundry of single men and the well-to-do, she opened an envelope marked: St. Stephen’s Home for Orphans. He’s dead, she thought, hoped—please, I can’t . . .
Someone had sent a newspaper clipping detailing the murder of Mrs. Rita Croft and the disappearance of Crispin Baker, known as Professor Theosopho, a self-proclaimed psychic. Police were questioning guests at a fundraiser held for the benefit of an orphanage, attended by Mrs. Croft and the Professor. The name circled, it was the same orphanage where her grandson had been taken.
The note enclosed with the clipping said, “He’s missing. Say a prayer that he stays lost.” That night, Rebecca prayed that her grandson stayed lost forever.