Here is my all-time favorite Halloween song…Danse Macabre.
Download and listen while I share with you a spooky tale.
Those things that go bump in the night…I now know what they are…Nocturnal Monkbots.
I’ve never liked being scared.
I hate that feeling of terror that surrounds you when you’re alone at night.
I’ve never understood why people enjoyed watching scary movies. They always leave me paranoid for weeks after…taking away my sleep…my peace of mind. When I was a girl, I remember catching glimpses of old horror flicks that…with just a quick look at part of a scene…scared me bad enough that I swore to NEVER watch the full movie. To this day, I refuse to watch “The Exorcist,” The Shining,” and “The Omen.”
As for modern horror flicks, I’ve given them a try…only to meet with unpleasant results.
For days after watching “28 Days Later,” I couldn’t rest. The scene where Jim enters the church and unknowingly awakens the sleeping infected priest is one of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen.
And I’ll never forgive my brother Ben for telling me I just HAD to watch “The Ring,” which I did…alone…on a Friday night…and felt my chest constrict with fear after seeing the cursed VHS tape footage. The thought of it disturbs me to this day.
I guess one of the most recent movie scenes that made my heart race with fear was in “The Village,” where blind Ivy is in the woods…in broad daylight…and she hears “those we do not speak of”…and it’s standing right beside her. Honestly…when I saw that in the theatre…I thought I was going to vomit because it scared me so bad.
I went to find videos of each of these movie scene to put in this post…but I got so creeped out watching clip after clip…searching for the right one…that I decided not to post.
Instead, I opted for my favorite creepy music video.
The Squirrel Nut Zippers have been around quite awhile. “The Ghost of Stephen Foster” (which you can download here as an mp3) was released in 1998 on their album, Perennial Favorites. They offer the same kind of charm as The Ditty Bops…but with a bit more demented style.
Since scary movies do more to upset me than entertainment…I do try to stay away from them.
One of the reasons is that I can never fall asleep after watching a horror flick.
It’s not like I’m a good sleeper anyway. I’ve always been very fitful when it comes to my nightly visit from the Sandman.
Not only do I talk in my sleep…I walk in my sleep…and I dream disturbing dreams fairly regularly.
One of my reoccurring nightmares is simply a man…standing outside my window…watching my house. Every night I look outside my window and he is standing a few feet closer…staring…watching. Until one night, I look out the window and he’s right up against the glass…looking in…staring at me with an empty gaze….this is where I always wake up…terrified.
I know all too well what a night terror is (see above picture). More times than I care to admit, I’ve woken up from some horrid dream…my heart racing…I’m literally paralyzed with fear…can’t move at all…and my chest feels compressed…like it’s under some horribly heavy weight.
One of these dreams was so vivid…that I wrote about it.
The result was a short story called “Family Tree.”
The work isn’t my best (written years ago)…and those who have read it before don’t like the ending…but I thought I’d share it with you anyway.
I hope it gives you chills on this All Hallow’s Eve.
By Shelley Powers
Monday, January 12
Honesty has never been a trait of mine nor of my foremothers’. But passion has. And for this we have suffered. For this we have lost our lives to a curse that began four generations ago. A curse that now suffocates me and threatens my beautiful daughter. I know I must tell her of her fate, but how do you tell someone that you know when they will die? How much of their life do you let them live in peace before you block out all hope and sunlight?
“Mom, I heard you this morning. Did you have another bad night?” asked Raye. She was buttering a piece of toast as Lana entered the kitchen.
“I slept fine, sweetie.” Lana yawned and poured a cup of coffee. “Don’t you worry about me. You need to concentrate on your test today. You ready?”
“Yeah, I don’t think Mr. Pepper is going to be too tough on us since it’s just mid-term, but I crammed in another late night just in case.” The 18-year-old stared at her mother accusingly. “That’s how I know you were dreaming again. I heard you talking.”
Still facing the counter, under the auspices of fixing herself a piece of toast, Lana’s face cringed. “Oh really? What did I say?” She tried to sound nonchalant.
“I couldn’t really tell, except for one word. Sounded like Maestro. You conducting a symphony in your sleep?” Raye smiled.
Lana let out what she hoped was a light-hearted chuckle as she waved her jelly-covered spoon in the air. “Sure was. And-a-one; and-a-two.”
They both laughed. Lana loved the sound of her daughter’s laughter more than anything in the world. But she had no more drunk it in before that same sound plunged her heart into sadness. She knew how fleeting such laughter was.
Before her daughter could see the grief on her face, she said, “You need to hurry, lady jay. Don’t want to be late.”
“Oh, dang.” Raye glanced at the clock on the stove, took one last gulp of milk, grabbed her books, and bolted through the side door. “Love ya, Ma,” she called over her shoulder as she sprinted toward the bus stop.
I love you, too.
Lana had never gotten used to how quiet the house was when Raye wasn’t around. Too quiet to drown out her thoughts. So, as was her habit, she made her way to the television in her bedroom and clicked it on for some background noise while she got ready for the day.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, Lana stared at the woman across from her. She had been a beauty once, but her nearly 42 years had betrayed her. Worry does that. It festers until youth and zeal and hope are wiped from one’s heart, which, in turn, wipes them from one’s countenance. And the fact that she had been waking at 2 a.m. every night for a month now just made matters worse. She stepped into the warm shower, but cold chills still enveloped her body as she thought about the morning hour ritual that was keeping her from rest.
At the first strike of the 2 o’clock hour from the grandfather clock in the hall, Lana’s eyes would open to her darkened room with its even darker ceiling. As she would lay silent, praying in preparation for what was to come next, beads of sweat would run from her brow, down her temples, through her hair, and into her pillow. Then–whether by magic or imagination, she was not sure which for the event seemed both real and surreal–the ceiling would transform. The darkness would gather into patches of shadows that were cast by thousands of black leaves, clinging to black branches. Her room would dissolve into a bare wood floor bordered by gnarled limbs spaced just far apart to somewhat see through but close enough to imprison her. And through the walls of knobs and knots she could see him, peering at her as he floated ‘round and ‘round her tree tower cell.
An obnoxiously loud announcer coming from the television set jolted Lana free from her thoughts. She finished bathing, dried off, and pulled on her favorite pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and a well-worn pair of work boots. Today was clay day.
Once a week, she would drive 30 miles outside of town to a pasture–long since forgotten by most–to dig up clay to use for her work. She had been sculpting and throwing pottery for more than 15 years and had made quite a name for herself. Her work was selling well at local gift shops, flea markets, and festivals so she could have easily afforded to buy what she needed in town instead of making the weekly trek to the pasture to dig for clay. But the effort was a labor of love. She looked forward to the quiet drive and to visiting the place where she had grown up. The place where she had spent time with her mother before she died.
The pasture was on 40-acres that had been in her family for generations, but she had been one of only a handful of visitors over the past decade or so. She and her mother had lived in the small cabin built after the fire that destroyed the home of her great-great-grandmother, Rosalie. The cabin was situated just off the main road and was backed by the small pasture. Beyond that was the 30-some-odd acres of woods that had grown up around where the old homestead used to be.
As Lana drove her Jeep up to the cabin, an older woman came out onto the front porch and waved.
“Heya, honey,” called Gertie. “Come grab a spot of tea before you start diggin’.”
Lana climbed from the Jeep and made her way to the front porch. She tried to give a smile to Gertie, but the woman would have nothing to do with it. “Lana, I know you better than anyone; don’t try to fool me with that smile. Your mama couldn’t and neither can you.” She grabbed Lana and hugged her tightly. “Child, I know you’re scared, ‘cause I’m scared for you.”
Lana leaned into the hug as a single tear fell down her cheek. She had cried so many over the years that few were left. Gertie had been her mother’s best friend and had tried the best she could to help a 19-year-old Lana tend the land after her mother died. And when Lana fell in love and left to be with Raye’s father, Charles, Gertie stayed. It just seemed right. To Lana, coming home meant more than driving up the gravel road to the cabin; it meant Gertie. She returned the hug as tightly as it was given. “Oh, Gert. I love you.”
Inside the cabin, Gertie had fresh cookies waiting on the table and the water kettle was just starting to whistle. She put the kettle, two worn mugs, a jar of honey, a spoon, and two bags of Earl Grey tea on a serving tray and carried it to the table as Lana sat down. “I know how you are, but how’s Raye?” Gertie asked.
Lana didn’t want to talk about it. “She’s fine.”
“Fine? Fine?! What do you mean she’s fine?” Gertie poured the water. “There is no way that girl is fine…that is, if you’ve told her about Thomas.”
Lana put a tea bag in her cup to steep. She couldn’t help but think of the famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about a woman being like a tea bag…you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water. She felt like the weakest tea bag ever.
“I haven’t told her, Gertie.”
“Well, if you don’t, she’ll find out in the worst way Saturday morning, and I don’t have it in me to go through that again.”
“I know.” Lana sighed and sipped her tea. Then she looked out the window and onto the pasture. “I’ll tell her before I go to bed Friday night, but I must wait for the right moment. She’s so happy right now, finishing her senior year and preparing for college.”
“Is there a boy?”
The older woman just shook her head. “So sad. So sad.” Then she gave Lana a grave look. “Have you seen him, yet?”
“Only a glimpse, but I know he will reveal himself to me soon.”
Gertie put her weathered hand on Lana’s shoulder. “Too soon, my dear. And for that, I am so sorry.”
Tuesday, January 13
Tonight I have stopped the hall clock in hopes that my rest will not be interrupted. However, I know that, in truth, I am waking before the first sound is ever issued from the timepiece. He is waking me, just as he did my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and Rosalie. Just as he will my Raye. I am less than a week from the age of death in my family and know that the time has come to let Raye know about my destiny…her destiny.
The clock sat quiet the entire evening. No ticking. No chiming. But just as Lana began to feel the heaviness of her lids and the soothing draw of slumber, her eyes flew open and the stillness of the night was rudely interrupted with the striking of the 2 o’clock hour from the grandfather clock. The shadows gathered into pockets on her ceiling and the leaves and branches formed from the pitch. Through her cell walls she saw him circling, watching her. She was dizzy from his motion and wanted to be relieved when he stopped outside the wall at the foot of her bed, but she knew his stopping was not a good thing. Then, like the shadows that cowered under the black leaves, the knotted limbs forming her cell withdrew into one another and Maestoso moved forward into the room.
He hovered just beyond her bed, in all his vile glory. He was as pale as the ghostly skin clinging to the underbelly of some wretched creature from the deepest depth of the sea, where no sunlight ever dares reach. His long hair and robes whipped around him like smudged ribbons of black ink. But his eyes were what Lana could bear the least. Red upon red, as if two burning pools of blood cast a gaze on her. With his every look, he seared into her mind, into her heart. The pain was tortuous and Lana’s only defense was to look away.
“When will she be mine?” Maestoso burned his words in her ears without ever opening his twisted mouth. “Save yourself this torture, daughter of Rosalie, and give her to me now. And I promise I will make your death swift.”
“You will never have my consent to take my little girl in any way. Especially not when I can give her a few more days of peace.”
“You can give her nothing.”
Lana summoned all her strength and raised her head to face the monster. The pain felt as if it were tearing apart her very mind but she fixed her eyes on Maestoso. “I gave her life. I give her love. And I give her today.”
The flames from Maestoso’s glowing orbs lowered as he narrowed his gaze. “Fool.”
And in that brief release from the agony of his stare, Lana could see beyond the creature and out into the night. There, out from the treetops she saw her pasture and Gertie’s cabin.
“Gertie!” she yelled.
Enraged, Maestoso opened his eyes as wide as they would go. The flames jumped from his sockets and his voice shrieked inside Lana’s head. “I am due satisfaction for the wrongs done me by Rosalie. Justice will come with your blood and with Raye’s touch.”
“No!” Lana screamed as she sat straight up in bed. Her room was back to normal and the breaking of daylight was peeking through the window sheers.
“Mom, are you okay?! Mom!” Raye was pounding on Lana’s locked door. “Open the door! Mom!”
Lana quickly wiped the sweat from her brow and smoothed her soaked hair from her face as she ran to unlock the door. “Good morning.” Even she heard the absurdity of her words.
“Um, good morning?” Raye looked her mother up and down, searching for any damage. “You sounded a far cry from a good morning. Are you okay?”
“I saw a rat.” Lana pointed toward the bathroom. “I…I think it came in from around the pipes under the sink. I’ll call an exterminator today. Sorry to scare you, sweetie.”
Raye looked skeptical. “Mom, are you sure you’re alright? We’ve seen rats before and you’ve never freaked.”
“You didn’t see this one. He was huge. He actually pushed me out of the way so he could get by.”
Raye gave a little laugh and shook her head. “You’re kooky. You know that?”
“I know.” Lana smiled and gave her daughter a kiss on the forehead. “Now, tell me about your plans for the day.”
Raye helped her mother make the bed as she rattled off her agenda for the day. Lana listened intently, savoring the sweet sound of her daughter’s voice but was stopped cold when Raye ended with, “and then I’m walking with David to grab a Coke.”
Lana stood straight up. “Who’s David?”
The girl smiled. “David? He’s only the most wonderful guy in the world.”
Panic gripped Lana’s gut. “Tell me more.”
“Well, he sits in front of me in Mr. Pepper’s class. He keeps getting his name on the board for turning around to talk to me. And, a couple of weeks ago, after like the sixth time he got yelled at, he passed me a note that said, ‘Save me from myself and let me walk you to the bus stop after school.’”
Lana tried to smile. “He sounds charming.”
“He is. And he’s so cute, and smells good, too.” Raye closed her eyes for a second or two. “We’ve talked after school every day since then.”
“So you’ve spent a fair amount of time with him?”
“Enough to know he’s extremely great.”
Lana swallowed hard. “Do you love him?”
“Mom!” Raye blushed.
“Honey, do you love him?”
Raye looked off into space, smiled, and returned her gaze toward her mother. “I’m not sure, but I know I love being with him.”
“I thought you’d be happy for me.”
“I am, but I was counting on you coming home straight after school today. I don’t think you need to meet David for a Coke.”
Raye looked crushed. “Okay, but can I invite him over for dinner on Friday night?”
Lana racked her brain for a logical reason to object. “Raye, I was hoping you and I could celebrate my birthday on Friday night.”
“Mom, your birthday’s Saturday. I was already planning on having Gertie over and fixing dinner for the three of us.”
“Please, sweetie. Please, can we just spend Friday night together?”
Seeing the sadness in her mother’s worn and tired face, Raye nodded. “Sure. We’ll celebrate, just the two of us. You can meet David next week.”
“Thank you, love.”
As soon as Raye’s bus had pulled away from the stop, Lana jumped in the Jeep and headed for the land. The drive seemed to take forever, but when she finally got there, she wheeled off the road, passed the cabin, drove across the pasture, and stopped where the thick growth of trees began. She had never liked going into the woods and therefore had never walked more than a few feet into the brush. The overgrowth had always served as a buffer between her good memories of the land and the bad.
But today Lana knew she had to venture much farther into the trees. She got out of the Jeep, swallowed hard, and began walking. After about 10 minutes, she came to a clearing. A rusted iron fence told her she had reached the site where Rosalie’s house once stood. The fire had destroyed the home down to its foundation 84 years earlier but, despite the green woods surrounding the fence, the yard inside was still as desolate as it was after the fire. What little grass left was brown and dry. Stranger yet was what sprouted from the center of the old, cracked foundation. Where the house once stood was a dead oak tree that looked to have a couple hundred years of growth.
“That’s impossible,” Lana whispered.
She heard a rustling behind her and turned with a start only to see Gertie emerge from the brush.
“What are you doing way out here?” the old woman asked.
“Gert, I’ve seen this tree. Hell, I’ve been in this tree.” Lana pointed to the dead oak.
Gert’s jaw dropped. “I’ll be a son of a bitch. Would you look at that? There’s no way a tree that size could’ve grown since Rosalie’s house burned.”
Then Gert turned from the tree and looked at Lana with a quizzical expression. “Honey, I know you’ve never been out here. For that matter, your mama’s tales kept me from ever comin’ out here. So what d’ya mean you’ve been in that tree?”
Lana hesitated. She had vowed after her mother’s death that she wouldn’t put Gert through any more trauma, but that was before she knew her fate.
“Lana, tell me about that tree,” Gert demanded.
Drawing a ragged breath, Lana gave the briefest synopsis she could of her morning terrors, hoping to gloss over the event enough to save Gertie some grief. But, as she spoke, the old woman’s gentle eyes filled with tears. “Sweet Lord Jesus, watch and keep us. I had no idea.”
Gertie’s chin trembled and the tears spilled onto her face. “Before your mama died, she had made me promise to keep you as happy as I could until you had to face this. I promised, but I never really understood the true darkness of this curse and what you girls had to face. Now I wish I had done more for you.”
“Gert, you couldn’t have known what you were up against.” Lana took Gert’s hand. “You loved Mama, and you love Raye and me. You’ve fulfilled your promise in the best way possible.”
Just then Lana heard a pop from the ground near her feet and she looked down to see wisps of smoke rising from the dirt. She knelt and touched the earth inside the fence. “Gertie, it’s hot. Feel it. It’s like there’s a fire burning below the surface.”
The older woman touched the ground then she looked at Lana with concern and fear in her eyes. “Lana, come on. We need to leave here. This place is burning with evil.”
Lana knew the words to be truer than Gert had realized. She knew Thomas was close by, and she quickly followed her old friend back to the Jeep in silence, knowing that–like it or not–she would be returning to this place–to him–in the wee morning hours.
Lana arrived back at home and went directly to her studio. She wanted to finish as many works as possible before Friday evening. It was one more thing she could do for Raye, provide for her. She worked furiously until 3:30 p.m., when she knew Raye would be home. Then she quickly cleaned up and went inside to hear about her daughter’s day. But when she entered the house, she knew something was wrong, even before she heard sobbing coming from Raye’s bedroom.
“Honey, what’s the matter?” Lana rushed to her daughter’s side.
“Mr. Pepper was in an accident last night.” Raye could barely form her words.
“Is he alright?”
“He’ll be okay. They took him to County General.”
“Then what’s the problem, sweetie?”
“Well, until he comes back, we have to have a sub.”
Lana continued to smooth her hand over her daughter’s back. A growing panic was forming in the pit of her stomach. “And who is the substitute?”
“Why is he awful?”
Raye sobbed even harder. “He asked me to stay after class to help him put together a lesson plan. But when I told him I was supposed to come straight home, he grabbed me around the waist and…and licked my face.”
Lord have mercy. Lana thought she would vomit.
“And when I told him to let go of me, he said something strange, something I didn’t understand.”
“What did he say, honey?”
“He said, ‘Three more days.’”
“Raye, I need to know this man’s name?”
Raye sobbed even harder, unable to control herself.
“His name, Raye! What is his name?!”
Raye took a deep breath, lifted her head, and looked at her mother from behind a curtain of tears. “Mr. Thomas Maestoso.”
Lana’s mind reeled and her heart filled with anger, but she managed to choke her emotion down enough to softly kiss her daughter’s forehead and whisper in a hushed tone, “You rest, my sweet Raye of light, and don’t worry. I’m going to talk with Mr. Maestoso.”
Wednesday, January 14
Maestoso has revealed himself to me in spirit and to Raye in the flesh. I know he wants her, but I am sickened at the thought of him having her. Surely it is better that she die like me than give him what he wants. Yet I struggle within myself to think that maybe she could bear his physical form and secure a long life for herself, even if it isn’t the happiest of lives. I have accepted my fate, but for Raye I cannot accept either fate that awaits her. Tonight I must face him and beg for his mercy on my daughter.
But for the first time since the 2 a.m. visits began, the clock did not chime the early morning hour. When Lana opened her eyes on Thursday morning, it was to the daylight flooding into her room. She had slept through the night, but she felt far from rested. Her thoughts were on Raye. She ran to her daughter’s room, but the girl was nowhere to be found.
She must have gone to school without waking me.
Lana looked at the clock. It was 11 a.m. How could she have slept so long when so little time was left to help Raye? She quickly dressed, taking special care with her appearance. Then she jumped in the Jeep and headed for Raye’s school.
“Excuse me, where can I find Mr. Maestoso?” Lana greeted the school secretary with a smile, trying not to wince at the sound of the bitter name.
The woman didn’t even look up or stop typing. “Down the hall, Room 107.”
The hallways were quiet, as the students spent their lunchtime away from the classrooms. Lana’s breathing and heartbeat sped up as she entered the room. She was surprised that she was able to keep her composure. And then she saw him sitting at the teacher’s desk and the pain surged over her like a tidal wave. He was a young, dark-haired man, furiously scribbling in a leather-bound journal. Because of the intense ache in her head, she could barely focus on him so she lowered her eyes and thought of Raye.
“You can’t have her now.” She said in a low, but strong voice. “But you can take me in her place.”
The man didn’t look up or stop his scribbling. “Daughter of Rosalie, you had your chance to break the curse when you were pure, but you chose to be with your precious Charles. I have no interest in you now. I want no woman that has been had by another.” His pen was now tearing through the pages in the journal.
“But I didn’t know I had a choice.” Lana wished in vain for some amount of pity from the wretch.
“Would it have made a difference?”
She hesitated a moment too long, causing him to finally put down his pen and looked up at her. She raised her gaze to meet his red-rimmed eyes. They bore into Lana like the flames had two nights earlier. She gripped a nearby desk to steady herself, as the pain grew more intense. Then Maestoso’s human form floated over the desk and pressed against her withering body.
“You see, Lana, you were meant to die. But Raye is still pure. She is meant to live…with me. Do not keep the truth from her, as your mother did to you. You must tell her to come to me before she gives her heart to another.”
“I can’t. Her heart is hers to give. I will not let her actions be dictated by fear.” Lana fell to her knees.
“Then you will have failed to end what Rosalie began and Raye will die. And I will continue my quest until I am satisfied.” Maestoso floated back behind the desk with as much care as a feather on the breeze. He picked up his pen, lowered his head, and began to scribble once more. “Make use of all the days I’ve so generously provided you.”
Lana wanted to spit on him. She wanted to tear him apart, but she couldn’t. She could barely stumble across the room to leave.
“Oh, and Lana,” Maestoso’s voiced pounded in her ears. “Shut the door behind you, dear.”
In the hallway, Lana waited for Raye. Her mind raced as she thought of what this monster wanted from her daughter. There was nothing she could do to stop him, but what if she could make the matter easier for Raye? If he forced himself on her that would be worse than if she welcomed it…or at least prepared for it. The thought revolted against Lana’s every instinct, but she couldn’t stop thinking that it may be her daughter’s only hope. Just then the bell sounded to end the lunch hour and hordes of students flooded the hall. Lana spotted Raye, walking with a handsome young boy. As they approached, Lana reached for her daughter’s arm and pulled her against the wall.
“Mom!” Raye said, surprised. “What are you doing here?”
“Raye, I must speak with you.” Lana’s face was still pale from the encounter with the manifestation.
“Mom, did that asshole, Mr. Maestoso, upset you?”
“Do not speak of him that way!” Lana couldn’t believe the words were coming from her mouth but she kept talking nonetheless. “I met with him and he seems…quite n-nice.”
“Nice?” Raye laughed in disbelief. “Are you sure you were in the right room? Did you see his crazy blood-shot eyes? I swear the man looks like he’s strung out on something trippy.”
“I found him uniquely charming.” Lana’s eyes darted briefly to the boy then back to her daughter’s bewildered face. “Maybe you should give him another chance.”
“What are you saying?”
What am I saying? “I’m saying that it would be a nice gesture for you to help him after class. Maybe you’d find that he’s not so bad to be around. Maybe you misunderstood his intentions.”
“Are you crazy? Why would you even suggest that? What’s wrong with you?” Anger flooded Raye’s face. She grabbed the boy’s hand and pulled him down the hall. “Come on, David. Let’s get out of here.”
Lana tried to call to Raye and David but the couple disappeared into the crowded hallway. It didn’t matter anyway. She wouldn’t have known what to say even if they had stopped to listen. She couldn’t believe what she had just told to her precious daughter to do.
“He’s driving me mad,” Lana whispered.
And as the last straggling students raced down the hall to beat the tardy bell, Lana ran from the school.
In her studio, Lana thought about what had happened at the school. She threw pot after pot, trying to work out a solution by working the clay. But no solution was good enough. And after hours of work all she had to show was a table covered with greenware. She cleaned her wheel and wiped down the studio. She would make no more pieces. Tomorrow she would fire up the kiln for the last time. But tonight, no more fabrication, I have to face the fire with Raye. I have to tell her everything.
Raye was sitting on her bed when Lana entered the girl’s room.
“Honey, we need to talk.” Lana sat down next to her daughter.
“Mom, I love you but I don’t want to hear what you have to say if you’re going to tell me more about how great Mr. Maestoso is.”
Lana bit her lip and shook her head at her earlier behavior. “I was wrong to say what I said. I’m sorry. You’re right, Mr. Maestoso is a horrible man.”
Raye looked at her mother. “Then why would you tell me to spend time with him?”
This was it. This was the moment Lana had dreaded for 18 years. She looked at her beautiful daughter and stroked her forehead with the back of her hand. “Raye, what I have to say will not be easy for you to hear. It certainly isn’t easy for me to tell. As a matter of fact, I’ve delayed telling you your entire life, but I have no more time left in which to delay.”
Raye leaned against the pillows propped along her headboard. “You’re scaring me, Mom. What is it?”
“Raye, tomorrow night, after I go to bed, I’m going to die.”
“What?!” Raye sat straight up and her face went pale. “How? You’re not going to die. You’re not even sick.”
“Honey, you must listen to me. I told you this would be hard for you to hear.”
“But how can I believe this newsflash when you’re not crying or even upset? Don’t you care?”
“Raye, of course I care, but I’ve known my fate since I was pregnant with you. I’ve had quite some time to accept the situation. My concern now is for your safety and happiness.”
“Raye! Just listen to me, please. Try not to ask questions until I’m done.”
Raye crossed her arms and leaned back. She tried not to blink, as it would unleash a floodgate of tears.
“It began many, many years ago with your great-great-great-grandmother, Rosalie. A man, a horrible man, fell in love with her. But when she didn’t return his affections, he sold his soul to the devil and placed a curse on our family.”
Lana got up from the bed and paced the room. “Raye, that man was…is Thomas Maestoso.”
“My substitute teacher?” Raye gave a crazed expression.
“Your substitute teacher is not human. He’s some reincarnation of the man who killed Rosalie and her descendants. He’s the man who will kill me tomorrow night.” Lana faced the wall. She couldn’t bear to look at her daughter. “And he’s the man who will kill you on your 42nd birthday if you don’t agree to be with him.”
Raye sat in stunned silence. Lana turned around.
“But, Mom, why does he want me? You said he loved Grandma Rosalie, right?”
Lana let out a sigh and sat back down on the bed. “Rosalie and her parents were the first in our family to live on the 40 acres where your Aunty Gertie lives now. She was a beautiful woman. As a matter of fact, you look a lot like her photos.”
Raye gave a weak smile.
Lana continued, “Well, Rosalie and her parents worked the 40 acres as tenant farmers on an estate that measured at least five times that size. Her father, Jesse, dreamed of buying the acreage and being able to keep all of the earnings it yielded. But Jesse grew sick and the family fell on hard times. Suitors came to woo Rosalie, but her attentions were focused on helping her mother work the farm and secure ownership of the land.
“Then one day the master of the estate, Thomas Maestoso, came to visit the family and was taken by Rosalie’s beauty and charm. He fell in love with her immediately but, being extremely withdrawn and lacking social graces, he kept his feelings from her. Instead, he tried to show his affection by providing the family with a hired hand, Lucas, to help with the farming.”
“Let me guess, Rosalie fell for Lucas.”
“Yes, and he fell for her, too. They told no one but made plans to marry as soon as the family land was secured and her parents were provided for. They worked hard to earn enough money to buy the land. They planted extra crops so they’d have more to sell at harvest time. Rosalie baked and sewed to earn extra money. And after Lucas would finish the chores on the land each day, he would work as a hired hand in the evenings. They spent little time together in hopes that their hard work would prove rewarding later.”
“But Thomas never got over Rosalie, did he?” Raye asked.
“No. As a matter of fact, he hired her to cook for him in the evenings so he could spend time with her. And the more time he spent with her, the more deeply in love he fell.”
“Did he propose?”
“And she turned him down. Right?”
“Right. But she couldn’t tell him about Lucas. Her own parents didn’t even know. So she told him she couldn’t marry until her family was able to buy the land on which they lived and farmed.”
“Did he give her the land?”
“Not exactly. Thomas was a prideful man, who was bitter over Rosalie’s refusal—no matter the reason. So he went to see Rosalie’s father and told him that he and Rosalie loved each other greatly but that she had kept it a secret until her parents owned the land. Then Thomas offered to sell Jesse the 40 acres for one dollar if Jesse would give Rosalie permission to wed. Jesse didn’t want to stand in the way of his daughter’s happiness so he paid for the land and gave blessings for Rosalie to marry.”
“Well, couldn’t Rosalie just refuse his proposal again?”
“No, Thomas made it impossible for her to refuse. That evening, he called her to dinner. He explained the transaction between he and Jesse told her she was free to marry. But Rosalie burst into tears and told him she would not marry him. Thomas was enraged and yelled, ‘You will marry me, Rosalie, or your parents will not live on that land, they will lie under it.’”
“No!” Raye cried.
“Yes. So, of course, Rosalie agreed to marry him. But the night before the wedding, she met with Lucas one last time. She had been saving herself for her wedding night, for Lucas. She couldn’t give that gift to another man. So the two spent that one night together as lovers.”
“And did Thomas find out?”
“Not until later. They married, but Rosalie couldn’t bear to be with him physically. She charmed her way out of consummating the marriage for months but then he began to notice that her belly was growing and he realized that she was pregnant. When he confronted her, Rosalie told him about Lucas and their last night together.”
“What did he do?”
“He flew into a rage, grabbed his gun, found Lucas alone at the house of Rosalie’s parents and killed him. Then Thomas Maestoso took the blood of your great-great-great-grandfather, drank it, and placed a curse on Rosalie, her daughters, and any man who loved them. At that moment, Rosalie, who had been trying to find Lucas to warn him of Thomas’ anger, ran into the room. When she found Lucas dead, she threw a kerosene lamp at Thomas and pulled Lucas’ dead body out of the house. It didn’t take long for fire to spread but Thomas didn’t even try escape or put out the flames engulfing his body. He had gone mad with the evil in his heart. He just stared at Rosalie through the blazing windows, and she heard him whisper in her mind that she would only live long enough to see her child leave home but that a part of her would one day be his.”
“And when did Rosalie die, Mom?” Raye could barely force the question.
“She died of an aneurysm at 2 a.m. on her 42nd birthday, the day after her daughter was married.”
Raye stared blankly at the bed cover then she began to connect the dots. “I suppose her daughter loved someone other than the reincarnation of Thomas Maestoso and died at age 42, too.”
“Yes, as did her daughter, your grandmother, and me. Thomas made his physical presence known to each of us before we gave ourselves to the men we loved and in every situation we chose love.”
“But how could you when it would mean that you and the men you loved would die?”
“We didn’t know about the curse until it was too late. As a mother, you don’t want to see your child hurt. And what would hurt more than telling your daughter that she can never love who she wants to love? So days and months and years go by and you tell yourself, I’ll tell her tomorrow, but then you run out of tomorrows and suddenly your daughter is a woman in love and it’s too late.”
Raye was sobbing, “How did you find out?”
Lana fought to compose herself. “Well, my mother followed in the footsteps of her foremothers and tried to keep the curse from me. Even when I was 17 and Maestoso manifested as a drifter who stayed in the shed behind the cabin and did chores around the property. I tried my best to get along with him but I couldn’t. He was wretched in appearance and vile in nature. He never had a kind word for my mother, because she had refused him. It wasn’t long after he came to stay on the land that I met Charles. We feel deeply in love and eloped just months after meeting. Thomas left the grounds immediately, and my mother rejoiced at my happiness even though her time to die was near. She knew Thomas wouldn’t take Charles until after I was pregnant, which as it turned out was two years after we married and a year after she died. I didn’t learn of the curse until the morning after your conception when I woke to find my sweet Charles dead of a heart attack. Mom had left the task to Gertie to explain things to me.”
“That’s horrible,” Raye sobbed harder.
“Yes and I couldn’t ask Gertie to do that again. I knew I had to tell you myself before you fell in love with David or with any man.”
Then Raye’s eyes filled with terror. “It’s too late, Mom.”
“What do you mean?” Lana couldn’t breathe. “Have you slept with David?”
“No.” Raye put her hand on her chest. “But I love him.”
Lana leaned over and hugged her daughter. “Raye, this is your choice to make but know that I support and will understand whatever you decide.”
“So I can either sleep with Maestoso and keep David alive, but never see him again. Or I can have David until we’re pregnant then he dies and I live to age 42?”
“What if I don’t sleep with either man?”
“I don’t think that’s an option. You saw how he acted with you alone in the classroom. He doesn’t need your permission to take you, just your refusal of David.”
“And no matter what I choose, you will die.”
“Raye, you’re decision does not affect whether I live or die. My actions decided that years ago.”
“But it’s not fair, you didn’t know.”
Lana laughed bitterly. “I battled with that a long time but that’s what fate dealt me so I learned to accept it. And to be honest, sweetie, looking back on the two years I had with your father and the 18 years I’ve had with you, I don’t think I would have chosen any different if I had known about the curse.”
Raye hugged her mother tightly. “I love you, Mom. Thank you for a wonderful life.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie.”
Thursday, January 15
Raye fell asleep in my arms tonight after crying for hours. I told her about everything: Thomas, the tree, and the morning terrors. Our time is so short and I hate that that monster is taking our last precious hours from us. But I am so glad that she knows. Hers was the hardest good-bye to say, even after saying good-bye to my mother, to Gertie, and to my dear Charles. I am so proud of Raye and pray she finds a way to break this curse and finds a long life filled with happiness.
At 2 a.m. the clock struck and the ceiling was scattered with leaves. As Lana opened her eyes and saw Maestoso circling she began to laugh.
“You have nothing to laugh at, daughter of Rosalie!” Maestoso’s voice echoed in her mind and the phantom entered her cell.
“Yes I do,” Lana said, still laughing. “I have finished with you. You can no longer come between my daughter and me. She knows about you.”
“Will she come to me?”
“That is for her to decide.”
“Good. I will see her tomorrow at the school.”
“I’m sure you will, Thomas. But she has the power now. She decides her fate. Whatever happens will be because she chose for it to happen.”
As much as Lana could tell, the monster seemed irritated by her words.
“That is fine,” he said. “Let her choose. In the end you will die and I will, one day, have a part of Rosalie as my own.”
Lana just smiled. “In the meantime, enjoy circling this tree and knowing that generations of women have rejected you.”
“Enough!” And with the wave of his arm the leaves turned to ceiling; the limbs turned to walls; and Lana opened her eyes to the morning light.
She looked over at the three framed photos she kept on the nightstand: one picture of her mother and Gertie, one of Charles, and one of Raye. She smiled as she thought of her loved ones. No more secrets. Her good-byes had been said. All that was left was to finish her work in the studio. Then she noticed that her journal was missing and in its place was a note from Raye. It read, “I love you, Mom. I debated staying home today but decided it would be too painful, plus I know you will want to finish things in the studio. I borrowed your journal. I didn’t think you’d mind. I’ll bring it home with me at 3:30. Everything’s going to be okay. Thanks for telling me.” Lana smiled, got dressed, put the note in her hip pocket, and went to work.
She fired all of the pieces she had thrown the day before. Her work hadn’t pleased her this much in years. She loved the glazes and texture of finished pieces. She loved that she would live on through her work…and through her daughter.
At noon Gertie knocked on the door of the studio. She came with a homemade lunch and to visit with her friend until Raye came home.
“Gert, I want to you watch the tree tonight, okay?”
“Sure, honey. Anything I’m to watch for?”
“You think she’ll try to stop him.”
“If I know Raye, she will. I’m not asking you to question her, just be there if she needs you.”
“You got it, sweetie.”
Friday, January 16
Tonight was my last with Raye. We had so much fun, laughing at old memories, looking at old pictures. I cracked open the bottle of Dom Perignon I had been saving and shared it with my daughter. Our time together was sweet, although far too short, but I go to sleep tonight with every confidence that my Raye will find a way to stop this…to claim for herself a new destiny.
The effect of the champagne took hold of Lana, who fell asleep with her daughter lying next to her, holding her hand. But at the 2 o’clock hour, Lana opened her eyes to find herself alone in her bed, atop the tree tower, and surrounded by fire. As the flames burned closer and closer to Lana, Maestoso circled faster around her, hissing, spitting, and laughing.
Back in Lana’s real bedroom, Raye couldn’t wake her mother. She reached over to shake her but Lana’s skin was too hot for Raye to touch. Raye grabbed her mother’s cell phone and car keys and ran to the Jeep. She had to get to the land.
Gertie met Raye as the Jeep spun into the drive.
“Gert, show me the tree!”
Gertie jumped in the car and they sped across the pasture. The car had barely rolled to a stop when both women jumped out and plunged into the dark woods.
Lana watched Maestoso wind around her as the flames ate away at her cell. Once the walls of limbs had burned away, the flames lowered and Maestoso floated up to Lana’s bed. “I hope you are ready to die.”
But before Lana could respond, she saw Raye and Gertie come from woods into the clearing.
Maestoso spun around to see the girl.
“Are you here to end the curse, young Rosalie?”
“I am,” Raye called back.
Maestoso perched at the edge of the burning wooden floor. “How beautiful you are. Come to me my Rosalie. I have waited such a long time.”
He lifted his hands and Raye rose into the air.
Lana fought her urge to argue. This is Raye’s decision to make.
Then Raye spoke up. “Before I give myself to you, Maestoso, I have two conditions that must be met.”
“No,” the monster yelled. “No conditions!”
“Then I will give myself to David and you will not have me. How many more generations do you want to wait to have your Rosalie?”
Maestoso looked vexed but then he nodded. “What are your conditions?”
“First, you must let Lana go. Her death is inconsequential now that I have consented to be yours.”
Maestoso considered briefly. “I suppose that is true.” Then he motioned toward Lana. “I lift the curse from upon your head. You will not die tonight. Your fate lies in your own hands.”
The flames leapt higher and limbs that had been burned seemed to regenerate. As they did, the black branches and leaves sprouted from the limbs and cast their dark shadows, which turned back into the dark ceiling of Lana’s bedroom. And as the limbs fused to become her walls, she heard Maestoso’s fading voice resound in her head. “And your second condition?”
“Wait!” she tried to yell, but it was too late. She was back in her room, 30 miles from Raye and too weak to stand on her own. She fell to the floor and was reaching for the phone to call 911 when her bedroom door burst open and David ran in.
“Ms. Lana, Raye called me and told me to come get you.”
“David,” Lana could barely talk. “Raye’s in trouble.”
“Yes ma’am, I know. She told me everything. I’m taking you to her.”
David helped her to his car and they broke all speed limits racing to the land, although to Lana the drive seemed like an eternity. When they got there, they pulled into the drive of the cabin as the sun was coming up over the woods. Gertie was on the porch, waving for them to stop.
“Do you have Raye?” Lana yelled from the car.
“Yes, honey, she’s inside.”
Lana took a deep breath, more frightened than any of Maestoso’s visits had made her. David helped her from the car and they followed Gertie inside to the front bedroom. There on the bed was Raye, pale and sweaty, lying in the morning sunshine that beamed through the windows.
“My Raye,” Lana stroked her daughter’s forehead. “What did he do to you?”
“Mom?” Raye opened her eyes. “It’s going to be okay, Mom. I told you it would all be okay. Where’s David?”
“I’m here, babe.” The handsome young man took her hand and gently kissed it.
“I love you.”
“You get your rest, babe. I’ll explain everything to your mother.”
Raye smiled at him. “Thank you, David. Thank you so much.”
Almost immediately, Raye fell asleep, and David led Lana to the kitchen table. Gertie put a kettle of water on to boil and joined them.
“David, what happened?” Lana’s thoughts were racing.
“Ms. Lana, I love your daughter deeply. You need to know that before anything else. She came to me at school yesterday morning and said we needed to skip classes and talk. She brought me out here and showed me the tree and your journal. She explained everything to me, including the decision she had to make.”
David began to weep. “I swear, I didn’t care when I died, as long I could spend whatever time I had with Raye. I love her that much. But the thought of her suffering made me ill. So when Raye told me her plan, I had to agree to it. It meant she had to sacrifice herself but it was truly the only possible way she could stop Maestoso.”
Lana took a deep breath, “David, what was Raye’s second condition?”
David looked Lana in the eyes. “She told Maestoso that she would give herself to him to end the curse but that he could only have her for one night.”
“And he agreed?”
David nodded. “It would seem so, cause here she is and here you are.”
“And you can accept whatever comes from it?”
“For Raye, yes, I can.”
The kettle began to softly whistle and, for the first time, Lana realized it was a new day. A new day because of her daughter’s sacrifice.
Gertie read the look on Lana’s face as she poured the hot water into three mugs. Then she walked over and put her hand on Lana’s cheek.
“Honey, whatever that monster did to her, you have to remember that she is alive. We must be thankful for that. Put this all behind you and move on.”
“I don’t know if I can, Gert.”
“You have to. Raye gave you your life. You can’t destroy that gift by allowing your misery to continue.”
Lana knew Gertie was right.
Monday, January 13
A year has passed and I still can’t look at my daughter without thinking of what she did to save me. I will be 43 in a week and I owe it all to Raye, the strongest woman I know. And David has become the man that Thomas never could be. He loves a woman who was had by another man and he loves a child sired by another man. Baby Hope is soon to be three months old and is a living testament to her mother’s bravery, devotion, and sacrifice. A sacrifice that was rewarded with a beautiful daughter, who will know truth, strength, and courage, and who will, like her mothers before her, fill her heart with passion.