The Long room. For L. without whom… Cold Creek, New England 1984 The loss of Innocence… history teaches us, that it is has and has always been a painful process. It also teaches us, as individuals, that people, who we put in a position of prominence in our lives are not who or what they seem to be, and through that, life, in all its beauty and wonder can also be a cause of great heartache and pain. Despite giving us an inner strength to continue. I was fourteen at the time, and when it was over, I would never be the same again. What occurred took place in the space of two years, between the winter of Nineteen hundred and twenty-two and nineteen hundred and twenty-three. The day it came to a head was an early afternoon; church had been over an hour or two, but the whole street was there, standing or sitting in their respected places. The men wearing their stiff black suits with white shirts and black ties. The women wearing their paisley pattern thin flannelette dresses, with the obligatory pinafore, in varied shades of the colors green or brown, around their tight waists. They wore them as a symbol; proof of not only of their identity, but also as a statement to their men. “We are in charge”, these aged pinafores silently proclaimed and none of them men of theirs ever denied it. We were never related to the street, but since we needed a fellowship, for our move from Harlem New York, had left us bereft of kith and kin, they had become our extended family. Though, I must admit that Daddy didn’t exactly approve. But Daddy had no faith. By the Long rooms double doors, stood Aunt Bessie, a stern looking, pencil thin lady in her late fifties. Opposite her, and sittin’ in the only rocker that the old house had, sat her husband who everybody affectionately called Uncle Silas. They were like chalk and cheese -Silas and Bessie- for he was a rounding bald man with a huge smile that never seemed to leave his face and that showed a thousand teeth, all shiny and white that shone outward against the gloom of the room. Next to Aunt Bessie, sat Aunt Masie, Bessie’s sister; she was just as thin and just as stern looking, but with her arms crossed, I could see that she was nursing a private pain. Then there was Douglas, with his wife Elspeth, with her two elder boys, Drew and Sam, finally next to Uncle Silas, stood Uncle Frank; out of all of them, I felt the closest to Uncle Frank, even though, I, prior to this incident, adored Uncle Silas. Unfortunately, I did not expect the crowded chatty front room suddenly turn silent as I entered. I started feeling awkward, so I turned and stared towards the fire where Uncle Silas sat. As usual, Uncle always had the right words for every situation. He turned toward me and said. “Good child, Your Daddy still got a lot of living’ to do, and just coz you see the dead, don’t mean that he has. You got admit it child the shines on you...”I looked at Uncle Frank and he smiled down at me. Don’t worry child, I heard him say inside me, things are going to be fine. I must say his kind words soothed my nerves somewhat. You just shine as bright as you can. He said. I knew all about the shine, ‘cause I’d been blessed with it. Most folks around here call it the shine. To explain it to someone else is hard, another way of looking at it, is seeing the hidden things of this world. It’s sort of like seeing the future or the past, or –if you lose someone special and lose them badly- you can see who it was who did it. Or what happened. You can also see those who’ve moved on; and sometimes that’s a blessing, but sometimes it aint. Some people shine so bright that they can talk to others likeminded without even opening their mouths. Some shine so bright, those that live in the dark want to drain you dry...that’s when it gets scary. From what I’ve been told, the shine-goes way back; as far back as far as even Uncle Silas can remember and he’s as old as time itself. I remember, he told me, that the shine was well known in the homeland. He said that those who had it were thought to be sacred: “the keeper of the keys” or so he called them. I remember how he told me too: in hushed tones. He made it sound like all those who were blessed with the shine were keepers of a sacred law and the protectors of the peace, I think it was ‘cause they could see why folks did the things they did… and stop something bad from happening, like a murder or a war…something like that anyway… He also said that this was something that I should not tell folks outside the street about; ‘cause as he put it “folk outside of the street would not understand, and would become scared, as most folks fear things that they don’t understand.” I wasn’t exactly sure what Uncle Silas meant by that; but he said don’t breathe a word, and it was fine with me. After all, I’m good at keeping secrets. So I stood there, looking around the long room, wondering why they had me here and wondering what would happen next. From the Diary of Lia Winslow 1923 There are times when I wonder why God, in his kindness, mercy and infinite love, had chosen me for such a gift. I think that it has something to do with my mom, ‘cause once, at school, there was an incident between Lucy Cricket and me. Lucy Cricket and I never got on that well; she was pointy nosed, blond haired, blue eyed an vain with it too, mainly as she lived on the other side of town -or liked to think she did- if you know what I mean; anyways, she always talked down to me, or was plain nasty. Despite it all I took what she threw at me, till early spring, last year, just before everything happened. I was in the playground, during lunch, when Lucy pushed me over. At first there was shock, then, I remember getting a feeling, deep inside me, like I was as hot as embers on a coal fire, and at the same time, I simply thought about crushing her little white piggy nose. Within a second of thinking it, rich, near black blood, began gushing out from her nose and down her white linin school dress. Well, Lucy began hollering’ and all the other children began hollering’ too; I had just managed to stand up, when Mr Crawford, the English teacher, came running over to see if Lucy was hurt. I remember saying’ over and repeatedly that I had not touched her. But Mr Crawford just gave me the cold eye and said that “folks like mine could not be trusted.” He said that he “knew my mom” and that “…if Alice and I were blood kin to that witch, then we would be as damned as her on judgement day.” That hurt deeply, but I just looked down, just as uncle Silas told me to, would do no good complaining’ no how. Later that day, after I got home, Mom asked me why I was all upset. I recall that stare she gave me with her huge almond eyes before she suddenly spoke without opening her mouth. Lucy Cricket was a crock of fool. The words said. An with that came an image of Lucy Cricket dressed as a clown. I took a step back and Mom smiled warmly. ‘I saw what happened.’ She said gently, don’t tell your Pa, he’ll get all flustered and all. So, for a year it was our secret. Then Mom passed on… the street turned up to help Dad, but he never trusted the street that much, so despite their care and kindness, we–that bein’ Alice and I- watched on, as our dear dad begin to crumble. I recall that from that point on, he began to walk with a slight stoop, he also worked all the time, so the street took both Alice and I on, helping us with our homework making meals for us, babysitting, stuff like that. To start with Both Alice and I too hurt and hurt bad ‘cause I missed my Mom so, but then a month after mom’s passing, Alice came to my room at night and told me that she had seen Mom, that she was alright. At the time I hated them both for that. But not for long, ‘cause Mom came to me a week later and told me that she had been in pain a long time, (with something called cancer -though I don’t know what a cancer is and how it could take my mom from me.) and now the pain had gone. To begin with –when I saw her- my mom, I mean- I got scared. But, soon after, the fear passed and in its place, peace grew. Eventually Mom went away to be with Jesus. But, before she went, she told me something, she said “look after your Pa, ‘cause he is going to need you soon.” It is said that twins even twins that are not alike, share a bond. From experience, I know this to be true. Alice was always the brighter and the prettier out of the two of us, she was also the bolder of the two of us so I was always in her shadow. I was never as close to her than the day she passed and that was one of the strangest days that I can remember. I remember… It was just before Christmas 22, that I had the vision. Outside the street had a special -almost magical- feel about it. The air was thick with the thought of snow; people exhaled a dragon’s breath of steam into the cold air and both the roast chestnut sellers and the hot dog stands were glowing with rich red coal light and fuming with broiling heat, thus gathering a small crowd of tired hungry shoppers, as they made their way home in the clear ice blue cold of this crisp, late evening sky. The city governors had also just put up the celebration lights; so, from every telegraph pole a string of multi-coloured bulbs and bunting criss-crossed the road in a ragged diamond shape. I remember seeing all this and more. I remember seeing Alice walking home from house group; wearing her thick black and white check long coat, carrying her huge black leather bound bible in her gloved left hand; I could even see the tips of her long flowing auburn hair beneath her white woolen cap, whishing about her cheeks, as she made her way through the crowds. The snow began to fall in thick heavy clumps along the sidewalk, to gather in the corners where only snow could grow, as she made her way home. O saw her as she passed the side alley that cut the street in half. In summer months, the alley was a short cut we used to get into the city Centre. During the cold winter months, no one dared go down there. The alley was darkness, no light ever shone there, not for a moment. The dark from the alley was complete. Then, the dark vanished, and I saw two white lights like a pair of silver eyes glisten as a snarling demon appeared. I can still see its face, all twisted and burning with hate. Its leather dead skin cracked and scabbed with savage cuts. The eyes burning... forever burning with revenge, cruelty and savage delight. Suddenly It leaped out of the darkness, and charged for Alice. With a savage fury it slid, like a fiery snake, out of the darkness, its body covered in scales and flame red, its eyes a blazing fire, with its huge three fingered talons, it knocked her to the ground, then under its hideous claw, crushed her skull instantly; before suddenly disappearing into the night. I say it was strange for a reason. The reason being is that week I was taken ill with a brain fever, and God’s witness that’s what I dreamt; down to the last detail. It took a week to recover from my sickness and when I did and told Dad the dream, I also saw the strain’ and pain on his face as he slowly took my hand and told me Alice was gone. I recall his face, large and oval, his close-cropped Brown hair and his almond eyes riddled with love and pain. If he was not heartbroken before, he sure looked it now. I should ‘a been heartbroken too, and, if it were not for the shine, I know I would ‘a been… things could have been so different. But the shine helped me stay together. In fact, it did more than keep me together, it kept Alice and I in touch with each other, even after her funeral. That was the only reason I did not go plain crazy, and that was the reason why Daddy finally turned away from the street. Daddy was surprised when I didn’t cry like he did; but I was a good girl and I didn’t want to upset Uncle Silas. So, I kept Alice’s visits a secret. Uncle Silas said not to tell Dad because he said that Dad was “a man born outside of our ways and ignorant of the ancient teachings.” I nodded and smiled at Uncle Silas as he told me this one day after church. So…I kept my mouth shut. But one day Alice came and began telling me something about Jared, well, I tried to listen, but I didn’t get it all, she seemed a little fainter that day, so I asked her to speak up a bit, not knowing that Dad had come through the door and had been listening to our conversation. Daddy asked me what I was doing’ and I clammed my mouth tight as I could get it. But Daddy got cross and he said sternly that “If I didn’t tell this instant then he would tan my brown behind and send me to bed with no supper… Well… I didn’t want a tanning, so I told him… no, not everything, just the Alice stuff and Mom coming to tell me that I had to look after him. As I told him, daddy’s face changed. I could feel the hurt within him build up to the surface… I saw other faces too… strange, hideous enraged faces pulling up out of him and coming out of the walls around and behind him. They were screaming at each other and at Dad too. They were familiar, but too scary to look at for long, and then Daddy smiled, and asked me where these ideas had come from. I then mentioned Uncle Silas, and the other members of the street. At that Dad’s face changed once more. He grabbed my hand roughly and dragged me out of the door of my room, down the stairs and out of the front door. I felt his iron like grip on my wrist. I kept pleading Daddy, don’t hurt me, but he was in another place ‘cause he didn’t hear a word I was saying, as we crossed the street and entered Uncle Silas’s house. We then burst into the long room. The long room was poorly lit by three large oil lamps scattered about the room and the large fire burning in the hearth. Strange shadows flickered on the walls like people dancing. I could hear old voices from long ago whisper around us. Uncle Silas was sitting by the fire in his rocker as my Dad crossed the wooden floor and then the thick red rug. “My daughter…” He began crossly. “Said that the dead talk to her… she said that you have encouraged this… she said she had some kind of connection to Alice and to Abigail…” “-Take it easy son.” Began Uncle Silas. His voice calm and persuasive. “-Don’t call me that!” My Daddy bellowed. I could see he was shaking. “Don’t you dare call me that! I am not your son any more than my children are your uncles and aunts!” I became scared. I hated it when Daddy was cross it hurt me so. “We are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God.” Said Uncle Silas calmly. “GOD?” Daddy became so angry I wanted to leave the room and pee. “What has God done to me? He has taken my wife and one of my children, the only things that were ever precious to me… He’s taken them AND I HATE HIM FOR IT!” I could see the pain in Uncle Silas face, I saw the sadness on the face of Uncle Frank face too and I wanted to cry. “I ask one thing… Just, just one thing… stay away from my family… all of you… Just stay away… You’re all about the Devil’s business… and I… my family and I… want nothing more to do with you… do you understand? Stay away from us!” and with that, he dragged me home. That would have been the end of it, if it were not for Alice. Daddy was at home a lot more after that, which was nice ‘cause I had been having bad dreams about Alice, the trouble was I could not remember them when I woke. One night must have been very bad. I woke to see Daddy staring down upon me with the strangest look upon his face. I asked him what was wrong, and he suddenly smiled and said, “Nothing dear, now go to sleep.” The next day at school I heard through the grapevine that Jared went missing. At the time it meant nothing, till I was picked up by Uncle Silas from the nurse at school, who then brought me, for one final time to the Long Room. * * * “That’s enough,” Inserted Aunt Bessie urgently. “We aint here to listen to you put on so…we need to hear from your shine. We need to know what happed last night.” and with that she opened her purse and pulled out a soiled rag. I knew that the rag had belonged to Jared. For I recognized the shirt it had come from, despite the bloodstain. I Knew what they wanted. They wanted me to touch the rag and see within. Silas was getting on and they knew I shone the brightest in the room. I didn’t want to do this, the thought of it made me sick to my stomach, and scared me, though at the time I didn’t know why. I looked towards Bessie and I saw in her dark eyes a look of desperation, a need to know the truth, they screamed at me from hollow pits. “Who took him Clarice, who took my boy from me?” She said her voice almost a whisper. “My Boy…” Her words still cause a lump in my throat, but not through grief; for her “boy” for was no boy at all. He was a man… the worst kind of man too. I had known Jared since our move. I had put up with his jibes in the schoolroom, and fled his gangling shadow when I had seen it coming’ down the hall during lunch. Alice was always the stronger of the two of us; she always put him in his place. I was grateful to God when he finally quit school to get a job working with Mr Gregson who owned the baker shop on the corner of third and ninth, but we still had to put up with his ranking language when he used to see me and Alice walk home, hand in hand. No… He was no friend of ours but that day in November, he just disappeared, vanished like a specter on the night of Halloween just before the dawn. All that could be found, so I was told, was this bloody rag, and not much else. So, I took the bloody rag in my hand. What else could I have done? I only wish I hadn’t. Suddenly it became dark, then light once more and Alice was standing next to me. Next to her stood Mom and then Uncle Frank. Its Ok Alice mouthed at me, don’t be afraid; nothing you see is going to hurt you. I simply nodded and at that; Uncle Frank and Mom smiled too. I could see Jared walking – I guessed- home. the lights that shone from above made the sidewalk glow. At that time, I couldn’t hear a sound, but that could be because it was the way that Alice and the others wanted me to see. Then, out of the darkness, I could hear something… foot falls… slow and steady, keeping pace with Jared. Now Jared either must of heard something’ or felt something’, cause he began to act scared, his eyes were wider and he even began walking’ a little faster, But the footsteps kept pace and began to get faster too. Then, out of the darkness, I could make out a figure. It was blurry, out of focus, but I could see that it was a man. Jared must have seen this too because now he was running. Then dived down the same ally where Alice had died a year previously. The blurred man followed. He had something in his right hand. It shone in the lamp light. It was a thin, long bladed knife. Jared screamed out, but only once. The blurred man was in a frenzy of silent violence. He made no sound. Not even a breath, as he stabbed and stabbed and stabbed Jared again and again and again. I saw the keen bladed knife puncture the skin of the throat. Then bury deep. It was pulled out. A fountain of blood began to gush out in a wide ark, splattering across the man’s brown suit and then soak into the dirty water, the broken stones and the dog shit of the alley floor. The blurred man became quite calm. I saw him delicately put the knife into his jacket pocket and then watched shocked, as he dragged the limp blood splattered body down the alley to the nearest sewer cover. I Knew Jared, he might have been gangly, but he was no lightweight either. I heard the Blurred man grunt and groan under the dead weight that he carried before him. I saw the shirt rip and the piece of cloth get left in the ally. I saw the blurred man slip once or twice, as the water and the blood from the body mixed amongst the old stones. I heard I heard Jared’s shoes crunch as he slid along the road and watched as the man whose face I could not see then, scrambled around in the trash, desperate to look for something. He seemed upset at first, but then he became calm once more, as he pulled out a jemmy. He opened the sewer and pushed the body into it. Then resealed the sewer once more. Then he picked up a bag that was next to the Jemmy, pulled it open and pulled out a large long black coat. He put it on. Heavy rain began to fall, washing the blood away from the cobblestones and into the open drain by the side of the buildings, as the blurred man began to slowly walk away. All the time I ached inside. For there was something about the knife and the brown suit that I recognized, but for some reason could not place; as the man made his way out of the ally and out onto the street. Alice suddenly spoke… “You see, and yet you are blind… you know yet you do not want to understand.” Her voice shimmered like a waterfall. Alice, what do you mean? She pointed slowly towards the blurred man, who began to turn into someone I knew, but could not bear to see. I came back to the long room with a start, to find that my nose was bleeding. I could feel the whole room staring at me anxiously. “Oh…Daddy” I said, my voice was barely a whisper “Why did you do it?” Uncle Silas looked at me with eyes of love and said not a word till I was cleaned up. “So… child’” He asked gently. “You see who it was? You know what happened to Jared?” Behind me, I could hear Maize say, “Did you hear that? She said “Oh, Daddy”, she said it.” Another voice shut her up. I nodded and looked down at the rich red rug, hoping against hope that I could bury myself in it and run away. Uncle Silas smiled and placed a comforting hand upon my shoulder. It’s alright child, I heard him say silently, it’s alright. I felt weak at the knees and then fell forward, and then I remember nothing’ till the sun was up. * * * When I came too, I found myself in a strange blue, white room with a high and decorated ceiling. I saw Uncle Silas standing over me. He looked deep into my eyes. “Now… don’t be scared girl, you know that we look after our own, we always have and we always do. Believe me child, there aint no lawman coming here fo you or your daddy.” I looked up at him and found myself squeezing my hands tight as I could do, a nervous habit, so Daddy said… Daddy… “Did you see your Daddy child? Was it him?” I nodded slowly, as tears began to build. I felt a pin prick a stab of pain then I must have fallen asleep again, ‘cause when I woke the room was not blue but white. I turned to my left and saw that the curtains were blue. I got up out of bed and made my out of the room. When I entered the hall, I realized that I was still at Uncle Silas and Aunt Bessie’s home. Slowly and as silently as I could, I made my way down the stairs. I could hear shouting coming from the long room but I could see that the heavy doors were closed; so, I slowly I began to creep past it. I had reached half way to the front door, when That burst open and Maize appeared in the doorway. “Now Where you think you going chil?” she asked. “Nowhere.” I lied, badly. She smiled and put a firm hand upon my shoulder and led me back into the long room. When I entered, I heard the words “He’ll come here when he knows we have hi- “ I had never seen the long room so crowded, it looked like the whole street had turned up this time; and they all stared at me like a hawk watching it’s prey. “Am I a prisoner here?” I asked. Uncle Silas smiled once more, and then laughed. “Oh, no, child you can leave… once your Daddy arrives.” And when those words left Uncle Silas’s mouth, I realized that though he might be smiling on the outside, there was something else inside him; and that was not smiling at all… no not one little bit. It was then I became real scared… more scared than I have ever been in my life before. I looked to my left and saw Uncle Frank. He looked sadly at Silas, then he came over to where I was standing and he whispered me a little secret. I looked down and tried not to let on what had happened. “My Daddy was right about you! you are about the Devil’s business. You use the old ways to justify yourselves, but you use it for your own aims.” I said crossly, hiding my fear as best I could. “That’s not true Clarice.” Said Betty sternly. “We stick to our own, that’s all, we do nothing… nothing that’s not been handed down in the law.” I could hear the anger in her voice. “Jared was one of our own, an we want Justice.” “Is it Justice that you want?” I heard a voice coming from behind me. I turned around and saw Daddy standing in the doorway. “Oh Daddy!” I screamed, and tried to wrestle myself free from the iron grip of Maize. “LET HER GO!” He bellowed. The power of his voice filled the room. It rustled the red velvet curtains and made the yellow-papered walls shake. Instantly I felt the hand lift from my shoulder so I ran into his arms. But, within a second, of being in his arms Frank touched my mind’s eye and I was back into the alley once more. Only this time it was Christmas, and I was behind the wheel of a truck…Jared, was I and I was Jared. I was looking at the woman who I loved and who had spurned me, I was feeling jealous, a jealous rage filled by raged faces that came out of the dark shadows and filled the cab of the truck and waited… I Jared waited for the moment for her to pass. I Jared felt my foot upon the accelerator and saw Alice, her arms out-stretched, screaming NOOOO! I opened my eyes and looked back into the room. I looked at Maize, Betty, Silas and Douglas. Now… said Uncle Frank, listen to me, and repeat exactly what I say. I obeyed. “My Dad took Jared’s life, because Jared took Alice’s… Now, Maize, if that is too much to bear, then there is nothing more I can give you. If you live by the old ways you would know and would accept the law regarding the payment for taking a life. This man worked within the ancient law. He took the life using the ancient ways, and to save pain he removed the body to a suitable place of rest. All this is accepted by the ancient law… If there is a case for…” I paused as I didn’t understand Uncle Frank clearly at this point “r…r… rest…It…u… ton… then please make your case. Otherwise… be still.” Silence filled the long room, then slowly one at a time the people began to leave. All knowing that some greater than I had spoken and I was simply the conduit. When it was Just Daddy, Uncle Silas and me, Uncle Silas began to laugh. He laughed so deeply I thought that the room would cave in. “Good child… it appears that you have a spiritual advocate… may I ask… is he bout six feet tall, wearing a deep green suit and fedora hat? Does he have a small white goatee beard.” I was stunned; he had described Uncle Frank to a tee. I nodded slowly. “Uncle Frank.” “Now… did “Uncle Frank” tell you a secret?” Asked Silas. I nodded. Silas bent closer, “Now, Child, whisper it in my ear.” “But he told me not to say.” I said to Silas, feeling upset that I had to choose between the two oldest grand-pappy men in my life. Silas nodded “I don’t think he’d mind…” he said quietly, “not if it’s only between you and me.” So, I whispered in Uncle Silas’s ear… what did I tell him? Oh, no! you can’t trap me like that! like I’ve already said, I’m good at keeping secrets. Cold Creek, New England, 1984
Well, that’s my story. I grew up and moved, married well and had a daughter who married a fine man called Daniel Holleran, they had twins too. One died, naturally the other, Daniel junior, went on to became a fine chef an he has the Shine about him too I cannot recall how many conversations we used to have without ever opening our mouths. he works in some fancy hotel on the outskirts of Colorado. Don’t ask me its name, I forget stuff like that now... that’s me done... but come by any time you like... and next time bring some nice fruit cake.