The Factory Stain – Chapter Four

After fulfilling her duties, she waited for Mr. Digby to unlock the door. She glanced toward the hallway as if hoping the fetching gentleman would appear again, but darkness was all she saw.

As time went by, Willie noticed that Albert was becoming more attentive.  He made her blush once more when he asked if anyone had ever told her that she was beautiful.  She said, “only my Papa, sir.”  He looked at her and said, “allow me the privilege to say that you are very beautiful, and I would be honored if you would call me Albert.”

“As you wish, sir,” she said.  “as you wish, Albert,” he said.  She was nervously trying to find her words, and caused them both to laugh when she said, “as you wish, Sir Albert.” Willowdean boldly asked if he was one of “the” Middletons. “I am indeed,” he said. “My father owns the factory, and I come in to make sure things are going swimmingly. Now, you and I must both get to work.”

He held her gaze until he disappeared into the darkness, and she wondered if what she was feeling was love or infatuation, or just experiencing happiness from being noticed. She was both excited and terrified.  She knew the love of her family, but she had never known the love of a man. In a brief moment of fantasy, she dared to think of a life with the dashing Albert Middleton, but quickly snapped back into reality and began her chores.

The next Monday, she asked Papa if she could wear her mothers’ ribbon.  On special occasions, Enez wore a bright red ribbon tied around her hair.  It was one of Papas’ most treasured possessions, and he was surprised by Willies’ request.  She had never asked that of him before.

He smiled and wondered if some “fetching gentleman” had caught Willies’ eye.  He went into the bedroom and opened the small wooden box he had kept the ribbon in for the last five years. As he took it out, a flood of memories momentarily overtook him.  He ran his hand across the box and whispered, “I’ll tell you about this tomorrow, my love.”

When he handed the ribbon to Willie, he said, “you must be careful with this.  You know how dear it is to me.”  Willies’ eyes lit up as she hugged Papa, and said, “you know I will treasure it, just as you do.”

As she carefully tied the ribbon around her long dark hair, Papa wished he could halt time, if only for that instant.  She looked so much like her mother, and although he couldn’t help the feeling of sadness, he also felt overwhelming joy.

“How do I look Papa?” she asked.   With misty eyes he said, “you look beautiful, child.”

Willie arrived at the factory on Monday, patiently awaited Albert’s arrival, and wondered if he would take notice of the ribbon in her hair.  After several hours, she turned and there he was.

He walked up to her and with his hands behind his back, teasingly told her to pick one. Anxiously, she motioned toward his left hand. When he revealed what it held, she suddenly felt as if the room was spinning.  Afraid that her knees might buckle, she steadied herself against a table, and quickly apologized for her almost swoon.

Albert was concerned, and asked if she was alright.  She lied when she said, “yes, sir.  Quite alright.  What a delightful surprise.  You are so very thoughtful.”

“Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked.  “You’re not looking very jolly.”

“I’m quite alright,” she repeated.  Again, she lied.  She was shaken to the core, and unsure of exactly what she was feeling.  It was an almost eerie uneasiness.

As he walked down the long dark hallway, she watched in stunned silence.  When he disappeared, she realized that she had been holding her breath, and felt as if her lungs were about to burst.  She took a deep breath and tried to regain her composure.

Willie was disciplined and although she was clearly unnerved, she began her daily routine.  She thought humming Christmas carols as she had done in the past, would be a good distraction, but she found that she was temporarily unable to recall the tunes.

She was light-headed and it seemed that she had somehow lost time when she realized that she didn’t remember dusting the rows of sewing machines, although it was clearly evident that she had. Forcing herself back into some semblance of her normal routine, she hurriedly emptied the waste baskets and began to sweep.  

The last chore, as always, was mopping, and she learned to make sure that she had the brush close at hand for the large dark stain that mysteriously appeared every Monday.

She had hoped to see Albert again, but he had never before returned after he disappeared down the long dark hallway, and today was to be no exception. He had made no mention of the ribbon in her hair, and she couldn’t hide her disappointment. She had worn it just for him and given that he always sported a bright red bow tie, she was hoping that he would somehow make the connection.

As she stood at the door, waiting for Mr. Digby to arrive and release her to the outside world, her hand began to tremble as she looked at the gift given to her by Albert. Once again, she feared that her knees might buckle, and her heart was beating faster than the wings of a wild bird, desperately trying to escape capture.

When Mr. Digby finally opened the door, she was surprised when he uncharacteristically spoke to her. “What have you got there, lass?” he asked.

Trying to calm her quivering voice, she said “a dandelion.”

To be continued____________________

The Factory Stain – Chapter Three

After five nights of dutiful work, Willie had perfected her routine.  She had always performed well under pressure, and this had been a good test.  Her timing was exact, and all of her duties were completed in the allotted time frame.

She hadn’t encountered the fetching gentleman again, and although a bit disappointed, she wasn’t sure that she really wanted to. What she was sure of was that after those long five days, she was absolutely exhausted.

Sunday morning she got home in time for worship and she, Papa and the two boys headed to church.  Reverend Peterson could be a little long-winded at times, and she found herself drifting off while trying to pay attention to his sermon.  She remembered hearing him talk about the importance of raising your children to have honor in all walks of life, but after that, she remembered nothing.

She found herself resting her head on her Papa’s shoulder as he was gently nudging her to stand while they sang the closing hymn.  Any other time he would have been a bit disapproving, but he knew how hard she had been working.  When she begged forgiveness, he smiled and said he was sure that the good Lord understood.

When they got home, she began preparing lunch.  After they ate, Papa urged her to get some much needed and earned rest, while he looked after the boys. She was grateful and promised that it would only be for a little while.  Laying down on her hay-filled mattress felt almost like a blessed event, and she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.  She began to dream of walking up huge stone steps that had been carved into the side of a mountain. The steps were steep and cracked, and moss was growing between each one.  She couldn’t see where the steps led and it frightened her.  Suddenly, she heard her mother calling her name, and woke up with a start.

She opened her eyes and saw Papa standing beside her bed, telling her that he was leaving to go to work.  She sat straight up and said, “Papa.  I was dreaming that mother was calling my name.”

She was surprised when she realized that she had slept all through the night.  “Oh, Papa,” she said.  “I am so sorry.”  He looked at her, smiled and said, “it’s okay child.  We all deserve a good sleep now and then, and what could be better than to drift off and dream of your mother?”

She got up, dressed and went to wake the boys.  While making breakfast, she noticed a small glass of water on the kitchen table, holding three dandelions.  Dandelions were Enezs’ favorite flower and after she died, Willie used to pick them and put them on the table for Papa, hoping it would make him smile.  He had done the same for her.

It was time for her to return to work, and once again, she walked the three blocks to the factory. Even after a week, Mr. Digby still showed no interest in having even the slightest bit of conversation. He looked as though he thought smiles should be earned, not freely given away. Or maybe he had nothing more than a mundane relationship with life.

He handed her an envelope and walked out, locking the door behind him. Inside the envelope was four dollars and fifty cents! She had never seen that much money. Mr. Digby hadn’t told her that she had done a good job, but she hadn’t been docked any pay, so she was sure he had been satisfied with her work.  

The daytime workers made two dollars a day.  Her work wasn’t deemed to be anything special, so she was paid only seventy five cents a day.  Even so, she was thrilled. As she clutched the envelope, she started dancing.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had been that happy.  Papa was going to be so proud of her.

Her dance was suddenly interrupted when she looked up and saw the fetching gentleman, once again walking down the middle of the floor.  This time she was embarrassed for a different reason.  What would he think? Would he tell Mr. Digby, or worse, tell the owner that she was whiling away her time, dancing?  Would she be dismissed?

He turned toward her, and for a moment, she thought she might swoon.  She could feel her pulse quicken and wondered if he could see her heart beating through her shirtwaist.  He seemed to be moving in slow motion as their eyes locked, and she felt a chill go down her spine.  It was as if he could read her most private thoughts, but he didn’t speak, nor did she.

She watched as he disappeared down the dark hallway as he had before.  She was a bit unsettled, and a little dismayed that he hadn’t acknowledged her presence, but calmed herself by thinking, “silly me.  Why would he speak to a poor working class girl?”

Nearing the end of her shift and readying the supplies for their place in the closet, she was confused when she noticed that the large dark stain had returned.  Again, she scrubbed the stain and again, removed it with very little effort. She thought it a bit strange, but didn’t give it a second thought.  Her mind was occupied with the thought of running home to show Papa the envelope full of money.  When Mr. Digby unlocked the door and stepped inside, she gave him a smile, thinking that he might return the gesture, but she wasn’t offended when he didn’t.

Several weeks went by, and while Willie enjoyed the feeling of being able to help Papa, she found that she was becoming more and more puzzled by the intriguing ways of the fetching gentleman.  He only appeared on Monday, which made her wonder if perhaps he was the weekly bookkeeper.

The next Monday as always, he appeared.  She was startled when he looked at her and said, “you there.  What is your name?”  Timidly, she said, “I’m Willowdean Prescott, Sir.  I’m the nighttime worker.”

“I see,” he said.  “Carry on, then.”

Her heart skipped a beat and her stare followed him a few minutes longer as she watched him walk down the long dark hallway.  Not only had he finally noticed her, he had asked her name!  Again, she had to remind herself that she was just a poor working girl, and should read nothing into a casual glance, or a simple polite question.

As she dusted and swept, she constantly glanced toward the dark hallway. She even entertained the idea of trying to quietly walk down to catch a glimpse of him at work, but she didn’t dare intrude on a space not designated for cleaning.

As the sun rose, the dark stain once again appeared as it did every Monday, but it was no longer a surprise.  She came to expect it just as she expected the fabric scraps, and the thin layer of lint that covered everything like a blanket of low-lying fog.

The next week, the fetching gentleman spoke again.  “Miss Willowdean,” he said.  “I must apologize for my rudeness last week when I failed to properly introduce myself.  My name is Albert Middleton.” Willie could feel her face blush. Her heart was pounding as he reached for her hand, brought it to his lips and gently kissed it, never breaking eye contact.

The world seemed to be spinning as she politely curtsied and said, “no apology necessary, Sir.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She felt as if he had cast some kind of spell on her that put her into a momentary trance.

After that fleeting encounter, not only had he asked her name the week before, he had remembered it, and now she was certain that he wasn’t the weekly bookkeeper.

After he smiled, he, as always, walked down the long dark hallway.  She continued with her work and most likely unaware, had an extra spring in her step.

To be continued________________________

The Factory Stain – Chapter Two

Middleton Factory was the largest factory in the town of Claxton.  It had been family owned for almost a century, and currently employed more than two hundred workers.  Most of them were unmarried immigrant women, whose ages ranged from 14 to the ripe old age of 32.

The factory made overalls, once known as slops, for working class men.  Row after row of women sat at sewing machines and in assembly line fashion, produced more than a thousand garments a day.

Although these women worked ten hours a day, six days a week for a mere pittance, they were grateful to have the job. Middleton Factory was different from most.  The women weren’t required to buy their own needles and thread, and they weren’t charged to rent the machines from the owner.

Willowdean Prescott had now joined the others as a proud employee of The Middleton Factory. On Monday afternoon, her first day, she smiled as she walked the three blocks to work, down the dark streets which were only sporadically illuminated by gas lanterns. Her shift began several hours after the workers had gone home, and would end just before they returned the next day.

She climbed the eight flights of stairs and entered the room.  Its enormity almost took her breath away.  Never in her life had she seen a room that big, and she was just beginning to understand the gravity of her task. There was lint and thread strewn all over the floor as far as she could see, and waste baskets were overflowing with bits of fabric that were too small to save.

Mr. Digby met her at the door, and showed her the closet where the cleaning supplies were kept.  She learned when applying for the job that he was not one to indulge in idle chatter. Without another word he left, locking the door behind him.  It was customary to lock the workers in the building then, just as it was customary to search them as they were leaving. At every station, a sign prohibiting speaking, considered to be nothing more than gossip, was posted with the stern warning of a monetary penalty for each uttered word.

As she began to work, she quietly hummed Christmas carols to pass the time.  It wasn’t that time of year but it had been her mothers’ favorite holiday, and she remembered how she used to start singing, sometimes as early as October.

Last year, Santa had somehow managed to leave the boys a shiny new penny.  Already thinking ahead, she thought that maybe this year there might be enough money for a real present.

Several hours went by and as she was dusting the sewing machines, she was startled when she looked up and saw a smartly dressed man walking through the middle of the room.  She hadn’t heard him come in, but the room was large and from where she stood, the door was quite a distance from her.

Frozen, she was embarrassed when she found herself staring.  She had been taught that it was impolite to stare but he was devilishly fetching, and had caught her completely off guard. His crisp black linen suit, complimented by a bright red bow tie, had not a wrinkle in it, other than the perfectly sharp creases in the center of each pant leg.

His face was flawless and his full lips were accented by a pencil thin mustache.  He had jet black hair, parted down the middle, and piercing blue eyes. He looked like a man who was in love, but not in love with a woman. More like in love with a place or a time.

He hadn’t noticed her.  It was possible that he hadn’t expected her to be there, and she simply blended into the background. She hadn’t caught his eye, but he had surely caught hers.  She watched in silence as he glanced at the time from a gold watch he retrieved from his vest pocket.  There didn’t seem to be any urgency in his stride as he made his way through the huge room, and he slowly disappeared into the dark hallway that led to the office.

He appeared to be around her age, and her first thought was that he must be the owners’ son.  She gave him no further attention after her first awkward stares and paralyzing gazes. She was there to work, not to question his presence.  Owners’ and their sons’ could come and go as they pleased, and they certainly did not require her by-your-leave.

Hours slipped by as she busied herself with her duties.  She had worked through the night and as the sun began to rise, she knew it was near the end of her shift.  She had swept the floor, gathering broken needles, what appeared to be a few broken fingernails, and left no trace of dust or thread which would be cause for criticism from Mr. Digby, or a monetary penalty from the owner.

Her last task was mopping the wide plank wooden floors to try to bring back some semblance of shine.  There would be ample time for the floor to dry before the daytime workers arrived.  Thinking she had finished and making her way around the floor, she gasped when she noticed a large, dark stain beside one of the machines.

“Goodness,” she thought to herself.  “I wonder what caused this, and in how in the world did I miss it?”  Trying not to panic, she rushed back to the closet to get the floor brush and started scrubbing.  She was relieved when it seemed to disappear with very little effort.

She returned the brush to the closet, and although she was tired, felt a great sense of accomplishment.  Mr. Digby arrived, unlocked the door and walked by with a simple nod and as expected, never said a word.

As she began the long walk down the stairs, her mind momentarily went back to the fetching gentleman.  She hadn’t noticed him leave.  Had he had quietly slipped out while she was scrubbing the stain, or was he still there?

To be continued__________________

The Factory Stain – Chapter One

Willowdean Irene Prescott was a shy, seventeen year old who had to grow up fast, and therefore was wise beyond her years.  She had two rambunctious and mischievous little brothers who did not yet know the meaning of words like death and poverty, but Willowdean knew them all too well.

Wearing hand-me-downs from gracious neighbors, and spending the summer running around barefoot was all her brothers had ever known. Willowdean wore her mothers’ hand-me-downs, re-sized to fit, and wore a pair of shoes that her Papa had found on the side of the road.

She had been called Willie since the day she was born.  When she got older, she said, “Papa, when you call me Willie, people are going to think I’m a boy!”  He laughed when he said, “There is no danger of anyone ever mistaking you for a boy, my love. You are a beautiful young girl who is going to grow into a beautiful young woman, just like your mother.”

Willowdeans’ mother was named Enez and Willowdean was her spitting image. They were petite women, blessed with a shock of thick black hair and eyes the color of rich, dark chocolate.  Set against porcelain complexions, they were a striking sight to behold.  Willowdean, like her mother, stood just over five feet tall, had a tiny waist and delicate features that were almost doll-like.

Enez had died five years back from comsumption at the young age of 38. There had been no time for Willowdean to grieve, as the care of the family had fallen to her at the tender age of twelve. Her brothers were too young to remember their mother, but she did, and she knew she had to be strong for them and for her Papa.

Her Papas’ name was Harlan, and she knew he missed her mother terribly, as did she.  She also knew that he quietly visited her grave every night after work, and seemed to find comfort in talking to her as if she was still alive. He wasn’t the only one who to talked to her mother.  Every night when Willowdean went to bed, after saying her prayers, she always said goodnight to her mother.

Harlan had spent most of his life working in the shipyard, loading exports and unloading imports.  He worked from sun-up to sun-down.  He went to work when he was sick, injured or so tired he could hardly move, but he never complained.

He looked far older than his years, and time had not touched him lightly.  Life had beaten him down and taken its toll, but there was still kindness in his eyes and they beamed with joy at the sight of his children.  His hands were rough and calloused but his touch was soft and gentle.  Even with his weathered face, furrowed brow and deep lines carved by grief and sorrow, you could see that he was once a handsome man.

Every night just before bedtime, he’d put a boy on each knee while Willowdean read a chapter from Enezs’ Bible.  The pages were wrinkled and yellowed with age, but Willowdean felt as she touched each one, she was touching a little part of her mother.

Many times, her Papa told her, “the best part of a person stays forever,” and she desperately wanted to believe it.

The boys didn’t really understand the context of the stories she read, but Willowdean had a soft, velvety voice that never failed to lull them to sleep.  She smiled at her Papa when they rested their heads against his chest and drifted off into a dream world she hoped was better than the one in which they lived.

While walking home from school, she fortuitously overheard a conversation between Ardene Myers and Melba Moore. The nighttime cleaning girl at the Middleton Factory had abruptly quit, and they were looking for a replacement. For some reason, the Factory had trouble keeping a long time worker in the position.  Three more girls had taken the position, and left without notice or explanation.

Willie felt as though she had wings on her feet when she hurried home to tell her Papa. He had always been slow to anger, and rarely did he raise his voice, but he did when he said, “I forbid it.” He had worked since he was ten years old and didn’t want any of his children to have to do the same before they ever got the chance to really be children.

Willowdean put her hands on his face and said, “Papa, we need the money.”  He had tears in his eyes because he knew she was right.  He knew the reality of the world they lived in.  Not readily giving his permission, he told her he would have to discuss it with her mother.

That night, he lumbered as he made his way to the graveyard. As he talked to Enez, he reflected on the life that his children had to endure, especially Willowdean.  He knew that she had suffered the indignity of standing in bread lines when there was no food to put on the table, and more than once she was suddenly not hungry when there wasn’t enough soup to fill even half of their bowls.

Talking to Enez seemed to put him at peace.  When he got back home, he asked Willie what she would be doing at the factory.  She told him that she was hoping to be hired to clean after the workers had gone home. “Miss Myers and Miss Moore said the duties would include dusting the sewing machines, emptying the waste baskets at every station, and sweeping and mopping the floor.”

“I would work from sun-down to sun-up. Don’t you see Papa?” she said.  “This means that I will be here like always, to look after the boys while you are at work, and you will be here at night, while I’m at work.”

“But when are you going to sleep?” he asked.  She said, “Don’t worry Papa. I’ll be okay and I’ll sleep when I can.  You know how the boys fall asleep when I read a story.”  She laughed and said, “I expect I’ll be doing a lot of reading.” Her Papa gave her a kiss on the forehead and hugged her a little longer than usual.  Then he gave her his blessing and delighted in the squeal she let out as she said, “Oh thank you, Papa.”

She was both excited and somewhat nervous the next morning when she went to talk to the foreman. Above the door was a sign that said, “No Work. No Pay. No Excuses.” followed by “Mr. Digby, Foreman.” He was a large, rotund man with a grey beard halfway down his chest. He was also a man of few words. After she stepped into his office, he stared at her and gave her a full examination with his eyes. 

After telling him why she was there, he said, “Young lady,” do you have any idea what this job entails?” She told him that she had a pretty good idea and was not intimidated. Refusing to sound as if she was begging, she simply said, “If you would just give me a chance, you will not regret it.”

As if trying to discourage her, he explained that the overnight hours and hard work apparently proved to be too demanding for most, and expressed concern about her youth. Willie was no stranger when it came to hard work so she felt more than armed for the position. She assured him once again, that he would not regret his decision if he chose to give her an opportunity. After a long few minutes of consideration, he agreed to give her a try.

To be continued__________________

The Silent Room – Chapter Five

After taking Reverend Nicks’ left foot, Marilyn took his right. Two weeks later, the wound had healed, so she said, “today, I am going to take your hands. Not one at a time, but both. It would be a little difficult to strangle someone with no hands, wouldn’t you think?” She didn’t even flinch when Reverend Nick said, “you have been calling me a monster. Who’s the monster now?”

Every month, Marilyn took another piece of Reverend Nick.  His lower legs, his upper legs, his lower arms and finally, his upper arms were taken.  She carefully attended to each amputation to insure its proper healing.  Only twice did she have to shock his heart back into rhythm.

Now he lay there, just a torso and a head.  His limbs rested in the new flower garden she had planted in the back yard, and had proved to be nice fertilizer for the azaleas that rested on top of each piece of him.

As she removed the straps from his chest, she told him that he could try to maneuver himself off of the table, but when he hit the concrete floor, he was likely to dislodge his feeding tube and the waste bags. 

“If you were to manage to get off the table and onto the floor, that’s where you will stay until the day you die,” she said.  “I can still take from you, whether on the table or on the floor, but I would advise you to stay on the table.”

Again, she looked at him and smiled as she said, “a body cannot suffer in sweet repose, and suffer you will.”

As she walked out she said, “tomorrow, I have a surprise for you. Sweet dreams.” The next morning, Marilyn went downstairs and was almost expecting to see him on the cold, hard floor, but he was still on the table.

“Good morning,” she said. “After careful consideration, I have decided to let you keep your tongue. I think it necessary for things like, shall we say, begging, pleading and of course, your pathetic lying. But, I am going to take your eyes today. Both of them. I will be the last thing you ever see, and I want you to remember that I was the one who took everything from you. After I take your eyes, I am going to puncture your eardrums.”

Several hours later, Marilyn put the eyes into a plastic bag, and to further terrorize Reverend Nick, whispered, “sleep well. Think about tomorrow. I was the last thing you ever saw, and my words will be the last words you ever hear.”

The next morning, just as she was about to go downstairs, there was a knock on her door.  When she opened it, Sheriff Dodd was standing there, and asked if he could come in.  Marilyn swallowed hard and said, “of course.”  As she led him into the living room, she noticed the door that led downstairs to the silent room, was slightly ajar.

Sheriff Dodd said, “Marilyn, sit down. I need to talk to you about something.” Marilyn, trying to pull herself together, offered Sheriff Dodd a cup of coffee.

“No thank you,” he said. “I’ll get right to the point.” She could feel her pulse quicken, her face flush and wondered if she said “okay” out loud.

He didn’t mince words. He said, “Marilyn, we’ve got him.  We’ve got the man who murdered Erica.  I don’t know if you remember him, but he was the janitor at the church. He was pulled over last week, drunk and weaving all over the road. He’s in custody right now, waiting to be formally charged. We got a warrant to search his car, and found Ericas’ panties, and her DNA in the trunk of his car. I guess he thought he would get away with it, because everyone blamed Reverend Nick. But, we have a full confession. By the way, have you seen Reverend Nick? I think he needs to know.”

“Marilyn?  Marilyn?”


The Silent Room – Chapter Four

 The next morning, Marilyn came into the room and asked, “how are you feeling today?”  Nick moaned and pleaded with her again to let him go.  Ignoring him she said, “it looks like the hole surrounding the feeding tube is going to close on its own.  I don’t see any need for stitches, so now you’ll get your first meal.”

She said, “I’ve added an antibiotic to help with any potential infection, and I’ve decided to wait a few days before I start the next procedure.” Nick had tears in his eyes as he pleaded with her to let him go.

People started to notice that Nick had not been seen for the last few days.  Most believed that due to the stigma of the trial and possibly the guilt, he had just left town.  Since the parish belonged to the church, and the van he drove had been provided by the congregation, nothing was suspected when the van was left behind.

The very few supporters he still had were saddened by his departure and they tried to understand his need to leave.  The search for a new pastor began.  The town needed a new beginning and wanted to put that terrible tragedy behind them.  Only a soft investigation into Nicks’ disappearance was conducted.  After all, he had been exonerated and was free to leave if he wanted.

Five days had passed since Marilyn had inserted a feeding tube into Nicks’ stomach, and it was healing nicely. That afternoon, she came in the room and said, “I won’t be feeding you today.  It’s never a good idea to have a surgical procedure with a full stomach.”

She looked at Nick and said, “you have nothing to say?” Nick said, “I am putting my life into Gods’ hands.” Marilyn laughed as she said, “your life is not in Gods’ hands.  Your life is in MY hands and my hands are going to take part of your intestines from inside your body, and put them outside your body.”

She anesthetized the site and made an incision.  It wasn’t a difficult procedure as no part of his intestines were necrotic.  It was just a straight cut and re-positioning.  She attached the bag that would collect his waste and with a few stitches, the operation was complete.

She asked Nick again, if he was feeling any pain.  She knew he was lying when he said “no.”  She angrily said, “you will.”  She pressed hard on the incision and watched him cringe.  Again she asked, “how about now?  Are you feeling any pain?”  Nick cried out “yes, yes.”  She said, “I could give you something for it, if you’d like.”  He said, “yes, please.”  She looked down at him and said, “I don’t think so. Did you give my child anything for her pain?”  As she was leaving the room, she said, “I will see you again tomorrow. Try to get some sleep.”

She was dutiful when it came to feeding him and emptying his bags.  After almost a month, he had completely healed, and there had been no sign of infection.  He never spiked a fever and seemed to tolerate the high protein liquid diet well.  He had lost some weight but not enough to cause alarm.

Marilyn looked at him and said, “tomorrow’s a big day.”  When he asked her what she meant, she smiled.  She said, “get a good nights’ rest, and don’t forget to say your prayers.”

When she walked in the next morning, she rolled her tray of instruments to the side of the table.  She picked them up one by one, scanning his face for the terror she hoped to see in his eyes. “Here is the scalpel.  Here is the cauterizer and this”…she smiled when she saw the the look of pure horror on his face, just as she had hoped.

She grabbed his face with her hand and said, “revenge is my new art and I’m about to paint my masterpiece.”

Marilyn knew that she had quite possibly gone mad but she was driven by blind rage.  Her need for revenge was insatiable and nothing was going to stop her from getting that revenge…not even the Hippocratic oath.

She continued to work, and people noticed a coldness about her, but they attributed it to just being her own individual coping mechanism.  Death will do that to you. Some call it numbness of the heart, and considering what she had endured, they were surprised that she could function at all.

One night, as she was drinking a glass of wine, something occurred to her.  She thought, “how ironic.  This monster took the only reason I had to live, but by doing that, he has given me another reason to live.”

The next afternoon, she administered a local anesthetic, and looked at Nick.  She said, “I’m going to take everything from you.  I think I’ll start with your left foot.” Nick, almost paralyzed with fear said, “what do you mean start with my left foot?  What are you going to do?”

Her gentian violet ink marking pen indicated where she would start and end her incision.  As if teaching a student, she relayed to Nick every step of what she intended to do. “First,” she said, “I will cut through the epidermis, the dermis and then the subcutaneous layers of skin.  When she picked up the bone saw, Reverend Nick screamed, “please, Marilyn.  Please don’t do this.”

She smiled and said, “cutting through muscle and tissue is very easy when you have a sharp blade but cutting through bone is a little more difficult.  That’s what this is for.”  After she severed his foot, she carefully sutured and bandaged the wound.  She put his foot into a plastic bag and as she was walking out, said, “I’ll give that a little time to heal.”

No one in the neighborhood thought it was unusual to see Marilyn planting flowers in her rather large back yard so she was able to dispose of the foot without any suspicion.

After a month of healing, Marilyn told Reverend Nick that it was now time to take his right foot.  He angrily said, “why don’t you just kill me.”

Marilyn said, “you will find no comfort in death and your suffering will not soon end.  When you murdered my child, you sentenced me to a lifetime of suffering.  I have now sentenced you to the same.”

To be continued_____________________

The Silent Room – Chapter Three

Nick was put under house arrest, pending trial. He hired Dean McCormack, a well-known attorney, who agreed to cut his normal fee substantially. There was a bit of animosity toward him from some of the townsfolk, but being a seasoned barrister, he shrugged it off. It wasn’t the first time he had weathered scorn, nor he suspected, would it be the last.

He found it curious that Nick didn’t seem to be interested in discussing his plight. He was begging McCormack to reach out to Marilyn on his behalf. Only after McCormack brutally told Nick that he should not be trying to talk to the mother of the daughter he was on trial for murdering, did he relent.

During the trial, the D.A. confided to Marilyn that he believed Nick would not be convicted due to lack of evidence, and he wanted her to be prepared.  What little evidence they did have was circumstantial at best, and he wanted her to understand. Marilyn was eerily calm when she told the D.A. that she wasn’t worried. She wasn’t worried because she knew that he wasn’t going to prison.

After a three-month trial, just as the D.A. had predicted, Nick was found not guilty due to lack of evidence and the states’ inability to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When the not guilty verdict was read, Marilyn smiled and quietly walked out of the courtroom. She had done exactly what the district attorney had told her to do. She had prepared for the not guilty verdict, and she had also prepared for something else.

Even though Nick was found innocent, he was more or less treated like an outlaw who had escaped justice. But a week after the trial was over, Marilyn called him. He was delighted to hear her voice, and even more jubilant when she asked if they could talk. His prayers had been answered.  He told her that he could be over in a few minutes but she said, “actually, I have an errand to run, so I will come pick you up.”

She drove to Nicks’ house, and smiled at him as he got into her car.  He told her how happy he was that she had called, and asked if she wanted to go somewhere and get something to eat, and maybe they could talk.  She said, “yes, but first, I have to pick up something at my house.”

When they pulled into the garage, Marilyn invited him to come in.  She asked if he would like a glass of wine before they went to dinner.  She had already crushed three Valium into a glass and carefully stirred the wine as she poured.  Nick offered a toast to “friendship and forgiveness.” Marilyn played her part well as she smiled and echoed the toast.

It wasn’t going to be long before the drug took effect so she coyly asked him if she had ever shown him the room where Eric practiced his music.  He said, “no, but I’d very much like to see it.” She said, “it’s this way.”  They descended the stairs into the basement and as she opened the door, she said, “we had it completely sound-proofed so his music wouldn’t disturb the neighbors.  We always called it ‘the silent room’.”

When she turned on the light, Nick said, “this is a music room?  It looks more like a hospital room.”  He walked over to the barber chair, and as Marilyn began telling him its history, he said he suddenly felt dizzy.

When he became less steady on his feet, Marilyn helped him to a large workbench that had been turned into a makeshift operating table.  She told him to lie down while he tried to get his bearings, but he soon lost consciousness.

A few hours later and still groggy, he opened his eyes and realized that he was naked and had been strapped to the table.  Marilyn leaned over and said, “hello Reverend. Hello, man of God. But you’re not a man of God are you? A man of God would never do what you did. You couldn’t have me, so you took the only thing I had left. The only thing that gave me a reason to want to live, and I don’t care what your attorney or the jury or the judge said. I know you murdered my child, and that makes you a monster.”

Nick said, “I swear to God, Marilyn.  I never touched Erica.  You have to believe me.”  Before he could finish, she casually said, “I’m going to have to perform a few procedures before we get started.”  A terrified Nick asked what kind of procedures she was talking about. Marilyn said, “for now, just a cath in your penis and a feeding tube in your stomach.  Tomorrow, I’ll give you a colostomy.  Those things are necessary before I can continue my work, but don’t worry.  I’m a doctor and I’m very good at what I do.”

She taunted Nick as she almost playfully lined up the scalpels, clamps, and syringes.  She was intentionally rough when inserting the cath, and he cried out in pain.  She asked, “did my child cry out in pain like that while you were beating her?”
With a grimace on his face, he said, “Marilyn, please.  I’m begging you.  Don’t do this.”  She looked down at him and said, “was my child begging you to stop while you were torturing her?”

Emotionless she said, “okay, monster.  The cath is in, and now it’s time for the feeding tube.  Regretfully, you will only receive a local anesthetic for this.”  After a few seconds, she said, “actually, maybe you won’t.”

Before she made the incision, she smiled and said, “this might hurt a little.”  Nick screamed.  She said, “did my child scream while you were strangling her?  She didn’t did she?  She couldn’t could she?  She couldn’t, because you had your hands around her throat.  My hands aren’t around your throat, so you can scream all you want. No one is going to hear you.”

Nick pleaded with her to listen to him.  He said, “Marilyn, you are making a terrible mistake.”  She ignored his pleas and as she took off her gloves, said, “okay, monster.  All done…for now.  Tell me.  Are you in any pain?” Nick, gasping for breath and almost in shock, said, “yes.”  

“Are you cold?” she asked. A shivering Nick answered yes. Marilyn said, “do you think my child is cold, laying six feet underground?” Turning to walk out of the room, she asked, “are you afraid?” Again, Nick said that he was. Marilyn asked, “do you think my child was afraid?”

“Are you going to kill me?” asked Nick.

Marilyn bent down and softly said, “no. I’m not going to kill you. I’m just going to make you wish that I had.”

To be continued_____________________________

The Silent Room – Chapter Two

Reverend Nick assured Marilyn that he was just a phone call or short drive away. She was grateful to have someone to talk to.  He came over often, and was always ready with an inspirational scripture, meant to try to inspire her to, as he put it, find a reason to carry on.  Marilyn was angry with God and wasn’t yet ready to attend church, but allowed Reverend Nick to come pick up Erica and take her to Sunday school.

As they talked about life after Eric, Marilyn said, “you know, Reverend Nick.  I could never think about him without smiling.  Now, I can never think about him without crying.”  Reverend Nick said he knew she would find it impossible to believe, but it would get easier with time.  “It’s not what time steals,” he said.  “It’s what it leaves behind, and it’s what you choose to do with what’s left behind.”

He became a fixture in Marilyn and Ericas’ lives.  They often had dinner together and he was very attentive to Erica.  He was always willing to help with homework and taught her how to ride her very first “big girl” bicycle.  Marilyn appreciated his gestures, and was completely unaware of the feelings that he had developed for her, until he did something that was unpardonable.

Sitting on the sofa one night, Reverend Nick took Marilyns’ hand and said, “I love you.”  Being a man of God, he was supposed to love everyone, so she thanked him, but when he kissed her, she recoiled in disgust.

He apologized profusely, but his apology went unheard. He had crossed a line.  She told him that he was never again welcome in her home, and pushed him away as he tried to embrace her.  He said he thought she was being emotional and overreacting and had maybe misinterpreted his intentions.  Marilyn raised her voice when she asked him how she could possibly misinterpret an unwelcome kiss.  She told him that she never wanted to see or hear from him again, and through gritted teeth, said that she would never call him “reverend” again.

Marilyns’ parents lived only two streets over, and as had Nick, been a tremendous support system. They suggested that it might be best for Erica to stay with them until Marilyn could regain her footing. Reluctantly, she agreed, but insisted that when she wasn’t working, she would spend the day with Erica.
When Erica begged to take her bicycle so she could ride it to kindergarten, Marilyn relented with the request that she go straight to school, and then straight to her grandparents’ house after.

She returned to work and was putting in long hours, trying to keep her mind from remaining stagnant with grief. Some days, she stumbled a bit but she knew that she had to keep on trying to reach some sort of normalcy again.
She had to constantly remind herself that lives were in her hands and she needed to stay focused.

Marilyn didn’t tell her parents about Reverend Nick, so when her mother called and casually mentioned how comforting it seemed to be to Erica when Reverend Nick stopped by, she was furious.  “What are you talking about?” she asked.  Her mother said, “Reverend Nick comes to see Erica almost every day after school and sometimes, they go to the pizza place.”  Marilyn was trying to control her anger as she told her mother that she was never to allow Nick to see Erica again, and that she would explain later.

Enraged, she called Nick and told him that she thought she had made it clear when she warned him to stay away from them, and he was not going to use Erica as a pawn to get to her, if that was his intention.

Try as he might to assure her that his motives were noble, Marilyn dismissed his pleas and hung up after a final warning to stay away from her and her child.

Three weeks later, the unthinkable happened.  Erica didn’t come home from school.  In a panic, Marilyns’ mother called Sheriff Dodd, who went to the hospital to tell Marilyn. Everyone was questioned about their whereabouts on that day and everyone was cleared, except Reverend Nick. He had no alibi other than “being in the church alone, praying.”  When asked who he was praying for, he said, “Marilyn and Erica,” which immediately raised eyebrows. Unbeknownst to him, there had been rumors about his “inappropriate” attention to Marilyn and Erica.

Sheriff Dodd had also had heard the rumors, and after Marilyn told him about the situation with Reverend Nick, coupled with having no alibi, he decided to issue a search warrant for the parish, and the van which had been provided by the congregation. Although no evidence was found, suspicion was still growing.

Reverend Nick was picked up and questioned for hours.  Since he could not corroborate his whereabouts, he became the prime suspect. He was immediately dismissed and secularized from the church.

Two days after she disappeared, Ericas’ broken little body was found at the bottom of a dumpster behind the local Pizza Hut.  Her clothes, shoes and socks were missing and a piece of her hair had been cut off.  The autopsy revealed that she had been beaten and strangled.  No traces of foreign DNA could be found on her body which led the coroner to believe that the killer had worn gloves.

There was an outcry for the capture of the monster who had committed such a horrific crime and Reverend Nick had already been tried and convicted by the town.

Despite his continued pleas of innocence, he was arrested and charged with Ericas’ murder.

To be continued__________________________

The Silent Room – Chapter One

Eric and Marilyn were known around town as the perfect couple.  She was a raven-haired beauty with ice blue eyes that could literally light up the room, as she strolled in like a runway model. He was the traditional tall, dark and handsome man one would expect to see on the cover of a paperback romance novel.  His thick, black hair was sprinkled with silver, teasing his temples. Marilyn referred to his hazel eyes as “mood ring eyes” because of the way they changed color.

Marilyn was a doctor who specialized in emergency medical care and worked for a large, well-funded hospital. Eric was the CEO of a highly lucrative pharmaceutical company, and a sometimes wannabe rock and roller.  Their professions had brought them together ten years earlier and as they say, the rest is history.

Although Eric was ten years Marilyns’ senior, they seemed to be soul mates in every sense of the word.  Three years after they married they had their only child, a daughter.  Marilyn named her Erica as an homage of the heart to her husband.
Eric was a kind, gentle man who adored his wife and daughter.  Marilyn was clearly the center of his world and Erica was the light of his life.

When they were together, they were always hand in hand or arm in arm. Their friends used to say that if there had ever been two people who were made for each other, it was Eric and Marilyn. Marilyn used to blot her lipstick onto a piece of paper and tuck it into Erics’ planner.  She would write on the paper, “where would you like for these lips to be?”

Eric was just as sensual.  He would arrange for Erica to have a sleep-over with her grandparents when he and Marilyn had a day off together. After a night of bliss, the next morning he would get up early, fix breakfast and serve it to her in bed, wearing nothing but a tie.

Erics’ third love was playing music. He and his fellow bandmembers weren’t paid for their gigs, but when they had one, Marilyn was his loudest cheerleader.  After he finished playing, she would flirt with him and ask him to take her home, with the promise of doing things to him things that he would not soon forget.  She loved watching him play, and seemed to be memorizing every line and curve of his face, as he belted out the songs of Mick Jagger.

Marilyn surprised him when she had one large room in the basement completely sound-proofed so the band could practice without disturbing the neighbors. She put in a full sized refrigerator, stocked with his favorite beer, and always made sure there were snacks for them to munch on while they practiced.

When Eric suddenly started having nosebleeds, accompanied by flashes of light and sharp, stabbing pains in his head, he tried to hide it.  Marilyn suspected that something was wrong when he uncharacteristically started snapping at her and Erica for no apparent reason.
After Marilyns’ consistent prodding, a much begrudged trip to the hospital revealed that Eric had a brain tumor.

Surgery was quickly performed and the prognosis was cautious optimism.  Marilyn knew what the odds of recurrence for that type of tumor were, but she hoped that he was going to be one of the exceptions. Two months passed and Eric hadn’t yet returned to work, nor had he returned to his music, but he seemed to be recovering nicely.  Their anniversary was coming up and it had always been an anticipated celebration. Eric surprised Marilyn when he told her to get dressed because he was taking her dancing.  When she asked if he was sure he felt up to it, he smiled and said, “absolutely.”

He asked her to wear a certain red dress, which had always been one of his favorites.  They went to “their” place; the place where they had celebrated all of their anniversaries.  As they walked in, they could hear the band playing, and a sadness came over Marilyn.  She knew how much he missed being able to play.

After they had a glass of wine, Eric took her hand and lifted her from her chair.  The dance floor cleared as they walked toward it.  Eric motioned to the band and Marilyn beamed as they started to play “Lady in Red.”
As they danced, they seemed to be lost in each others’ eyes.  Eric leaned over and whispered in her ear, “happy anniversary, darling.”  She smiled as she took his face in her hands and said, “I want to thank you for giving me such a wonderful life.  Promise that you’ll never leave me.”

He hesitated for a moment and then said, “I promise to stay with you as long as I can.”  Marilyns’ smile slowly faded as she watched blood trickle from Erics’ nose.

Three weeks after their anniversary, Eric died.  Marilyn was beside herself with grief and was absolutely inconsolable.  How was she ever going to recover?  He was the love of her life.  When he was buried, she felt as if she went into the ground with him.

Erica was only five years old and really didn’t understand the concept of death.  She just knew that her daddy wasn’t there anymore.  Marilyn tried to explain to her that God had decided He needed another angel in Heaven, and chose her daddy to come be with Him.

Marilyns’ mother and father asked her to bring Erica and come stay with them for a while.  Marilyn asked them if they would just let Erica stay because she needed to be alone to grieve, and she didn’t want Erica to see her cry.

Every night, Marilyn would go to the silent room in the basement.  She knew that her screams would not be heard there.
Often, she would wake up the next morning on the floor, or sitting in Erics’ barber chair.  That chair was one of Erics’ most prized possessions.  It had been in his grandfathers’ barbershop over a hundred years ago.  She could still picture him sitting in it, playing his guitar and smiling at her as he practiced a new song.

Friends and family called, offering condolences and help but Marilyn, as graciously as she could, always declined.  She told them that she just needed time.

She knew she needed to return to work, and she knew that Erica needed her mother, and although she made her best effort to at least try to function, she was in an almost zombie-like state most of the time.
She refused to talk about Eric and all of her medical training told her that she was doing the wrong thing by shutting herself off, but she continued to withdraw.

She finally sought comfort in the counsel of Reverend Nick Hensley.  She and Eric were members of the church but due to their schedules, they couldn’t always attend services.

Reverend Nick was a handsome man and a confirmed bachelor who always said he didn’t have time for a wife, because he was too busy serving God.  He was well liked in the community and had a reputation for being kind and understanding.  He had given a wonderful eulogy for Eric and had been Marilyns’ much needed crutch before, during, and after the service.

To be continued________________

The Hand Of Justice – Chapter Six

“This has every earmark of Seattle.”

Chris asked, “what about Seattle?”  Floyd said, “a couple of years ago, something similar happened.  Killers were being killed and if I recall, they were all snuffed out at two in the morning.  There was the mention of some beautiful blonde, although it was never really confirmed.  Actually, everyone thought she was made up by the press to make it sound more romantic or some bullshit like that.  The Seattle times dubbed the killer ‘The Hand of Justice’.”

“So you think this is a copycat?” asked Gary.  Floyd said, “I don’t know.  I know they never caught whoever it was.  The killing just stopped one day.  The task force suspected that he or she tried to exact revenge on the wrong person and the tables were turned, or they simply left town before they got caught.”

Gary said, “do you think they thought it was a woman?” Floyd said, “I don’t know. I kind of doubt it.” Gary was smiling when he said, “still, there’s something a little poetic about ‘The Hand of Justice,’ though, isn’t there? And it could have been a woman. There’s more than a few women out there with hands filthy from murder. It doesn’t make it right, but it sure makes it even.”

Richie said, “let’s let this go for a while.  Tomorrow I’m going to barbeque a pig, and I want all of you to come by.”  He surprised Maude when he asked, “you working tomorrow?” Maude answered that she wasn’t, but was thinking about making a trip. “Trip to where?” Richie asked. He didn’t give her a chance to answer. He just said authoritatively, “postpone your trip and come on over. You’ve become a kind of fixture in our lives, listening to our stories, making sure our coffee cups are full, and laughing at our corny jokes.  You need to come.” Maude wondered why they would want an old, overweight waitress to hang out with them. She hadn’t been invited to Garys’ baby shower, although she had sent a gift.  

Even Chris chimed in and told her that she should come.  “We like you Maude,” he said.  “You’re a real character.”

Maude had noticed that Chris seemed to be making a concerted effort to be nicer, much like the old Chris she had liked so much before.  He even offered to come get her.  “I’ll pick you up in my cruiser,” he said, “and we’ll light her up on the way.” She thanked all of them, smiled and said she would certainly give it some thought.

But she knew that she wouldn’t be giving it any thought, because she didn’t intend to go. She was going somewhere, but it was not to a barbeque.  She appreciated the invitation and the inclusion into their world and she was going to miss her “boys.”

That night, Maude slowly walked up the stairs to her tiny, dingy apartment, unlocked the door and went in.  She checked the ticket in her purse, and then took out the napkin the lonesome dove had doodled on.  She read the hidden word to herself, and smiled. Then she lit a match, and watched the napkin slowly burn.”

She put her glasses on the table, kicked off her shoes and reached behind her back for the loop attached to the zipper of her custom made fat suit.  Next, off came the wrinkled, rubber mask that took more than two hours to glue on, and less than five seconds to peel off.

As she walked into the bathroom, she placed the grey curly wig on its stand.  She pulled back the curtain, turned on the water and a beautiful, willowy blonde stepped into the shower.

an deireadh