Short Stories by E. M. Duesel

The Chair

It was mid October and the leaves on the trees were turning their vibrant colors of yellow, orange and red.  Usually fall is regarded as the beginning of the end, but in Stacey McKinney’s eyes, it was the beginning of a most anticipated life.  She graduated from the local university last spring with a degree in Journalism, and worked at the Dairy Mart over the summer while she sent out resumes.  Last week the position of junior reporter at the Country Star came knocking at her door and she got the job.  It was a good start, and the pay was enough for her to strike out on her own, over the protest of her parents.

That fine Friday morning, she and her best friend, Maggie Turner, set out to explore second hand shops and any leftover seasonal garage and yard sales.  The goal was to find furniture to fill Stacey’s new apartment.  They went from store to store and sale to sale finding nothing.  Ready to give up, they discovered one last shop which was bursting with odd pieces.  Its setting produced recollections of all things past that exuded character and seemed to trigger bizarre imprints upon shoppers.

They went up one row and down another, and were stopped in the furniture area by a curious recliner.  Its design appeared to be askew, but when Stacey sat in it, she was overwhelmed by comfort and security.  Even though the color was bright orange and in some places the upholstery was a little threadbare, the price was right.  The chair just seemed to call out to her.

The girls approached the checkout counter with giggling enthusiasm.  The owner, who was as peculiar as the store asked, “Is this the first furniture purchase you’ve ever made?”

“Yes, it is and it’s the first piece of furniture that will go into my first apartment.”  Stacey beamed with pride.

“All things have a story.  It is a unique piece and will require respect and attention.”  The store owner eyed Stacey with skeptical curiosity.

Maggie piped in, “What do you mean?  It’s a chair.”  Both of the girls snickered.

“Hmm … you should always be grateful for things in your life and value them for what benefits they still have left to give.  You never know when fortune will turn on you.”

Wanting to escape the ominous conversation, Stacey said, “I will … it’s all good.”

After the purchase was made, the tug of war began to get the chair into Maggie’s SUV.  The chair seemed to control the efforts of fitting it into the car.  If it didn’t like the way the girls pushed it, the reclining end flipped out.  If they were too forceful, one of them got a finger jammed.  The peculiar conversation with the store owner haunted them and it affected the way the girls perceived the chair.  With pinched fingers and bruised arms, they were at last able to get it into Stacey’s apartment.  It looked lovely by the window, and because it was her first piece of furniture, Stacey chose to decorate her new home around its wild orange color.

The first weekend at her apartment Stacey breathed in new found freedom.  There was no one to answer to; no curfews and drinking could happen without the monitoring of concerned parents.  So, a small housewarming was planned.  As it so happened, there was a new guy who bumped into Stacey at lunch the week before and he also was extended an invitation.

People started to arrive including Stacey’s new friend, Braden Adams.  One at a time, guests sat in the chair to try it out as it had an aura that beckoned them, but none of them stayed in it very long as they preferred the pillows strewn on the floor.  However, Braden did stay in the chair.  He found it interesting. The gaudy color and its uncommon design mesmerized him.  Although he made friends with the chair, he did not fit in with Stacy’s group.  He disrespected her home by spilling his drink on the floor in a drunken stupor, he kicked the refrigerator door closed, and wiped his hands on the chair after eating some Cheetos.  He laughed when someone brought his boorish manners into question saying that the chair was so orange; no one would notice it anyway.

As the night progressed the party-goers left one by one, leaving Braden behind alone with Stacey.  He got out of the chair and grabbed Stacey and kissed her.  Plopping back down in the chair he pulled her with him.  They reclined back and Braden got aggressive.  As if having a mind of its own, the recliner’s extension dropped down on Braden’s ankle trapping it in the space between the chair and the kick bar.  It wouldn’t loosen, but instead increased its grip.

“Stacey, get me out of this damn chair!  Goddamn, it hurts.  I think my ankle is broken.”

“I’m trying.  It won’t budge.  I’ll get help.”  Stacey ran out of her apartment to her neighbor’s.  They returned with a crowbar.  As soon as the crowbar touched the chair, the clutch released and Braden’s ankle was free.  It was swollen double its normal size and Stacey and her neighbor had to take him to the emergency room.

The next day, Maggie popped over to check on Stacey intending to help her clean up after last night’s party.  “Hey, how did it go with Braden?”

Stacey, still tired from the overnight escapade to the hospital, described in detail the strange events that followed the party.  “Honestly, Mags, I could not get the chair to loosen the hold it had on Braden’s ankle.  It was like it wanted to hurt him.”

“Please tell me you don’t like that jerk.  I say yay to the chair.  He is not a keeper.”

Stacey laughed, “It’s true.  What a supreme assaholic.  He came on to me fast and furious, and when he got too familiar, the chair kind of … attacked him.”

The girls laughed at what seemed to them a piece of dumb luck believing Braden got what he deserved.  It took all day to clean the apartment, but in the midst of it, plans were made for the next party.  Halloween was closing in and because of her fascination with the macabre, and since it was her favorite holiday, Stacey wanted to host a gathering of ghouls.  They sat on the floor with their glasses of wine and lists of things to do.  An icy chill traveled passed them.

“Whoa!  Did you feel that?”  Maggie’s face whitened.

“Yeah … it’s probably nothing.  Just an apartment quirk I need to get used to.”

“Okay … well … do you want to explain why the chair is rocking by itself?”

Both girls crawled close to each other.  The chair was indeed rocking on its own.  It kept it up for about ten seconds and then stopped.  They looked at each other and rolled on the floor laughing at the thought of being so naive.  They chalked it up to the wine, the apartment’s air flow, and their active imaginations.

Monday morning came around and Stacey was late for work.  She had misplaced her cell phone, and without her phone her job was impossible.  Frantic and hurried, her phone ringer went off near the chair.  When she got closer, she realized that it was tucked down into the side of the recliner.  This was curious as neither Maggie nor Stacey wanted to sit in it after what happened to Braden, so she had no idea how her phone ended up in the chair.  With that query lingering, Stacey left the apartment to go to work.

On her way to an interview, her cell phone pinged.  Stacey checked the message.  It read, “Beware of BA.”

She immediately texted Maggie.  “Did you just text me?”

“No, why?”

“Nothing.  Stop by later.”  Stacey was now feeling frightened.  There were no people who knew both Braden and her, so she was perplexed as to who sent the message and how they got her number.  She wanted her day to be over.  The unknown message unnerved her, and she needed to solve the mystery.

Her work day finally ended, and Stacey was glad to be home.  She opened the door to her apartment.  To her amazement, the chair was moved away from the window to the other side of the room.  Behind her running footsteps startled her.

“Hey.  What’s going on?”  Maggie came right after work.

“Things are getting very creepy.”  Stacey stepped aside to reveal the chair.

“Oh, did you decide to move it?”

“Uh … no.  I came home to it like this.  Then there is the text message I got.”

“What text message?”  Maggie was confused.

“Today.  I got a text message telling me to beware of BA.  Here let me show you.”  As Stacey tried to find the message, it was no longer in her phone.  “Okay, now I’m really freaked.”

“BA.  You mean like Braden Adams?  Do you think he sent it to scare you?”

“I don’t know.  But, if he did, how did he get to my phone to erase the message?  I haven’t seen or heard from him since the party.  Listen, can you spend the night with me?  I am really spooked.  I feel like I’m in the middle of a Halloween sequel.”

Maggie laughed.  “Yeah.  Come with me to pick up some things for tomorrow.”

Just the break from the scene at the apartment was enough to set things right again with Stacey.  They were still at a loss as to how the chair got moved, but that was a puzzle for another day.  The friends got Chinese take-out, and picked up another bottle of wine.  When they got back to the apartment, they ate and made further plans for the Halloween party.  Well mellowed, they went to bed and fell fast asleep.

In the middle of the night, Stacey awoke to something moving around in her living room.  She shook Maggie.  “Mags, wake up.  Someone is in the living room.”

Sitting up in bed, the girls held their breath.  Visions of Braden armed with a butcher knife played with their minds.  They heard a low moaning and a rubbing noise; then a creaking like someone was rocking in the chair.  The creaking stopped, but the sound of footsteps made their way closer and closer to the bedroom door sending chills down their spines.  They stopped right outside the door.  The girls clung to their blankets and each other.  Hampered breathing could be heard from the other side as if whatever it was, was deciding whether to enter.  Afraid to move, Stacey and Maggie sat straight up in bed for what seemed like forever.  The door never opened, the footsteps stopped, and the breathing died out.

Lying back in the bed, relieved but still frozen with fear, Stacey said, “Let’s go out and check to see what it is?”

“You know what?  Let’s just count our blessings and wait until morning.”  Maggie was the practical one.

“Maybe we should call the police?”

“And report what.  We heard creaking in the living room?  No, let’s just wait it out until morning.”

“No, no.  We need to see …” Stacey was altogether too eager to flirt with this unknown danger.

“What do you mean we, Kemosabe?  I’m not going out there.”

Over Maggie’s whispered protests, Stacey got out of bed and slowly tip-toed her way to the door.  Putting her ear next to it, she listened.  There was nothing.  She turned the door knob to open it.

“Stacey, don’t open it!”  Maggie couldn’t believe what Stacey was doing.

There was a hard knock on the door and it slammed shut sending Stacey careening back to her bed as Maggie caught her.  They were beyond terrified, but Stacey loved the thrill.  As they clung to one another the door creaked slowly open.  A mist floated in and drifted in front of the bed where the girls held their breath in shock, and then it shifted towards the dresser mirror.  The reflection of an old woman appeared.  Stacey and Maggie screamed at the top of their lungs and ran out of the room and out of the apartment.

Still in their pajamas, they went to sit in Maggie’s car until morning, but they realized that her car was locked and the keys were in her purse in the apartment.  It was freezing cold.  There was no other choice but to go back into the apartment to get the keys.

“Alright, look.  We go together.  My purse is near the door, so it shouldn’t be so bad.”  Maggie tried to convince herself that everything was okay.

“Yeah, okay.  We go together.”  Stacey agreed.

When they got to the stoop to the front door, hanging from the doorknob were Maggie’s keys still on the lanyard where she kept them.  No purse, but the keys were there for the taking.  The night held no end of freakishness.  Whatever it was, it seemed to know their every movement and thought and it just kicked them out.  It was Stacey and Maggie’s very own little nightmare, and Stacey was getting a weird form of delight from it.

Morning found the two huddled together in the back of the SUV.  Still charged with trepidation, they worked up the nerve to go back into the apartment.  To their astonishment, the chair was once again moved next to the window.  It had a wash cloth hanging over one arm and the mark left by Braden’s fingers from his Cheetos disaster was gone; rubbed away by the wash cloth which had the telltale signs of orange Cheetos powder on it.  Everything was like it had been the first time Stacey arranged her apartment around the chair.

Because of her attraction to the paranormal, Stacey had heard of a local woman with extrasensory gifts.  She called her that afternoon and arranged for a meeting in the apartment for later in the evening.  Normally, Maggie would have balked at the idea of a psychic, but last night convinced her that something was amiss and she was curious.

On her way to another interview for the newspaper, Stacey was engrossed in her notes.  A man’s hand grabbed her arm and pulled her backward.  She spun around to be face to face with Braden Adams.

“Braden, I thought you broke your ankle.”

“Uh, no.  It’s pretty banged up, put I can still walk … or, you know, limp on it.”

“Oh, well.  Glad to hear it.  I have to go, I have an interview.”

He held onto her arm. “Umm … maybe we can get together sometime.”

“Listen, I don’t think so.”  Braden was no longer attractive to Stacey.  She wondered how she never noticed it before, but he had bad breath and an arrogance that was not at all right.

Still holding on to her, Braden threatened, “No, we’ll see each other again.  I know it.”

“Let me go, Braden … now.”  Stacey lifted her high-heeled shoe aiming at his injured ankle, and he let go of her arm.

“I won’t always have this limp, you know.  Just biding my time, Stace.  Some day you will look over your shoulder and there I’ll be.”

“Don’t bet on it.”  That’s all Stacey needed right now.  She was still creeped out by the crazy stuff going on in her home.  Braden Adams was the least of her worries.

Evening set in and Stacey and Maggie were ready.  For what, they weren’t sure, but something had to be explained.  Sierra Cummings was a well-known psychic in the area who had an interview with the newspaper and that’s how Stacey knew how to contact her.

As they all met in front of the apartment, Sierra was distracted.  “Wow, there is definitely something going on.  Let’s go in.  She’s waiting.”

Maggie and Stacey gave each other a stunned look and followed Sierra in.  Not missing a beat, Sierra sat down in the chair.  The girls were intrigued.  After a few minutes of silent meditation, she got up and cleansed the space with sage and lit white candles.  She said a prayer and then motioned to the girls.

“Come sit with me ladies.  Hold hands.  Myra has a message for you.  Clear your minds of all that bothers you … take some deep breaths.  Good.”  A few more minutes passed and Sierra began to speak.  “Myra Schultz was the owner of this chair.  She wants you to understand its importance and why she haunts it.  She became a widow in her middle age.  Her life spun out of control after her husband died because he was the bread winner and she was a homemaker.  He didn’t have life insurance and he died too soon, leaving her with nothing.  They had no children, so she soon became homeless.  Not on the street, homeless, but she still had to live with various members of her family until she got on her feet.  She says that people don’t know what it’s like not having a space to call your own.  You have to rely on others for food, heat, electricity and even toilet paper.  It was a horrible experience for her and she swore that when she got on her feet, the first thing she would buy for her home was a chair to call her own.  This chair became her space to be.  It was hers and no one else’s.  She cared for it because it was a symbol of her personal freedom from a life of reliance on other people, and to her it was sacrosanct.  It was her place to feel comfort and security when the world threatened her.  She wants it respected.  If she can trust that you will respect it, she will move on into the light.”

“I get that, but, why did she scare us so last night?”  Stacey was confused by this sweet spirit.

“She cannot control her energy and she is very worried and wants to warn you about a young man that was here during a party you had.”  Sierra jerked into a trance and her voice aged and weakened.  “… he … is … bad … he is dangerous … he wants to hurt you … hurt you … hurt you.  Don’t let him near you!  He has raped … killed others … beware of him … he is coming for you.   Follow the roses …”

“Holy crap.”  Maggie shuttered, and her words broke the trance.

“How then?  How can he be stopped?”  Stacey was concerned, especially after her encounter with Braden earlier.

“Well, she’s gone now.”  Sierra was only concerned for crossing Myra over and wasn’t sure whether that happened.  But there was a more desperate situation going on here.

“Sierra, Myra is right.  Braden ambushed me this afternoon in front of the newspaper office.  I was on my way to an interview and he practically threatened me.”

“You didn’t tell me that, Stacey.”  Maggie was surprised.

“I didn’t have the time.  Listen, I’m worried about this.  What could Myra have meant by follow the roses?” Stacey pleaded with Sierra.

“I don’t know.  But, when she gave you that message I believe this was the way to catch him and stop him.”

The next day, Stacey researched any rapes or murders that involved a rose.  In the police reports were three rape/murders where a rose was left behind by the killer.  Her predicament was how to alert the police to Braden Adams without sounding ridiculous.  It didn’t seem likely that she could work with law enforcement on this.  The idea that Braden was out in the world lurking troubled Stacey, mostly because he didn’t seem like the kind of predator that gave up easily.

The Halloween party was the following Saturday.  Now that they thought they had rid it of its haunting, the apartment was a pleasure to live in the last few days, and Maggie and Stacey were excited for a good time.  The morning of the party came fast and the girls were out purchasing some dry ice for effect and other necessaries.  Their packages were heavy so they were distracted by how to carry everything into the apartment along with the hundred pounds of dry ice.  So, they didn’t see the dozen red roses left on Stacey’s kitchen table until all the items were unloaded.  The card read, See you soon.

“How did he get in?”  Stacey’s heart pounded.

“Stacey, I don’t know, but we should call the police.  This is too weird.”

“No, no.  I can handle this jerk.”

“You’re kidding, right?  Stacey …”

“Just let me handle it.  I have Halloween on my side.”  Stacey laughed like the scary guy telling a horror story making Maggie chuckle and roll her eyes.

Both of the girls supposed that Braden would show up at the party that night.  But, Stacey refused to divulge her plan, and Maggie’s skin crawled at Stacey’s present demeanor.  She didn’t believe Stacey had a plan at all but instead was spellbound by the idea of a murder and rapist attending the party.  It was as if she were someone else.  Stacey always loved the thrill of the unknown, like her willingness to get out of bed and confront the ghost on the other side of the door.  Her abnormal interest in all things creepy shook Maggie down to her core.

Their costumes were fun.  Maggie dressed like a killer clown and Stacey was a dark fortune teller with long grisly nails and a big wart on her chin.  Everything was set up and ready to go.  Maggie watched as Stacey set up prank after prank all meant to terrify the living guts out of people.  Chilling screams were triggered when someone walked by certain figures that were motion activated, an automatic hand reached out and grabbed at people.  There was a bowl of fake worms and eyeballs floated in a jar.  Stacey’s phobophilia was intensifying, and it all kick started in response to Braden’s threats.

The living room had drinks, and food, and music.  A werewolf, followed by a zombie came through the door, and party-goers filed in dressed in everything from funny characters to frightening ones.  Maggie and Stacey scrutinized every one, keeping a lookout for Braden.  He could have been any of them.

Stacey’s bedroom was turned into a fortune telling den complete with Ouija board and tarot cards and Stacey reading palms.  As the night progressed, a group of guests asked her to conduct a séance with the spirit board.  Gathering around it, vampires, witches, clowns, and werewolves rubbed shoulders.  A Freddy hung back in the corner of the room decked out with a fedora and sharp cutlery.  Uneasy with this guy, Maggie and Stacey caught each other’s eye.

An icy chill seeped into the area around the spirit board.  A little surprised, they all just went with it, and to Stacey it added to the intrigue.  The Ouija board spelled out, “beware of B A.”  Maggie looked around for a familiar entity.  Everything got eerie.  Freddy shifted uncomfortably in his corner.  Working wildly around the board, it spelled “… I warned you … he is here …” The hodgepodge of ghouls was now stimulated by the intensity in the room.

One asked, “Who is here?”

The board spelled out “… rapist …”

A chorus of “ugh” and “yikes” and “damn, this is creepy” were heard from around the table.  It caused such uproar that when Maggie and Stacey looked for Freddy, he had left without detection.  He was nowhere to be seen.

The pointer moved aggressively around the board in a circular motion throwing some hands off, while others clung to keep the spirit focused on her message.  “… he … will … be … back …”

Stacey asked, “Who will be back?”

“… B … A …”

The commotion in Stacey’s bedroom attracted others from the living room.  It was jam-packed with interested guests.  So fixed on what was happening with the spirit board, no one saw the face of Freddy look through the bedroom window from outside.  No one except Myra, that is.

“… he … is … here …”  The pointer continued and then dropped off the edge of the board pointing to the window.

So hair-raising was this exchange with Myra on the spirit board that the energy in the room was electric.  They could have levitated something if they had tried.  Slight whimpers of, “God, this is creepy” to “I think I want to go home” were heard around the room.

“Where is he?  Is he in this room?” Maggie wanted answers.

“… outside …”  A rush of guests ran outside to look around.  There was no one there.  They agreed laughing that the spirit board was just a great hoax, and they abandoned it for the rest of the party.  Meanwhile, Maggie and Stacey stayed close to one another.

As the party wound down, guests left one at a time, but Gemma, the last to leave and one who had a little too much to drink needed a ride home.  “Stace, you need to come with me.  You cannot stay here by yourself.”  Maggie was concerned about Myra’s warning.

“I would, but what if he sneaks back in the apartment while we are gone?  Come on, it’s just a few blocks away.  Take Gemma home and come right back.  I should be okay.” Reluctantly, Maggie agreed and she guided a puking Gemma outside and left Stacey alone.

The apartment looked like a cyclone hit, so Stacey locked the door, and she began the cleanup.  She moved some leftovers into the kitchen and wrapped them up for the refrigerator.  As she walked into the living room to retrieve more leftovers, a chill swept past her and the chair began to rock.  Then a hard knock sounded from the bedroom.  Stacey titillated by fear and adrenaline, walked into the bedroom.  Once there, the door slammed shut and Braden emerged from the shadows.

“Braden, how did you get back into the apartment?”  Her fear was heightened.

“When everyone came back in from trying to find me outside, I came back with them.  No one knew that I was the one your ghostly friend was hinting at.  I must admit, you had me going, too.  I mean, how did you know?”

“She really is here.  That wasn’t me manipulating the board … and she is here right now.”  Stacey looked around for Myra.  “This would be a good time to show up, Myra.”

Braden’s hand came from behind his back.  He dropped a rose on the bed next to Stacey, and then revealed the knife he had concealed in his other hand.  “Here, my love.  Something romantic before the fun.”  He grabbed her holding the knife to her throat and then tore open her top.

A force came from behind and pulled Braden to the floor.  “What the hell!  How did you do that?”

Stacey seized the opening and kicked Braden in his sore ankle.  As he struggled to get up, he was shoved down again by the unknown force.  He screamed at Stacey, “What is that?”

“Her name is Myra, and you shouldn’t have messed with her chair.”

Braden, whose ankle was pretty well battered, dragged himself to the door.  It slammed shut.  Stacey walked over to him and kicked him again.  “You know I always knew that some guys only think with their lower body parts.  Don’t you know how unattractive that makes you?”  Preparing to give him another swift kick, this time somewhere a little dearer to him, Maggie was heard pounding on the front door.  The bedroom door automatically opened to let Stacey through and then slammed shut again.

Opening the front door, Stacey yelled, “He’s here … in the bedroom …”

“Are you kidding?”  Questions filled Maggie’s head.

“No, we need to call the police.  Myra has him locked in.”

While Stacey was calling the police a confused Maggie’s face puckered, “What?”

The police arrived and Stacey filed a police report for the assault.  She told them what she had found out in her research and gave them the rose and the knife for evidence.  Braden was carried out of the apartment in handcuffs on a stretcher.

The girls sat down on the floor of the living room and stared as the chair rocked back and forth.  When it stopped, they heard soft footsteps go into the bedroom.  Trailing after them, they saw Myra’s reflection in the dresser mirror.  She smiled, blew a kiss and faded away.

After that night, both friends believed in the paranormal, but held a deep respect and gratitude for life’s gifts and they never forgot Myra and the help she gave to avoid a murderer’s dark intentions.  The chair stayed with Stacey for a very long time, but under her careful protection.

The Legacy

There I was.  There they were – all twenty-nine cast members to be choreographed in the musical Godspell.  The musical was written for thirteen people, but this being high school, the more students the better.  To make matters even more intense, this was to be my first attempt at choreographing a high school musical.  It might not have been any different except for one prime factor – teenagers.  I looked at them as they sized me up and down as if to ask, “Just what does she think she can do for us?  She doesn’t even look like a dancer.”

Panic set in.  Memories from another time in my life, the first time I had ever felt that same sickening feeling in the hollow of my stomach surfaced.  They bubbled to the forefront of my mind sending me back in time.

“Name!” snapped the receptionist behind the desk at the Ballet School.  A timid response escaped my lips.

“Take the stairs to the right, all the way to the top.”  With all of the courage an eleven-year-old girl could muster, I turned and walked toward the stairs.  From the top of that staircase, the one that would become a beloved ritual three times a week, I heard piano music beckoning me.  The smell of the school was the same smell that any old building acquires after fifty years of standing sturdy and used: a kind of musty, dirty, aged smell that speaks of wisdom and greatness – wisdom from all those who taught there and greatness from all those who studied there.  I was going to be one of those students.  How delighted I was at the prospect.  After years of begging my parents for dance lessons, I was finally becoming a dancer.  With that in mind, the desire outweighed the fear, and I climbed quickly to the top of those very steep stairs to discover another hurdle.

The teacher was beautiful, with striking blue eyes and jet black hair pulled into a chignon at the nape of her neck.  Her eye-liner and lip color were dramatically applied reminding me of a porcelain doll.  Her back was straight as if a ruler had been glued to her back bone, and she walked with her feet and legs turned out in the manner of every properly trained ballerina.  Her black leotard smelled of Jean Nate’ Body Splash and she sported a cane.  Her graceful demeanor was enhanced by the filmy black rehearsal skirt she wore, and I loved her.  I didn’t know her, but I loved her just the same.  Through the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl, she was the Ballet personified.

As I shyly stood at the studio door, my new instructor welcomed me warmly and placing her hands on my shoulders maneuvered me to my place at the barre’.  It was then that I became all too aware that there were only two other students in that class my age.  All of the rest were five or six years old.  I compared myself to them.  How humiliating.  It just took my parents so long to let me take dance, and it was weird.  I wondered whether I should leave, but I had waited so long to be here.  It was too late, the music had started.

“Demi plie’ and releve’ …,” hummed my teacher, while beating the floor in time with her cane.  Darn if that five-year-old in front of me isn’t good.  I wonder if anyone has ever been arrested for slaughtering classical ballet technique.  My mind wandered recollecting the dancers my mother took me to see in every ballet performance we attended and I desperately wanted to be that accomplished, but now it was just a matter of keeping up with the cane’s rhythm.

The music kept on and on.  My hands were sweating and my muscles ached.  We progressed from one barre’ exercise to the next.  The smell of perspiration mixed with rosin and wood permeated the air.  Looking into the mirror, I compared my undisciplined, dough-boy body to that of my teacher’s firm classical form.  I was ready to give up when she came over and patiently rearranged my arms and legs.  Then she whispered, “Keep it up, you are on your way.”

What was that?  Was I dreaming or were those words of encouragement?  She was wonderful.  The state of euphoria I felt puzzled me. As I flew down the stairs after class, I will never forget the feeling of confidence that this one individual instilled in me.  With those few compassionate, understanding words, and sustained patience that followed, she led me down a forked road.  I discovered not only dance, but another way to embrace people.  The art of teaching became as equally important as the freedom I experienced when dancing.  Some day those gentle traits, lost in the depths of my soul, would surface …

… and there they were and there I was.  Peering into that sea of faces, I sensed insecurity, awkwardness, arrogance, and even belligerence.  Twenty-nine gum-chewing, acne-face, hip-slinging, hair-sprayed, sneaker-footed teenagers waiting for me to make the first move.  Whatever they were, they were my students and by virtue of that fact alone, I owed them.  I owed them the best of all of my talents.  I suddenly felt committed to the patience, compassion and understanding required of any decent teacher.  They deserved nothing less than the treasured legacy she left me, and who knows.  Maybe someday one of those students may look back and remember, and her legacy will live on forever.

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In 1973 the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, and from that point on, women in the United States had access to safe medical abortions.  This was partly due to an activist group that formed in the late 1960’s comprised of medical professionals and an unlikely combination of religious clerics from Baptist ministers to Jewish rabbis.  There were 1400 across the country, who lobbied for legalized abortion while secretly offering places for women to get the help they needed.  The Pendulum Swings is written in memory of the thousands of women who lost their lives, some in the arms of their religious confidants, and of the brave spiritual leaders who saw the injustice and acted.  The intolerance of a patriarchal society was recognized by this group and summed up in the following quote by persons unknown… “There really can be no justification for treating fetal life as if fully human, when existent female human persons are not valued at least to the same degree.”  Today, in 2018, this conflict continues, only now religious groups are acting against a woman’s choice. With this in mind, my friends, I present to you, The Pendulum Swings.

Walking became running in the foot of snow that tripped and engulfed her when she fell.  The white fluff left bloody imprints of her body and she struggled furiously to reach her intended destination. What would her children think of her if they found out that she terminated the life of a future sibling? Her husband didn’t even know that she was pregnant for the ninth time, and to him it was what women did. It was a woman’s responsibility to bear children and keep a home.  Even now, in 1967, those old values plagued the lives of women. Mary stumbled up the stairs to the parsonage. It was almost midnight, but she banged screaming on the door until lights went on in the foyer. “Help me! Please, Reverend White, help me!”

“Mary! What has happened to you? Sandra, Sandra, come quickly, and bring lots of towels.” Reverend Richard White’s face turned pale. He knew what this was. He had seen it much too often.

“Dear God, Mary!” Sandra rushed to Mary’s side.

“Reverend, please don’t call the police, or… or the hospital. And don’t call Terry either.  He didn’t even know about the baby.”  Mary shook from fear and shock. Her face was drained of color.

“Don’t worry, Mary. You’re safe here with us. Stay with her, Sandy. I’m going to call Doctor Evans and then the convent.”

Richard was a member of an underground group of clerics and medical professionals that had formed a coalition to counsel and rescue women who were either seeking an abortion or to give them medical attention if they had made the inadvisable decision to find a back alley hack.  Some of the women did it themselves. Abortion was illegal and contraception was frowned upon, and the only safe places for them to go were their churches and temples. These women had nowhere to turn and what Dick saw over the last few years was nothing short of horrific. The desperation of young girls and women seemed to pounce on him from every direction once he finally surrendered to the nagging prod to help them.

“Dicky, hurry! We’re losing her!” Sandra screamed from the other room.

“Doc! Doc, this is Dick White. Come as fast as you can. We have another one.”

Although only ten minutes had passed from the Reverend’s phone call until Doctor Darryl Evans reached the parsonage, it seemed like it had been to the end of time. “Take me to her.”  Doc rushed through the door.

“She passed out a little bit ago, and she hasn’t stirred. Oh, Doc. Can we save her?” Sandra White was a devoted pastor’s wife and when Dick made the decision to minister to women on the verge of abortion, she was right by his side.

“Dick, help me get her onto the table. Did you call Sister Corrine?” Doc prepared Mary for surgery.

Dick grunted as he helped move Mary. “Yes. She is coming right over. She has to make up an excuse to tell her abbess, but she’ll be along any minute now.”

“Good, cuz she’s the best nurse I know. Come on, Mary darling, keep breathing.”

There was a knock on the door.  A frantic Corrine pushed her way in the second Sandra opened it. “Where is the patient?”

“Follow me.” Sandra escorted Sister to the dining room where Mary lay on the makeshift operating table.

“Oh, no, Doc. This is Mary Robinson. I met with her last week when she told me she was pregnant. I should have dug deeper. There was no happiness, just that hollow stare.”

“Don’t blame yourself, Corrine. Intolerance is to blame.” Doc began the procedure to repair any damage that had been done by the coat hanger Mary used to abort her fetus. “Geez, Mary, you really did a number on yourself. I don’t know how… uh-oh, no, no… she’s hemorrhaging. I can’t stop it. Quick, someone get some ice.” Sandra rushed back with a bowl of ice, but found only an empty and powerless silence. For all of their efforts, Mary had died.

“Goddamnit! This has got to stop!” Doc Evans threw a blood soaked towel onto the floor.

“You did your best, Doc. That’s all we can do right now.” Corrine wiped Mary’s blood from her hands.

Dick finished a silent prayer over Mary’s body and with a scary determination said, “No, no, it’s not. It can’t be. This has become an unacknowledged epidemic. Nowhere in the bible does it say that women should not have control over their reproductive rights. This is State sanctioned murder.” Dick was done.

“So, what do you want to do?” Doc stood tired and beaten.

“Our group is made up of Baptist, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian brethren. I say we band together and push for legalized abortion.

“Whoa, that would expose all of us. Are we ready for that?” Sister Mary Corrine didn’t know if that would work for her.

“For all of our faith filled efforts, for all of our prayers, this particular social condition is not going to go away. It’s much deeper than preaching to just “have faith.” Women are suffering at the hands of an unjust patriarchal system where they have never been recognized as much more than second class citizens.”

“Calm down, Dicky. There’s nothing more we can do tonight.” Sandra slipped her arm around the good Reverend to comfort him.

“Let me think on it. Right now, I have to call the Coroner.” Doc Evans waned. It was a never ending cycle. Sure, they could all walk away from it. They could take the stance the majority had taken that these women were sinners. They were loose, or crazy, or just plain stupid for getting themselves into the situation in the first place. But, it wouldn’t change a thing.  Abortions would continue, performed by hacks looking to make a quick buck or executed by the women themselves. It was a damn mess.

As the four waited for the Coroner’s arrival, Sister Corrine decided it would be best if she wasn’t there when they came to remove Mary’s body. She knew that this would never be sanctioned by the Church, especially because she was a nun. Corrine had a heavy decision ahead.  Was she a nurse or a nun first? The blood of all of these women plagued her. Their suffering, both mental and physical, was real and no one… no one was paying any attention to their pain.

“We’ll see you later?” Sandra smiled.

“Yeah… later.”  Corrine closed the door behind her engulfed in deep thought.

The Coroner finally arrived along with the police. “Reverend, I’m Detective Marty Bennet. You want to tell me what happened here?” The detective was smug as he sauntered over to Dick.

“Yes, Detective. The deceased is Mary Robinson. She is a parishioner of mine. Doctor Evans will confirm that she performed an abortion on herself and came to me for help.”

“You.  Why’d she come to you?  Why not her husband?”

“Well, I guess because I’m her pastor. Look, it’s a sensitive issue and I don’t think her husband knew she was even pregnant, so can you take it easy until we can break the news to him?”

“You called him?  He’s on his way?”

“Not yet. We wanted to wait until you got here. I’ll do that now.” Dick walked away feeling a little vulnerable.

“Is that right, Doctor?  Mrs. Robinson did an abortion on herself?” The cop had a toothpick in his mouth that he rolled from one side to the other as he waited for answers.

“Unfortunately, that is true.” Doc replied.

“It’s against the law. Abortion. It’s against the law. Why didn’t you call the police right away?”

Doc was just tired enough and just angry enough to let his belligerence show. “Because, Detective, she was bleeding to death. There wasn’t time and my oath is to save the patient not call the law.”

“Don’t go anywhere. I may have some more questions.”  The detective strolled away to further investigate the scene.

Dick whispered to Doc. “He’s a bit distrustful. What do you think he’s up to?”

“I don’t know. Did you call Terry Robinson?”

“Yeah. He’s on his way over.”

Just as the Coroner was hoisting Mary’s body onto the gurney, Mr. Robinson came rushing through the open door. “Pastor, what’s going on?  You said something about Mary? Oh, lord, is that her? Oh, lord. Mary? Oh, god, is she dead?”

“Here, come over here, Terry. Sandy, help me.”

“Terry, please. Come away from here. Come into the kitchen with us and let us tell you what happened.” Sandra gently maneuvered him to the kitchen and away from the bloody scene.

“Mr. Robinson, um… Terry, my name is Doctor Darryl Evans. I was called here by Pastor White. It seems your wife took it upon herself to perform her own abortion. It was crudely done and she hit the uterine artery and by the time I got to her there was nothing I could do to save her. I’m… I’m so very sorry.”

“A… a what?  An abortion… Mary wasn’t pregnant. Was she?”

“She was, Terry. She just hadn’t told you yet.” Sandra spoke the words so softly.

The peace was broken when Terry jumped up from the table. “That bitch! That thankless bitch! I gave her everything. She wanted for nothing and she kills our child?  She kills herself?  I can’t do this. I can’t do this right now.” As Terry raced toward the door, Dick tried to stop him in order to calm him down. Terry turned on him and punched him in the face. “What did you say to her? Did you tell her to do this? Mary wouldn’t have done this on her own. Is that why she came to you and not me?”

Doc helped Dick to his feet. “Terry, why would you think that?”

“Because. I know what you all do. We all know what you all do. Leave me… uh… leave me be.”  With that, Terry ran out the back door.

“Why didn’t you hold him here? I still have questions for him.” Detective Bennet stood at the edge of the kitchen.

“Really? Did you see what happened here? There was no stopping him and he’s grief stricken.” Dick was holding his bleeding nose over the sink.

“What’d he mean when he said that he knew what you all did?”

“I don’t know. He’s delirious right now.” Doc stepped up.

“Don’t worry. I’ll find out. It always comes out.” Detective Bennet strolled away.

After the Coroner and the police left, Doc, Sandra and Dick sat around the kitchen table.  “Hey, Rev. You have something a little stronger than coffee?” Doc Evans was spent.

“Yeah, Sandy, me, too, please?”

“Don’t worry fellas, me three.” Sandy pulled a bottle of whiskey out of the cupboard.

“Doc, now don’t go petering out on me at this stage of the game. I can’t do this without your help.”

“No. If it weren’t for the pictures of all of the girls and women who have died from hacked abortions embedded in my mind, I’d be out o’ here. But I can’t. So, I’m in. That Detective is suspicious about us, though.”

“He is, isn’t he? Well, one thing is for sure. We need another place for women to go for counseling and their surgeries. I think my parsonage is a hot spot for police to be watching us.”

“How much do we have in donations right now?”

“I don’t know. Sandy, do you know?” Dick and Sandra were a good team.

“Of course. We have around $2300. Is that enough to rent a place?”

“It is. But that’s just a start. We’re going to have to work harder to form a coalition with the others. Ours can be the first underground clinic and they can refer patients to us.”

“How many ministers and rabbis are we linked into right now?” Doc questioned.

“Around 500 on the East Coast. There are others forming across the rest of the country, especially in California. We could become a strong national group. You know, I believe this Detective Bennet is going to try to mess with us, but he may not realize how many cops will look the other way. Too many of them have seen what we see, and some have had to use the connections we have.” Dick wondered about his new calling sometimes, but those doubts all fell away when another woman was saved.

“Okay, then. Tomorrow we look for a place for the clinic.” Dick raised his glass. “To finally giving women value.” The three clinked their glasses, drank and went to bed hoping for a more just future.

In the months to come, Dick White and Doctor Evans found a small house they rented for a minimal cost. Women came by the hundreds within the first couple weeks. The stories ranged from those of women being raped, to young girls as young as twelve being molested and raped by a family member, to women like Mary Robinson, who just didn’t have the wherewithal, mentally or physically to have another child.

Detective Bennet had taken to planting himself outside the parsonage. Sandra tried to ignore the fact that he was there, and Dick made calls from his office in the church. They suspected that their home phone had been bugged. But, not all people were aware of the new clinic and one evening a black mother and her twelve year old daughter knocked on the parsonage door.

“May I help you?” Sandra asked.

“Please, please. Someone told me that you and your husband could maybe help us. May we come in?”

Sandra glanced around only to see Detective Bennet’s car parked conspicuously down the street. She took a deep breath and said, “Yes, of course. Come in.”

“Thank you. We are desperate and I didn’t know where else to turn. I mean, I could have tried to do something myself, but…”

“No, don’t. Perish the thought. Let me get my husband and you can tell us all about your situation.”

When Dick joined them in the kitchen, Sandra had already made coffee and sandwiches. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

“Well, um, is it okay for us to tell you that?” The mother was distraught.

“Here, with us, you have nothing to fear.” Sandra smiled.

“Well, okay. Um… my name is Sarah and this is my daughter Latrice. About six weeks ago, Latrice was walking home from school when a man jumped her. He dragged her into a garage and beat her and raped her and left her for dead. She was barely alive when I finally found her and got her home. We didn’t want to draw attention to her shame, so I nursed her myself at home. She just went back to school a couple of weeks ago, but now… now, after all she has been through, she has missed a period. I think she might be pregnant.” Sarah’s eyes spilled tears as she finished her story.

“Sarah, listen to me. Latrice has nothing to be ashamed of.” Dick was always astonished when women perceived their sexual assaults as their shame. “She was attacked. This is not something that she brought upon herself.” A hard knocking at the front door startled them.

“I’ll get it.” Sandra volunteered. As she opened the door she realized who it was.  “Detective Bennet! What can I do for you?”

“I saw a colored lady and a girl come here. What do they want? You won’t mind if I come on in and ask them myself, now do you?” Bennet forced his way into the house.

“Detective Bennet. Would you like to join us for coffee and sandwiches?” Dick rounded the doorway into the foyer.

“Why, yes. Thanks. Don’t mind if I do.”

“Sarah and Latrice, this is Detective Marty Bennet. He has a purpose for visiting of that I’m sure, but, right now I don’t know what it is.” Dick laughed as he spoke.

“Well, I was just wondering why a colored lady and her daughter would be visiting you on this end of town, Reverend White. That’s all.”

“On this end of town?  Really, huh. Well, that’s easy. Latrice needs to be baptized by immersion in order for her to attend a Baptist retreat for young teens happening this weekend.  Her minister is gone on a mission trip and won’t be back for another month. So, they have asked me to do it.”

“This retreat, uh, they have coloreds and whites?”

“No, Detective.” Dick was annoyed. “It is a retreat sponsored by their own Baptist church.”

“You sure it’s not more like this little girl got herself into trouble and she and her mama come here to ask for your help?”

Sarah held her breath. Latrice’s eyes grew wide and then Sandra said, “Detective, I am going to ask you to leave our home. You can’t come here and insult our guests and consider yourself welcome. I’m asking you to please leave. Now!”  Sandra’s face was stern and Bennet knew when he was outgunned.

“Certainly. Sorry miss, ma’am. Mrs. White, thank you for your hospitality. Reverend.”  Bennet sauntered out in his normal irritating fashion.

As the front door closed and Dick came back into the kitchen, Sarah and Latrice breathed out a sigh of relief, “Do you think he knows, Reverend White? We don’t want to bring you any trouble.”

“Listen to me. You are not causing me trouble. This is my ministry to help girls and women in your daughter’s predicament. But, first, we should probably determine whether Latrice is pregnant. I’m going to give you the address of our clinic. If she does have to have an abortion, we charge $200. If you don’t have the money, that’s okay. We’ll work around it. Come to this address tomorrow morning.”

Sarah and Latrice’s eyes were so sad, but grateful. Everything that Latrice had been through was traumatic enough without having to worry about a pregnancy at twelve years old conceived from a vicious attack. The assault alone would stay with her for a very long time; one from which she may never recover.

The challenge which intensified by the day was the game played between Dick and Detective Bennet. The reverend had to leave his office from the back door and then walk to the clinic undetected. Doc Evans experienced similar surveillance episodes. His were even more daring since his generally involved meeting with the patient before going to the clinic.

All of their efforts were brought to a head when sixteen year old Juliet, who refused to give them her full name, walked through the doors of the clinic. She had been referred by Sister Corrine and despite Corinne’s urging to reveal her full identity, Juliet insisted on complete anonymity. “I can’t take the chance that my name will come out. You have no idea what this will do to my father. It has to be this way.”

“But, Juliet. This procedure for you is life threatening. Not only is the pregnancy ectopic, but you are a bleeder. I’m not going to lie to you. I could lose you on the table. Look, your pregnancy is ending on its own anyway. Let me put you in the hospital so that the proper resources will be available if complications set in. Don’t you want your mother, at least, to be with you?”

“No. No one must know what I did. I can’t… I can’t let them bear the shame and I won’t make trouble between my parents. This is my fault and my responsibility. Please, Doctor Evans, just do this for me. You are my only hope.”

“Alright.” Doc sighed and looked up to see Sandy rush into the office. “Oh, great, Sandy, you’re here. Will you prepare Juliet for the procedure. Juliet, I wish you would change your mind.”

Juliet dropped her head in defiance. Doc knew he needed to go forward despite his apprehensions. He turned to Sandy, “I need to be prepared for anything. Make sure we have lots of ice available in the room. I gotta tell you, Sandy. I don’t like this one at all.”

“Then don’t do it, Doc. And I don’t want to increase your anxiety, but Detective Bennet followed me here.”

“Well, damn it all anyway. The thing is, we don’t have time. She’s already starting to bleed hard. It needs to be done now.”

Meanwhile, Marty Bennet had already called for backup, intending to go in fully loaded.

Juliet’s procedure was underway. Everything seemed to be moving along according to medical protocol when a spurt of blood became a large flow of blood. Doc panicked. “Sandy, ice.  We need to clot the blood.”

In through the operating room door rammed Detective Bennet and his backup police force.  Doc yelled, “Get the hell out of here. I’m losing this child and you don’t belong here.”

“Juliet?  Juliet, what the… What’s my daughter doing on that table? What do you mean you’re losing her?” Marty Bennet was paralyzed. “What did you do to her?  You son-of-a-bitch!”

Doc and Sandra exchanged looks of shock as they continued to work on their patient amid Marty’s admonitions and the police holding him back. “Sandra, call an ambulance. I stopped the bleeding, but she needs a hospital. Exposure be hanged.”

An ambulance arrived and took Juliet away and the others followed her to the hospital.  Sitting, in the waiting room, Marty reflected in a sea of confusion.  Doc Evans pondered what he might have done differently. Sandra was joined by Sister Corrine and Dick. They were there for Marty, but he barely noticed. His little girl was near death and he hadn’t even known that anything was wrong.

“Did she, um, I mean, did she come to see you about this?” Marty wanted to understand.

Corrine sat down next to him. “Yes, sir. Juliet came to me yesterday when she started to spot. She already knew she was pregnant, but was unsure about what she was going to do. We talked it through and she wanted to see Doc Evans before making any kind of decision about an abortion. By that time, the bleeding had increased and Doc had to act.”

“I’m sorry, Detective. I tried to convince her to go to the hospital, but she didn’t want to disgrace you and your wife, and as the bleeding increased we didn’t have a choice.”

“Disgrace us? How could Juliet ever disgrace us? She is the sweetest child. We never would have felt ashamed of her. She could have come to us.” Marty began to cry.

Juliet Bennet died that day. Her parents lost their only child and the significance of her death and the deaths of thousands of others resounded through the churches and the synagogues, the courthouses and the Statehouses until Norma Leah McCorvey Nelson, also known as Jane Roe, lied about a pregnancy from a presumed rape in order to obtain an abortion.  Ironically, her lie of desperation resulted in the landmark decision by the Supreme Court declaring the ban on abortions was unconstitutional.

Reverend Richard White and his cohorts continued fighting for justice even after the 1973 Supreme Court decision, where they continued to fight for a woman’s right to choose. By the end, 1400 clergy and medical professionals all across the United States, had seen enough bloody carnage to know that choice was the only option for women who had already made up their minds to abort.  A woman’s decision, like her spiritual peace was for her alone to direct.

You Kicked Over My Sandcastle

We met in a sand covered land.

The water washed up onto an unknown shore.

Isolated together through happenstance,

but the land was ours to explore.

So, we began this unknown journey

that was foreign to both our souls.

A castle built of sand

which would last until we were old.

It wasn’t built on fairy tales.

It wasn’t built on romance.

It was built upon a sacred vow

and friendship upheld by chance.

Behind the back of the other,

another life was being led.

One that lurked outside the boundaries.

An omission of words unsaid.

We built a solid base

that reached three stories high.

Up to the sturdy curtain wall

to protect us from the night.

I mixed the sand with stones,

to craft the battlement with power and might,

But you removed those stones of strength

and replaced them with shale at night.

In the streaming sunlight

our castle continued to grow.

Steps laboriously sculpted to reach the bailey

where our children ran to and fro.

A moat dug deep around this dynasty

to embrace the dreams inside.

But alas the drawbridge didn’t suffice,

the inner enemy those dreams decried.

The final stage was upon us.

The keep seemed stalwart and fine.

But one soul of the castle was vulnerable

to his own cowardice and crime.

His other life took over

without any shame or remorse.

His boots began to crush the sand.

The lives he bludgeoned with force.

The aftermath was gruesome.

Our souls shredded with pain.

That the other so filled with betrayal

felt nothing but disdain.

You kicked over my sandcastle,

that I lovingly created with trust

to shield my children from brutality,

but you squashed it all to dust.

Why should I be so surprised

when the foundation was not true?

A sandcastle built on sand

Can be nothing but black and blue.      

~ Anna Moreland from WILDFLOWERS by E. M. Duesel

Monster Love

       A shadow stood amid the trees in the dark of the night gazing up at Lila’s well-lit room; her curves sensuously slid across the folds of pink silk that adorned her body. His own body pulsated with desire from head to toe. Though sexual in pretense, he played that part in many lifetimes, and in each period of living, his style reflected the sensuality of the times. Mysterious and erotic, he enticed ladies into his darkness, and they succumbed to his allure. In each lifetime his desire grew with the blood lust that cursed him. But, it no longer was enough for him to ensnare his prey. The ravenous need for blood now lacked the interest it used to, and Lila was the first woman of late to pique his interest and who might dare to satiate his unexplained appetite.

       Stas Bardhi’s jet-black hair, sleek black jeans, custom made black leather jacket and boots, all enhanced the power he needed to lure 21st century ladies to his crypt, but this century kept him on guard for those girls who lived his lifestyle. Vampirism was now blood sport and humans enjoyed a certain fascination with the legend. They understood nothing about the reality – the salty but slightly metallic drink of human blood meant to furnish life to centuries long dead people. Still, they knew enough to thwart his plans if they got too close. Thanks to them, Stas was able to control his craving for blood due to the vampire group that so enthusiastically recruited him – amateurs… human… and willing. The women fell at his feet. His charm was irresistible to them. But, this one… this one showed no interest – not even a glance.

       Lila stood before her mirror, she brushed her blonde hair with sensuous strokes, making love to the honied locks. Song drifted from her elegant mouth. Stas hissed a sigh of feral desire. Her magnetism levitated him to the second-story window where longing very nearly exposed him. His breath shortened while his body trembled. Claw-like nails emerged, his canines surfaced, and he haphazardly scratched the pane closest to him. It was enough to startle him out of his stupor.

       With a voluptuous twist, Lila stopped brushing her hair and gazed undisturbed at the window. Without breaking her song or her stride she slipped out of the silk robe, exposing long legs and a nighty that covered just enough, but not too much. Stas’s heart pumped fiercely. “Control, Stas… control!” he stammered. He dropped to the ground and ran away.

       Lila Pernell was slotted to sing at The Treble Clef the following night. New talent came and went through those doors. Some went on to more illustrious careers while others were content to play and sing for themselves. Lila didn’t seem to have that hunger for celebrity, and Pete Burger, the owner of the establishment was just fine with her coming every week to sing. She had a following who were hypnotized when she sang, and they were all drinkers. If a guy was lucky, he left with Lila at the end of the night. Pete never saw repeats, but always a new one mesmerized by Lila and thrilled to be chosen.

       The cool evening settled in. October breezes juddered the leaves from their branches and keen bargoers bustled into The Treble Clef. Alone and out of sight, a frustrated Stas waited across the street for the provocative temptress who not once gave him an encouraging look.

       “Hey, girl! You singing tonight?” A lovely young brunette called out to Lila who just seemed to manifest out of the park next to the bar.

       “Yes, I am. Are you coming?”

       The girl linked her arm into Lila’s and said, “I am.”

       Lila brushed something from her shoulder and as it fell to the ground, Stas waited and then retrieved it after the ladies entered the bar. It was a feather. It wasn’t a small feather either. It had to be at least ten inches long. Striking blue and yellow, this climate was an unlikely place for this kind of bird to exist. Where in this park would there be a bird with this kind of feather? He pocketed it and went into the bar.

       As he found a table, Lila had already settled in behind the microphone. The small crowd, mostly men, hushed with anticipation. Lila’s sultry voice began singing a bluesy melody that sent shivers down Stas’s spine. The same excitement continued from last night and grew within him. His ears throbbed. Blood pumped potently through his veins… ka-thump, ka-thump, ka… “What can I get for ya, Stas?”

       Stas’s intense physical reverie was disrupted by Pete Burger. “Uh… uh… what?”

       “Can I get you a beer or somethin’?” Pete smiled as he chewed his gum, knowing what Stas had on his mind.

       “Uh, yeah, sure. A beer. That would be good.” Stas smiled and then directed his attention back to the oh so stimulating tones of Lila Pernell. Lila’s deep V-cut dress revealed a plump cleavage which rose and fell with each controlled breath she took. Stas was entranced and had to find a way to get her attention. He was not used to being ignored.

       “Here ya go. Would you like an introduction?” Pete asked as he plunked the beer down.

       “You… uh… you can do that? I mean, you know her?” Stas had never been so bemused by a woman. Usually, he was the one who did the flummoxing.

       “Sure, stick around after her set. I’ll let her know you want to buy her a drink. That work?” Pete loved watching these guys get thrown over. It was a sick kind of fulfillment, but it floated his boat.

       “That’s great. Yeah, thanks.”  Stas managed to keep a level head while Lila sang one sexy song after another. Sweat seemed to surface with each quiver. To date, he was unaware that vampires perspired. He swiped at his brow oblivious to the effect she had on him.

       Lila finished her set. He saw Pete whisper something in her ear and she looked in Stas’s direction. Stas managed a suave kind of smile. She slayed him and he didn’t know why. She returned the smile and coolly walked over to his table.

       “Hello, my name is Lila Pernell.” Lila held her hand out.

       Taking her hand in his, Stas kissed it and then blurted, “Yes, I know. Uh… I’m Stas Bardhi. Won’t you sit down?”

       Lila slid into the chair next to him. She leaned in and said, “Do I know you, Stas?”

       “I… I come in to hear you sing. Maybe you remember me from here.” Stas stammered.

       Lila moved in closer. She lifted her lips to his ear and whispered. “Do you make a habit of slinking around a girl’s bedroom window?”

       Stas gasped. He turned to face her. “I… you are the most appealing woman I have ever seen.” He took a second to regain composure and then gazed into her eyes. “And, you see, I have known many, many women.” Stas, feeling his old charm, moved his face closer to Lila’s. “You…” Stas swallowed, “… you unnerve me. You take my breath away.”

       Moving even closer Lila said, “Ohh… well, we should leave and maybe I can give you your breath back.” Lila’s lips barely touched his.

       Stas’s heart launched into rapid drumbeats against his chest. He had to squelch a rising growl in his throat. “I would like that very much.”

       Her neck pulsed with such intensity that Stas didn’t know if he would be able to control his desire. His fangs were right there – right next to her jugular. Her heartbeat was strong and steady. He was stimulated to the point of clumsy. He stood up and stumbled over the leg of a chair. Captivation overruled embarrassment. He followed the enchantress out. Another feather lay on the ground before him.

       Once outside, Lila took Stas’s arm and led him into the park. It was dark, but Stas liked the dark – the darker the better. He was trying to decide whether to toy a little with his prey. The kill should not be tonight, but another night when he had finished feeling every sensual caress, smell, taste, and touch this exquisite creature had to offer. Only then would he finally plunge his canines deep into her sweet, porcelain neck. Maybe a third night should be added to foment the blood that coursed through that luxurious body.

       Lila eyeballed the young vamp walking so suggestively next to her. She stopped to molt a bit and shake off the down before he saw. He didn’t know. She was surprised, because she didn’t think her real self could be hidden from other cursed creatures. But, here he was… all hers. She took him deep into the park, but before she got to her lair, Stas stopped. Lila said irritated, “What?”

       Stas pulled Lila into himself. He placed his arms around her firm body and brought her close. She sighed a breathy song as he licked her neck and nuzzled her breasts. He pulled her body close enough to bring her breasts to his ear. He could feel and hear her beating heart. Lila was so taken aback by the passion that her defenses softened, causing her song to escalate. It hypnotized Stas. His fangs emerged and his nails grew, but before he lost total control he fought off his animal urges and stopped. Lila’s song ceased. They stood apart regaining control.

       “Well… that was…” Lila gulped “… that was something.” She didn’t know what to think. The heat between them was baffling. Why didn’t she just continue her song? Why didn’t she lure him into her lair? She had the advantage. He didn’t know her real secret.

       “Yes. Well, that was quite… unusual.” Stas wanted more, but he needed to wait. He moved nearer to Lila. “Let’s do this again… tomorrow.”

         The fascination was so strong. He craved her; to taste her just once more before he left. Lila rubbed up against him. She began to hum a hot, sensuous tune. Stas tried to control himself, but it was all too much and again they found themselves entangled. In a fever, he recognized that if he wanted more it had to be drawn out for only one more night. Lila’s power over him was too much.

       Knowing that she too wanted to tease her plaything, Lila wrapped her arms around him, but as she began to kiss him, down sprouted from her follicles. She stopped her song and let Stas continue to nuzzle her, but when he noticed that she was no longer singing he lessened his grasp. Lila’s arms reverted to their normal smooth and silky appendages. Surprised and entranced by each other and still breathless with desire, they brushed lips, stepped apart, and departed.

       Stas walked back to his crypt. He was hungry and knew he must find a willing participant. It was a mere necessity. If he wanted to prolong his encounter with Lila, he had to be satisfied. The vampire group would have to suffice, so he arrived there and found ample women to feed on. None of them was Lila; none of them lifted him to the heights that she did. None of them riled his blood… none but Lila. After eating, he went to watch… just watch her once more.

       Lila’s bedroom was perfect. She made sure that the windows were long and wide so if she wanted her prey to see her, they could. She felt his eyes devouring her. It was her snare, but she felt the most comfortable in the cave she inhabited in the woods – her lair. It allowed for her to be in her natural state. She could preen her feathers and if she lost a few it didn’t matter.

       Standing in front of the mirror, Lila stroked the long hair that took the place of her beautiful plumages. She pondered how she would get Stas into the lair. He might just go willingly. There she could seduce him, and no one would hear his growls and hisses. It excited her to think that she had caught the eye of a vampire. He was divine – handsome, sexy, and oozed obsession. It was such a shame that he would only last another day as he was about to become her greatest conquest. His death deserved passion; a death song meant for carnal bliss.

       The next evening, Stas joined Lila at The Treble Clef. As they sat together at a secluded table, their legs touched. Sparks ran through them and drove them to impatient attraction. Lila had just finished singing her set, which pushed Stas over the edge. Body heat nudged them to the bar exit, and they left to walk through the park, but this time Lila walked them deeper near her lair.

       “Lila, let’s talk.”

       “Are you going to tell me that you love me?”

       “I can tell you that I love you as much as someone like me can love.”

       “Is that it? Should I sing to you some more?” Lila pressed her body against him laughing.

       “No, please, not just yet.” Stas laughed. “I need to tell you something. It will probably shock you, and I may lose you.”

       Lila pouted her lip, “You gonna tell me that you’re a vampire?”

       Stas was stunned. Did Lila really know? “Are you kidding?”

       “I’ve known from the beginning. What you don’t know is…” She slithered closer, “… that I’m a siren.”

       Stas jolted away from her. “Okay… wow. That’s why you affect me the way that you do.”

       “Yes. It leaves us with quite a dilemma, don’t you think? Do I kill you or do you kill me?” Lila laughed at the quandary. “I mean, we’re monsters. That’s what we do, right?”

       “Lila, I’m a vampire. I don’t die.”

       “But, I’m a siren. I have the ability to sing you into sweet insanity, and then to death.”

       “You mean I could die, like die, die?”

       “It’s what I do. So, what will happen to me if you drink my blood?”

       “I can either drain you completely, and you’ll die, or I can turn you into a vampire like me. That’s what usually happens. But you are a siren, so that’s up for grabs. What’s left for us?”

       “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

       “Look, all I know for sure is that you send me into orbit when you sing to me and when you sing while I am turning, it’s all I can do to stay sane. It has been a long while since someone could do that to me. I have never felt such excitement and I’ve lived over two centuries, so… look… if it kills me then it kills me. I mean, what a way to go, right?”

       “I don’t die unless someone escapes me. When I start my death song, maybe you could run like hell away from me. Then I would die.”

       “Trust me when I tell you that I may not have that kind of willpower. I say we leave it up to fate. But, until then let’s enjoy.”

       Lila giggled. “Let’s play.” She slinked toward him singing her sexiest blues tune.

       Stas was helpless. He moved in on her and found new places to explore as his fangs crept out and his fingernails grew to claw-like points. Lila maneuvered Stas into her lair all the while letting him gently nibble on her neck. He grazed it with his canines. Lila shivered. They tripped through piles of bones that lined the cave. Lila’s singing quivered from excitement and Stas became even more aggressive. They didn’t know who would live through it this final time and they didn’t care.

       When Stas tore her clothes with his nails, Lila’s song reached a feverish pitch. Stas howled with excitement. He couldn’t get away, he didn’t want to run away, he wanted to devour her. He lunged at her knocking her on her back. He straddled her and Lila’s song intensified. Stas’s fangs plunged into the sweet, soft neck he fantasized about, and her blood gushed into his mouth and trickled down her throat reaching her breasts. He licked and sucked the red substance from her breasts and Lila’s voice lifted to a deafening pitch. Stas screamed in pain, holding his hands over his ears. Lila’s passion was out of control as she sang the siren’s death song. Her monster could not stop. Stas reached out to her one last time before he disintegrated, and his ashes joined the bones strewn across the ground of Lila’s lair. She finished her death song as her neck pumped out her final bit of blood. She dropped drained, closed her eyes, drew one last breath, and died.

       Monster love – ain’t it beautiful?

The End

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