"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
"Yes, dear." Auntie Sutra looked up from the provoking
shaker and smiled at Trudie Dawn. "And why exactly does
your father object?"
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
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."
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.
fair, flourishing brides -- they too had a touch of the uncanny,
but it was considered polite to ignore that.
was one of the unmarried.
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
"As for the
decayed and decadent stock," she continued, "that simply means
that once we had money and now we have none: nothing else."
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
you studying again, dear?"
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.
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.
drifted to their table, having paused to shift a neighboring and
maladjusted centerpiece dead center.
you see anything queer about this?" Auntie Sutra indicated the
considered it. "Well, it's certainly out of the ordinary."
as it does." She considered. "Maybe we're having an
subtle for an earthquake."
possessed of an evil spirit. I've seen stranger things at high
noon on a hot day. You needing anything else, Miss Sutra?"
always use more ice tea."
talk to him, please, Auntie?" Trudie paid the saltshaker
never-no-mind and leaned on the table, clasping her hands
smiled kindly on the child. Trudie Dawn was her favorite
impractical major, though. Especially . . . .
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.
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
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
"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
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
that nodded at her feet like an oversized daisy. It started to
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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?
“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
“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
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
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
"The farmland. Other bits and pieces here
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
“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
"What kind of things?"
"A saltshaker. My violet drops. Almost
got a cat last night."
"Schwarzschild radius," said Trudie Dawn,
"I beg your pardon, child?" said Sutra.
She was suddenly very sleepy, and wanted her nap badly.
"Nothing, Auntie," fibbed Trudie. "Nothing
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
She knew Auntie Sutra was behind her, in
"Auntie, what happens if we lose
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
"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
"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
Perhaps knowing she wouldn’t invite him on
the porch, he inclined his head and proffered something in his
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,
“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
"I’m sorry, Alvin,” she said. “Wait for
Unable to speak, he sat.
Trudie walked to where her fiancé waited.
Auntie Sutra started out of her sheets with
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
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
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
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,
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,
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
He looked around the room, at the two of
them, out the open door that led to the green pastures behind
“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
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
“Just as well, dear,” said Auntie Sutra,
leaning back in the pew and holding her handbag carefully on her