Judy Aberdeen lifted her head out of the water face-first to slick her hair back and looked around Fisher St post-Hurricane Sandy. Everything below Orange River Falls was flooded to some extent, but it was the worst the farther down one went. The Bay City on the west dragged some of the flood up but all the farmhouses were on slopes and remained unaffected. Even the Sea Crest Theatre, left abandoned on an island on the Dagger, remained unaffected.
She was swimming down at the bottom of the street finding the half-submerged buildings taking on a kind of ominous yet oddly wondrous look while Ethan Bartlett was snorkeling around her in the water as happy as a child.
Judy had found herself utterly unable to sleep for more than an hour or two during the morning after her arrival in the future. She was haunted by a powerful sense of guilt over what happened and nightmares of peeling off Elizabeth Taylor’s skin to wear invariable followed. That morning, she broke down and called Ethan at eight in the morning.
She had been terrified he would be asleep and furious with her for waking him but he wasn’t either. He had his own troubles involving his “bitch family” and offered to take her swimming down Fisher St.
Judy had thought he was joking when he said that and kept thinking that right up until the very moment they actually arrived in their futuristic swimming outfits called wetsuits. Sarah had helped Judy find Lana’s along with a pair of goggles and once in, she found herself wearing what appeared to be a second skin with purple arms and a black center designed shaped like a one-piece bathing suit.
Ethan’s was colored black with orange lines spinning under his arms, down his chest and around his thighs. It made her a bit nervous to look at him because she could make out his muscles if she looked closely enough. He described it as his “Lawnmower Man suit,” whatever that meant.
She felt incredibly self-conscious wearing such a suit but it worked and it worked very well, leaving only her face and hands cold, and she soon found she could forget many of her problems as she glided through the water like a fish in her limber new form. It was the first time she could ever remember swimming had ever been so easy.
By 11:30 AM, they had swum over halfway through the fisherman’s district and the sky above had become incredibly overcast. Judy had become worried it would rain but she had not told Ethan that because she didn’t want to go home and found she rather enjoyed being near him.
As Ethan lifted his head up out of the water, Mickey groaned from a nearby telephone pole. “Ethan, I’m bored!” he cried. “Bored, bored, borrrred!”
“Think on the bright side,” Ethan replied after he took the snorkel out of his mouth, “At least I’m having fun.”
“Die in a fire,” said Mickey unhappily and Ethan and Judy both burst out laughing. “Screw you both,” he said and then yawned tiredly.
Judy found him absolutely adorable and was about to say something to that effect when she turned to see Ethan had become silent as he stared at something to the east. She moved up beside him while examining his beautiful face with his dark hair slicked backward and felt a deep urge to kiss him. Her new body came with a strong sexual drive and she found herself highly conflicted with what she should do as a woman, as a lady, as Judy and as Lana all at one time. She opened her mouth to say something when he said something first that shifted her completely away from sexual thoughts.
“What is it about that damn house?” Ethan had asked himself.
“House?” She looked over at a wall and saw someone had made a drawing on the side of a wall of a house she recognized under the words, “Haunted.” “Good God, Beechwood,” she said. “Figures that would still be standing.”
“I had driven by it the other day,” he said. “I stopped and stared at it for half of an hour.”
Beechwood, nicknamed The Ghost House, had remained utterly unchanged over the decades or so a glance as her father drove by showed her as he dodged traffic. Judy had always seen it as a structure where nightmarish fear and beautiful elegance somehow combined to create disturbing results. It was a spider trying to lure flies within, hungry to eat them, hungry always. It was a formidable structure of brick and stone and it still stood to this day and still as frightening as ever.
The sight of it destroyed would have given Judy a great deal of comfort. She remembered sometimes when she was wandering around on her bicycle as a young girl she had been certain she saw ghosts in the windows looking back at her. That feeling, separated by over half a century and a new body with new eyes, had remained exactly the same.
In fact, she was certain she actually saw someone in the window that time. Some figure waving at her as Lana’s father went by.
“It’s haunted,” she said softly. Ethan said nothing in response, simply staring at the picture of the house, with a strange, hollow look in his eyes.
Then he turned away and stared down into Applewood, the Negro neighborhood from her time and this one. Her mother warned her never to go there because “those niggers wouldn’t care you’re a fat ugly pig and would drag you into an alley and rape you just as if you had the body of Grace Kelly.” Judy didn’t believe that. Some of the nicest people she had known were Negroes, and one of the worst, Julian Bartlett, was as far from a Negro as one could get, physically and financially, and it proved nothing.
“Do the Negroes still live down there?” she asked in hope of getting away from the topic of that Ghost House.
Ethan nodded and said, “Those poor black bastards.”
“Is it somehow worse than the rest of south Bartlett Bay?” asked Judy as she looked out at flooded buildings down there. She frowned, sensing something was off, and then looked at the ones around her at Fisher St and then back down into Applewood. “It’s more flooded down there,” she concluded. She had always known it was a bad location but she had never actually known why it was so bad.
“Correct,” Ethan replied. “Some Einstein had put the black neighborhood in some lower area that nobody had ever landscaped, leveled or whatever it is you do to compensate in case of a flood. You can’t see it now but the streets down there actually tilt down more as they go north away from Fisher St. As you progress, the houses there become steadily more and more submerged until you reach the point where many were almost completely underwater.
“It’s a black neighborhood because back in the racist old days, they were all put in this horrible and literal shithole of an area where the upper-class people’s sewage canal actually used to end or so I read. It smelled, it was badly located, and, unfortunately for their descendants, Fisher Street presently acts like a bump that has turned Applewood into a gigantic swimming pool. The damage there is going to on a seriously fucked up level.”
“Must you swear?” Judy asked uncomfortably.
“Yes I must,” he replied.
“Are you guys bored yet?” called Mickey from a new spot on top of a nearby building. “I’m incredibly bored and tired and want to go somewhere fun.”
“No, not bored yet, Mickey,” said Ethan and Mickey groaned loudly in response.
Judy looked down at Applewood and felt sorry for the Negros there but then she always kind of had. Aside from the Fullers, who were wealthy and the Merricks, who seemed utterly invincible, she had never known any who didn’t seem to have some kind of unnecessarily hard life.
She turned her head and then saw something that killed all thoughts and memories in her mind. She moved her hands to her face, attempted to scream, but nothing came out except a hopeless, pathetic little squeak of a sound. Ethan looked at her and then looked at what she saw without much emotion. “A ghost,” he said simply, completely unafraid of the dead woman standing before them half-submerged in the water.
“I know her,” whispered Judy the instant her mind returned. “It’s The Black Lover.”
“She looks classy,” said Mickey just as calmly.
“How can you be both so gosh darn calm!” she squeaked as she grabbed Ethan’s left arm, squeezed tightly and held onto it like a life preserver.
“I’ve seen a ghost before,” he said simply.
The Black Lover was a very attractive Negro woman dressed in a 1940s upscale fashion with a large white hat tilted fashionably, a white dress with light blue flowers on it, and white gloves. Her color was so very faded it was almost like she had stepped out of a black and white film and the environment beyond could be seen through her form but there was no doubt she was real. Judy couldn’t recall seeing a Negro woman as beautiful as her aside from the actress Dorothy Dandridge as they never seemed to have models in the magazines she read. That woman was as absolutely stunning as the stories said she was.
Judy only knew her by rumor. She was the ghost of a gorgeous black woman said to haunt Fisher St typically at night. She had no idea why she was called “lover” but the “black” she imagined came simply from her ethnicity. Sailors, drunks, other kids and especially Negros of all castes and creeds, had all whispered tales about her in the dark corners of the city where Judy sometimes frequented but that was the very first time she had ever personally had seen her.
“Christine?” said Ethan and he tilted his head in shock. “Christine Taylor?”
“Is that her name?” asked Judy.
“No. She looks—” Ethan shook his head, laughed unhappily, and added, “She looks just like her. So much so she could be her twin.”
“What does she want?” At that, Judy saw the ghost point her upside down left fist toward them, extended her index finger and then curled it repeatedly.
“She wants us to follow her,” said Ethan and then he actually began to.
She yanked his arm back. “You’re not actually going to, are you?” she asked with wide eyes.
“You know I am,” he replied and he pulled his arm loose and waded through the water toward the old church. That she also knew by sight and it had not too much changed. It was the old Protestant church for fishermen and their families, like Judy’s original one, who had been using it for several generations. “You can wait here if you want.”
The ghost moved around the church as easily as if the water didn’t exist and vanished from sight around the corner. She thought she was too scared to follow but she did, uncertain of why, and found herself side by side with Ethan as the ground went up a bit on the church’s ground putting them only waist deep on the church’s grounds.
Judy, finding the silence uncomfortable, blurted out the only thing that came to mind. “How do you know so much about the Negroes in Bartlett Bay?”
“I recently read about them in a book called A Black Family’s History of Bartlett Bay,” he said.
“A black writer?” she replied and then she sensed the ground lowering back down around the side of the church. The idea of being swimming helplessly when the ghost came back worried her deeply. “Oh dear.”
“The writer’s name was or is Noah Waddell,” he told her as he went along the side of the church toward the graveyard she knew was waiting for them at the back. “He wrote it back in 1993 and it’s sitting in the private collection reserved for Bartlett Bay-born writers over at the Bay City Library. He details his family history all the way from when they were slaves in Mississippi through their time in the 29th Colored Regiment of Connecticut during the Civil War all way to owning their own bar on that boardwalk which is presently buried half underwater right now. I hope it’s insured. It’s kind of a landmark.”
Judy remembered that bar and the crazy rumors that she heard about it circulated everywhere, the most popular of which stated it was a front for a drug den servicing everything from pot to heroin. Almost as popular was the one that said it was a front for Bartlett Bay’s only brothel consisting of dirty Negro and mulatto women hidden under the floorboards. Judy seriously doubted both of them.
“You know,” Ethan said as he trudged along beside her, “There are all sorts of fucked up stories heard from the perspective of blacks in this town, mostly caused by the Gurney family. Ever heard of the Black Night Massacre?”
“Yes,” she replied uneasily. “Some Gurney just before the Civil War had something like thirty to fifty slaves, one of the last Connecticut slave plantations right here in Bartlett Bay, but when slavery was abolished in Connecticut in, I think, the 1850s he went crazy and he, uh—” she felt deeply uncomfortable with that kind of subject matter “—murdered all his slaves rather than free them.”
“Correct,” replied Ethan as they reached the gate leading into the back of the church. He wrapped his hands around the metal bars and said in a strange, sad voice, “One night he and his boys lynched thirty-seven men, women and children to death with axes and swords and they say their ghosts still haunt the old Gurney plantation home to this very day.”
Judy believed that story. She had without doubt seen things there and, although they weren’t exactly ghosts, the house had become even scarier to her than Beechwood. She would not, under any circumstances, go anywhere close to that house even in daylight. Not after that night, that they locked her in there.
She pushed that night out of her mind as hard as she could and focused on the familiar old graveyard flooded by Hurricane Sandy. Where is she?” she whispered to Ethan trying to keep the hope that he would stop talking about that plantation out of her voice.
“There,” Ethan said and he pointed through the bars of the gate. “Right there.”
The ghost was walking through the graveyard casually fifty feet or so ahead of them. She continued up a slope, emerging from the water various tombstones and crosses around her. On the top of the slope, there were graves untouched by water and the familiar old crypt but it wasn’t anyone in her family in there. Her people, that is to say, long-dead Judy Aberdeen’s people had been unspectacular and were only in the normal graves. “Many fishermen are buried out here,” she said. “My grandparents are among these people somewhere.”
“So is Thomas Bartlett,” Ethan said and he pushed open the gate. “They didn’t want him in Bartlett family crypt.”
As Judy moved up beside Ethan, she looked down at the gate, discovered that it had been broken open and could no longer latch. For reason Judy did not fully understand, it gave her a sinister feeling of dread. There were a million ways that a gate could break in a hurricane, something could have flown into it for example, yet her mind nagged her to less realistic thoughts: thoughts that dreamed up monsters like those out of an old issue of an EC horror comic.
“Thomas Bartlett, the Civil War veteran,” said Judy to distract herself from her imagination. “I did an essay on him in my history class.” She pointed up at that lonely, familiar crypt at the top. “That’s his crypt right up there.” She remembered her study of him very well, the only Bartlett since their arrival in America not to be interred into the family crypt, which made her feel sad for him. James Bartlett would follow a similar road to becoming equally disowned and now rested somewhere in California. She quoted to Ethan from memory what it said on Thomas’s memorial plaque:
* * *
Colonel Thomas Benjamin Bartlett
Loving Father, Son, Brother and Husband
Entrepreneur, Architect and Veteran of the Civil War
Friend of North and South Alike
Died as he had lived: fighting for a Cause
Born November 9th, 1837
Died November 9th, 1892
* * *
“Killed on my birthday,” said Ethan after a moment of silence, one hand wrapped around a bar of the gate. “Sucks.” He sighed and started to wade toward where the ghost was waiting near the bottom of the hill beside a fallen tree, her body half-submerged in the water.
“On your birthday?” she asked as she followed.
“Oh didn’t I tell you?” he replied. They suddenly stepped into a dip and Judy was ducked underwater for a few seconds. She then had to swim to keep her head above the water but Ethan could walk on his tiptoes and be fine. “I’m Thomas Bartlett reborn,” he said. “I’m also Walter Kent, Viscount Emingforde who you will recall, if you are educated in your English history, was the man who married Katherine Tudor, the youngest sister of Henry VIII. I will never top that.”
“You’re fooling with me.”
“That Cause bit really makes me look like a Confederate. I was a Union soldier. My Cause was destroying the Cause.”
“You are fooling with me,” she repeated, fully irritated.
He laughed and Judy snatched his arm for balance as they walked out of the dip and looked up at the ghost who just looked at them in what seemed like a very worried expression. When they neared her, she turned around and walked down into the hill. Her hat began to descend into the water as if she was walking down a staircase and then out of sight.
Ethan put his goggles back on, swam up to where the ghost was and looked down. Judy did the same and from where she was, she was just in time to see the Black Lover vanish down into the earth like there was a staircase where was walking.
“She disappeared into the ground,” said Judy when he got up.
“Sounds like weird-ass shit,” said Mickey tiredly from where he had parked himself on the half-submerged horizontal tree near where the ghost had been standing before. Ethan looked at it, frowned, and walked up toward it rising halfway out of the water. “There’s a hole where this tree hit,” he said.
Mickey looked down at the water, let out a loud yawn, and cried out, “Borrrrring!”
Ethan crouched down beside it and Judy felt a sense of nervousness and excitement mix. She never liked holes, always imagining snakes and spiders hiding in there yet for some reason, yet her fear remained oddly in check. Ethan ducked his head down for a moment utilizing his snorkel and she followed after from back where she had remained and could only see him looking down into a break in the hill with a thick, heavy tree branch sticking beyond her sight down into it.
He raised his head back out as she climbed up beside him. “Odd,” he told her.
“What is it?” asked Judy and she looked around. She didn’t see the ghost anywhere and, for some insane reason, it made a graveyard seem creepier.
“It’s a crypt.”
Judy swallowed a lump down her throat, scared as she expected but yet once again still shockingly tolerable with Ethan around, and then found herself leaning down and looking into the hole before she could stop herself. She saw the Black Lover standing twenty feet down into a dark room lit only by the light of the hole above pointing at a pile of broken stone, which had once been part of the stone ceiling. The pile had fallen onto what had become a very broken stone sarcophagus that had been lying directly below the hole.
A cursory glance at the broken sarcophagus lit by a beam of light showed her nothing inside of the sarcophagus.
“A crypt, eh?” asked Mickey when she came up. “What exactly is so spectacular about finding a crypt in a graveyard?”
“It’s not a real crypt,” said Ethan. “No marker, no memorial of any sort. Why would somehow hide a body like this?”
Judy’s imagination instantly began to come up with a vision of the ghost reaching up, snatching her ankle, and pulling her down until she drowned. She quickly maneuvered a bit back, slightly behind Ethan and shook from something that had nothing to do with the cold. “I—I think we—”
Ethan stuck his head back down and Judy, after a second’s hesitation, did the same. He shot down a spell of some sort over the sarcophagus and a bright bauble of white light filled the room. It was a very simple room with walls of stone and a heavy door at one end filling up the front of the slope. Other than parts of broken wood here and there and a metal cross that lied face first on the ground near the sarcophagus, there was nothing in the room.
The sarcophagus was definitely empty. She had thought maybe there was a chance she had been wrong in that but the light proved it. The sarcophagus had nothing in it and her first instinctive thought was that something hidden down there had just gotten out.
That made her think of the broken gate again.
Ethan came up. “That crypt was hidden for a reason,” he said simply.
“What reason?” she asked without thinking. If she had, she would have realized she didn’t want to know.
“Isn’t it obvious?” he replied. “Someone hid something in one of the few places no would ever explore or disturb and even if a sarcophagus was found, they probably wouldn’t open it.” Ethan grabbed a branch of the tree Mickey was on to settle himself. “Whatever was hidden here has the feel of something still alive.”
Judy looked away for a moment as she suddenly remembered an odd rumor. Someone said the last owner of Beechwood, in the early 1950s when she was in junior high or elementary school, discovered a monster and buried it somewhere where it would never escape. How did that rumor find her? She could not quite recall.
“You’re a brave chick,” said Ethan.
“No, I’m not,” she replied.
“Yes, you are,” he said and when he smiled she blushed.
“It’s just because you’re around.” She swallowed and felt a lump go down her throat. “I’m terrified, Ethan. I’m terrified out of my mind.”
“Hey, isn’t it where all those people were found murdered?” asked Mickey.
“What was that now?” asked Judy with wide eyes.
Ethan frowned in thought. “Yeah,” he said. “They were found floating on Fisher Street in front of this damn church.” He laughed suddenly, a startling contradictory sound to Judy’s mood despite its unhappy quality. “Well, I guess we know what killed them,” he added.
She found herself suddenly feeling extremely vulnerable and looked down at the water with a growing sense of horror. She imagined something sneaking around under the surface, something slimy, quick and quiet, looking around for her legs to bite on. “I want to leave!” she said quickly. “I don’t like this place!”
“You shouldn’t. It’s a bad place.” Ethan debated something mentally for a moment and then shrugged. “Let’s go—”
Careful, said a voice and both jerked over to see four figures carrying some kind of long wooden crate on their shoulders like grim pallbearers. They were transparent versions of four men wearing suit hats but only one of their heads stuck out high above the water to see his face.
“Good God,” whispered Judy as she recognized the man’s face. “That’s Ronald Gray!” He looked exactly as she last saw him: handsome, blond, young, very tall and wearing a dark brown suit with a matching tie and the unmistakable pair of thick, square glasses. His transparent form was, like the ghost, not affected by the water. “Ronald! It’s me, Judy!”
“They’re shades, not ghosts,” said Ethan. “Basically echoes of some event, not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge’s experience with the Ghost of Christmas Past. They don’t really exist.”
Judy bit her lip and saw Gray’s face look around at a world sixty years gone and then she sensed one of his hands begin to move about his jacket under the water searching for something. He took one-step down the flight of stairs the Black Lover had gone earlier and everything below his nose was underwater.
You have the key, yes? asked one of them.
Yeah, said Gray. I have it right here. Somewhere.
“Who is Ronald Gray?” asked Ethan.
“Ronald owns, er, owned my favorite bookstore. I had a crush on him.” She stuck her head under the water, looked at the others and recognized all of them. When she came up she said, “I know them.” She pointed at the one in the front standing by Gray. “That’s Fred Michaelidis,” she pointed at the one on the back left, “That’s Arthur Coughlan who owns the cannery, and the last is James Bartlett.”
“My grandfather?” Ethan put his face underwater and watched his grandfather next to Arthur Coughlan disappear from sight down into the earth with that crate.
She knew Frederick Michaelidis because she babysat his children a few times before the accident that took his life. He was a man of average height, angular and average looking, with dark hair, dark eyes and a kind of an Italian look although she was reasonably sure he wasn’t actually Italian. He wore a dark green suit, matching hat and tie and, like always, a pair of black gloves because of a violent burn he suffered on his hands during his experience in World War II, or at least that was what he told everyone.
Arthur Coughlan could not have been missed by her in a million years. Any member of any fisherman’s family knew the Coughlans and Arthur Coughlan had then been the new heir to the Coughlan fortune and cannery after his Uncle Robert’s family had all been killed in a horrible car accident. He was an attractive elegant man who sometimes could be seen walking along the boardwalk with a cane, his handsome, distinguished face looking almost permanently sad, his remaining hair a dark gray even though he couldn’t have been forty yet, and his eyes a pale sky blue.
He was never the same after his family’s loss and he moved about in a kind of mechanical way, his eyes always searching sadly everywhere as if he could find them if he only looked hard. Afterward, he only wore black suits as if he were permanently in mourning.
As for James Bartlett, any girl from Bartlett Bay would have to have been living under a rock to have not known who he was. He was a remarkably handsome man, very much like his grandson, and one of the richest, dreamiest and most powerful men in town. She had never met him personally but she had seen him in the distance before and occasionally mooned over a picture of him from the newspaper she kept in her room.
She had only once seen the four of them together.
What was it she saw? Whispers in the dark entryway of Michaeladis’s house one night; fear in their eyes; Gray, out of place among such distinguished, wealthy and connected men, yet talking in a hushed way as their equal. What did it all mean?
Judy suspected at the time the worst they could be doing was cheating on their wives, as she really couldn’t imagine such gentlemen getting into anything truly dangerous. It was none of her business anyhow and she had not given the night a second thought until she was staring down at their shades sixty years later.
Listen, said Michaelidis whose voice could oddly and easily be heard through the water and earth, It can never be let out. We’re going to bury the entrance— They all turned and looked at the crate as if it had made a sound.
God, it sounded so human, said Coughlan after a quiet few seconds and then he shook his head. Look, can’t we find a way to just kill this damn thing?
Judy had not heard anything but their voices. Whatever they heard in that crate did not echo with them through the ages.
No, said Bartlett who sounded almost uncannily like his grandson. We tried that. It just puffed away and vanished and then came back. It killed Gray’s sister and brother-in-law after we cut its fucking head off. Judy gasped, recalling the funeral where she went to pay her respects to Gray’s little sister. Gray had been openly weeping, heartbroken and deeply wounded but no one told her how they died because, as she later concluded, nobody knew. If we stumble on a method of killing it, we can dig it up and Ron, for God’s sake are you hourly? Open the goddamn door already.
He lost the key, said Coughlan.
I got it right here, said Gray. Jesus, fellas.
Ethan moved over to the hole and looked down and Judy followed after, again strangely compelled.
Gray led the line down to the stone chamber toward the pile of stone. You’re going to be trapped here for a long time, monster, he said.
Judy came up for air and Ethan followed when she tapped him on his shoulder. “I can hear them!” she gasped. “I can hear them talking underwater.”
“It’s because you’re not listening with your ears,” he replied and then they both went back down. The men had already carefully put the crate, which wasn’t very thick, into the then not broken sarcophagus, and were just then pulling the heavy slab over it. When they were near it, it showed its unbroken shape transparently over the broken one.
Hell is where you belong, said Gray bitterly, but this will do in a pinch.
Coughlan held up a cross and all of them instantly jumped back, scared by something else Judy could not hear. He very quickly placed the cross on top of the sarcophagus as if it might sting him and stepped back. Judy could see it was a Catholic cross with Jesus Christ on the front of it. Goddamn it all! Coughlan snarled in a shocked, scared voice.
Judy jerked up for air but still listened. She didn’t think she had the power to stop herself.
Did you hear that voice? asked Bartlett. Judy looked down through the water from above, unable to see them at all that way, and heard him add, That didn’t sound remotely human.
It isn’t human, said Coughlan. It finally just panicked enough to accidentally let us hear it for what it is. Judy found she did not want to look back down into that hole, did not really want to see or hear anymore, but it was too late. She knew what happened. Those four gentlemen had locked something down there in a dark hopefully forever but Hurricane Sandy had changed that.
The monster was out.
“I’m scared,” she whispered the moment Ethan reappeared.
“I know,” he replied calmly after he took the snorkel out of his mouth and that easy way he remained calm once more somehow made her fear far more manageable. She found herself ludicrously grateful with how he could pacify her fear. She felt that if she had been alone, she would have gone mad with terror.
“That was kind of trippy,” said Mickey who clearly heard everything from his spot on the branch. He didn’t seem to particularly care one way or another and let out a long yawn a moment after speaking. “Can we go now?” he asked tiredly.
“Yes,” answered Judy instantly.
“Wait,” said Ethan and he pointed at the four men as they exited the stairs and then faded as they walked away. Judy looked around and saw The Black Lover was nowhere to be found. “That was it, I guess,” Ethan said.
“‘Hell is where you belong,’” quoted Judy in a whisper and felt a shiver of fear run up her spine.
“‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here,’” Ethan replied in a strange voice as he stood up.
“The Tempest,” she said softly and she stood up. “What was in that crypt, Ethan?” she asked despite the fact that moments before she was certain she didn’t want to know.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Whatever it is, it can’t be good. Especially if it’s still walking around after sixty years.” He looked at her. “You want me to take you home?”
She nodded quickly and then she suddenly threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek. Her heart seemed to stop and her mind shrieked at her to back away and be cautious while her body seemed to be on fire and demanded that she recklessly progress forward. She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anyone or anything ever before but had no idea what to do about it.
Ethan turned and kissed her back on the cheek in a brotherly fashion. “Oh God,” she cried, her arms still around his neck. “I feel so incredibly guilty.”
“Why?” he asked. “You never did anything wrong?”
“You would never have touched me if I was still Pigs Aberdeen.”
“That sure doesn’t sound like a friendly nickname for an overweight girl.”
“It’s what everyone called me,” she said. “I told you I was really fat.” She moved Lana’s supple body against his, feeling her arousal rise, and looked into his face. One minute she was afraid, another aroused. What was wrong with her? “I’m sorry.” Tears ran down her face. “I’m just—sorry.”
Ethan lifted her chin up when she lowered it and she saw his eyes were like blue steel. “Lana Creed damn near cost three girls their bodies and damn near killed me and possibly a dozen or more kids.” His eyes turned even colder. “Fuck her.”
She nodded and then suddenly something that was either a dream of a memory or a memory of a dream came back to her. She was in the dark, like the pit of some very deep sealed mine, all alone, and screaming and yelling and begging, but no one could hear her. It was a dream but it wasn’t. It was something very much worse and just because it faded like a dream, only to be remembered vaguely at that moment, did not mean it lost all its power.
She hugged him tighter, shaking.
“What just happened?” he asked.
Judy shook her head for a moment and then kissed him in the neck and held him tightly. “It’s nothing.” She saw his suspicious expression and thought he might be mad at her for being too forward. “Sorry, if you didn’t want me to kiss you.”
“I see you haven’t been pretty for long,” he replied with a wide smile. “Judy—” he put his hands on her shoulders “—I’m a guy. It’s okay. No problems here, except perhaps maybe the fact that I have a girlfriend.”
“Oh,” she said, instantly annoyed he hadn’t brought that up earlier, and began wading onward toward Fisher St in a huff. “I’m glad you have a girlfriend. Very. I hope you are deeply in love.”
“Nope,” he replied casually as caught up beside her.
“You’re not in love then?”
“Not even a little. It’s going to be a lot of fun but I already know it won’t last. I mean I just started dating her yesterday after we separated and I already have the sense that her family will not like me.” He stopped when they reached the gate and turned to her. “Look, this isn’t a movie, Judy. You don’t just marry a man because he saved your life like a prince in a fairy tale. You marry a man because he’s the right man for you.”
“I know that,” she replied irritably. “Let’s just go.”
So they did. They left the graveyard, The Black Lover not making any more appearances, and as they swam back down Fisher St, she said, “I think I know what I’m going to do with my life.” She wanted to tell him her idea to see what he would say.
“If you’re anything like Lana then socialite whore is your future.”
“Medicine,” she told him, semi-offended. “I’m going to be a nurse.”
“Nurse? Why not doctor?”
“There are women doctors?”
“Jesus did I forgot to tell you,” he replied. “The whole world’s changed. The sexes are equal, the glass ceiling is shattered, segregation is gone, a black man is the president—”
“You’re kidding! That is wonderful news!”
“His name is Barack Obama. Five days and we’ll find out if he’s being reelected. He’s up against some rich douchebag who probably couldn’t win a pie-eating contest. Strangely, it looks shockingly close.”
“I could be a doctor?” she whispered. “Like a real doctor?”
“Why certainly,” he replied. “There are countless female doctors all over America these days. I should show the first few seasons of Grey’s Anatomy from back in the good old days when people could stand to work with Katherine Heigl.”
“A female doctor?” The idea was wonderful. “You’re not playing with me, are you?”
“You can be anything you want. Women can get doctrines and be CEOs of large medical organizations and not just medicine in fact. They can also be scientists, lawyers and virtually any other occupation in the world. Nowadays, women can actually know almost everything instead of just pretending they do—” she threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly and almost accidentally dunked him under the water “—found something about the future you like, eh?”
“That’s the best news I have ever heard!” she cried and she kissed him in the cheek for several moments sensually before releasing it. “Thank you, Ethan. You’ve made me very happy.”
“Well, I didn’t really have a lot to do with the Women’s Movement over the last sixty years but you’re welcome.” He gave her a handsome smile and then took her home with much less talk. They all felt their tiredness come flooding back outside of the water and even Mickey seemed sedated.
When she got home she hugged her father tightly, who could not stop smiling, and then went up to her room and locked her door. She quickly took off her shoes, dropped the wetsuit and looked at herself in just a skimpy bathing suit in the mirror for several minutes, her long blond hair hanging straight back down behind her head.
“So this is who I am now,” she said feeling confident and comfortable for the first time in her life, both past and present. She laughed, not a happy laugh but one of relief, and put her hands on her hips. “Dr. Lana Creed,” she said to her reflection and then she took a quick shower, threw on one of her nightgowns and decided to take a nap. With purpose, guilt or no guilt, she found life was far easier to bear and the instant she lied down she was asleep.
What followed was a vivid dream.
It was the 1950s again and she was herself only with Lana Creed’s body as if she was born with it back then. She was playing baseball, which she could never do before being too embarrassed over her weight and just awful in the game, but she had always enjoyed watching it. She especially enjoyed the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
In the dream, she was playing in the field behind Bay City High with everyone watching her play in a cute pink uniform just like some of the AAGPBL teams had. The ball came and she hit it just right, sending it over the field, over the people watching, and over Butch Gregory, the boy she always had a crush on. When as she crossed the home plate amidst cheers, Butch wrapped his arms around her and held her close.
You are so beautiful, Judy, he told her.
Judy laughed and kissed Butch deeply as her classmates came around to congratulate her. She put her arms around his neck as he swung her slender body around easily, her legs flying behind her as she laughed in delight. She was a gorgeous, skinny, perfect young thing, and there was no reason to be guilty or sad because she was born that way and had never stolen anything from anyone.
When Butch lowered Judy down there was love in his eyes and she smiled contentedly but only until she looked past his shoulder.
Through the crowd of kids congratulating her, across the long green field, at the corner of the fence she saw an overweight, unattractive girl in a familiar old skirt and blouse combo. How often had Judy been standing there watching the handsome boys and skinny girls play baseball, hiding from sight, embarrassed by her inability to play and overwhelmed with envy for the prettier, athletic girls?
That wasn’t the right question, she suddenly realized. The question was, “Who was there now? Who was watching her when she was the one playing?” For some reason, the other girl’s face was completely shadowed by the bleachers but the old blue skirt and white blouse were very much hers.
The figure gestured for her to approach with one chubby index figure on her right hand with a sharp painted black fingernail. In her left hand by her side, Judy saw the girl was holding the baseball she had just hit out over the field.
Judy didn’t dare go near her, suddenly terrified almost out of her mind, and then when she looked around for Butch and the others for some kind of comfort or help, she found she was alone. In fact, she had been alone all along because all those boys and girls she grew up with were either unrecognizably different as elderly people or were simply dead.
Looking around, she then realized the school was elderly too. The fence and bleachers had turned an ugly shade of rusty red and in the distant buildings, the paint had peeled, the windows were cracked and various pieces of trash floated in the wind across it like some kind of abandoned town in a Wild West movie.
It was because no one was there. The teachers, students and staff of the class of 1956 were long gone.
She felt something at her feet and looked down to see an empty Jack Daniels bottle, her mother’s favorite brand of booze, and then immediately looked back up to see the overweight figure was still there. Judy had sensed she had not moved all along and sensed as well that maybe she would always be there, although the why of that eluded her. In her dream, she understood something. Although in her dream the figure was her, she knew for certain the figure really wasn’t her in some paradoxical manner.
And whoever she was, she was bad.
The figure’s chubby fists began to turn white as they squeezed with extreme rage, the left doing so over the baseball, and then when Judy thought something was about to happen the familiar hand of her mother came down on her shoulder.
But when she looked at it, she saw that it was the hand of a corpse.
She woke up so scared she barely managed to stifle a scream before it came out. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” she gasped to herself and felt sick to her stomach. She decided not to go back to sleep and instead went about the rest of the day wandering around the house trying to learn what she could about her new time surreptitiously. When she did go to sleep later that night, her dreams were simply about her dancing ballet alone in a dance hall, dancing being another thing she had never been capable of doing and had always wanted to and those dreams were uneventful.
However, she did wake the following morning instinctively feeling that while dancing someone had been watching her the whole time. Someone who was unattractive and overweight from a shadowy corner where none of the other boys or girls could see her.