The Black Hole in Auntie Sutra's Handbag
by Samantha Henderson


"So you see," concluded Trudie Dawn, "I love him so terribly and Daddy won't hear of it.  And his folks think I come from 'a decayed and decadent stock.'"  She rolled the words between her teeth with a certain relish.

"Hmm."  Auntie Sutra was usually more sympathetic to the tribulations of her young relatives, but she was distracted.  For the past ten minutes the saltshaker had been moving across the table in brief, jerky spasms, unassisted, and this perplexed her. 


"Yes, dear."  Auntie Sutra looked up from the provoking shaker and smiled at Trudie Dawn.  "And why exactly does your father object?"

Trudie Dawn folded her arms and leaned back against the pink vinyl chair. "He says I'm far too young to marry."

"And he is quite right.  You are far too young to marry.  Nineteen -- it's ridiculous!  And yet . . . ." she tilted her gray, well-tended head and considered the shaker.  It shuddered and inched forward a fraction.  "And yet, the women of our family have a longstanding tradition of marrying too young.  It suits them; they marry young and they flourish.  Or they do not marry at all.  And they flourish.  Your father is quite aware of this." 

This was true.  The Summerville women were wed in their teens, their early twenties, fresh out of high school or college.  Occasionally they made it to twenty-five.  Beyond that age, no.  They had grand passions, affairs, live-in lovers, long-term mates.  But no husbands.  It was said in the sleepy and suspicious town of Bluebird Springs, Alabama, where the Summervilles had made and lost their fortunes, that when the women of that family were left too long to their own devices, they were claimed by the dark forces and became demon brides: unearthly, seductive creatures with a talent for what could only be called magic. 

And those fair, flourishing brides -- they too had a touch of the uncanny, but it was considered polite to ignore that.

Auntie Sutra was one of the unmarried. 

She still could not understand the spasmodic progress of the saltshaker.  If it were headed towards the pepper shaker, its hesitant, almost involuntary movements would make sense: a passion, a pairing of opposites, of light and dark, a salty, peppery joining. 

"As for the decayed and decadent stock," she continued, "that simply means that once we had money and now we have none: nothing else."

Trudie Dawn was fidgeting with her manicure and obviously in no mood to confront the saltshaker's aberrant behavior.  "Daddy doesn't even want me to go back to University in the fall," she continued.  "Wants me and Alvin to take some time apart.  I know he hopes I'll lose interest and not go back at all.  Says my major's impractical."

"What are you studying again, dear?"

Sutra waved at Mabel--it had to be a joke, her name, for she looked too much the part of a gum-chewing, brassy-permed, nasal, powdered waitress named Mabel in a tight pink checked gingham dress to really be one. And yet her name was Mabel.

"Auntie! I've told you again and again.  Applied Mathematics and Algorithm Engineering. Why won't anyone listen?” This was addressed to the imperfectly hung tiles of the ceiling.

Mabel had drifted to their table, having paused to shift a neighboring and maladjusted centerpiece dead center. 

"Yes, Miss Sutra?"

"Mabel, do you see anything queer about this?"  Auntie Sutra indicated the vibrating saltshaker.

Mabel considered it.  "Well, it's certainly out of the ordinary."

"Does this happen much?"

"Can't say as it does."  She considered.  "Maybe we're having an earthquake."

"Pretty subtle for an earthquake." 

"Or it's possessed of an evil spirit. I've seen stranger things at high noon on a hot day.  You needing anything else, Miss Sutra?"

"I can always use more ice tea."

"Will you talk to him, please, Auntie?" Trudie paid the saltshaker never-no-mind and leaned on the table, clasping her hands together.

Auntie Sutra smiled kindly on the child.  Trudie Dawn was her favorite niece.

Dreadfully impractical major, though.  Especially . . . .

"I'll talk to your father," she said.  "Run home and tell your Daddy I'll be out there tomorrow afternoon. We'll get you and this Alvin-boy -- must he be an Alvin? -- well, there, there, child.  We'll get you all squared away. 

And Trudie Dawn squealed with joy, kissed her on her powdered cheek, and sailed away out the flimsy door.   

Auntie Sutra was determined not to leave until the saltshaker made up its mind one way or the other.  It was headed for her handbag, an ancient thing of cracked black leather, stuffed with everything from tissues to violet drops, belladonna and six different shades of lipstick.  She wondered if the shaker would stop or find a way around.

It stopped.  What's more, it tapped impatiently against the burnished surface of her purse.  Carefully, she undid the brass clasp and allowed the mouth to gape open a trifle.  The shaker quivered once, paused, and leapt into the open handbag.  With a small pop it was gone.

Auntie Sutra considered the open purse.  Gingerly, she prodded it with one finger until she could peer inside.  There should be wads of Kleenex and shabby dollar bills and bottles of aspirin and strange leaves she'd picked up here and there.  Not to mention the saltshaker.  She saw nothing.

Or, rather, a nothingnesss.  Nothing with some substance.  Blackness with movement, and heat.  Nothing that belonged in her handbag.

She became aware of a dragging sensation, something pulling her face towards the gaping maw of the bag.  The crumpled paper napkins from lunch and the used silverware were stirring too, as if a hungry vortex sought to suck them inside.  The sensation increased, and she quickly snapped the bag shut.  The pulling stopped.  The silverware quieted.

"Mabel," she called.  You'll have to put lunch on my tab.  Give yourself a nice tip, too." 

"I always do," said Mabel.

*     *     *

Auntie Sutra strode up the dusty path, hedged by blackberries and bordered by Queen Ann's Lace, towards the Summerville estate.  She still carried her handbag, although she hadn't dared to open it.  She couldn't determine if it was heavier than before.  It seemed best to keep it close by.  An occasional dragonfly zoomed overhead, and skippers danced in the brambles. 

One dragonfly paused mid-flight, swooped down and hovered curiously at the strap of her purse.  Before Auntie Sutra could introduce herself it was gone. 

The path curved through a field of Queen Ann's Lace.  Just to the North, the meadow banked down to a brook that splashed and gurgled, thinking itself alone.  The stream roiled and tumbled down past the old, falling-apart barns, past derelict boat launches, and widened into Meadowbrook, a place where . . . .

Well, it was not the time to reminisce, and girlhood was a very long time ago.  She continued towards the house, casting her consciousness back in place and time, down the gentle eddies and sudden swirls, between the stalks of grass like a garter snake.

Someone was sitting on a boulder beside the stream.  Somebody was sobbing.

Trudie Dawn.

With a sigh Auntie Sutra picked her way down the bank.  Trudie looked up, red-eyed and puffy.

"Now, child.  I told you I'd talk to your Daddy . . . ."

Trudie gulped and wiped her nose.

"It's worse, Auntie. Last night he said . . . well, you know things haven't gone well for him lately.  And University is expensive, but I didn't know how bad it was . . . ."

Sutra drew back a trifle, as if she smelled something sharp and unpleasant.

"What did he tell you, Trudie Dawn?"

Trudie looked down at where the water winked at her. 

“He says . . . he says he wants me to marry John Darkling,” she said, and her tear-streaked cheeks went red and hot.

Something cold went through Auntie Sutra at the sound of that name.  

“He.  Wants. You.  To.  Marry.  Who?”

Auntie Sutra’s voice was rumbly and deep, and Trudie Dawn had never quite heard a woman speak so deeply.

And Auntie Sutra's eyes turned round, and black, and shiny, and hard.

She glared at a spring of Queen Ann's Lace that nodded at her feet like an oversized daisy.  It started to wilt.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!  I’ve told and I upset you.  Daddy said I wasn’t to tell.”

“Wasn’t. To. Tell?”

The Queen Ann's Lace's tiny petals fell, one by one.

“He said it was a sensitive subject for you – you didn’t like it brought up.  And it’s true – I did upset you.  I’m sorry, Auntie.”

Auntie Sutra narrowed her eyes.  The flower crumbled in on itself, writhed, and flared.  A thin wisp of smoke trailed over a tiny charred stem. 

She closed her eyes.  When she opened them, they were back to their regular color. 

“Come along, Trudie Dawn,” she said in her usual pleasant voice.  "I need to have a few words with your Daddy.”

*     *     *

Robert Joseph Summerville wasn’t a bad man.  Greedy for land, yes.  Always had an eye towards acquisition, despite the eroding state of the Summerville fortune.  And he tried to be a good father, and thought he'd succeeded. 

He wasn’t a coward, either. But a sick feeling started inside his gut when he saw Auntie Sutra and Trudie Dawn coming up the garden path.  He backed away from the screen, as if the thin wire mesh could save him.

“Bobby Joe Summerville!” called Auntie Sutra, standing before the front step of the porch, arms akimbo, her ridiculous purse like a misshapen bowling ball on her hip  “Come out this instant!”

Robert sighed at the inevitable and pushed open the screen door.

"Good afternoon, Sutra," he said, forcing a smile.  "How nice that you could visit."

"Don't you put on airs, pretending nothing's wrong, Bobby Joe.  And you invite me in this instant."  From behind her Trudie Dawn peeked out, apprehensive.

He hesitated a fraction of a second before he did, aware that not even Sutra Summerville could tread on his porch without an invitation. 

But then he bowed to the inevitable.  "Please do come on up, Auntie Sutra.  It seems that something's upset you."

She narrowed her eyes, and he winced, then glared at Trudie Dawn.  Why did the girl insist on causing trouble?  He had only her best interest at heart. 

Sutra whirled into the house, Trudie Dawn in her wake.  She surveyed the tidy but shabby drawing room with a grim eye, then picked an ancient, overstuffed armchair she remembered from former, halcyon days. 

Sitting with a dignified plop, she was briefly discomfited by the disposal of her purse.  Robert automatically reached for it but she pulled it away, propping it on her knee.  Until she understood the phenomenon better, she wasn't going to let it out of her sight.

She waved Robert and Trudie to other, less historical seats and leaned into her subject.

“You know why I’m here, Bobby Joe.  How could you think of making your only child marry a Darkling, in the name of all that’s wonderful?”

Robert Summerville leaned back and tried not to roll his eyes.

“In the first place, I’m not making Trudie Dawn do anything – and you know quite well I can’t.  But she knows it would be to her advantage to do this – in fact, the whole family would benefit.  She should at least consider her options.”

Auntie Sutra snorted.  “What options would she have, marrying John Darkling?  Might as well wed the Prince of Darkness his own self, and I’m not sure that she wouldn’t be.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Sutra.  I know there’s an old grudge between the families, but the man’s not the very Devil.  He’s the richest man in seventeen counties – maybe the whole state.  His pedigree is impeccable – and yes, Sutra, such things do matter, and don’t pretend they don’t.  The Darklings support every charity in town, and there’s nothing bad even you can say about the man.  Don’t you think she should even consider the offer?”            

Auntie Sutra grinned humorlessly at him.  “And this rich, rich man, with his breeding and charm and good works – tell me, what does he want with a Summerville girl, with all to offer but herself?”

“You don’t give Trudie enough credit.”

“Oh, but I do.  Trudie Dawn’s a perfect berry underneath the blackberry leaves; a diamond in the pebbles of a stream.  Trudie Dawn doesn’t even know what she is yet.  But John Darkling does.”

Auntie Sutra shifted the purse on her knee.  “Besides the fact that, according to Trudie, she’s in love with another man.”

“That’s right; I am,” piped up Trudie Dawn, who had been watching the exchange as she would a tennis match.  Although, truth to tell, for a just a wee moment she’d almost forgotten about Alvin.

“Trudie, I’m asking you, seriously, to consider this,” said Robert, turning to his daughter.  “In all honestly, I can’t offer you much.  I don’t know if I can afford to send you back to University next year.  You’ve known this Alvin boy for six months? Maybe a year? And he’s as poor as yourself.  You’re young yet.  How can you know your true feelings now?”

“You said I was too young to marry anyone,” returned Trudie Dawn.

This silenced her father for a moment, and then he nodded.  “Right.  But you’re not too young to marry John Darkling.  Think a moment,” he leaned forward.  “Think of the money.  People pretend it’s not important, but they’re lying to themselves.  You could go back to the University.  You could go anywhere you wanted – that’s what he told me.  Anything you want, Trudie – he’ll take you anywhere you want to go, build you a house anywhere you choose.  Who else will offer you that?  Think, child.”

“He’s right,” broke in Auntie Sutra.  “Understand this: John Darkling is a perfect gentleman.  You’ll have rings for your fingers and fresh flowers on the table every morning at breakfast.  You’ll have housekeepers and cooks and maids to do your hair.  Any dress you want, you’ll have it.  A necklace you fancy?  It’ll appear on your pillow at night.”

Auntie Sutra’s voice was soft: low and husky, and Trudie Dawn bent close to hear.  Despite herself, despite Alvin, her eyes were shining.

“And if you have a child,” continued Auntie Sutra, “oh, the gifts you’ll have then.  A nursemaid for your baby, a wet nurse if you should want it. You won’t have to lift a finger.  And John Darkling – he’ll never raise a hand to you, or speak roughly, or treat you with anything other than the most exquisite courtesy.

“And you’ll find, after a year, or two, or four, that you feel sleepy, more often than you ought to.  You’ll start to take naps in the afternoon.  You’ll start to sleep in late, every morning, later and later each time, until you find yourself waking up at noon, one o’clock, two in the afternoon.  You’ll never feel fully refreshed.  A walk in the garden will exhaust you.

“And there’ll be no reproaches from your husband, never!  He’ll tell you to get more rest.  If you want, he’ll have a doctor come and look at you.  He’ll pay for vitamins, B-12 shots, herbal wraps, massage.  Anything, anything you could possibly need.

“And one day you’ll go to bed and never get up.  The mattress is so soft.  The sheets are crisp and clean.  The pillows are delicious.  The morning light through the lace curtains, the sunset making the windows orange and pink, the patter of rain on the roof, the breeze in the willows: all so pretty, so relaxing.  You’ll sleep, and drowse, and think, briefly, of getting up, and drowse and sleep once more.  Someone will feed you, someone will dress you, someone will brush your hair.”

Auntie Sutra leaned back and her bright black eyes snapped.  Trudie Dawn started, as if cold water had been dashed in her face.

“John Darkling will wax fat and strong on your power,” said Auntie Sutra.  “He’ll keep you safe in his tower like the Darkling brides before you.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Robert Summerville.  He had been listening entranced, but now he shook his head, like a dog shedding water.  “Why, at the Cotillion I saw Marita Darkling, Andrew’s wife.  She was just fine.  Never looked so good, I thought.”

Auntie Sutra favored him with a long dark gaze that turned from brown to blue to brown again.

"Did you look into her eyes?” she said.

Robert didn’t answer.  Trudie Dawn shuddered.  “I did.”

“And is that what you want to become?”

In answer Trudie Dawn just looked down, shaking her head.

“Robert,” said Sutra, after a long pause.  “What did Darkling promise you?”

“That’s not . . . ."

“What are you willing to sell your daughter for?”

Robert stared at Sutra with hatred, and shame.  Sutra would not look away.

"I've mortgaged some land . . . ."

"You did what?"

"I've mortgaged parts of the property. And I can’t pay anymore.  He can redeem them for me."

There was a silence.  When Auntie Sutra spoke again, a film of frost formed across the paneling of the drawing room.

"What parts?"

"The farmland.  Other bits and pieces here and there.”

“What bits?” 

He twisted uncomfortably. “Come on, Sutra, you know I couldn't use it!"

“Robert Joseph Summerville . . . ."

"Meadowbrook."  His voice was low and sullen. “I sold him Meadowbrook.  He’ll give it back, buy everything back for us, if Trudie marries him.”

Meadowbrook.  The stream led you there, past the willows and birch.  Some who ventured there got lost and came back flustered and torn, covered with small bruises like pinches and vowed never to go back.  Others came back with a dreamy swirl to their eyes.  Some, a very few, never came back at all.  Sutra had reason to know they were there still.

The Summervilles had owned Meadowbrook, as far as beings of flesh and blood can be said to own a place so eldritch, for hundreds of years. 

Sutra lifted her hand.  The room darkened, and thunder grumbled outside.  After a few seconds, a steady, determined thumping began outside.  Rain. 

Sutra lowered her hand.  “I’ll be taking advantage of your hospitality a few days, Bobby Joe, and I do thank you for it.” She smiled politely and Robert forced himself to smile back, pulling back his lips in what looked like a snarl.

“Why don’t you take your Aunt to the guest room, Trudie Dawn?” he managed.  He glanced out a window where the rain was already streaking against the windows.  “Looks like we’ll all be here for some time.”

"Let me take your purse, Auntie," said Trudie as she walked Sutra up the stairs.  After a second's hesitation, she let her.

"Wow," commented Trudie from behind her as she entered the white gossamer guest room that should have been a dream this summer day.  "It feels . . . strange. What have you got in there?"

"I'm not sure," answered Sutra, taking the purse from her and placing it square in the center of Grandma's Newbold's Star-of-Bethlehem quilt.  "But it keeps on eating things."

"What kind of things?"

"A saltshaker.   My violet drops.  Almost got a cat last night."

"Schwarzschild radius," said Trudie Dawn, dreamily.

"I beg your pardon, child?" said Sutra.  She was suddenly very sleepy, and wanted her nap badly.

"Nothing, Auntie," fibbed Trudie.  "Nothing important."

*     *     *

Trudie Dawn stood on the porch of the Summerville house, watching the thick curtain of rain past the roof of the porch. It had been falling solidly for two days now.

She put out her hand and pushed against it.  It was wet, like rain should be, but solid too -- almost solid enough to push back. 

"I want Trudie to have a chance to think for a few days, without any outside influences affecting her judgment," Auntie Sutra had declared. 

Robert Summerville had snorted.  "And you won't try to influence her."

"That I will not.  And you won't either.  We'll let her figure it out own on her lonesome. 

Trudie Dawn looked at her fingers, glistening with the wet.  As she watched the tiny drops vanished, and her hand felt tight and dry, like laundry left on the clothesline.

She knew Auntie Sutra was behind her, in the doorway. 

"Auntie, what happens if we lose Meadowbrook?"

 She half-turned, so Sutra could see her profile against the gray screen of rain.  "I mean, what happens to you?"

A pause, and then -- "Everything must die, eventually.  It could be that it's about time I did.  I've lived a very long time, my dear."

"What else will die?"

There was no answer.

"I got lost once in Meadowbrook," said Trudie, after a while.  "When I was about nine or ten -- did I ever tell you?"


"Before Mama died, anyway.  When she was so sick. I used to wander away those days, and no one noticed for a long time -- the house was so full of people then.  One day some Aunt or another -- it wasn't you -- told me I wasn't to go to Meadowbrook, so of course I did.  Down the stream and through the birches.

"It was such a quiet place.  Even the birdsong was drowsy.  Of course, you know."

"I know."  Auntie Sutra shifted in the doorway, but Trudie couldn't hear her for the pad-pad of the rain.

"I would've stayed lost, if they hadn't brought me back."

They.  The word hung between them, and Sutra had to grab it out of the air. "They don't always."

"No.  I understand that now."

"Stop the rain, Auntie Sutra."

But Sutra had gone inside the house.

*     *     *

Trudie sat on the porch an hour, two, three, until a car --a long black glossy thing-- pulled up before her.  The passenger side door opened and a man she recognized from some Darkling-run charity event emerged.  Too smooth a face and manner.  John Darkling's secretary.

He approached the porch steps and paused, his manner ingratiating. 

Even from where she was she could tell that he was dry; the rain shied away from him as if he was unclean.  Behind him, the finish of the car was smooth, unmarred by raindrops. 

Perhaps knowing she wouldn’t invite him on the porch, he inclined his head and proffered something in his right hand. 

Trudie thought a long minute before getting up and stepping into the rain, staying on the step above him.  The rain drenched her while she silently took the gift.  A box of bland gray velvet that felt heavier than it should.  As her hand closed on it, the rain fled her, parting like a curtain. 

“Tomorrow morning at nine,” said the Darkling secretary.  “You would honor my employer very much if you should accept his offer.”  His voice was thick as butter.

“I’ll think about it,” Trudie returned, turning away. 

“Yes, miss,” he replied, but his manner was too sure and it grated on her.  She let the screen door slam shut behind her, holding the box carefully, as if it were a mouse that might bite.

She flipped it open.  Inside was a ring with purple stone: an amethyst, old enough to be cut big and flawless.  The band was old too, though polished and flawless – a thick circle of old, coppery gold.  Trudie Dawn held it in her hand.  It felt like a sleeping thing.  

An heirloom, and a bargain.  She was a Summerville; she knew how these things worked.  Without letting herself think about it too much, she gritted her teeth and slipped on the ring.

Ahhh.  Something unseen breathed in satisfaction.  Trudie felt a heaviness in her chest – just a little: more could not penetrate Auntie Sutra’s rain.  Something snapped shut; the bargain was made.

The band was warm around her finger, the stone very heavy.  She fiddled with it, almost drawing it off, then left it alone. 

She slept little that night, the hand that bore the massive violet stone carefully outside her sheets, resting on the counterpane.            

*     *     *

Trudie Dawn was raised to be an honest child.  She knew it was a sin to steal.  But now she sinned.

Auntie Sutra was snoring peacefully.  Somewhere outside the curtain of rain dawn was breaking.  Trudie cautiously removed Auntie Sutra's purse from its perch on the bedside chair.  She was careful not to open it. 

She didn't have a wedding dress, of course.  She pulled on a simple shift-like garment, pale lavender with tiny beads embroidered on the bodice.  It would have to do.  Holding the purse awkwardly over her arm, she walked off the porch into the gray velvet curtain of rain.  It parted for her, wanted nothing to do with her now she was on the cusp of becoming a Darkling.

There was one church in Bluebird Springs, one place where everybody congregated for Christmas and almost as many for Easter, one place where any wedding worth its salt was held.  First Methodist on the corner of Willow and Main.  The rain faded away as she reached the end of the lane bracketed by blackberries, the lane that led to her home, and the morning sun was peeking over the horizon.  She risked a glance back.  The wall of rain behind her was incongruous, a gray thumbprint on the summer world.  She wondered if Daddy and Auntie Sutra were still asleep.

As she walked, she felt the threads and stitches of her dress moving over her skin.  The fabric lightened and brightened, the simple glass seed beads became crystalline.  With each stride the cotton threads turned to silk.  By the time she reached Main she was wearing a cream silken sheath with a bodice that sparkled in the morning sun.  She bent and picked a daisy that struggled through a crack in the sidewalk.  In her hand it became a sheaf of white lilies, each with a scarlet drop at its very heart.

The magic stopped at her wrist, where the ugly black purse with its cracked patent leather hung, and backed away.  She felt its puzzlement and smiled.

First Methodist stood before her with its modest white spire.  The narthex doors were open.

He was very confident that she’d accept, she thought, annoyed.  Then she remembered – from the moment she’d put on the amethyst ring, he must have known.

Trudie Dawn entered the cool church and stood at the base of the aisle with her beautiful dress and flowers and ugly purse looped over her arm.  John Darkling stood at the altar with the minister beside him.  He looked at her down fifty feet of sanctified carpet and smiled, and although Trudie Dawn was a Summerville and a mathematician and in love she was first a woman and she felt a little tug at her heart, a little thud in her loins.  He was so very handsome.

There were witnesses sitting in the pews; they turned and looked at her.  Andrew, John Darkling’s cousin, and his wife Marita, with her sleepy, blank expression.  On the distaff side --- John Darkling’s secretary, who nodded as she passed.  And next to him – Alvin. 

Alvin looked bewildered.  At the sight of her, he stood.

“What’s happening, Trudie?  How can you . . . ."  The secretary made a slight movement and Alvin’s mouth snapped shut.  The secretary looked smug.

A mistake, thought Trudie at him.  A hollow gesture and a big mistake.  I shan’t forget.

She didn’t know if he heard, but his lips tightened. 

"I’m sorry, Alvin,” she said.  “Wait for me.”

Unable to speak, he sat.

Trudie walked to where her fiancé waited.

*     *     *

Auntie Sutra started out of her sheets with a snort. 

What was the child going to do?

What was the child thinking?

She dressed quickly, waving the rain away.  She reached for her purse and found nothing.

What was that girl thinking?

*     *     *

Trudie Dawn was thinking, as she looked at the lowered eyes of Pastor Johansen, that there was a tremor, a small hiccup in his voice as he pronounced John Darkling and herself man and wife.  And that the minister knew what he was doing, and knew that it was wrong. Trudie wondered what the Darklings had on him. 

I won’t forget that, either, she thought.  He lifted his eyes to look in her face and turned deadly pale.

Trudie Dawn felt it, the barest, gentlest twine of Darkling vines around her heart.  The slightest soupcon of lassitude.  The barest hint of the desire to lie down and sleep. 

John Darkling – her husband – smiled down at her, handsome as a movie star.  She tried not to shiver.

*     *     *

As she hurried down the lane, the dragonflies dive-bombed Auntie Sutra’s head. 

“Yes, I know,” she said impatiently, waving them away.  “A lot of help you are now.”

But they didn’t have to remind her of the rain for her to know it was her fault.

“Don’t do it, Trudie-love,” she muttered.  “In the name of all that’s holy, don’t.  Meadowbrook’s not worth it,” she said, although she knew she lied.

*     *     *

It was almost done.  Mr. and Mrs. Darkling and Pastor Johansen proceeded to the Sacristy where they were to sign the register.  The priest waved them inside and Trudie Dawn managed to fiddle with the strap of her -- of Auntie Sutra's purse -- so that John Darkling preceded her.

He paused.  She waved him on.

"Go ahead, dear," she said, the last word sticking in her throat.  "My strap's broken."

He hesitated, then went in.  When she entered the Sacristy, he had already picked up the pen and held it poised over the register.

She smiled at him, and let the lassitude cloud her eyes so that he saw it.  Behind she fought to keep her mind razor-sharp, bent on one task. 

He bent and signed, confident in the Darkling power.  And when he turned, so tall, so handsome, and held out the pen to her, she had to fight not to reach for it, not to let her hand, heavy with the slumberous amethyst, the heavy gold band, reach back and touch his, for then she would be lost.

With a jerk she pulled at the strap of the handbag, grabbed at the clasp and opened it wide.

Weight.  Heat.  Darkness.  She felt it between her palms.  And here in her hands, a great hunger, imperious. 

John Darkling’s astonished expression barely had time to turn to anger.  As she held up the purse against him like a ward he began to elongate.

No! she felt.  You belong to me! Her arms trembled, but she held firm.  

“I’ve signed nothing yet,” she said aloud.

His face twisted in more than anger.  The whole length of him was deforming, twisting.  As she watched, he broke apart into his component parts, molecular, atomic, sub-atomic level.  The very strings of him swirled like a dust devil.  Something was screaming thin and high like a teakettle. The purse pulled him into itself and she snapped it shut, quickly. 

In the sudden silence, she stared at the minister and clutched the purse against her.  His eyes were wide. 

Trudie Dawn drew a deep breath.  The twining vines of lassitude were gone.   She straightened and walked to the register, took the pen still warm from her husband’s touch, and signed.

“But . . ." Pastor Johansen stuttered.

She looked sideways at him.  “Shut up, Pastor,” she said calmly.  She finished with a flourish and put the pen down just as Darkling’s secretary burst into the Sacristy. 

He looked around the room, at the two of them, out the open door that led to the green pastures behind the church. 

“Where is he?” he gasped. 

Trudie Dawn steadied herself.  “Why, I've no idea.  He just vanished.  Isn’t that right, Pastor?”

Fish-eyed, the minister nodded. 

For Trudie was, with some reservations, a truthful child.

*     *     *

When Auntie Sutra arrived, breathless, at First Methodist, she found an angry Darkling cousin, a terrified minister, a discombobulated secretary, and a very confused young man she guessed, correctly, was Alvin.  Trudie Dawn sat in the middle of all, holding a dry handkerchief and Sutra’s handbag.  Sutra sat next to her.

“Such a tragedy,” said Trudie Dawn.  “I don't know what could have come over him.  But he left me with the Darkling properties.  Because,” she continued, with a glare at Andrew, who was gesticulating at the minister, “a contract is a contract and a deal is a deal.  Isn’t that right, Auntie?”

“Quite right,” said Sutra.  “And I’ll see that it’s so.”

“Daddy will be pleased.”

“I don’t know.  He may be.”

“Here’s your purse back, Auntie.”

“Ah, I see.  Something borrowed.”  She took it as if it were a potentially dangerous cat.

“Trudie?” The young man Sutra assumed was Alvin wavered before her.  “Trudie, I’m still a little confused…I beg your pardon,” he said to Sutra, holding out his hand.  “You must be Miss Summerville.”

“Call me Auntie Sutra,” she said, taking his hand.  “And you’re Trudie’s friend from the University, dear?  Tell me, what is your major?”

“Game Theory, Ma’am,” he said, glancing at Trudie Dawn. 

“Just as well, dear,” said Auntie Sutra, leaning back in the pew and holding her handbag carefully on her lap.



About the Author:

Samantha Henderson lives in Southern California with her family and assorted fauna.  Her fiction has been published in Strange Horizons, Chizine, Fantasy: Best of 2005 and Lone Star Stories, and is upcoming in Fantasy and Realms of Fantasy.  For more information, see her website at



Story © 2007 Samantha Henderson.