Note: My latest for the Scheherazade Project. As always, comments/criticism are welcomed!
“Her father was always over in them furrin’ parts, digging in the sand. That’s where he got that thing she was allus wearin’ around her neck.”
The woman leaned forward so emphatically that her rocking chair creaked in protest. “He actually wanted to name her Circe, after some heathen witch woman, can you imagine it? Accourse her mother wouldn’t allow that, and gave her a good God fearin’ name. No sir, Abigail Grace she was christened and blessed, and Abigail Grace was the name she was buried under. Her tombstone’s out there, but you won’t find it, no sir, because it crumbled to bits years ago. Iffen you ask me, she shouldn’t have been buried in consecrated ground. No sir, the one she served took her to himself, and I’ll warrant she’s going to be burning forever.” She leaned back and smiled smugly.
“Do I have a picture of her? Now why on earth would I have a picture of her? Accourse, I might have one on account of how her mother was my kin and she allus was a good God-fearin’ woman. Hand me that album–no, not that one, the one next to it. Yes, that one there. Now lessee, no, no, yes! That’s her, right there.”
Abigail was still a baby in this photograph, still unshortened, her long gown hanging to the floor as her mother held her, unsmiling. The shapeless baby’s face still revealed the beginnings of the strength of character that would become fiercely evident in later photographs.
“Even then she was wearin’ that ridikilus thing her father give her,” the woman pointed out. “You can just see it there, her mother tried to cover it up with the blanket, but it’s just peekin’ out of the folds.”
And it was, and it was dimly glowing even then.
“What was she like as a child? Well, she weren’t like no child I ever saw before, and that’s for sure and sartin. No sir, she never smiled unless it were time for her to be sober, and she weren’t never sober unless it were a time that most children would be smilin’. She never played with other children neither. No sir, she just played with an old black cat. Her and that cat went everywhere together. She called him Disyus or sommat like that. That cat warn’t like no ordinary cat, no sir. He were a devil cat, I tell you. The way he’d look at you! And he’d whisper in her ear, and tell her things, and she’d look at you like she knew things that you never told no one. No sir, she weren’t like no child I ever saw before. Not one!”
The woman stopped talking and took a few sips of iced tea as she gazed across her wide porch into the distant past. She shook her head and clucked her tongue pityingly.
“Mind, I don’t cotton to what happened to her. No sir. That weren’t right. Well, as she got older, she kept to herself just as she allus did. She weren’t pretty, not at all, no sir. But she had character. And sometimes when she smiled or laughed, even if it weren’t the right time for her to be smilin’, she looked better than pretty, she did, and there were always people lookin’ for trouble, sir, there were. And she caught their eye. They didn’t understand about her. They thought she was just like the other girls, the silly ones who were just gigglin’ all the time to get attention. And so when they tried to flirt with her, and she didn’t flirt back, they got mad.
“Well, sir, somehow, and I don’t say this lightly now, but sir, all hell broke loose. That thing she was wearin’ around her neck, well, it always glowed and we was used to it, but it got so bright that it hurt yer eyes to look at it, and the light was shinin’ and it almost looked as if it were comin’ out of her not that thing, and it got windy, and she got all big and scary and loud-soundin’. And those boys, well, those boys weren’t never the same again.”
She paused, trying to find the words. Giving up, she said only, “No sir, they weren’t never the same again. And neither was Abigail. Whatever that power was that came out of her that day, well, sir, it just took over her. And she sorta shriveled up and gave way to it. I don’t reckon she lived another six months after that.”
She took another few sips of tea.
“I can show you her grave if you’d like, sir, ’cause like I said, you’d never find her tombstone, ’cause on account of how it’s all crumbled. But now that I’m tellin’ you the story, maybe I was wrong when I said about who she served. Maybe she was just bein’ protected by someone. I dunno.”
We wandered through the old graveyard, with the woman pointing out various graves to me.
“That there’s Abigail’s father’s grave. He died over in Greece. I dunno’s why they brought him back home. He was never here long enough to do much more’n get his wife with child once every two or three years,” she said contemptuously.
“And there’s Abigail’s mother’s grave. Bless her heart, she did the best she could. All her children died young. Abigail’s the only one who lived to grow up, and she didn’t live past the age of 19. Thank God she didn’t live to see what happened to her only darter.”
She pointed finally to a crumbled tombstone covered with lovely snowdrops. “There’s Abigail’s grave.”
The two of us stood there silently for a few moments.
Then the woman turned to look at me. “How’d you know about Abigail, anyhow?”
I showed her the tattered old photograph that I’d found in an old book I purchased in a second-hand bookstore.
She held it in her hand, and tears filled her eyes. “That was taken just before all the trouble happened,” she whispered. “I’d forgotten.”
She then did something that I didn’t understand: she ripped the photograph into tiny pieces. As she did so, tears began to stream down her cheeks and a warm glow emanated from behind her shawl. She lifted her head to look at me, and I saw–wondered, in fact, how I’d missed it before–the strong features, the crooked smile, the pronounced cheekbones.
I stared at her, mouth agape. “Abigail?”
She sighed wearily. “Come with me,” she beckoned imperiously. The folksy old woman persona was gone.
I obediently followed her. Indeed, I had no choice. I knew that I must follow her wherever she commanded me.
She led me beyond the graveyard into a forested area, and we walked in silence until we reached a clearing.
It was encircled with more snowdrops, and a giant black cat was waiting there. It gazed at me imperiously, as if it were uncertain whether I was to be allowed in.
She inclined her head graciously. “Odysseus, this is our guest.”
The cat gave a rusty purr of greeting.
“Are you — Abigail?” The name didn’t suit her at all, and I felt ridiculous using it in connection with her.
“No. I am Circe.” She removed the shawl that covered the large amulet that hung over her breast, and it gleamed with power.
“I don’t understand.”
“Obviously.” She removed the hairpins, and as she shook her hair loose, the wispy white hairs turned into a silken waterfall of coppery brown hair that fell to the middle of her back, and her wrinkled face smoothed out.
“My father was a fool,” she said contemptuously. “He played with things of power, like they were toys, and thought that he could control them. He brought this amulet to his wife, to make sure that my incarnation would fill the body of his child. And I did, because it was better to have a body than to be without one. But what a tiresome existence it was!”
“I still don’t understand,” I protested. “Why did you stay here, in this podunk little backwater town for all this time?”
“When I told you about the trouble, perhaps I was a little deceptive,” she purred, “about what happened. Perhaps what really happened was that someone recognized me, someone with the power to stop me. And perhaps now that you have come, you have loosened my bonds.”
“But–the boys–and, you said they were never the same again!” I stammered.
“They weren’t,” she said shortly. “I took care of those pathetic fools before I was bound. Now the only remaining question is how to reward you for freeing me.”
“I don’t want a reward,” I said hastily.
She picked up the cat and held it close to her breast, and looked at me narrowly. “You have done me a great service,” she said thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should allow you to keep your present form.” Then, with a cruel smile, she added, “besides, I can always find you again, if you betray me.”
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